Verses 1–5

We have reason to think that this psalm refers to the malice of Saul and his janizaries against David, because it bears the same inscription (Al-taschith, and Michtam of David) with that which goes before and that which follows, both which appear, by the title, to have been penned with reference to that persecution through which God preserved him (Al-taschith—Destroy not), and therefore the psalms he then penned were precious to him, Michtams—David’s jewels, as Dr. Hammond translates it.

In these verses David, not as a king, for he had not yet come to the throne, but as a prophet, in God’s name arraigns and convicts his judges, with more authority and justice than they showed in prosecuting him. Two things he charges them with:

I. The corruption of their government. They were a congregation, a bench of justices, nay, perhaps, a congress or convention of the states, from whom one might have expected fair dealing, for they were men learned in the laws, had been brought up in the study of these statutes and judgments, which were so righteous that those of other nations were not to be compared with them. One would not have thought a congregation of such could be bribed and biassed with pensions, and yet, it seems, they were, because the son of Kish could do that for them which the son of Jesse could not, 1 Sam. 22:7. He had vineyards, and fields, and preferments, to give them, and therefore, to please him, they would do any thing, right or wrong. Of all the melancholy views which Solomon took of this earth and its grievances, nothing vexed him so much as to see that in the place of judgment wickedness was there, Eccl. 3:16. So it was in Saul’s time. 1. The judges would not do right, would not protect or vindicate oppressed innocency (Ps. 58:1): “Do you indeed speak righteousness, or judge uprightly? No; you are far from it; your own consciences cannot but tell you that you do not discharge the trust reposed in you as magistrates, by which you are bound to be a terror to evil-doers and a praise to those that do well. Isa. this the justice you pretend to administer? Isa. this the patronage, this the countenance, which an honest man and an honest cause may expect from you? Remember you are sons of men; mortal and dying, and that you stand upon the same level before God with the meanest of those you trample upon, and must yourselves be called to an account and judged. You are sons of men, and therefore we may appeal to yourselves, and to that law of nature which is written in every man’s heart: Do you indeed speak righteousness? And will not your second thoughts correct what you have done?” Note, It is good for us often to reflect upon what we say with this serious question, Do we indeed speak righteousness? that we may unsay what we have spoken amiss and may proceed no further in it. 2. They did a great deal of wrong; they used their power for the support of injury and oppression (Ps. 58:2): In heart you work wickedness (all the wickedness of the life is wrought in the heart). It intimates that they wrought with a great deal of plot and management, not by surprise, but with premeditation and design, and with a strong inclination to it and resolution in it. The moire there is of the heart in any act of wickedness the worse it is, Eccl. 8:11. And what was their wickedness? It follows, “You weigh the violence of your hands in the earth” (or in the land), “the peace of which you are appointed to be the conservators of.” They did all the violence and injury they could, either to enrich or avenge themselves, and they weighed it; that is, 1. They did it with a great deal of craft and caution: “You frame it by rule and lines” (so the word signifies), “that it may effectually answer your mischievous intentions; such masters are you of the art of oppression.” 2. They did it under colour of justice. They held the balances (the emblem of justice) in their hands, as if they designed to do right, and right is expected from them, but the result is violence and oppression, which are practised the more effectually for being practised under the pretext of law and right.

II. The corruption of their nature. This was the root of bitterness from which that gall and wormwood sprang (Ps. 58:3): The wicked, who in heart work wickedness, are estranged from the womb, estranged from God and all good, alienated from the divine life, and its principles, powers, and pleasures, Eph. 4:18. A sinful state is a state of estrangement from that acquaintance with God and service of him which we were made for. Let none wonder that these wicked men dare do such things, for wickedness is bred in the bone with them; they brought it into the world with them; they have in their natures a strong inclination to it; they learned it from their wicked parents, and have been trained up in it by a bad education. They are called, and not miscalled, transgressors from the womb; one can therefore expect no other than that they will deal very treacherously; see Isa. 48:8. They go astray from God and their duty as soon as they are born, (that is, as soon as possibly they can); the foolishness that is bound up in their hearts appears with the first operations of reason; as the wheat springs up, the tares spring up with it. Three instances are here given of the corruption of nature:—1. Falsehood. They soon learn to speak lies, and bend their tongues, like their bows, for that purpose, Jer. 9:3. How soon will little children tell a lie to excuse a fault, or in their own commendation! No sooner can they speak than they speak to God’s dishonour; tongue-sins are some of the first of our actual transgressions. 2. Malice. Their poison (that is, their ill-will, and the spite they bore to goodness and all good men, particularly to David) was like the poison of a serpent, innate, venomous, and very mischievous, and that which they can never be cured of. We pity a dog that is poisoned by accident, but hate a serpent that is poisonous by nature. Such as the cursed enmity in this serpent’s brood against the Lord and his anointed. 3. Untractableness. They are malicious, and nothing will work upon them, no reason, no kindness, to mollify them, and bring them to a better temper. They are like the deaf adder that stops her ear, Ps. 58:4, 5. The psalmist, having compared these wicked men, whom he here complains of, to serpents, for their poisonous malice, takes occasion thence, upon another account, to compare them to the deaf adder or viper, concerning which there was then this vulgar tradition, that whereas, by music or some other art, they had a way of charming serpents, so as either to destroy them or at least disable them to do mischief, this deaf adder would lay one ear to the ground and stop the other with her tail, so that she could not hear the voice of the enchantment, and so defeated the intention of it and secured herself. The using of this comparison neither verifies the story, nor, if it were true, justifies the use of this enchantment; for it is only an allusion to the report of such a thing, to illustrate the obstinacy of sinners in a sinful way. God’s design, in his word and providence, is to cure serpents of their malignity; to this end how wise, how powerful, how well-chosen are the charms! How forcible the right words! But all in vain with most men; and what is the reason? It is because they will not hearken. None so deaf as those that will not hear. We have piped unto men, and they have not danced; how should they, when they have stopped their ears?