on Psalms 58 :5
Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers - The old Psalter translates and paraphrases these two verses curiously: -
Vulg. Furor illis secundum similitudinem serpentis; sicut aspidis surdae et obturantis aures suas: Quae non exaudiet vocem incantantium et venefici in cantantis sapienter.
Trans. Wodes (madness) til thaim aftir the liking of the neddir, as of the snake doumb and stoppand her eres.
Paraph. Right calles he tham wod, (mad), for that hafe na witte to se whider that ga: for that louke thair eghen, and rennys till the are thaire wodness til clumsthed that wil noght be turned as of the snake that festis (fastens) the ta ere til the erth, and the tother ere stoppis with hir taile: Sua do thai that thai here not Godis word; that stope thair eris with luf of erthli thing that thai delite thaim in; and with thair taile, that es with all synnes, that that will noght amend.
Trans. The whith salle noght here the voyce of charmand, and of the venim in akare of charmand wisli.
Paraph. This snake stopis hir eres that she be noght broth to light; for if she herd it, she come forth sone, he charmes swa wysli in his craft. Swa the wikkid men wit noght here the voyce of Crist and his lufers that are wys charmes; for thi wild (would) bring them till light of heven. Wyt ye well (know) that he (i.e., Christ) lufes noght charmars and venim makers but be (by) vices of bestes, he takes lickening of vices of men.
It seems as if there were a species of snake or adder that is nearly deaf; and as their instinct informs them that if they listen to the sounds which charmers use they shall become a prey; therefore they stop their ears to prevent the little hearing they have from being the means of their destruction. To this the Old Psalter refers. We have also an account of a species of snake, which, if it cast its eye on the charmer, feels itself obliged to come out of its hole; it therefore keeps close, and takes care neither to see nor be seen. To this also the Old Psalter alludes; and of this fact, if it be one, he makes a good use.
on Psalms 58 :5
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."
on Psalms 58 :5