Psalm 58:4
Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stops her ear;
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(4) Their poison . . .—Better, they have a venom like, &c. The term for serpent is the generic nāchash.

The most forcible images of determined wickedness, and of the destruction it entails, now follow. The first is supplied by the serpent, the more suggestive from the accumulated evil qualities of which that animal has from the first been considered the type. Here the figure is heightened, since the animal is supposed to have been first tamed, but suddenly darts forth its fangs, and shows itself not only untamed, but untameable.

Adder.—Heb., pethen, translated asp in Deuteronomy 32:33; Job 20:14; Isaiah 11:8 (and here by the LXX.) In the Bible Educator iv. 103, the pethen is identified with the Egyptian cobra, the species upon which the serpent charmers practise their peculiar science.

Deaf.—So Jeremiah 8:17 refers to various kinds of serpents that “will not be charmed.” Here, however, it would seem as if the poet were thinking of some individual of a species, generally tractable, that obstinately resists the spells and incantations of the charmer.

The image of the deaf adder was a favourite with Shakespeare, who, no doubt, derived it from this psalm.

“Pleasure and revenge

Have ears more deaf than adders to the voice

Of any true decision.”

Troilus and Cressida, iii. 2.

(Comp. 2 Hen. VI., iii. 2.)

Psalm 58:4-5. Their poison — Their malicious disposition; is like the poison of a serpent — Both in itself, being natural, inveterate, and incurable; and also in its effects, which are most pernicious. They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear, &c. — They are like that particular species of serpents which suffer not themselves to be charmed from their mischief by any methods whatever: for no arguments, persuasions, or efforts that can be used, can mollify the envenomed malice, or change the disposition of these men. They are deaf to all my counsels, to the dictates of their own consciences, and to the voice of God’s law: nor will they hearken to any instructions, remonstrances, cautions, or advices, however reasonable and proper, excellent or necessary they may be. The psalmist here alludes to a prevailing notion in those countries, that all serpents, except one particular species, might be so influenced by some sort of music or verse as to be disarmed of their rage and power of doing mischief, and rendered gentle and innocent. As to what Dr. Hammond observes from Schindler, that the deaf adder, or viper, here mentioned, is so called, because, being deaf of one ear, it uses to stop the other with dust, or with its tail, to avoid the force of charms or incantations wherewith some species of them were wont to be caught; it seems so improbable as to be hardly worth noticing. For why should the God of nature give any species of creatures two ears, and yet design one of them to be always deaf? To say, as some have done, that it lays one ear upon the ground, and stops the other with dust, or with its tail, would appear more credible. But it seems much more reasonable to suppose, with Dr. Horne, that either a serpent deaf by accident is here intended by the deaf adder, or one of a species naturally deaf; for several such kinds are mentioned by Avicenne, as quoted by Bochart: and a modern writer on the Psalms, cited by Dr. Dodd, asserts that the common adder, or viper here in England, the bite of which is very venomous, is either wholly deaf, or has the sense of hearing very imperfectly; and gives good reasons for his assertion. But, “for my part,” adds Dr. Dodd, “I cannot help conceiving, that the psalmist does not allude to any natural deafness of the adder, (which appears to be a very disputable point,) but to an artificial deafness, arising from its fury; its unwillingness to hear, and to regard any of the usual methods of taming it, when irritated, and in a rage: and, indeed, this seems to be most applicable to the point in comparison.” Certainly, in any of these cases, “the adder might be said, in the language of poetry, to stop her ear from being proof to all the efforts of the charmer.” “Of the charming of serpents,” says Poole, “mention is made both in other places of Scripture, and in all sorts of authors, ancient and modern, Hebrew and Arabic, and Greek and Latin. And particularly the Arabic writers (to whom these creatures were best known) name some sorts of serpents, among which the adder is one which they call deaf, not because they are dull of hearing, but, as one of them expressly says, because they will not be charmed.” The version of the Seventy here is, which will not hear, φονην επαδοντων, the voice of those that sing. And certainly musical sounds were anciently supposed to have the effect of charming or disarming the rage of some kinds of serpents. Bochart quotes several authors to this purpose, and, among the rest, Virgil, (see Æneid, 7. 5:753,) and the elder Scaliger. And Mr. Boyle gives us the following passage from Sir H. Blunt’s Voyage to the Levant: “Many rarities of living creatures I saw in Grand Cairo; but the most ingenious was a nest of four- legged serpents, of two feet long, black and ugly, kept by a Frenchman, which, when he came to handle them, would not endure him, but ran and hid themselves in their hole; but, when he took out his cittern and played upon it, they, hearing his music, came all crawling to his feet, and began to climb up to him, till he gave over playing, then away they ran.”58:1-5 When wrong is done under the form of law, it is worse than any other; especially it is grievous to behold those who profess to be children of God, joining together against any of his people. We should thank the Lord for merciful restraints; we should be more earnest in seeking renewing grace, more watchful over ourselves, and more patient under the effects of fallen nature in others. The corruption of their nature was the root of bitterness. We may see in children the wickedness of the world beginning. They go astray from God and their duty as soon as possibly they can. And how soon will little children tell lies! It is our duty to take pains to teach them, and above all, earnestly to pray for converting grace to make our children new creatures. Though the poison be within, much of it may be kept from breaking forth to injure others. When the Saviour's words are duly regarded, the serpent becomes harmless. But those who refuse to hear heavenly wisdom, must perish miserably, for ever.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.

