Verse 4. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent. Is man also a poisonous reptile? Yes, and his venom is even as that of a serpent. The viper has but death for the body in his fangs; but unregenerate man carries poison under his tongue, destructive to the nobler nature.
They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear. While speaking of serpents the psalmist remembers that many of them have been conquered by the charmer's art, but men such as he had to deal with no art could tame or restrain; therefore, he likens them to a serpent less susceptible than others to the charmer's music, and says that they refused to hear reason, even as the adder shuts her ear to those incantations which fascinate other reptiles. Man, in his natural corruption, appears to have all the ill points of a serpent without its excellences. O sin, what hast thou done!
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 4. Poison. There is such a thing as poison; but where to be found? Ubicunque fuerit, in homine quis quaereret? Wheresoever it is, in man who would look for it? God made man's body of the dust; he mingled no poison with it. He inspires his soul from heaven; he breathes no poison with it. He feeds him with bread; he conveys no poison with it. Unde venenum? Whence is the poison? Matthew 13:27 -- "Didst not thou, O Lord, sow good seed in thy field?" Unde zizaniae -- "From whence then hath it tares?" Whence? Hoc fecit inimicus -- "The enemy hath done this." We may perceive the devil in it. That great serpent, the red dragon, hath poured into wicked hearts this poison. His own poison, malitiam, wickedness. Cum infundit peccatum, infundit venenum -- "When he pours in sin he pours in poison." Sin is poison. Original depravity is called corruption; actual poison. The violence and virulence of this venomous quality comes not at first. Nemo fit repente pessimus - - No man becomes worst at the first dash. We are born corrupt, we have made ourselves poisonous. There be three degrees, as it were so may ages, in sin. First -- secret sin; an ulcer lying in the bones, but skinned over with hypocrisy. Secondly -- open sin, bursting forth into manifest villany. The former is corruption, the second is eruption. Thirdly -- frequented and confirmed sin, and that is rank poison, envenoming soul and body. Thomas Adams, 1614.
Verse 4. Adder. Hebrew ntb pethen, the Egyptian cobra (Naja hage), one of the venomous Colubrine Snakes (Colubri). This is one of the so called hooded snakes, with which serpent charmers chiefly deal. The Spectacled Snake proper (Naja tripudians) is a closely related species. The well known Cobra di Capello is another. They are all noted for their deadly bite. The hollow fangs communicate with a poison gland, which being pressed in the act of biting, sends a few drops into the puncture. The venom quickly acts on the whole system, and death soon ensues. John Duns, D.D., in "Biblical Natural Science," 1868.
Verse 4. The deaf adder. Certain it is, says a modern writer upon the Psalms, that the common adder or viper here in England, the bite of which too, by the way, is very venomous, if it is not wholly deaf, has the sense of hearing very imperfectly. This is evident from the danger there is of treading upon these animals, unless you happen to see them; for if they do not see you, and you do not disturb them, they never endeavour to avoid you, which when they are disturbed and do see you, they are very solicitous of doing. Allowing, then, that there is a species of these noxious animals, which either not having the sense of hearing at all, or having it only in a low degree, may very well be said to be deaf; this may help to explain the present poetical passage of the psalmist. He very elegantly compares the pernicious and destructive practices of wicked men to the venom of a serpent; and his mentioning this species of animals, seems to have brought to his mind another property of at least one sort of them, in which they likewise resembled perverse and obstinate sinners, who are deaf to all advice, utterly irreclaimable, and not to be persuaded. This the adder resembled, which is a very venomous animal, and moreover is deaf, or very near it. And perhaps his saying that she stoppeth her ear, may be no more than a poetical expression for deafness; just as the mole, which in common speech is said to be blind, might in a poetical phrase, be said to shut her eyes; as in fact she does when you expose her to the light. The next clause, Which refuseth to hear, etc., is another poetical expression for the same thing. Samuel Burder, in "The Scripture Expositor," 1810.
Verse 4. The deaf adder. Several of the serpent tribe are believed to be either quite deaf, or very dull of hearing. Perhaps that which is called the puddeyan, the "beaver serpent," is more so than any other. I have frequently come close up to these reptiles; but they did not make any effort to move out of the way. They lurk in the path, and the victim on whom they pounce will expire within a few minutes after he is bitten. Joseph Roberts.
Verse 4. The deaf adder. The adder, or asp, is the haje naja, or cobra of Egypt, according to Cuvier. The hearing of all the serpent tribes is imperfect, as all are destitute of a tympanic cavity, and of external openings to the ear. The deaf adder is not a particular species. The point of the rebuke is, the pathen, or "adder," here in question, could hear in some degree but would not; just as the unrighteous judges, or persecutors, of David could hear with their outward ears such appeals as he makes in Psalms 58:1-2 , but would not. The charmer usually could charm the serpent by shrill sounds, either of his voice or of the flute, the serpent's comparative deafness rendering it the more amenable to those sounds which it could hear. But exceptional cases occurred of a deaf adder which was deaf only in the sense that it refused to hear, or to be acted on. Also Jeremiah 8:17 ; compare Ecclesiastes 10:11 . A. R. Fausset.
