This psalm is also inscribed as a psalm of David. Both the title and the contents agree in fixing the time of its composition, and the occasion, as being the same as in the two previous psalms. Knapp indeed refers it to the time of Absalom, and DeWette supposes that it was composed in the time of the Babylonian captivity. But there is no reason for departing from the supposition that the title is correct. There is nothing in the psalm inconsistent with the supposition that it was composed by David, and in the time of the persecutions under Saul. On the meaning of the expression in the title, "To the chief Musician," see the notes at the Introduction to Psalm 4:1-8. On the phrase "Al-taschith," see Introduction to Psalm 57:1-11. On the word "Michtam," see Introduction to Psalm 16:1-11.
The psalm consists of three parts:
I. A description of the enemies of the psalmist, suggesting a "general" description of the character of the wicked, Psalm 58:1-5. The psalmist, by an emphatic "question" impliedly affirms that those whom he referred to were wicked and false Psalm 58:1-2; and this leads him to a general reflection on the character of wicked people;
(a) as estranged from the womb;
(b) as going astray as soon as they are born;
(c) as resembling the serpent injecting deadly poison; and
(d) as deaf to all appeals of conscience, virtue, and religion - like an adder that will not listen to the voice of the charmer, Psalm 58:3-5.
II. A prayer that God would interpose and deal with them as they deserved, Psalm 58:6-9. This prayer is expressed in different illustrations: -
(a) by comparing them with lions, and praying that their teeth might be broken out, Psalm 58:6;
(b) by comparing them with water, and praying that they might disappear as waters flow off, Psalm 58:7;
(c) by comparing them with a snail, and praying that they might be dissolved, and pass away as a snail appears to do, Psalm 58:8;
(d) by comparing them with the untimely birth of a woman, that is cast away, Psalm 58:8;
(e) by comparing them with a pot which is made to feel the heat of thorns on fire, and made to boil quickly - praying that God would take them away before even that could be done, Psalm 58:9.
III. The exultation of the righteous at such a result, Psalm 58:10-11.
(a) They would rejoice at the deliverance, Psalm 58:10;
(b) they would see that God is a righteous God; that he is not a friend of wickedness, but that he regards the cause of truth; that there is in fact a just moral government in the world; that there is a God who is a judge in the earth, Psalm 58:11.
To the chief Musician, Altaschith, Michtam of David. Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? - Luther renders this, "Are you then dumb, that you will not speak what is right, and judge what is proper, ye children of men?" The meaning of the verse is exceedingly obscure; but probably the whole sense of the psalm turns on it. The word rendered "congregation," אלם 'êlem - occurs only in this place and in the title to Psalm 56:1-13, "Jonath-elem-rechokim." See the notes at that title. The word properly means "dumbness, silence." Gesenius (Lexicon) renders it here, "Do ye indeed decree dumb justice?" that is, "Do ye really at length decree justice, which so long has seemed dumb?" Professor Alexander renders it, "Are ye indeed dumb when ye should speak righteousness?" The allusion is clearly to some public act of judging; to a judicial sentence; to magistrates and rulers; to people who "should" give a righteous sentence; to those in authority who "ought" to pronounce a just opinion on the conduct of others.
The "fact" in the case on which the appeal is made seems to have been that they did "not" do this; that their conduct was wicked and perverse; that no reliance could be placed on their judicial decisions. Rosenmuller renders it, "There is, in fact, silence of justice;" that is, justice is not declared or spoken. Perhaps the meaning of the phrase may be thus expressed: "Is there truly a dumbness or silence of justice when ye speak? do you judge righteously, O ye sons of men?" That is, "You indeed speak; you do declare an opinion; you pronounce a sentence; but justice is, in fact, dumb or silent when you do it. There is no correct or just judgment in the matter. The opinion which is declared is based on error, and has its origin in a wicked heart." There is no expression in the original to correspond to the words "O congregation" in our translation, unless it is the word אלם 'êlem, which never has this signification.
