Snakes That Will Not Listen

Psalm 58

An EasyEnglish Translation with Notes (about 1200 word vocabulary) on Psalm 58

Gordon Churchyard

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

Words marked with a *star are described in the word list at the end.

The translated Bible text has yet to go through Advanced Checking.


Jesus said, "These people are *like children that are sitting in the market place. They say to the other (children) there, 'We made music for you, but you did not dance'". (Matthew 11:16-17)

Jesus said, "Why do you call me *Lord, but do not do the things that I tell you (to do). (Luke 6:46)

Psalm 58

  (This is) for the music leader.
He must use (the music called) Do Not Destroy.
(It is) a *miktam of David.

v1   Do you rulers really say what is fair?
  Do you say what is right when you *judge people?

v2   No! You do not! You think of *evil in your *heart.
  Your hands weigh out *cruelty to the land.

v3   *Wicked people are bad from their birth.
  From the *womb, they start doing wrong and saying *lies.

v4   Their poison is *like the poison of a snake.
  They close their ears *like a *deaf *cobra.

v5   It does not hear the voice of the *charmer, however well he charms!

v6   God, break their teeth in their mouths!
  *LORD, destroy the teeth of those *lions!

v7, v8   May they:
  ·   become weak and *flow away *like water
  ·   be *like grass that dies after people walk on it
  ·   be *like an *abortion that people forget
  ·   be *like a child born dead that does not see the sun.

v9   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.

v10   *Righteous people will be very happy when (God) *punishes (the *wicked).
  They will wash their feet in the blood of the *wicked!

v11   People will say, "There is a reward for the *righteous.
  There is a God that *judges what happens on earth".

 The Story of Psalm 58

People 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!

What Psalm 58 means

It is a help to see the 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.

The 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 balances. 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.

The 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!

In 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 1000 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. The word "reward" means that God will give something good to the people that have prayed to him and listened to him.

Something to do

1.  If you have a Bible, look up these verses about snakes: Genesis 3:1-15; Matthew 3:1-12; Revelation 12:1-17.

2.  If you are *like David and people are not kind to you, then pray about it. Ask God to do something ... do not hurt or kill people yourself.

3.  Read Psalm 7. Is it a Psalm of *Imprecation?

4.  Why are Matthew 11:16-17 and Luke 6:46 at the top of this Psalm?

Word list

abortion ~ making a baby be born too soon so that it is dead.

charmer ~ (here) someone that makes a snake obey him (this is not what it usually means).

cobra ~ a very dangerous snake; its poison can kill people.

cruel ~ not kind, hurting people.

cruelty ~ being cruel.

deaf ~ not able to hear.

evil ~ very very bad people (or the things that they do).

flow ~ move along easily.

heart ~ part of our body; the Jews thought that you used your *heart to think; so to know it "in your heart" or "by heart" means that you remember it.

imprecation ~ a *prayer for something bad to happen to an enemy.

judge ~ (noun, or being something) someone that decides.

judge ~ (verb, or doing something) decide if someone did right or wrong.

justice ~ what is fair and right.

lies ~ words that are not true.

like ~ another word for ‘as’.

lion ~ a wild animals, *like a very big cat.

LORD ~ a special name for God; only his people use it (look after Psalm 25).

lord ~ someone with authority (with a capital L a name for God, look after Psalm 25).

miktam ~ maybe it means one of: something made from gold, something hidden, something with special meaning.

prayer ~ words that you say when you pray.

psalmist ~ the person that wrote a psalm.

punish ~ hurt someone when they do something wrong(hit them with a stick or put them in prison).

righteous ~ very very good; only God is very righteous (or has righteousness); doing what is right.

righteousness ~ being very good.

saints ~ another name for God’s people, or Christians.

wicked ~ very very bad.

womb ~ where a mother keeps her baby before birth.


© 2000-2001, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level A (1200 words)

July 2001

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