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Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Psalm 58 Enter Judgment
Ding-dong, the witch is dead! Which old witch? The wicked witch
Ding-dong, the wicked witch is dead. — lyrics from The Wizard of Oz. (1).
Question: Did the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz celebrate death and vengeance, or were they celebrating the ending of cruel slavery suffered by all when wickedness ruled the land?
Judgment is an uncomfortable theme for many Christians and Christian critics who have been raised on John 3:16 and its sequel, “God is love,” in 1 John 4:8. How can judgment possibly be consistent with the teaching of 100% acceptance in Jesus Christ for every willing individual? Nevertheless, the theme of judgment, and yes, punishment, occurs cover to cover throughout the Bible. After describing the characteristics of the wicked, Psalm 58 focuses on the theme of judgment for the enemies of God and his Son, the King.
This author bears no animosity nor any judgmental attitude toward any people group anywhere in the globe. Jesus Christ broke down all walls of division separating any given portion of humankind from any other portion (Ephesians 2:14-3:21). We are all one in Christ, and love rules the day. The importance of this packet of psalms lies in their prophetic word of Christ. These psalms function as an aid to help along the nascent faith of unbelievers and all Christians everywhere. For those who still may doubt that Psalm 58 treats of Christ, perhaps the quotes in the Notes section may help (2).
Who are these wicked?
Verse 1 of Psalm 58 states a basic premise that the mouth is indicative of what lies in the heart.
Psalm 58:1 If ye do indeed speak righteousness, then do ye judge rightly, ye sons of men.
Christ in in the New Testament states it this way,
Matthew 12:34 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. (NET)
And James in the memorable passage concerning the tongue, introduces the topic of how one’s speech relates to the whole person:
James 3:2 For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well. (NET)
Psalm 58 LXE (Septuagint in English by Brenton) goes on to describe the “sons of men” (3) or “sinners” in verses 2-4:
2 For ye work iniquities in your hearts in the earth: your hands plot unrighteousness.
3 Sinners have gone astray from the womb: they go astray from the belly: they speak lies.
4 Their venom is like that of a serpent; as that of a deaf asp, and that stops her ears;
5 which will not hear the voice of charmers, nor heed the charm prepared skillfully by the wise.
Again, Jesus puts it this way:
Matthew 15:8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
Mark 7:21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,
John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Matthew 13:38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,
Matthew 23:33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Luke 7:31 “To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’
Matthew 13:13 For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand.
The kind of people described in both Testaments above are the ones who opposed Jesus every step of his ministry. They are those whom the gospels call the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the priests, the chief priests and elders, the Sanhedrin, the lawyers, and the scribes. These are people who hated the truth of God and Christ, who hated the actions of love and good works, especially towards the down and out and poor of person and spirit. They were absolutely sure that they were right and all who disagreed with them were wrong and to be hated. They were proud in their hearts and disdainful of all who were different than they. They believed that they merited special, favorable treatment from God because they believed themselves to be superior to others. They were the religious authorities of Jesus’s day who sought to annihilate him.
What will be the fate of the wicked who hate God and his Christ?
Psalm 2 first prophesies the outcome for this set of people.
Psalm 2:1 Wherefore did the heathen rage, and the nations imagine vain things?
2 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers gathered themselves together, against the Lord, and against his Christ;
3 saying, Let us break through their bonds, and cast away their yoke from us.
4 He that dwells in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn, and the Lord shall mock them.
5 Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his fury.
6 But I have been made king by him on Sion his holy mountain,
7 declaring the ordinance of the Lord: the Lord said to me, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel.
10 Now therefore understand, ye kings: be instructed, all ye that judge the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in him with trembling.
