Psalm 58:4
Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth 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. Psalm 58:4After this bold beginning the boldest figures follow one another rapidly; and the first of these is that of the serpent, which is kept up longer than any of the others. The verb זוּר (cogn. סוּר) is intentionally written זור in this instance in a neuter, not an active sense, plural זרוּ lar, like בּשׁוּ, טבוּ. Bakius recognises a retrospective reference to this passage in Isaiah 48:8. In such passages Scripture bears witness to the fact, which is borne out by experience, that there are men in whom evil from childhood onwards has a truly diabolical character, i.e., a selfish character altogether incapable of love. For although hereditary sinfulness and hereditary sin (guilt) are common to all men, yet the former takes the most manifold combinations and forms; and, in fact, the inheriting of sin and the complex influence of the power of evil and of the power of grace on the propagation of the human race require that it should be so. The Gospel of John more particularly teaches such a dualism of the natures of men. חמת־למו (with Rebia, as in John 18:18) is not the subject: the poison belonging to them, etc., but a clause by itself: poison is to them, they have poison; the construct state here, as in Lamentations 2:18; Ezekiel 1:27, does not express a relation of actual union, but only a close connection. יאטּם (with the orthophonic Dagesh which gives prominence to the Teth as the commencement of a syllable) is an optative future form, which is also employed as an indicative in the poetic style, e.g., Psalm 18:11. The subject of this attributive clause, continuing the adjective, is the deaf adder, such an one, viz., as makes itself deaf; and in this respect (as in their evil serpent nature) it is a figure of the self-hardening evil-doer. Then with אשׁר begins the more minute description of this adder. There is a difference even among serpents. They belong to the worst among them that are inaccessible to any kind of human influence. All the arts of sorcery are lost upon them. מלחשׁים are the whisperers of magic formulae (cf. Arabic naffathât, adjurations), and חובר חברים is one who works binding by spells, exorcism, and tying fast by magic knots (cf. חבר, to bind equals to bewitch, cf. Arab. ‛qqd, ‛nn, Persic bend equals κατάδεσμος, vid., Isaiah, i. 118, ii. 242). The most inventive affection and the most untiring patience cannot change their mind. Nothing therefore remains to David but to hope for their removal, and to pray for it.
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