The Righteous One’s Warning
Against the Wicked

a brief study of Psalm 58, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 4 July 2008

Psalm 58 is one of the several imprecatory Psalms found in our Psalter, the most famous of which, is Psalm 69. Commentators are not agreed on when this Psalm was written. Some suppose that it was written during the time David was pursued by Saul, and perhaps after the massacre at Nob due to Doeg’s evil report. Others suppose that it was written against Joab, David’s general, after he murdered Abner, the general of the ten northern tribes who had come to seek peace with David.

In any case, it is not difficult to see how the words in this Psalm should be taken as the words of Christ just as the words in Psalm 69 is attributed to Christ in the New Testament.

How can this be the word of Christ when the title, which appears in the Hebrew Bible suggests that this is a ‘Michtam of David’? Well, not only does David write in the spirit of Christ, but we note that Psalm 69 is also known as a Psalm of David, and yet the apostle Paul, writing under inspiration, quoted these words as the words of Christ. He writes in Romans 15:3—

“For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me” (Rom 15:3).

Paul is quoting from Psalm 69:9.

And so we have good basis to take Psalm 58 as the word of Christ. And besides, who but Christ could have spoken the word of imprecation in this Psalm with perfect sincerity, for there is none amongst men who is truly righteous except Christ. This Psalm may be entitled, “The Righteous One’s Warning against the Wicked.”

Let’s look at this Psalm briefly.

It has 3 parts. From verses 1-5, we have a description of the wicked. From verses 6-9, we have imprecations against the wicked and from verses 10-11, we have the vindication of the righteous.

1. Description of the

1 Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?

The first part of this verse has been variously translated. The word translated ‘congregation’ is related to the word for ‘silent’ (µl,ae). It is not the usual word for ‘congregation’ (hd;[e or lh;q;). However, our translation does give a good sense.

The Lord is calling upon all men—Jews or Gentiles, Christian or non-Christians, churched or unchurched, to examine ourselves.

Do you indeed speak righteousness? Do you judge uprightly? Now, if we are honest with ourselves, we can only answer: “No, our speech is far from righteous. There is none righteous; no, not one. Our thoughts are far from perfect uprightness, for none of us can claim to be without prejudice in any judgement we have to make.”

Our Lord agrees, verse 2—

 2 Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.

We are by nature wicked. We inherited a sinful nature from Adam. Left to ourselves, we will work wickedness. We only restrain ourselves because we realise,—when we weigh it in our hearts (deliberately or instinctively),—that the cost of violence and wickedness, is not worth the pleasure. We will, in other words, do it if we think we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The fact is, we are totally depraved. We are in nature as wicked as we can be, though we are restrained in our acts.

Apart from grace, we are, by nature, no different from the wicked and hardened people in the world, for though they may be less restrained than we are, their wickedness arises from the same source.

3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.  4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; 5 Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely. 

The wicked here stands for those who remain in unbelief, who would continue in their sin. They received their sinful nature in the womb and as soon as they are born they began to speak lies and to do wickedness.

Worse yet, there will be those in the congregation who have the privilege of listening to the Lord to be instructed by Him, but they would not. They are like the snakes which have stopped their ears so that they cannot hear the voice of their snake charmers.

Shortly after our Lord began His ministry, He began to upbraid the people for unbelief. This is what He said in Matthew 11:

16 But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, 17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.

“We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced.” Is this not exactly what the Lord is saying in verses 4 and 5 of our text? The snake is suppose to dance when the pipe is played. But the stubborn and unresponsive snake will refuse and will continue to live in wickedness.

How did the Lord respond to the hardness of heart in Matthew 11? He did not simply let them be. He upbraided the cities of Chorazin and Capernaum, telling them that their judgement would be more severe than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.

A similar sentiment is expressed in our text, for the Lord calls out an imprecation against the wicked who remain in sin and hardness of heart.

2. An Imprecation Against
the Wicked.

6 Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O LORD. 7 Let them melt away as waters which run continually: when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces. 8 As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun. 9 Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.

Strong and graphic words! Our Lord calls upon the Father to deal with the wicked. He curses them with six imageries.

(1) “Break their teeth, O God.” They are proud like lions, ready to tear their prey apart. Knock out their teeth, O Lord. Take away their pride and ability.

(2) “Let them melt away as waters.” As the torrents of water that flow down the mountainside may make a mighty noise, so let them clamour all they want, but take them away that they be remembered no more.

(3) When they bend their bows to shoot their arrows, let their arrows splinter into pieces. I.e. frustrate their efforts, that they accomplish nothing, however focused they may be.

(4) Let them melt away like a snail or a slug. Snails and slugs come out in the night, because once the sun begins to beat down on them they begin to dry up, and as it were, melt away. Let it be so for the wicked. Remove them that they trouble no more the vineyard of the Lord.

(5) Let them experience the “untimely birth of a woman.” That is, they may be filled with expectations as a pregnant woman expects a child, but let their expectations end with a miscarriage. Give them no reason to rejoice.

(6) Let them be like a pot of that is swept away by the whirlwind before the food can be cooked. Do not just blow out the fire, but sweep the pots away! Give them astonishment, fear and frustration.

Our Lord has no sympathy for the wicked, especially for those who have the opportunity to hear the word and yet refuse to repent. He wants the Father to deal with them even as they have blasphemed the Father’s name.

What about us?

Well, consider the final section of this Psalm.

3. The Vindication of
the Righteous

10 The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. 11 So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.

Who is the righteous? The righteous is none other than Christ, for there is none righteous but Christ. And notice the singular third person pronoun in these two verses?

But Christ came to represent His people and to purchase a righteousness for them so that all who are united to Him by faith are also seen as righteous in the eyes of God.

Christ will rejoice when He sees vengeance exacted against the wicked. And so will all believers in union with Him. Christ crushed the head of the serpent on the Cross, so saints will bruise Satan under their feet shortly (Rom 16:20). Christ and His Church will, as it were, wash their feet in the blood of the wicked, which are the Serpent and his seed.

When this happens, then would the justice of God be vindicated and magnified.

In that day, the righteous, whose reasoning power and affection is fully restored, will see the goodness of God. They will rejoice that God has swept away wickedness because sin has marred God’s creation. They will thank God for His love by which He frees His children from any contamination by sin and wickedness.


Psalm 58 contains a strong warning against the wicked. It shows us our Lord’s attitude towards those who remain in unbelief and refuse to take heed to God’s Word.

Psalm 58, however, gives no warrant for believers to boast or to despise the wicked, for right from the beginning; we are reminded by our Lord that we are by nature no different from the wicked. We should use this Psalm, therefore, not only as a warning against the wicked, but as a reminder and warning for ourselves lest we take sin lightly and sin against the LORD. Amen.

—JJ Lim