12 Accept correction, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye should perish from the righteous way: whensoever his wrath shall be suddenly kindled, blessed are all they that trust in him. (LXE)
Psalm 58 is very similar to Psalm 2 in its approach. The basic premise of both psalms is that God has a Son with whom he is well-pleased. The Son, while sojourning on earth, will encounter opposition from enemies, who will be defeated. God warns them in advance of the consequences of their rebellion, and he encourages them to repent and receive his favor. (4)
Psalm 58:6 God has crushed their teeth in their mouth: God has broken the cheek-teeth of the lions.
7 They shall utterly pass away like water running through: he shall bend his bow till they shall fail.
8 They shall be destroyed as melted wax: the fire has fallen and they have not seen the sun.
9 Before your thorns feel the white thorn, he shall swallow you up as living, as in his wrath.
Jesus himself, the one who loved his Father so much that he willingly conformed to the Father’s will to provide a life raft for the sinking human race by dying a most painful death upon the cross, said this about the future of his enemies:
Matthew 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Matthew 23:34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate.
Matthew 8: 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 13: 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,
42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24:1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Luke 19:41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
And as in Psalm 2, Psalm 58 pronounces blessing upon the righteous:
10 The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance of the ungodly: he shall wash his hands in the blood of the sinner.
11 And a man shall say, Verily then there is a reward for the righteous: verily there is a God that judges them in the earth.
Likewise, Jesus pronounces blessing upon the righteous.
Matthew 13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 CE fulfilled in whole or in part the prophecies of judgment pronounced in Psalms 2 and 58 against God and his King. (5) Looking ahead, Psalm 59 records again the speaker’s trials by the hand of his enemies, his expressions of faith in prayer, his expectations of vindication, and his prophecies of future judgment upon his enemies. In spite of the Wizard of Oz lyrics at the beginning of this article, neither Psalm 58 nor Psalm 59 are what one might call “happy.” God’s standards are higher than Hollywood’s, even when it comes to the little Munchkins celebrating the wicked witch’s demise. Happiness does come, but it must await Psalm 60.
1 Full lyrics and copyright information available at https://www.google.com/search?ei=vv20XaCHNMSUsgWrtLfgBA&q=wizard+of+oz+lyrics+ding+dong+the+witch+is+dead&oq=wizard+of+oz+lyrics+ding&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0j0i22i30l3.805142.810221..813139…0.0..0.70.1396.24……0….1..gws-wiz…….0i131j0i67.cBktK4kg-Eg. Accessed October 26, 2019.
2 John Barclay’s preface to Psalm 58: “The rulers of the people met, Like wolves around a lamb combin’d Against the Lord of glory set, Contrive the death they had design’d: But ah! the blood they mean to shed, (Which flows for our eternal weal,) Shall be for ever on their head, And more inflame the flames of hell. (Barclay, 57)
Samuel Lord Bishop Horsley writes concerning Psalm 58. “This Psalm has no obvious connection with any particular occurrence in the life of David; but it is connected remarkably with the history of Christ.” (Horsley, 139)
Andrew Bonar writes, “O that the sons of men would hear in this their day! O that every ear were opened to these words of The Righteous One reasoning with the ungodly in prospect of the day of vengeance.” (Bonar, 179)
3 Translations based upon the Hebrew Masoretic text generally ascribe the subsequent description to rulers.
4 See Bonar in Note 2. The quotation applies here, also.
5 See https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/maps/primary/josephussack.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(70_CE)#Destruction_of_Jerusalem.
Psalms 56-60: A Packet–The Superscriptions
Psalms 56-60 in the Septuagint (LXX in Greek and LXE in Brenton’s English translation) form a packet that tells a story. Demonstrating the coherence of these psalms as a unit, then developing the story they tell, will require more than one post. This first post will focus on the superscriptions of these psalms as an indication of their coherence.
What Is a Superscription?