It is not so rendered in any of the versions. It is not easy to determine "who" is referred to by this question. It cannot be, as is implied in our common version, that it is to any "congregation," any people gathered together for the purpose of pronouncing judgment. Yet it is evidently a reference to some persons, or classes of persons, who were expected to "judge," or to whom it pertained to pass judgment; and the most natural supposition is that the reference is to the rulers of the nation - to Saul, and the heads of the government. If the supposition is correct that the psalm was composed, like Psalm 56:1-13; Psalm 57:1-11; 59, in the time of the Sauline persecutions, and that it belongs to the same "group" of psalms, then it would have reference to Saul and to those who were associated with him in persecuting David. The subject of the psalm would then be the unjust judgments which they passed on him in treating him as an enemy of the commonwealth; in regarding him as an outlaw, and in driving him from his places of refuge as if hunting him down like a wild beast. The contents of the psalm well accord with this explanation.
Do ye judge uprightly? - Do you judge right things? are your judgments in accordance with truth and justice?
O ye sons of men - Perhaps referring to the fact that in their judgments they showed that they were people - influenced by the common passions of people; in other words, they showed that they could not, in forming their judgments, rise above the corrupt passions and prejudices which usually influence and sway mankind.
Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.Yea, in heart ye work wickedness - Whatever might be the outward appearances, whatever pretences they might make to just judgment, yet in fact their hearts were set on wickedness, and they were conscious of doing wrong.
Ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth - It is difficult to attach any meaning to this language; the translators evidently felt that they could not express the meaning of the original; and they, therefore, gave what seems to be a literal translation of the Hebrew. The Septuagint renders it, "In heart you work iniquity in the land; your hands weave together iniquity." The Latin Vulgate: "In heart you work iniquity; in the land your hands prepare injustice." Luther: "Yea, willingly do you work iniquity in the land, and go straight through to work evil with your hands." Professor Alexander: "In the land, the violence of your hands ye weigh." Perhaps the true translation of the whole verse would be, "Yea, in heart ye work iniquity in the land; ye weigh (weigh out) the violence of your hands;" that is, the deeds of violence or wickedness which your hands commit. The idea of "weighing" them, or "weighing them out," is derived from the administration of justice. In all lands people are accustomed to speak of "weighing out" justice; to symbolize its administration by scales and balances; and to express the doing of it as holding an even balance. Compare Job 31:6, note; Daniel 5:27, note; Revelation 6:5, note. Thus interpreted, this verse refers, as Psalm 58:1, to the act of pronouncing judgment; and the idea is that instead of pronouncing a just judgment - of holding an equal balance - they determined in favor of violence - of acts of oppression and wrong to be committed by their own hands. That which they weighed out, or dispensed, was not a just sentence, but violence, wrong, injustice, crime.
The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.The wicked are estranged from the womb - The allusion here undoubtedly is to the persons principally referred to in the psalm - the enemies of David. But their conduct toward him suggests a more general reflection in regard to "all" the wicked as having the same characteristics. The psalmist, therefore, instead of confining his remarks to them, makes his observations general, on the principle that all wicked men have essentially the same character, and especially in respect to the thing here affirmed, that they go astray early; that they are apostate and alienated from God from their very birth. The words, "the wicked," here do not necessarily refer to the whole human family (though what is thus affirmed is true of all the human race), but to people who in their lives develop a wicked character; and the affirmation in regard to them is that they go astray early in life - from their very infancy.
Strictly speaking, therefore, it cannot be shown that the psalmist in this declaration had reference to the whole human race, or that he meant to make a universal declaration in regard to man as being early estranged or alienated from God; and the passage, therefore, cannot directly, and with exact propriety, be adduced to prove the doctrine that "original sin" pertains to all the race - whatever may be true on that point. If, however, it is demonstrated from "other" passages, and from facts, that all men "are" "wicked" or depraved, then the assertion here becomes a proof that this is from the womb - from their very birth - that they begin life with a propensity to evil - and that all their subsequent acts are but developments of the depravity or corruption with which they are born. It is only, therefore, after it is proved that people "are" depraved or "wicked," that this passage can be cited in favor of the doctrine of original sin.
