Do you indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do you judge uprightly, O you sons of men?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Congregation.—This rendering comes of a mistaken derivation of the Hebrew word êlem, which offers some difficulty. As pointed, it must mean silence (comp. Psalms 56 title, the only other place it occurs); and some, regardless of sense, would render, “do ye truly in silence speak righteousness.” Of the many conjectures on the passage, we may choose between reading elim (short for elîm = gods), and here, as in Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8; Psalm 82:6, applied to the judges) and ulam (with the LXX., Syriac, and Arabic, in the sense of but. To speak righteousness is, of course, to pronounce a just judgment. If we prefer the former of these (with most modern scholars), it is best to take sons of men in the accusative rather than the vocative, do ye judge with equity the sons of men.Psalm 58:1. Do ye indeed speak righteousness? — No: you are far from it. You censure me freely without any regard to truth or justice; O congregation — The word אלם, eelem, thus rendered, signifies a band, or company of men; and seems to point at Saul’s judges and counsellors, who met together to consult what they should do against David; and probably passed a sentence upon him as guilty of treason and rebellion. O ye sons of men — So he calls them, to remind them that they also were men, and must give an account to God for all their hard speeches and unrighteous decrees against him.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.
Ps 58:1-11. David's critical condition in some period of the Sauline persecution probably occasioned this Psalm, in which the Psalmist teaches that the innate and actual sinfulness of men deserves, and shall receive, God's righteous vengeance, while the pious may be consoled by the evidence of His wise and holy government of men.
1. O congregation—literally, "Oh, dumb"; the word used is never translated "congregation." "Are ye dumb? ye should speak righteousness," may be the translation. In any case, the writer remonstrates with them, perhaps a council, who were assembled to try his cause, and bound to give a right decision.
2 Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.
3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;
5 Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.
"Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation?" The enemies of David were a numerous and united band, and because they so unanimously condemned the persecuted one, they were apt to take it for granted that their verdict was a right one. "What everybody says must be true," is a lying proverb based upon the presumption which comes of large combinations. Have we not all agreed to hound the man to the death, and who dare hint that so many great ones can be mistaken? Yet the persecuted one lays the axe at the root by requiring his judges to answer the question whether or not they were acting according to justice. It were well if men would sometimes pause, and candidly consider this. Some of those who surrounded Saul were rather passive than active persecutors; they held their tongues when the object of royal hate was slandered; in the original, this first sentence appears to be addressed to them, and they are asked to justify their silence. Silence gives consent. He who refrains from defending the right is himself an accomplice in the wrong. "Do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?" Ye too are only men though dressed in a little brief authority. Your office for men, and your relation to men both bind you to rectitude; but have ye remembered this? Have ye not put aside all truth when ye have condemned the godly, and united in seeking the overthrow of the innocent? Yet in doing this be not too sure of success, for ye are only the "sons of men," and there is a God who can and will reverse your verdicts.
"Yea, in heart ye work wickedness." Down deep in your very souls ye hold a rehearsal of the injustice ye intend to practise, and when your opportunity arrives, ye wreak vengeance with a gusto; your hearts are in your wicked work, and your hands are therefore ready enough. Those very men who sat as judges, and pretended to so much indignation at the faults imputed to their victim, were in their hearts perpetrating all manner of evil. "Ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth." They were deliberate sinners, cold, calculating villains. As righteous judges ponder the law, balance the evidence, and weigh the case, so the malicious dispense injustice with malice aforethought in cold blood. Note in this verse that the men described sinned with heart and hand; privately in their heart, publicly in the earth; they worked and they weighed - they were active, and yet deliberate. See what a generation saints have to deal with! Such were the foes of our Lord, a generation of vipers, an evil and adulterous generation; they sought to kill him because he was righteousness Itself, yet they masked their hatred to his goodness by charging him with sin.
"The wicked are estranged from the womb." It is small wonder that some men persecute the righteous seed of the woman, since all of them are of the serpent's brood, an enmity is set between them. No sooner born than alienated from God - what a condition to be found in! Do we so early leave the right track? Do we at the same moment begin to be men and commence to be sinners? "They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies." Every observer may see how very soon infants act lies. Before they can speak they practise little deceptive arts. This is especially the case in those who grow up to be adepts in slander, they begin their evil trade early, and there is no marvel that they become adepts in it. He who starts early in the morning will go far before night. To be untruthful is one of the surest proofs of a fallen state, and since falsehood is universal, so also is human depravity.
