Psalm 58 – “Pedagogic Imprecation”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist challenges the wicked, asks God to crush them, and guarantees revenge for the righteous.

II. Photo
The psalmist speaks of the wicked: “The wicked are defiant from birth; the liars go astray from the womb!” (v. 4)

III. Select Verses    
2-3: O mighty ones, do you really decree what is just? Do you judge mankind with equity?  In your minds you devise wrongdoing in the land; with your hands you deal out lawlessness.
4-6: The wicked are defiant from birth; the liars go astray from the womb.  Their venom is like that of a snake, a deaf viper that stops its ears so as not to hear the voice of charmers or the expert mutterer of spells.
7-9: O God, smash their teeth in their mouth; shatter the fangs of lions, O LORD; let them melt, let them vanish like water; let Him aim His arrows that they be cut down; like a snail that melts away as it moves; like a woman’s stillbirth, may they never see the sun!
11-12:  The righteous man will rejoice when he sees revenge; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Men will say, “There is, then, a reward for the righteous; there is, indeed, divine justice on earth.”

IV. Outline
1. Superscription
2-3. Confrontation = rhetorical questions
4-6. Pedagogic descripition of the wicked
7a. Invocation
7b-10. Imprecation
11-12. Guarantee/hope for the righteous

V. Comment
Psalm 58 is a judgement speech directed at a specific group. As Gerstenberger notes, the identity of this group is elusive: “Among the many obscure passages v. 2a is enigmatic. Who is being addressed? For more than two centuries most exegetes have been pleading the case for the emendation אלים “divine beings,” instead of the MT’s אלם “in silence” (?). Yahweh’s chastising the lesser gods in Psalm 82 is adduced as supporting evidence. The emendation is precarious because the context has nothing to reinforce it. And even if אלים were the right reading, it could mean only human potentates, not the heavenly court of Yahweh. Psalm 58 refers to the rulers who abuse their power.” (233)

In support of this interpretation, Gerstenberger notes the following verses where human beings are referred to by quasi-divine names:

  • Exodus 4:16: And he shall speak for you to the people. Thus he shall serve as your spokesman, with you playing the role of אלהים to him,
  • Exodus 7:1: The LORD replied to Moses, “See, I place you in the role of אלהים to Pharaoh, with your brother Aaron as your prophet.
  • Psalm 45:7: Your throne of אלהים is everlasting; your royal scepter is a scepter of equity.
  • Zechariah 12:8: In that day, the LORD will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and the feeblest of them shall be in that day like David, and the House of David like a אלהים — like an angel of the LORD — at their head.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
Tate, Marvin. “Psalms 51-100” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 20 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1990).
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