The word rendered are "estranged" - זרוּ zorû - means properly, "to go off, to turn aside," or "away, to depart;" and then it comes to mean "to be strange," or "a stranger." The proper idea in the word is that one is a stranger, or a foreigner, and the word would be properly applied to one of another tribe or nation, like the Latin "hostis," and the Greek ξείνος xeinos. Exodus 30:33; Isaiah 1:7; Isaiah 25:2; Isaiah 29:5; Psalm 44:20. The meaning of the term as thus explained is, that, from earliest childhood, they are "as if" they belonged to another people than the people of God; they manifest another spirit; they are governed by other principles than those which pertain to the righteous. Compare Ephesians 2:19. Their first indications of character are not those of the children of God, but are "alien, strange, hostile" to him. The phrase "from the womb," refers, undoubtedly, to their birth; and the idea is, that as soon as they begin to act they act wrong; they show that they are strangers to God. Strictly speaking, this passage does not affirm anything directly of what exists in the heart "before" people begin to act, for it is by their "speaking lies" that they show their estrangement; yet it is proper to "infer" that where this is universal, there "is" something lying back of this which makes it certain that they "will" act thus - just as when a tree always bears the same kind of fruit, we infer that there is something "in" the tree, back of the actual "bearing" of the fruit, which makes it certain that it "will" bear such fruit and no other. This "something" in the heart of a child is what is commonly meant by "original sin."
They go astray - The Hebrew word used here means to go astray, to wander, to err. It is used in reference to drunken persons who reel, Isaiah 28:7; and to the soul, as erring or wandering from the paths of truth and piety, Ezekiel 48:11; Psalm 95:10; Psalm 119:110; Proverbs 21:16. The "manner" in which the persons here referred to did this, is indicated here by their "speaking lies."
As soon as they be born - Margin, as in Hebrew, "from the belly." The meaning is, not that they speak lies "as soon as" they are born, which could not be literally true, but that this is the "first act." The first thing "done" is not an act of holiness, but an act of sin - showing what is in the heart.
Speaking lies - They are false in their statements; false in their promises; false in their general character. This is one of the forms of sin, indicating original depravity; and it is undoubtedly selected here because this was particularly manifested by the enemies of David. They were false, perfidious, and could not be trusted. If it be proved, therefore, that all people are wicked, then "this" passage becomes a proper and an important text to demonstrate that this wickedness is not the result of temptation or example, but that it is the expression of the depravity of the heart by nature; that the tendency of man by nature is not to goodness, but to sin; that the first developments of character are sinful; that there is something lying of sinful acts in people which makes it certain that they will act as they do; and that this always manifests itself in the first acts which they perform.
Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;Their poison - Their malignity; their bad spirit; that which they utter or throw out of their mouth. The reference here is to what they speak or utter Psalm 58:3, and the idea is, that it is penetrating and deadly.
Like the poison of a serpent - Margin, as in Hebrew, "according to the likeness." In this expression no particular class of serpents is referred to except those which are "poisonous."
Like the deaf adder - Margin, "asp." The word may refer either to the viper, the asp, or the adder. See the notes at Isaiah 11:8. The "particular" idea here is, that the serpent referred to was as it were "deaf;" it could not be tamed or charmed; it seemed to stop its own ears, so that there was no means of rendering it a safe thing to approach it. The supposition is that there "were" serpents which, though deadly in their poison, "might" be charmed or tamed, but that "this" species of serpent could "not." The sense, as applied to the wicked, is, that there was no way of overcoming their evil propensities - of preventing them from giving utterance to words that were like poison, or from doing mischief to all with whom they came in contact. They were malignant, and there was no power of checking their malignity. Their poison was deadly, and there was no possibility of restraining them from doing evil.
That stoppeth her ear - Which "seems" to stop her ear; which refuses to hear the words and incantations by which other serpents are subdued and tamed. Others, however, refer this to the man himself, meaning, "like the deaf adder he stops his ear;" that is, he voluntarily makes himself like the adder that does not hear, and that will not be tamed. The former interpretation, however, is to be preferred.
Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers - The word rendered "charmers" - לחשׁ lachash - means properly "whisperers, mutterers," and it refers here to those who made use of spells or incantations - sorcerers or magicians. See the notes at Isaiah 8:19. These incantations were accompanied usually with a low, muttering sound, or with a gentle whisper, as if for the purpose of calming and controlling the object of the incantation. Such charmers of serpents (or pretended charmers) abounded among the ancients, and still abound in India. The art is carried in India to great perfection; and there are multitudes of persons who obtain a livelihood by this pretended or real power over venomous serpents. Their living is obtained either by "exhibiting" their power over serpents which they carry with them in their peregrinations, or by "drawing" them by their incantations from the walls of gardens, houses, and hedges, where they had taken up their abode. Multitudes of facts, referred to by those who have resided in India, seem to confirm the opinion that this power is real.
