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Commentary On Psalms Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 58:6-9

6. Break their teeth, O God! in their mouth: break the jaws of the lions.7. Let them flow away like waters, let them depart: let them bend their bow, and let their arrows be as broken. 8. Let him vanish like a snail, which melts away; like the untimely birth of a woman, which does not see the sun.9. Before your pots can feel the fire of the thorns, a whirlwind shall carry him away, like flesh yet raw.

6. Break their teeth, O God! in their mouth From this part of the psalm he assumes the language of imprecation, and solicits the vengeance of God, whose peculiar prerogative it is to repel oppression and vindicate injured innocence. It is necessary, however, that we attend to the manner in which this is done. He does not claim the judgment or patronage of God to his cause, until he had, in the first place, asserted his integrity, and stated his complaint against the malicious conduct of his enemies; for God can never be expected to undertake a cause which is unworthy of defense. In the verse before us, he prays that God would crush the wicked, and restrain the violence of their rage. By their teeth, he would intimate that they resembled wild beasts in their desire to rend and destroy the victims of their oppression; and this is brought out more clearly in the latter part of the verse, where he likens them to lions The comparison denotes the fury with which they were bent upon his destruction.

In the next verse, and in the several succeeding verses, he prosecutes the same purpose, employing a variety of apt similitudes. He prays that God would make them flow away like waters, that is, swiftly. The expression indicates the greatness of his faith. His enemies were before his eyes in all the array of their numbers and resources; he saw that their power was deeply rooted and firmly established; the whole nation was against him, and seemed to rise up before him like a hopeless and formidable barrier of rocky mountains. To pray that this solid and prodigious opposition should melt down and disappear, evidenced no small degree of courage, and the event could only appear credible to one who had learnt to exalt the power of God above all intervening obstacles. In the comparison which immediately follows, he prays that the attempts of his adversaries might be frustrated, the meaning of the words being, that their arrows might fall powerless, as if broken, when they bent their bow. Actuated as they were by implacable cruelty, he requests that God would confound their enterprises, and in this we are again called to admire his unshaken courage, which could contemplate the formidable preparations of his enemies as completely at the disposal of God, and their whole power as lying at his feet. Let his example in this particular point be considered. Let us not cease to pray, even after the arrows of our enemies have been fitted to the string, and destruction might seem inevitable.

8. Let him vanish like a snail, which melts away The two comparisons in this verse are introduced with the same design as the first, expressing his desire that his enemies might pass away quietly, and prove as things in their own nature the most evanescent. He likens them to snails, and it might appear ridiculous in David to use such contemptible figures when speaking of men who were formidable for their strength and influence, did we not reflect that he considered God as able in a moment, without the slightest effort, to crush and annihilate the mightiest opposition. Their power might be such as encouraged them, in their vain-confidence, to extend their schemes into a far distant futurity, but he looked upon it with the eye of faith, and saw it doomed in the judgment of God to be of short continuance. He perhaps alluded to the suddenness with which the wicked rise into power, and designed to dash the pride which they are apt to feel from such an easy advance to prosperity, by reminding them that their destruction would be equally rapid and sudden. There is the same force in the figure employed in the end of the verse where they are compared to an abortion. If we consider the length of time to which they contemplate in their vain-confidence that their life shall extend, they may be said to pass out of this world before they have well begun to live, and to be dragged back, as it were, from the very goal of existence.

9. Before your pots can feel the fire of your thorns. Some obscurity attaches to this verse, arising partly from the perplexed construction, and partly from the words being susceptible of a double meaning. Thus the Hebrew word syrvt, siroth, signifies either a pot or a thorn. If we adopt the first signification, we must read, before your pots feel the fire which has been kindled by thorns; if the second, before your thorns grow to a bush, that is, reach their full height and thickness. What, following the former sense, we have translated flesh yet raw, must be rendered, provided we adopt the other, tender, or not yet grown. But the scope of the Psalmist in the passage is sufficiently obvious. He refers to the swiftness of that judgment which God would execute upon his enemies, and prays that he would carry them away as by a whirlwind, either before they arrived at the full growth of their strength, like the thorn sprung to the vigorous plant, or before they came to maturity and readiness, like flesh which has been boiled in the pot. The latter meaning would seem to be the one of which the passage is most easily susceptible, that God, in the whirlwind of his anger, would carry away the wicked like flesh not yet boiled, which may be said scarcely to have felt the heat of the fire.

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