Verse 4. The deaf adder that stoppeth her ear. With respect to what is said of the animal's stopping its ears, it is not necessary to have recourse to the supposition of its actually doing so, which by some persons has been stated, but it is sufficient to know, that whilst some serpents are operated upon in the manner above described, others are partly or altogether insensible to the incantation. Richard Mant.
Verse 4. (second clause). This clause admits of a different construction, like the deaf adder he stops his ear, which some interpreters prefer, because an adder cannot stop its ears, and need not stop them if naturally deaf, whereas it is by stopping his, the wicked man becomes like a deaf adder. J. A. Alexander.
Verse 4-5. Experienced and skilful as the serpent charmers are, however, they do not invariably escape with impunity. Fatal terminations to these exhibitions of the psyllid art now and then occur; for there are still to be found "deaf adders, which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely."... Roberts mentions the instance of a man who came to a gentleman's house to exhibit tame snakes, and on being told that a cobra, or hooded snake, was in a cage in the house, was asked if he could charm it; on his replying in the affirmative, the serpent was released from the cage, and no doubt, in a state of high irritation. The man began his incantation, and repeated his charms; but the snake darted at him, fastened upon his arm, and before night he was a corpse. Philip Henry Gosse, in "The Romance of Natural History," 1861.
Verse 4-5. One day a rattlesnake entered our encampment. Among us was a Canadian who could play the flute, and who, to divert us, marched against the serpent with his new species of weapon. On the approach of his enemy, the haughty reptile curls himself into a spiral line, flattens his head, inflates his cheeks, contracts his lips, displays his envenomed fangs and his bold throat; his tongue flows like two flames of fire; his eyes are burning coals; his body swollen with rage, rises and falls like the bellows of a forge; his dilated skin assumes a dull and scaly appearance; and his tail, whence proceeds the death announcing sound, vibrates with such rapidity as to resemble a light vapour. The Canadian begins to play upon his flute -- the serpent starts with surprise, and draws back his head. In proportion as he is struck with the magic notes, his eyes lose their fierceness; the oscillations of his tail become slower and the sounds which it makes become weaker, and gradually die away. Less perpendicular upon their spiral line, the rings of the charmed serpent are by degrees expanded, and sink one after another on the ground in concentric circles. The shades of azure, green, white, and gold recover their brightness on his quivering skin, and slightly turning his head, he remains motionless, in the attitude of attention and pleasure. At this moment the Canadian advances a few steps, producing from his flute sweet and simple notes. The serpent, inclining his variegated neck, opens a passage with the head through the high grass, and begins to creep after the musician; stopping when he stops, and beginning to follow him again as soon as he advances forward. In this manner he was led out of the camp, attended by a great number of spectators, both savages and Europeans, who could scarcely believe their eyes, which had witnessed this effect of harmony. Francois Aguste, Viscount de Chateaubriand, 1768-1848.
Verse 4-5. The serpent, when she begins to feel the charmer, clappeth one ear presently to the ground, and stoppeth the other ear with her tail, although by hearkening to the charmer, as some observe, she would be provoked to spit out her poison, and renew her age. (This is a specimen of the old fashioned un-natural history. No one will be misled by it. C. H. S.) So hot is man upon his harlot sin, that he is deaf to all that would counsel him to the contrary; he stops his ear, hardens his heart, stiffens his neck against the thunders of the law, the still voice of the gospel, the motions of the Spirit, and the convictions of his own conscience. When sin calls, they run through thick and thin for haste; when the world commands, how readily do they hearken, how quickly do they hear, how faithfully do they obey! but when the blessed God cries to them, charges them by his unquestionable authority, beseeches them for their own unchangeable felicity, they, like statues of men, rather than living creatures, stand still and stir not at all. Other things move swiftly to their centres; stones fall tumbling downward, sparks fly apace upward, coneys run with speed to their burrows, rivers with violence to the ocean, and yet silly man hangs off from his Maker, that neither entreaties nor threatenings, nor the word, nor the works of God, nor the hope of heaven, nor fear of hell, can quicken or hasten him to his happiness. Who would imagine that a reasonable soul should act so much against sense and reason? George Swinnock, 1627-1673.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 4. (first clause). A generation of serpents. T. Adams's Sermon.
Verse 4. Sin as a poison. Poisons may be attractive in colour and taste, slow or rapid in action, painful in effect, withering, soporific or maddening. In all cases deadly.