As regards the Psalter, a superscription is the writing (script) above (super) the first verse. It could be thought of as a title, or sub-title, an overview, or a description of the purpose or contents of the psalm. In the Hebrew Bible, they are often thought to carry musical directions. Not every psalm has a superscription, but most of them do. Those who follow my blog regularly will know that I frequently ignore the superscriptions. Scholars generally agree that the superscriptions were added by an editor or editors some time after the psalm itself was written, perhaps when the psalms were gathered and arranged in one or more collections (1). As additions, they are not part of the psalm proper. For purposes of shining light on the presence and voice of Christ in the Psalms, rather than on any specific, historic occasion in the Old Testament, I find that many of the superscriptions are a distraction, rather than an aid. For this reason, I most often do not mention them in my comments. This time, however, I find that the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 help tie these psalms together.
The Superscriptions above Psalms 55-61
I am including the psalms just before and after our packet to show that those in our packet have elements in common unique to themselves. Here are the superscriptions for Psalms 55-61 from Brenton’s Septuagint English translation (LXE).
Psalm 55:1 For the end, among Hymns of instruction by David. (LXE)
Psalm 56:1 For the end, concerning the people that were removed from the sanctuary, by David for a memorial, when the Philistines caught him in Geth. (LXE)
Psalm 57:1 For the end. Destroy not: by David, for a memorial, when he fled from the presence of Saul to the cave. (LXE)
Psalm 58:1 For the end. Destroy not: by David, for a memorial. (LXE)
Psalm 59:1 For the end. Destroy not: by David for a memorial, when Saul sent, and watched his house to kill him. (LXE)
Psalm 60:1 For the end, for them that shall yet be changed; for an inscription by David for instruction, when he had burned Mesopotamia of Syria, and Syria Sobal, and Joab had returned and smitten in the valley of salt twelve thousand. (LXE)
Psalm 61:1 For the end, among the Hymns of David. (LXE)
Three Elements in Common
There are three repetitive elements in the superscriptions: 1) “For the end,” present in every psalm listed; 2) “by David” or “of David,” present in every psalm listed; and 3) “for a memorial,” or “for an inscription,” present only in Psalms 56-60.
For a Memorial: A Unique Phrase
The complete phrase “for a memorial” (εἰς στηλογραφίαν, pronounced “ice stylographian”) is present only in the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60, while Psalm 16:1 (LXX 15:1) bears in its superscription just the word translated “writing” (στηλογραφία), without an article or preposition. The Greek word στηλογραφία (stylographia) only occurs anywhere at all in the Bible in these six psalms: 16, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60. It occurs nowhere else. Because the entire phrase, “For a memorial,” occurs only in these five psalms, the conclusion is that the phrase “εἰς στηλογραφίαν, ice stylographian” ties these five psalms, 56-60, together.
The word στηλογραφία (stylographia), “a memorial,” has three parts: 1) style, 2) logos, and 3) graphia. A style in Greek (στήλη) is a block of stone or a slab often used as a buttress to a wall, as a monument, or as a pillar. (See Genesis 35:20 and Joshua 4:5-7). It may contain writing, as on a gravestone or tablet recording military victory, a treaty, dedication, or decree (2). Logos in Greek means “word” (see Matthew 8:8), and graphy means “writing” or “a thing written.” Putting these parts together, a stylography is a writing of words on a stone monument or pillar.
Isaiah 19:19 In that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the land of the Egyptians, and a pillar to the Lord by its border. 20 And it shall be for a sign to the Lord for ever in the land of Egypt…(LXE)
As a superscription in a psalm, “for a memorial” indicates that the psalm is to function as though it were written in stone as a sign to be remembered by a future generation. (3)
For the End: An Infrequent Three Word Phrase in Scripture
The three word phrase “For the end” in English (4), which is “εἰς τὸ τέλος” in Greek, pronounced “ice-toe-telos,” is relatively rare in Scripture, when compared to all uses of τέλος, either alone or in prepositional phrases. Just counting the word τέλος itself, it occurs 146 times without the Apocryphal books, and 176 times with the Apocrypha, while the phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος” occurs 59 times, including the Apocrypha. Of these 59 occurrences of the three word phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος,” all but three occurrences are found in the superscriptions of various psalms. That is, Scripture uses these exact three words only three times apart from psalmic superscriptions. What are these three occurrences?
