Psalm 58

58:0People are cruel to David. They are also cruel to other people in the land of Israel. This was probably when Saul was king of Israel. David asks God in this psalm to punish these wicked people. But he does not ask God to let him, David, punish them.

There are many places in the Book of Psalms where the psalmist prays that God will punish the wicked. The psalmist is the person that wrote the psalm. Psalms where the psalmist asks for bad things to happen to people we call ‘Psalms of Imprecation.’ Other psalms of imprecation include parts of 5, 10, 17, 54, 55, 59, 69, 109 and 137. Christians have always found them hard to understand. The important thing to see is that the psalm asks God (not us) to punish people. Saint Augustine wrote 1 600 years ago that here, in this psalm, Christ was speaking to God through the psalmist. 60 years ago, a Christian whose name was Bonhoeffer wrote the same. He wrote ‘Christ prays the psalms.’ Both these men were writing about the Psalms of Imprecation. They tell us that because Jesus was human, he knows how we feel about cruel people. He prays to God (the judge) to punish these cruel people. A judge is someone that decides if a person is good or bad. Bonhoeffer wrote ‘a psalm can become our prayer only because it was Jesus' prayer.’ If we want to do these bad things ourselves to wicked people, then that makes us bad. But if we ask God to punish them, then we are praying with Jesus!

Snakes that Will Not Listen

This is for the music leader.

He must use the music called Do Not Destroy.

It is a miktam of David.

58:0It is a help to see this psalm in 4 parts:

Verses 1-2 Human judges in Israel are bad.

Verses 3-5 They have been bad from birth and will not listen to God.

Verses 6-9 The Imprecation, or prayer that God will destroy the wicked judges.

Verses 10-11 What everybody will say when this happens.

One important thing about Psalm 58 is this. Some of the verses are very hard to translate. Some Bible students say that they cannot translate at least one verse (the end of verse 9)! So if you read other Bible translations, you will find some of the verses very different. For that reason, it is the meaning that is important here, not what the words say.

1 Do you rulers really say what is fair?

Do you say what is right when you judge people?

2 No! You do not! You think of evil in your heart.

Your hands weigh out cruelty to the land.

58:2The important word in verses 1 and 2 is ‘weigh’ in verse 2. This is because the two verses are all about judges in courts of law. A court of law is where the judge says if people are good or bad, right or wrong. He says whether they have broken the laws (rules) of their country or not. If they have, he punishes them. The judge weighs the evidence (what people say) before he says whether people have broken the rules or not. We say that the judge weighs the evidence because in old pictures they drew weighing machines! We call them scales. On one side was the good evidence, on the other the bad. If the bad was heavier than the good then people had broken the rules! Here the judges themselves are bad. They do not weigh out justice (or what is fair), but injustice (or what is not fair). They punished the good people that had not broken the rules of the country. The judges did not have real balances, they thought about the evidence in their minds.

3 Wicked people are bad from their birth.

As soon as they are born, they start telling lies.

4 Their poison is like the poison of a snake.

They close their ears like a deaf cobra.

5 It does not hear the voice of the charmer, however well he charms!

58:5The important word in verses 3-5 is snake. ‘Wicked people’ means the bad judges and leaders of verses 1 and 2. They have always been bad, from when they were very young. They are like snakes in two ways:

– They hurt and kill people like a snake hurts and kills people with its poison

– Like all snakes, they are deaf, but also they will not obey the charmer.

These wicked people are not really deaf, rather, they will not listen to God. God is telling them to do good things, but they do not obey him. The charmer charms the deaf snake by moving about in front of it. Even when God shows them the right thing to do, they do not do it. God cannot ‘charm’ them!

6 God, break their teeth in their mouths!

Lord, destroy the teeth of those lions!

7-8 May they:

· become weak and flow away like water

· be like grass that dies after people walk on it

· be like a snail that becomes lost as it moves along

· be like a child born dead that does not see the sun.

9 Before their pots can feel the heat of burning wood

I want God to blow them away, like the wind would in a bad storm.

58:9In verses 6-9 we find the imprecation, where David asks God to punish these bad people. In verse 6 David says that they are like lions. Because lions eat animals and people using their teeth, David asks God to break their teeth. Then they cannot eat anybody, or hurt anybody. If ‘break their teeth’ sounds a bad thing to pray, remember that it means ‘stop them hurting good people.’ Verses 7, 8 and 9 are parts of the psalm where the Hebrew words are difficult (even impossible) to translate. I have put what I think the words mean. David wants the wicked judges to be like:

– Water when you pour it on the ground – soon it has gone

– Grass that dies – when a lot of people have walked on it

– A baby born much too early – people throw it away and forget it

– A child born dead – it will never see the sun.

These are all pictures that mean this. The wicked judges will die, and not hurt or kill people any more. The last picture is of a pot on a wood fire. David wants something to happen soon – before the fire can warm the pot! He wants God to blow away the wicked judges like the wind blows things away in a bad storm. God does answers prayers like this. History gives us many examples. The thing to remember is this. ‘Soon’ to God may be much longer than ‘soon’ to us! To him 1,000 years is just like a day, Psalm 90:4.

But, in the end, God will answer us when we pray. That will make good people very happy. We find this in verses 10-11. ‘They will wash their feet in the blood of the wicked’ is a line many people do not like. It just means that the wicked will die and the righteous will not! Some translations have ‘They will wash the blood of the wicked off their feet.’ Here, ‘the blood of the wicked’ would be the bad things that the wicked judges did – or weighed out – to the good people.

10 Righteous people will be very happy when God punishes the wicked.

They will wash their feet in the blood of the wicked!

11 People will say, ‘It is true! God does help good people!

God judges people on earth in a fair way.’