To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David. Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? [בְּנֵי אָדָֽם]
Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
2 No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
your hands deal out violence on earth.
3 The wicked are estranged from the womb;
they go astray from birth, speaking lies. (Psalm 58:1-3 ESV)
The meaning of miktam is uncertain. [H4387-mitkam] and is only used in the introduction of Psalms 16, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60. The meaning of בְּנֵי אָדָֽם literally "sons of man" is also uncertain 1 and connecting it to verse 3 may not be appropriate, as the ESV and other translations reflect.
In verse 3 the writer chose two different words which can mean womb or birth:
The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. (ESV)
זֹרוּ רְשָׁעִים מֵרָחֶם תָּעוּ מִבֶּטֶן דֹּבְרֵי כָזָֽב׃
מֵרָחֶם is always translated as womb or matrix [H7358-rechem]. However, מִבֶּטֶן can mean either birth or the internal state (body/belly) of a person [H990-beten] and its use is almost equally split between these two meanings.
For example, מִבֶּטֶן is used 8 times in Proverbs and 7 of the 8 clearly do not mean womb/birth (13:25, 18:8, 18:20, 20:27, 20:30, 22:18, 26:22). 2 It's use in Jonah and Habakkuk is similar to Psalm 58:3 and clearly does not mean birth or womb:
saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. (Jonah 2:2 ESV)
I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. (Habakkuk 3:16 ESV)
Therefore the literal translation of בֶּטֶן in the Psalm is:
The wicked have been estranged from the womb, They have erred from the belly, speaking lies. (YLT)
The factual situation of a newborn’s dependence on the parents eliminates the literal meaning of birth or womb which means understanding the sense of the word בֶּטֶן as birth, must metaphoric since newborns neither speak nor go their own way.
In addition, the use of two different words indicates the writer intends to convey two different conditions, רֶחֶם and בֶּטֶן. In other words, since the writer failed to repeat the first word, the second word (בֶּטֶן) should be taken to have the same literal meaning as the first. Thus the meaning is either the literal body/belly or is a metaphor. If a metaphor, the meaning would be the child was raised from birth to go astray speaking lies.
The context supports either the literal meaning of belly/body or as the metaphor, birth. As a metaphor it would mean being raised or taught those ways since birth. Finally it cannot be taken literally as being born to go astray speaking lies.
Interestingly, the literal meaning which describes the internal state of a person would result from being raised from birth to go astray speaking lies. Therefore the metaphor and the literal meaning work together. The Psalmist recognizes these rulers are the way they are because they were brought up that way from birth.
1. Note from Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures. The Jewish Publication Society. 1985 p. 1173.
2. 31:2 is the only exception. Even here the meaning could be taken differently. It is considered as womb since the mother is speaking yet the context would support the other meaning.