"Their poison is like the poison of a serpent." Is man also a poisonous reptile? Yes, and his venom is even as that of a serpent. The viper has but death for the body in his fangs; but unregenerate man carries poison under his tongue, destructive to the nobler nature. "They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear." While speaking of serpents the Psalmist remembers that many of them have been conquered by the charmer's art, but men such as he had to deal with, no art could tame or restrain; therefore, he likens them to a serpent less susceptible than others to the charmer's music, and says that they refused to hear reason, even as the adder shuts her ear to those incantations which fascinate other reptiles. Man, in his natural corruption, appears to have all the ill points of a serpent without its excellences. O sin, what hast thou done!
do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men? no, they did not; they were unjust judges. The psalmist calls them "the sons of men", as in 1 Samuel 26:19, in distinction from God the Judge of all, and to put them in mind of their frailty and mortality; for though they were gods by office, they were but men, and should die like men, and be accountable to the supreme Judge for all their proceedings in judgment here, Psalm 82:1.<
(a) You counsellors of Saul, who under pretence of consulting for the common wealth, conspire my death being an innocent.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)1. O congregation] This rendering of the obscure word çlěm, adopted by the scholars of the early part of the 16th century from the learned Rabbi David Kimchi (c. 1160–1235), cannot be defended, and does not suit the context. The word çlěm occurs elsewhere only in the title of Psalms 56, and from its derivation appears to mean silence.
i. Taking this meaning, we may render,
(1) as R.V., Do ye indeed in silence speak righteousness? The Psalmist expostulates with the judges who neglect their office. “They are dumb when they ought to speak, as afterwards they are said to be deaf when they ought to hear.” (Bp Perowne). ‘To speak righteousness’ means ‘to pronounce just sentences.’ Justice and uprightness are characteristics of God’s judgement (Psalm 9:8), which ought to be reflected by all earthly judges.
(2) as R.V. marg. with substantially the same sense: Is the righteousness ye should speak dumb?
(3) as Kay: Will ye indeed utter long-silent Justice? a reference, he supposes, to Absalom’s profession of a desire to remedy the want of proper provision for the administration of justice, while he was himself plotting the unnatural crime of rebellion against his father. See 2 Samuel 15:2-6.
With this reading it is best to retain the rendering, O ye sons of men, in the next line, though it is also possible to render, Do ye judge uprightly the sons of men? The judges are addressed as sons of men to remind them that they are but human, and themselves subject to a higher tribunal.
ii. Most critics, however, think that here (as perhaps in the title of Psalms 56 also) the word çlěm should be read with different vowels, çlîm, ‘gods,’ or, ‘mighty ones.’ We must then render,
Do ye indeed, O ye gods, speak righteousness?
Do ye judge uprightly the sons of men?
The judges are addressed as çlîm, ‘gods,’ as in Psalm 82:1; Psalm 82:6 they are called elôhîm, ‘gods,’ because in their judicial capacity they acted as the representatives of God, the supreme Judge. They are thus addressed here, half-sarcastically and half-reproachfully, in contrast to the ‘sons of men,’ over whom they exercise jurisdiction; as well as to emphasise the comparison between their failure to administer justice, and the righteous judgement of God (Psalm 58:11).
Elîm however is not so used elsewhere, and may simply mean ‘mighty ones.’ Cp. Exodus 15:15; 2 Kings 24:15; Job 41:25 (Heb. 17); Ezekiel 17:13; Ezekiel 32:21.
Cheyne and some other commentators find here a reference to the angels, “to whom the actual administration of the world’s government has been entrusted.” But there is nothing in the context to justify the importation of an idea which belongs to the later development of Jewish theology. It is true that it is found in the LXX of Deuteronomy 32:8, “He set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God”; but this paraphrase has no claim to be regarded as representing the original text.
iii. None of the Ancient Versions however give any support to this emendation. The LXX and Jerome render çlěm as an adverb (‘then’ or ‘certainly’); the Syr. omits it; Aquila and the Targ. attest the reading of the text. Plausible as the emendation is, it must not be made a basis of argument, and the obscurity of the passage must be admitted.