- The end of a river of water
LXE (Septuagint) Joshua 3:16 then the waters that came down from above stopped; there stood one solid heap very far off, as far as the region of Kariathiarim, and the lower part came down to the sea of Araba, the salt sea, till it completely failed (ἕως εἰς τὸ τέλος ἐξέλιπεν); and the people stood opposite Jericho.
ESV Joshua 3:16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. (ESV)
NET Joshua 3:16 the water coming downstream toward them stopped flowing. It piled up far upstream at Adam (the city near Zarethan); there was no water at all flowing to the sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea). The people crossed the river opposite Jericho. [NET translation note: “Heb ‘the [waters] descending toward the sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) were completely cut off.’”]
Notice that all three translations place the focus upon the ending of the flow of the water, “and the lower part [of the waters] came down…till it completely failed LXE.” The point of the narrative is that at some time and place the water quit flowing, and that’s when and where the people crossed over. While we might say a phrase such as, “The water completely stopped flowing,” the visual focus is where the water stops and the dry ground begins, because that’s where Joshua and the people crossed over.
In Joshua 3:16 “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) refers to the time and place where the river quit flowing.
- The end of a set time of years
LXE Daniel 11:13 For the king of the north shall return, and bring a multitude greater than the former, and at the end of the times of years an invading army shall come with a great force, and with much substance. (based upon Theodotian’s Septuagint Daniel)
ESV Daniel 11:13 For the king of the north shall again raise a multitude, greater than the first. And after some years he shall come on with a great army and abundant supplies.
NET Daniel 11:13 For the king of the north will again muster an army, one larger than before. At the end of some years he will advance with a huge army and enormous supplies.
Notice that the above verse is a prophecy, and its focus is upon its occurrence. When will the invading army come? The answer is that it will take place at the “end” of a set time of years. Implied, of course, is that the full period of time will have been “completed;” however, the point of the passage is that the king of the north will come at the end of this time.
In Daniel 11:3 “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) means the end of a period of years.
- The end of the visible glory on Moses’s face
ESV 2 Corinthians 3:13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. [Based upon the narrative of Moses bringing down the two Tablets of the Covenant from the mountain, found in Exodus 34:29-35]
NIV 2 Corinthians 3:13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. [Personally, for simplicity and clarity, I prefer this translation.]
NET 2 Corinthians 3:13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective. (5)
For those who might want to see the Greek: 2 Corinthians 3:13 καὶ οὐ καθάπερ Μωϋσῆς ἐτίθει κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἀτενίσαι τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραὴλ εἰς τὸ τέλος τοῦ καταργουμένου. (Bibleworks GT)
Paul’s thought throughout 2 Corinthians 3:6-18 is not necessarily easy to follow. Yet notice that the point of the phrase “εἰς τὸ τέλος” in verse 13 is that the glory on Moses’s face was fading away (τοῦ καταργουμένου), and Moses didn’t want the sons of Israel to gaze “upon the end” of that fading, that is, to see it finally disappear. In this case, I believe that the NIV gives the more literal translation and that this literal understanding is preferable to others which seek to pack too much nuance into too small a space. I believe Paul’s point was that the Old Covenant, as represented by the shining on Moses’s face, was passing away. Those who veiled their own hearts in Paul’s day were the ones refusing to recognize this change.
In 2 Corinthians 3:13 “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) refers to the end of the process of fading away–i.e., the termination–of the visible shining on the face of Moses.
