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Psalm 58[a]

For the music director, according to the al-tashcheth style;[b] a prayer[c] of David.

58 Do you rulers really pronounce just decisions?[d]
Do you judge people[e] fairly?
No![f] You plan how to do what is unjust;[g]
you deal out violence in the earth.[h]
The wicked turn aside from birth;[i]
liars go astray as soon as they are born.[j]
Their venom is like that of a snake,[k]
like a deaf serpent[l] that does not hear,[m]
that does not respond to[n] the magicians,
or to a skilled snake charmer.
O God, break the teeth in their mouths!
Smash the jawbones of the lions, O Lord.
Let them disappear[o] like water that flows away.[p]
Let them wither like grass.[q]
Let them be[r] like a snail that melts away as it moves along.[s]
Let them be like[t] stillborn babies[u] that never see the sun.
Before the kindling is even placed under your pots,[v]
he[w] will sweep it away along with both the raw and cooked meat.[x]
10 The godly[y] will rejoice when they see vengeance carried out;
they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Then[z] observers[aa] will say,
“Yes indeed, the godly are rewarded.[ab]
Yes indeed, there is a God who judges[ac] in the earth.”


  1. Psalm 58:1 sn Psalm 58. The psalmist calls on God to punish corrupt judges because a vivid display of divine judgment will convince observers that God is the just judge of the world who vindicates the godly.
  2. Psalm 58:1 tn Heb “do not destroy.” Perhaps this refers to a particular style of music, a tune title, or a musical instrument. These words also appear in the heading to Pss 57, 59, and 75.
  3. Psalm 58:1 tn The precise meaning of the Hebrew word מִכְתָּם (miktam) which also appears in the heading to Pss 16 and 56-57, 59-60 is uncertain. HALOT 582-83 s.v. defines it as “inscription.”
  4. Psalm 58:1 tn Heb “Really [in] silence, what is right do you speak?” The Hebrew noun אֵלֶם (ʾelem, “silence”) makes little, if any, sense in this context. Some feel that this is an indictment of the addressees’ failure to promote justice; they are silent when they should make just decisions. The present translation assumes an emendation to אֵלִם (ʾelim), which in turn is understood as a defectively written form of אֵילִים (ʾelim, “rulers,” a metaphorical use of אַיִל, ʾayil, “ram”; see Exod 15:15; Ezek 17:13). The rhetorical question is sarcastic, challenging their claim to be just. Elsewhere the collocation of דָּבַר (davar, “speak”) with צֶדֶק (tsedeq, “what is right”) as object means “to speak the truth” (see Ps 52:3; Isa 45:19). Here it refers specifically to declaring what is right in a legal setting, as the next line indicates.
  5. Psalm 58:1 tn Heb “the sons of mankind.” The translation assumes the phrase is the object of the verb “to judge.” Some take it as a vocative, “Do you judge fairly, O sons of mankind?” (Cf. NASB; see Ezek 20:4; 22:2; 23:36.)
  6. Psalm 58:2 tn The particle אַף (ʾaf, “no”) is used here as a strong adversative emphasizing the following statement, which contrasts reality with the rulers’ claim alluded to in the rhetorical questions (see Ps 44:9).
  7. Psalm 58:2 tn Heb “in the heart unjust deeds you do.” The phrase “in the heart” (i.e., “mind”) seems to refer to their plans and motives. The Hebrew noun עַוְלָה (ʿavlah, “injustice”) is collocated with פָּעַל (paʿal, “do”) here and in Job 36:23 and Ps 119:3. Some emend the plural form עוֹלֹת (ʿolot, “unjust deeds”; see Ps 64:6) to the singular עָוֶל (ʿavel, “injustice”; see Job 34:32), taking the final tav (ת) as dittographic (note that the following verbal form begins with tav). Some then understand עָוֶל (ʿavel, “injustice”) as a genitive modifying “heart” and translate, “with a heart of injustice you act.”
  8. Psalm 58:2 tn Heb “in the earth the violence of your hands you weigh out.” The imagery is from the economic realm. The addressees measure out violence, rather than justice, and distribute it like a commodity. This may be ironic, since justice was sometimes viewed as a measuring scale (see Job 31:6).
  9. Psalm 58:3 tn Heb “from the womb.”
  10. Psalm 58:3 tn Heb “speakers of a lie go astray from the womb.”
  11. Psalm 58:4 tn Heb “[there is] venom to them according to the likeness of venom of a snake.”
  12. Psalm 58:4 tn Or perhaps “cobra” (cf. NASB, NIV). Other suggested species of snakes are “asp” (NEB) and “adder” (NRSV).
  13. Psalm 58:4 tn Heb “[that] stops up its ear.” The apparent Hiphil jussive verbal form should be understood as a Qal imperfect with “i” theme vowel (see GKC 168 §63.n).
