Psalm 58:5
Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.
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(5) Charmers.—Heb., melachashîm, a word undoubtedly formed from the sound made by the charmer in imitating the snake, in order to entice it from its hole. Lane, in Modern Egyptians, describing a snake charmer at his task, says: “He assumes an air of mystery, strikes the walls with a short palm stick, whistles, makes a clacking noise with his tongue.” The art of serpent charming, and the magic connected with it, was of great antiquity in Egypt, and passed thence to surrounding countries.

Charming never so wisely.—Literally, one tying knots wisely, i.e., a most skilful charmer.

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.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."

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.

This similitude doth neither justify the practice of charming, which, in the very word here used, is condemned, Deu 18:11, no more than those which are drawn from the unjust steward, Luke 16:1, &c.; Luke 18:2, &c., and from a thief, Revelation 16:15; nor yet affirm the truth of what is reported concerning the asps or adders, which are said to lay one ear close to the ground, and to cover the other with their tail, that so they may avoid the danger of enchantment; but only was taken from the common opinion, which he poetically mentions to this purpose: As they commonly say of the asps or adders, &c., such really are these men; deaf to all my counsels, and to the dictates of their own consciences, and to the voice of God’s law. And yet of the

charming or enchanting of serpents, mention is made both in other places of Scripture, as Ecclesiastes 10:11 Jeremiah 8:17, and in all sorts of authors, ancient and modern, Hebrew, and Arabic, and Greek, and Latin of which see my Latin Synopsis. 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 saith, because they will not be charmed.

Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers,.... Or "that use enchantments", to enchant serpents, by muttering certain words, or by magical songs; by which means it is said that they have been drawn out of their holes, or caused to fly, or have become stupefied, and have lost their poison, and even burst asunder; as Bochart (b) relates from Pliny, Aelianus, Lucan, Isidore, Virgil, Ovid, Horace, and others: but an "asp" is unmoved by enchantments, and they are of no avail against its bites and poison (c). Nor do these words suppose that the psalmist approved of enchantments, or affirms the virtue of them to be real, but rather suggests the contrary; he only takes his similitude from the seeming deafness and disregard of serpents to enchantments, to set forth the obstinacy of wicked men: and their resolution to continue in their wicked ways; like the serpent that disregards men:

charming never so wisely; being "wise, skilful" (d), or made wise in enchanting enchantments; one very learned and expert in the art; or in "associating associations, skilful" (e): who makes a consort of magical words to obtain his point, as some think; or because by his enchantments he associates and gathers many serpents together, and tames them; or because he does this by society and fellowship with the devil; methods no ways approved of by the psalmist, only alluded to. It may perhaps better be rendered, "which will not hearken to the voice of the eloquent, putting things together ever so wisely": the word is used for an eloquent orator, Isaiah 3:3. Such Gospel ministers are, who are mighty in the Scriptures. The voice of the Gospel is a charming voice; it publishes good news and glad tidings; it is a voice of love, grace, and mercy, of peace, pardon, righteousness, and salvation by Christ; and is wisely charmed when it gives no uncertain sound, is all of a piece, and is faithfully preached, as it was by the apostles of Christ; who, as wise men, laid him as the foundation of eternal life and salvation; and especially as it was preached by Christ himself, who spake as never man did: and yet, such were the hardness and obstinacy of the wicked Jews, that they stopped their ears to his ministry, nor would they suffer others to attend upon it; and so it is now: which shows the insufficiency of the best means of themselves, and the necessity of powerful and efficacious grace, to work upon the hearts of men.

(b) Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 2. c. 6. col. 390. (c) Aelian. de Animal. l. 1. c. 54. (d) "incantantis incantationem periti", Vatablus; "vel incantationes exercitati ac peritissimi", Michaelis; "of him that is made wise", Ainsworth. (e) "Jungentis conjunctiones docti", Montanus; "consociantis societates serpentum", Michaelis.

Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.
Verse 5. - Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers. Serpent charmers are alluded to in Ecclesiastes 10:11 and Jeremiah 6:17. They have at all times been common in the East, as they are still in India; and it is with reason suspected that the magicians of Pharaoh employed the art in their contest with Moses and Aaron. Charming never so wisely; literally, though they bind their spells skilfully. Psalm 58:5After 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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