Charming never so wisely - Margin, "Be the charmer never so cunning." The word rendered here "charming" - חובר chober - means properly to bind; to bind together. The "literal" meaning of the original Hebrew is, "binding spells that are wise," or, that are "cunning;" in other words, making use of the most cunning or skillful of their incantations and charms. The meaning is, that the utmost skill of enchantment will be unsuccessful. They are beyond the reach of any such arts. So with the people referred to by David. They were malignant and venomous; and nothing would disarm them of their malignity, and destroy their venom. What is here affirmed of these men is true in a certain sense of all people. The depravity of the human heart is such that nothing that man can employ will subdue it. No eloquence, no persuasion, no commands, no remonstrances, no influence that man can exert, will subdue it.
It cannot be charmed down; it cannot be removed by any skill or power of man, however great. The following remarks from Dr. Thomson, who has spent twenty years in Palestine (land and the Book, vol. i. pp. 221-223), will illustrate this passage: "I have seen many serpent-charmers who do really exercise some extraordinary power over these reptiles. They carry enormous snakes, generally black, about them, allow them to crawl all over their persons and into their bosoms; always, however, with certain precautions, either necessary, or pretended to be so. They repeatedly breathe strongly into the face of the serpent, and occasionally blow spittle, or some medicated composition upon them. It is needless to describe the mountebank tricks which they perform. That which I am least able to account for is the power of detecting the presence of serpents in a house, and of enticing or 'charming' them out of it. The thing is far too common to be made a matter of scepticism. The following account, by Mr. Lane, is a fair statement of this matter: 'The charmer professes to discover, without ocular perception (but perhaps he does so by a unique smell), whether there be any serpents in the house, and if there be, to attract them to him, as the fowler, by the fascination of his voice, allures the bird into his net.
As the serpent seeks the darkest place in which to hide himself, the charmer has, in most eases, to exercise his skill in an obscure chamber, where he might easily take a serpent from his bosom, bring it to the people without the door, and affirm that he had found it in the apartment, for no one would venture to enter with him, after having been assured of the presence of one of these reptiles within. But he is often required to perform in the full light of day, surrounded by spectators; and incredulous persons have searched him beforehand, and even stripped him naked, yet his success has been complete. He assumes an air of mystery, strikes the walls with a short palm-stick, whistles, makes a clucking noise with his tongue, and spits upon the ground, and generally says - I adjure you, by God, if ye be above or if ye be below, that ye come forth; I adjure you by the most great name, if ye be obedient, come forth, and if ye be disobedient, die! die! die!' The serpent is generally dislodged by his stick from a fissure in the wall or from the ceiling of the room.
I have heard it asserted that a serpent-charmer, before he enters a house in which he is to try his skill, always employs a servant of that house to introduce one or more serpents; but I have known instances in which this could not be the case, and am inclined to believe that the dervishes above mentioned are generally acquainted with some physical means of discovering the presence of serpents without seeing them, and of attracting them from their lurking-places. What these 'physical means' may be is yet a secret, as also the 'means' by which persons can handle live scorpions, and can put them into their bosom without fear or injury. I have seen this done again and again, even by small boys. This has always excited my curiosity and astonishment, for scorpions are the most malignant and irascible of all insects. The Hindoos, and after them the Egyptians, are the most famous snake-charmers, scorpion-eaters, etc., etc., although gipsies, Arabs, and others are occasionally found, who gain a vagabond livelihood by strolling round the country, and confounding the ignorant with these feats."
Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O LORD.Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth - The word here rendered "break" means properly "to tear out." The allusion is to his enemies, represented as wild beasts; and the prayer is, that God would deprive them of the means of doing harm - as wild animals are rendered harmless when their teeth are broken out.
Break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord - The word used here means properly "biters" or "grinders:" Job 29:17; Proverbs 30:14; Joel 1:6. Compare the notes at Psalm 3:7. The word rendered "young lions" here does not refer to mere whelps, but to full-grown though young lions in their vigor and strength, as contrasted with old lions, or those which are enfeebled by age. The meaning is, that his enemies were of the most fierce and violent kind.
Let them melt away as waters which run continually: when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces.Let them melt away as waters which run continually - Let them vanish or disappear as waters that flow off, or floods that run by, and are no more seen. "Perhaps" the allusion here may be to the waters of a torrent that is swollen, which flow off and are lost in the sand, so that they wholly disappear. See the notes at Job 6:15-19. The prayer is, that his enemies might perish or be cut off, and that he might thus be saved from them.