Application of “for the end” to the Titles of the Psalms
Based upon the consistency of meaning in the above three verses, which once again are the only places other than psalmic superscriptions in all of Scripture where εἰς τὸ τέλος (ice-toe-telos) in this exact three word phrase occurs, I propose that εἰς τὸ τέλος in the superscriptions of 56 Septuagint psalms means the ending of something that had formerly continued. In Joshua 3:16, a flowing river quit flowing, in Daniel 11:13 a certain period of time ended, and in 2 Corinthians 3:13, a visible glowing on Moses’s face gradually faded and ended. What is it that ends in the psalms that bear this superscription? That is a topic to be explored in a future post(s) as we continue unfolding this “packet” of related psalms, Psalm 55-60.
By David: A Common Element in Messianic Psalms
Apart from the psalm titles (the superscriptions), David is mentioned in very few places in the Psalter. The psalmic superscriptions ascribe David as author 73 times. While David may have written many psalms, and while some superscriptions describe events in his life, the Psalter is not about David–it writes about Christ (see Acts 2:25-36). Therefore, the historical information given about David in the titles of some of the five psalms being considered as a packet (Psalms 56-60) will not be treated here.
A superscription is not part of a psalm proper, although these titles or notes have been present above many psalms for a very long time. Nevertheless, the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 have unique features that bind them together. Two unique or rare phrases have been discussed above. The presence of these two phrases and the attribution to David in each of Psalms 56-60 helps confirm the proposal that they belong together and may be considered as a packet.
1 See, for example, C. Hassell Bullock, who writes, “While some of the titles, perhaps most, may have been added long after the composition of the Psalms, they nevertheless must not be viewed as a haphazard exercise.” (Bullock, C. Hassell. Encountering the Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, 24.) Jennifer Dines, writing specifically about the Septuagint superscriptions in comparison with the Hebrew, states that, “There are a number of additional or expanded headings. Some of these are liturgical, but most are historicizing, especially about David. Some scholars think that the ‘historical’ expansions are subsequent to the original translation. On the whole, the translator [by which she means the one who translated from Hebrew to Greek] follows his source-text closely…Some scholars, however, demonstrate that the translation is less literalistic than often thought and that it contains many interpretational elements as well as stylistic devices that reveal a sophisticated rather than a mechanical approach to translation.” (Dines, Jennifer M. The Septuagint. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2004, 19.)
2 Information taken from Bibleworks Septuagint Supplement.
3 In Hebrew, the word that corresponds with stylographia is Miktam. The NET translation note (Psalm 59:1) states that the meaning of this word is uncertain, but “HALOT 582-83 s.v. defines it as ‘inscription.’” Miktam occurs only in Psalms 16 and 56-60.
4 I am aware that NETS (New English Translation Septuagint) translates “εἰς τὸ τέλος” as, “regarding completion.” After much study with the lexicons and concordance, I find that “for the end” most faithfully captures the complete meaning of the phrase. The Orthodox Study Bible, which also presents a modern translation, similarly writes, “for the end.”
5 The reader can decide for him or herself if the NET translation or note brings any clarity to this verse: “27 )tn Or “end.” The word τέλος (telos) can mean both “a point of time marking the end of a duration, end, termination, cessation” and “the goal toward which a movement is being directed, end, goal, outcome” (see BDAG 998-999 s.v.). The translation accepts the interpretation that Moses covered the glory of his face with the veil to prevent Israel from being judged by the glory of God (see S. J. Hafemann, Paul, Moses, and the History of Israel [WUNT 81], 347–62); in this case the latter meaning for τέλος is more appropriate.”
Contra this unnecessarily complex interpretation, consider that BDAG itself (2nd edition, p 811) places this verse under the primary meaning of τέλος, meaning: “1. end–a. in the sense of termination, cessation…the end of the fading (splendor) 2 Cor 3:13.” Another verse BDAG lists for the second meaning in the quoted section above is 1 Timothy 1:5, “…the preaching has love as its aim.” “But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
Note that in the two examples given by BDAG the differences are clear and simple. The verse from 2 Corinthians refers to a literal, concrete termination of a physical phenomena (the glowing on Moses’s face), while the verse from 1Timothy nicely illustrates BDAG’s second meaning of “end, goal, outcome.”