  14. Psalm 58:5 tn Heb “does not listen to the voice of.”
  15. Psalm 58:7 tn Following the imperatival forms in v. 6, the prefixed verbal form is understood as a jussive expressing the psalmist’s wish. Another option is to take the form as an imperfect (indicative) and translate, “they will scatter” (see v. 9). The verb מָאַס (maʾas; which is a homonym of the more common מָאַס, “to refuse, reject”) appears only here and in Job 7:5, where it is used of a festering wound from which fluid runs or flows.
  16. Psalm 58:7 tn Heb “like water, they go about for themselves.” The translation assumes that the phrase “they go about for themselves” is an implied relative clause modifying “water.” Another option is to take the clause as independent and parallel to what precedes. In this case the enemies would be the subject and the verb could be taken as jussive, “let them wander about.”
  17. Psalm 58:7 tc The syntax of the Hebrew text is difficult and the meaning uncertain. The text reads literally, “he treads his arrows (following the Qere; Kethib has “his arrow”), like they are cut off/dry up.” It is not clear if the verbal root is מָלַל (malal, “circumcise”; BDB 576 s.v. IV מָלַל) or the homonym מָלַל (“wither”; HALOT 593-94 s.v. I מלל). Since the verb מָלַל (“to wither”) is used of vegetation, it is possible that the noun חָצִיר (khatsir, “grass,” which is visually similar to חִצָּיו, khitsayv, “his arrows”) originally appeared in the text. The translation above assumes that the text originally was כְּמוֹ חָצִיר יִתְמֹלָלוּ (kemo khatsir yitmolalu, “like grass let them wither”). If original, it could have been accidentally changed to חִצָּיו כְּמוֹ יִתְמֹלָלוּ (khitsayv kemo yitmolalu, “his arrow(s) like they dry up”) with דָּרַךְ (darakh, “to tread”) being added later in an effort to make sense of “his arrow(s).”
  18. Psalm 58:8 tn There is no “to be” verb in the Hebrew text at this point, but a jussive tone can be assumed based on vv. 6-7.
  19. Psalm 58:8 tn Heb “like a melting snail [that] moves along.” A. Cohen (Psalms [SoBB], 184) explains that the text here alludes “to the popular belief that the slimy trail which the snail leaves in its track is the dissolution of its substance.”
  20. Psalm 58:8 tn The words “let them be like” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. The jussive mood is implied from the preceding context, and “like” is understood by ellipsis (see the previous line).
  21. Psalm 58:8 tn This rare word also appears in Job 3:16 and Eccles 6:3.
  22. Psalm 58:9 tn Heb “before your pots perceive thorns.”
  23. Psalm 58:9 tn Apparently God (v. 6) is the subject of the verb here.
  24. Psalm 58:9 tn Heb “like living, like burning anger he will sweep it away.” The meaning of the text is unclear. The translation assumes that within the cooking metaphor (see the previous line) חַי (khay, “living”) refers here to raw meat (as in 1 Sam 2:15, where it modifies בָּשָׂר, basar, “flesh”) and that חָרוּן (kharun; which always refers to God’s “burning anger” elsewhere) here refers to food that is cooked. The pronominal suffix on the verb “sweep away” apparently refers back to the “thorns” of the preceding line. The image depicts swift and sudden judgment. Before the fire has been adequately kindled and all the meat cooked, the winds of judgment will sweep away everything in their path.
  25. Psalm 58:10 tn The singular is representative here, as is the singular from “wicked” in the next line.
  26. Psalm 58:11 tn Following the imperfects of v. 10, the prefixed verbal form with vav (ו) conjunctive probably indicates a result or consequence of what precedes.
  27. Psalm 58:11 tn Heb “man.” The singular is representative here.
  28. Psalm 58:11 tn Heb “surely [there] is fruit for the godly.”
  29. Psalm 58:11 tn The plural participle is unusual here if the preceding אֱלֹהִים (ʾelohim) is here a plural of majesty, referring to the one true God. Occasionally the plural of majesty does take a plural attributive (see GKC 428-29 §132.h). It is possible that the final mem (ם) on the participle is enclitic, and that it was later misunderstood as a plural ending. Another option is to translate, “Yes indeed, there are gods who judge in the earth.” In this case, the statement reflects the polytheistic mindset of pagan observers who, despite their theological ignorance, nevertheless recognize divine retribution when they see it.