When he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows - literally, "he treads on his arrows." See the notes at Psalm 11:2. The meaning here is, When he prepares for an attack - or, prepares to make war, as one does who bends his bow, and places his arrow on the string. The allusion here is to the enemies of David, as seeking his life.
Let them be as cut in pieces - That is, Let his arrows be as if they were cut off or "blunted," so that they will produce no effect. Let them be such, that they will not penetrate and wound.
As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away - Or rather, As the snail which melteth as it goes; that is, which leaves a slimy trail as it moves along, and thus melts away the more as it advances, until at length it dies. Gesenius, Lexicon. The allusion is to what seems to occur to the snail; it seems to melt or to be dissolved as it moves along; or seems to leave a part of itself in the slime which flows from it.
Like the untimely birth of a woman - The Hebrew word means literally "that which falls from a woman;" and hence, the word is used to denote an abortion. The prayer is, that they might utterly pass away; that they might become like those who never had real life; that their power might wholly disappear.
That they may not see the sun - May not be among the living. Compare the notes at Job 3:16.
Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.Before your pots can feel the thorns - The word "thorns" here - אטד 'âṭâd - refers to what is called "Christ's thorn," the southern buckthorn. "Gesenius." The fire made of such thorns when dry would be quick and rapid, and water would be soon heated by it. The idea is, that what is here referred to would occur "quickly" - sooner than the most rapid and intense fire could make an impression on a kettle and its contents. The destruction of the wicked would be, as it were, instantaneous. The following quotation from Prof. Hackitt (Illustrations of Scripture, p. 135) will explain this passage: "A species of thorn, now very common near Jerusalem, bears the name of Spina Christi, or Christ's thorn. The people of the country gather these bushes and plants, and use them as fuel. As it is now, so it was of old. 'As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool,' Ecclesiastes 7:6 'Before your pots can feel the thorns,' namely, the fire of them, 'he shall sweep them away,' Psalm 58:9 The figure in this case is taken from travelers in the desert, or from shepherds tenting abroad, who build a fire in the open air, where it is exposed to the wind; a sudden gust arises and sweeps away the fuel almost before it has begun to burn. 'As thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire' Isaiah 33:12. The meaning is that the wicked are worthless - their destruction shall be sudden and complete."
He shall take them away - The word rendered "shall take them away" means properly "to shiver, to shudder;" and it is then applied to the commotion and raging of a tempest. They shal be taken away as in a storm that makes everything shiver or tremble; Job 27:21. It would be done "suddenly" and "entirely." A sudden storm sent by God would beat upon them, and they would be swept away in an instant.
Both living and in his wrath - Margin, "as living as wrath." This expression is exceedingly obscure. The Septuagint renders it, "he shall devour them as it were living - as it were in wrath." The Latin Vulgate: "He shall devour them as living, so in wrath." Prof. Alexander: "Whether raw or done." He supposes that the idea is, that God would come upon them while forming their plans; and that the illustration is derived from the act of "cooking," and that the meaning is, that God would come upon them whether those plans were matured or not - "cooked" or "raw." This seems to me to be a very forced construction, and one which it is doubtful whether the Hebrew will bear. The word rendered "living" - חי chay - means properly "alive, living;" and then, "lively, fresh, vigorous;" and is applicable then to a plant that is living or green. It "may" be here applied to the "thorns" that had been gathered for the fire, still green or alive; and the idea "here" would be, that even while those thorns were alive and green - before they had been kindled by the fire (or while they were trying to kindle them), a sudden tempest would come and sweep them all away.
It is not, indeed, an uncommon occurrence in the deserts of the East, that while, in their journeyings, travelers pause to cook their food, and have gathered the fuel - thorns, or whatever may be at hand - and have placed their pot over the fire, a sudden tempest comes from the desert, and sweeps everything away. Rosenmuller in loc. Such an occurrence "may" be referred to here. The word rendered "wrath" - חרון chârôn - means properly "burning;" and then it is used to denote anything burning. It is applied to wrath or anger, because it seems to "burn." Numbers 25:4; Numbers 32:14; 1 Samuel 28:18. Here, however, it "may" be taken literally as applicable to thorns when they begin to be kindled, though still green. They are seen first as gathered and placed under the pots; then they are seen as still green - not dried up by the kindling flame; then they are seen as on fire; and, in a moment - before the pots could be affected by them - all is swept away by a sudden gust of wind. The "idea" is that of the sudden and unexpected descent of God on the wicked, frustrating their schemes even when they seemed to be well formed, and to promise complete success. This does not mean, therefore, that God would cut off and punish the wicked while "living," but it refers to the fact that their schemes would be suddenly defeated even while they supposed that all things were going on well; defeated before there was, in fact, any progress made toward the accomplishment, as the arrangements for the evening-meal would all be swept away before even the pot had begun to be warm.