1, 2. An indignant remonstrance with those in authority, who, instead of condemning crime, are themselves the most guilty criminals.Verse 1. - Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation! The rendering of elem (אֵלֶם) by "congregation" is contrary to all analogy, and quite untenable. It must either mean "dumb ones," or be a corruption of elim (אֵלִים) - "mighty ones" (comp. Psalm 29:1). In either case it is an epithet applied to the judges of the people, and not to the congregation. Do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men? Both questions are asked in bitter irony, as is clear from the context. Psalm 57:7 is the perfect of certainty; the other perfects state what preceded and is now changed into the destruction of the crafty ones themselves. If the clause כּפף נפשׁי is rendered: my soul was bowed down (cf. חלל, Psalm 109:22), it forms no appropriate corollary to the crafty laying of snares. Hence kpp must be taken as transitive: he had bowed down my soul; the change of number in the mention of the enemies is very common in the Psalms relating to these trials, whether it be that the poet has one enemy κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν before his mind or comprehends them all in one. Even the lxx renders καὶ κατέκαμψαν τὴν ψυχὴν μου, it is true, as though it were וכפפו, but can scarcely have read it thus. This line is still remarkable; one would expect for Psalm 57:7 a thought parallel with Psalm 57:7, and perhaps the poet wrote כפף נפשׁו, his (the net-layer's) own soul bends (viz., in order to fall into the net). Then כפף like נפל would be praet. confidentiae. In this certainty, to express which the music here becomes triumphantly forte, David's heart is confident, cheerful (Symmachus ἐδραία), and a powerful inward impulse urges him to song and harp. Although נכון may signify ready, equipped (Exodus 34:2; Job 12:5), yet this meaning is to be rejected here in view of Psalm 51:12, Psalm 78:37, Psalm 112:7 : it is not appropriate to the emphatic repetition of the word. His evening mood which found expression in Psalm 57:4, was hope of victory; the morning mood into which David here transports himself, is certainty of victory. He calls upon his soul to awake (כּבודי as in Psalm 16:9; Psalm 30:13), he calls upon harp and cithern to awake (הנּבל וכנּור with one article that avails for both words, as in Jeremiah 29:3; Nehemiah 1:5; and עוּרה with the accent on the ultima on account of the coming together of two aspirates), from which he has not parted even though a fugitive; with the music of stringed instruments and with song he will awake the not yet risen dawn, the sun still slumbering in its chamber: אעירה, expergefaciam (not expergiscar), as e.g., in Sol 2:7, and as Ovid (Metam. xi. 597) says of the cock, evocat auroram.
(Note: With reference to the above passage in the Psalms, the Talmud, B. Berachoth 3b, says, "A cithern used to hang above David's bed; and when midnight came, the north wind blew among the strings, so that they sounded of themselves; and forthwith he arose and busied himself with the Tra until the pillar of the dawn (עמוד השׁחר) ascended." Rashi observes, "The dawn awakes the other kings; but I, said David, will awake the dawn (אני מעורר את השׁחר).")
His song of praise, however, shall not resound in a narrow space where it is scarcely heard; he will step forth as the evangelist of his deliverance and of his Deliverer in the world of nations (בעמּים; and the parallel word, as also in Psalm 108:4; Psalm 149:7, is to be written בּלעמּים with Lamed raphatum and Metheg before it); his vocation extends beyond Israel, and the events of his life are to be for the benefit of mankind. Here we perceive the self-consciousness of a comprehensive mission, which accompanied David from the beginning to the end of his royal career (vid., Psalm 18:50). What is expressed in v. 11 is both motive and theme of the discourse among the peoples, viz., God's mercy and truth which soar high as the heavens (Psalm 36:6). That they extend even to the heavens is only an earthly conception of their infinity (cf. Ephesians 3:18). In the refrain, v. 12, which only differs in one letter from Psalm 57:6, the Psalm comes back to the language of prayer. Heaven and earth have a mutually involved history, and the blessed, glorious end of this history is the sunrise of the divine doxa over both, here prayed for.
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