4. stoppeth her—literally, "his."

ear—that is, the wicked man (the singular used collectively), who thus becomes like the deaf adder which has no ear.

Their poison, their virulent and malicious disposition, is like the poison of a serpent; partly in itself, being natural, and inveterate, and incurable; and partly in its most pernicious effects. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent,.... Either their "wrath" and fury, as the word (x) may be rendered, against God, his people, and even one another, is like that of a serpent when irritated and provoked; or their mischievous and devouring words are like the poison of asps under their lips, Romans 3:13; or the malignity of sin in them is here meant, which, like the poison of a serpent, is latent, hid, and lurking in them; is very infectious to all the powers and faculties of the soul, and members of the body; and is deadly and incurable, without the grace of God and blood of Christ;

they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; the adder is a kind of serpent, in Hebrew called "pethen"; hence the serpent "Python". This is not, deaf naturally, otherwise it would have no need to stop its ear, but of choice; and naturalists (y) observe, that it is quicker of hearing than of sight. Jarchi indeed says, when it grows old it becomes deaf in one of its ears, and it stops its other ear with dust, that it may not hear the voice of the charmer; though others say (z) it stops one ear with its tail, and lays the other to the ground; but these seem fabulous. David speaks of it figuratively, that it acts as if it was deaf, regarding no enchantments, but bites notwithstanding; these having no influence on it, which, if they had any, could not be hindered by its deafness; and he compares wicked men to it, who are wilfully deaf to all good counsel and advice given them (a).

(x) Sept. "furor", V. L. (y) Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 23. (z) Isidor. Hispal. Origin. l. 12. c. 4. (a) Vid. Gataker. Adversaria, c. 8. p. 70, &c.

Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf {d} adder that stoppeth her ear;

(d) They pass in malice and subtilty the crafty serpent who could preserve himself by stopping his ears from the enchanter.

4, 5. They are not only insidious and venomous as serpents, but obstinately oppose all attempts to control them; like the deaf adder or asp, most venomous of all serpents, which resists all the arts of the charmer. The Arabs distinguish the ‘deaf’ serpent from that which answers the call of the charmer by hissing. Snake charming is alluded to in Ecclesiastes 10:11; Jeremiah 8:17; Sir 12:13, and is still practised in Africa and the East. As the asp is deaf to the voice of the enchanter, so these men shut their ears to the warnings and exhortations of the prophets.

Experience confirms the teaching of the Psalmist that among the endless varieties of human character, there are some which exhibit a diabolical aptitude for evil and opposition to good. In the light of God’s infinite love, none are outside the pale of His mercy; yet it lies in the power of man to defeat the operations of His grace (Matthew 12:31).Verse 4. - Their poison is like the poison of a serpent (comp. Psalm 140:3; Song of Sirach 25:15). They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear. The "adder" was supposed to be deaf, on account of its being very difficult to charm. It was thought obstinately to set itself against the charmer, and, as it were, stop its ears against him. In this second half of the Psalm the poet refreshes himself with the thought of seeing that for which he longs and prays realized even with the dawning of the morning after this night of wretchedness. The perfect in 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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