The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance - When he sees the just punishment inflicted on the wicked. He will approve of it; he will see that it is right; he will be glad that law is maintained, and that wickedness does not triumph; he will rejoice in the safety of those who do right, and in their deliverance from the assaults and the designs of the wicked. People everywhere approve of the just administration of law, even though it consigns the transgressors to prison or to death; and it is a matter of gratification to all who love law and order when a righteous government is maintained; when wickedness is checked; when justice is administered in a community. This is the end of government and of law; this is what all magistrates are appointed to secure; this is what all good citizens are aiming to accomplish. There is no evidence that the psalmist had any vindictive or revengeful feeling when he uttered the sentiment in this verse. See the notes at Psalm 52:6. Compare Psalm 37:34; Psalm 40:3.
He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked - Compare Psalm 68:23. The image here is taken from a battlefield, where the victor treads in the blood of the slain. It is strong language denoting the entire overthrow of the wicked. There can be no doubt, however, that the allusion is to the "feelings" of satisfaction and triumph with which a victor walks over such a field; the exultation which he has that his foes are subdued, and that he has triumphed. The "idea" is that the righteous will have emotions, when the wicked are subdued and punished, which in some respects "resemble" the feelings of the victor who walks over a field covered with the blood of the slain. Still it is not "necessary" to suppose that these are, in either case, vindictive feelings; or that either the victor or the righteous have pleasure in the shedding of blood, or in the sufferings of others; or that they would not have preferred that the discomfited and slain should "not" have been wicked, and should "not" have been made to suffer in this manner. All that is "essentially" implied in this is, that there is a feeling of satisfaction and approval when law is vindicated, and when the triumph of wickedness is prevented. It would be difficult to show that the feelings expressed by the psalmist are "less" proper than those which an officer of justice "may" have, and "ought" to have, and "does" have, when he has faithfully discharged his duty, and has secured the arrest and punishment of the violators of law; or that the psalmist has expressed anything more than every man must feel who sees "just" punishment inflicted on the guilty. Assuredly it is a matter of rejoicing that wickedness does "not" triumph; it is a thing to exult in when it "is" arrested.
So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.So that a man shall say - That is, every man shall say, or people everywhere shall see this. This expresses the result of a close observation of the divine dealings among people. The conclusion from those dealings is,
(a) that there is, on the whole, a reward for the righteous on earth, or that righteousness tends to secure the favor of God and to promote human happiness; and
(b) that there is a God - a just Being presiding over human affairs.
A reward for the righteous - Margin, as in Hebrew, "fruit for the righteous." That is, righteousness will produce its appropriate "fruits," as trees that are cultivated will reward the cultivator. The idea is, that there is a course of things on earth, even with all there is that is mixed and mysterious, which is favorable to virtue; which shows that there is an "advantage" in being righteous; which demonstrates that there is a moral government; which makes it certain that God is the friend of virtue and the enemy of vice; that he is the friend of holiness and an enemy of sin. Compare the notes at 1 Timothy 4:8.
Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth - Or, Truly there is a God that judges in the earth. In other words, the course of things demonstrates that the affairs of the world are not left to chance, to fate, or to mere physical laws. There are results of human conduct which show that there is a "Mind" that presides over all; that there is One who has a purpose and plan of his own; that there is One who "administers" government, rewarding the good, and punishing the wicked. The argument is, that there is a course of things which cannot be explained on the supposition that the affairs of earth are left to chance; that they are controlled by fate; that they are regulated by mere physical laws; that they take care of themselves. There is a clear proof of divine interposition in those affairs, and a clear proof that, on the whole, and in the final result, that interposition is favorable to righteousness and opposed to sin. No man, in other words, can take the "facts" which occur on the earth, and explain them satisfactorily, except on the supposition that there is a God. All other explanations fail; and numerous as it must be admitted are the difficulties that meet us even on this supposition, yet all other suppositions utterly fail in giving any intelligible account of what occurs in our world. See this argument stated in a manner which cannot be confuted, in Bishop Butler's Analogy, part i. chap. iii.