What the Bible says about
Prosperity of the Wicked
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The psalm begins with a question. The psalmist has evidently been observing something in life, and he is quite bothered about it. Perhaps he has been praying and thinking about it for quite a long time. What has been bothering him is: Why do proud, evil people prosper? Why does not God take action? Why do they seem to receive the good things of life? The benefit we get from the psalmist's musings and meditations is instruction on the way the proud act.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Six)
We can break down the teaching of Psalm 37 into seven major areas:
1. David cautions us not to worry about the prosperity of the wicked. He writes:
Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. . . . Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way. . . . Do not fret—it only causes harm. (verses 1, 7-8)
Jesus includes this point in the Sermon on the Mount, telling us not to worry about our life, our food and clothing, and the troubles of tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34). Calm down! Do not become worked up over it!
2. David describes the character of the wicked:
The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes at him with his teeth. . . . The wicked have drawn the sword and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, to slay those who are of upright conduct. . . . The wicked borrows and does not repay. . . . The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him. (verses 12, 14, 21, 32)
Their evil is obvious to all, especially God. We can be certain that the wicked have not fooled Him.
3. David contrasts the character of the wicked to the righteous:
But the righteous shows mercy and gives. . . . He is ever merciful, and lends; and his descendants are blessed. . . . The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of justice. The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide. (verses 21, 26, 30-31)
The difference in their characters is sharply defined, and we can rest assured that character is what dictates the outcome of our lives.
4. David shows the end of the wicked:
[Evildoers] shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. . . . For evildoers shall be cut off. . . . For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; indeed, you will look diligently for his place, but it shall be no more. . . . The Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day is coming. . . . But the wicked shall perish; and the enemies of the Lord, like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away. . . . [T]he descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. . . . I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a native green tree, yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more; indeed I sought him, but he could not be found. . . . But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; the future of the wicked shall be cut off. (verses 2, 9-10, 13, 20, 28, 35-36, 38)
We can know for a certainty that the unrighteous will get what is coming to them. God always gives the correct punishment at exactly the right time. It is out of our hands, so we need not concern ourselves over it.
5. David proclaims the reward of the upright:
He shall give you the desires of your heart. . . He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. . . . But those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. . . . But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. . . . [T]heir inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. . . . For those who are blessed by Him shall inherit the earth. . . . [T]hey are preserved forever. . . . The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell in it forever. . . . He shall exalt you to inherit the land. . . . But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord. (verses 4, 6, 9, 11, 18-19, 22, 28-29, 34, 39)
If God is on our side, we have nothing to fear from the wicked, and we can look forward to blessings beyond anything we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20)!
6. David explains that we can expect these blessings and rewards, not because we are innately wonderful and good, but because God is faithful:
[T]he Lord upholds the righteous. The Lord knows the days of the upright. . . . The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholds him with His hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread. . . . For the Lord loves justice, and does not forsake His saints. . . . The Lord will not leave [the righteous] in [the wicked's] hand, nor condemn him when he is judged. . . . He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him. (verses 17-18, 23-25, 28, 33, 39-40)
The picture in verse 24 is very comforting. David describes God as a Father, holding His child by the hand. The child has just learned to walk and is not very steady. When he stumbles—and he will—he does not fall completely because the Father pulls him back upright. God perfectly fulfills all the obligations He placed on Himself to do on our behalf. This is another reason we have no need to fear or worry.
7. Lastly, David provides us with solutions to this dilemma:
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord. . . . Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. . . . Cease from anger, and forsake wrath. . . . Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forevermore. . . . Wait on the Lord, and keep His way. . . . Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace. (verses 3-8, 27, 34, 37)
These are David's instructions on how we should handle our envy of the wicked man's prosperity: Do good, trust God, and do not worry! If we patiently continue doing the things that God has commanded us to do—focusing on our own character, rather than complaining about another's—the scales of justice will come into their proper balance in God's time.
Why Do the Wicked Prosper?
Ecclesiastes is written chiefly for the benefit of the converted, for those striving to live an “above the sun” life. The Pharisees were not converted, thus Pharisaical self-righteousness is but a small part of what matters here. Psalm 73 is vital to our understanding of this subject, as it provides us the experience of a converted person.
What God promises about long life and prosperity will help us see the paradox clearly. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 5:33 adds, “You shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.”
“Well with you” points to prosperity. In a relationship with God, it is “normal” to expect these two promises to be fulfilled. Thus, Ecclesiastes 7:15 presents us with a paradox: The obedient neither live long nor are considered prosperous, yet the disobedient live long and are prospered. So, the question arises, why obey God?
The paradox does not always concern wealth. All that is necessary is a situation in which the Christian feels mistreated while the unconverted are being blessed. When this upside-down circumstance continues for some time, the Christian becomes impatient and compares his state with the unconverted.
Christians today are not inoculated against the kind of trial the psalmist endured. We do not always live to a ripe old age; we are not immune to cancer. Sometimes Christians suffer violent accidents. Sometimes their homes are wiped away by a tornado or earthquake, and perhaps they lose a family member. In such times, it is easy to ask, “Where was God?”
One commentator, by using the term “super-righteousness,” helps to clarify Solomon's teaching. To convey the sense of the context as well as the usage of the Hebrew, the King James Version translates the term in verse 16 as “righteous over much.” The New King James Version translates it as “overly righteous.” These translations are vague at best, wherein lies the danger. The commentator, Greidanus, feels that “super-righteousness” conveys Solomon's thought in our modern lingo.
Super-righteousness is a strange and dangerous state because it is a deceptive form of evil. In the next verse, Solomon asks, “Why destroy yourself?” and “Why should you die before your time?” In addition, he states that those who fear God will escape. Each of those phrases indicates some danger exists in the paradox.
How does this super-righteousness arise within a converted person? On the surface, it seems to be a natural effect of the circumstance. Super-righteousness is indeed a form of self-righteousness but not the kind we are familiar with. It is abnormal in that it develops as a misguided response to the paradox. The danger arises in the subtle-but-risky fruit the response often produces.
In such a paradoxical situation, continuing unabated, most would react by assuming that God is punishing them, reasoning that, if they were not sinning, they would not be experiencing this ordeal. Thus, to relieve the stress, they are likely to recall a scripture like Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
At that moment, they stand at a fork in the road. The desire to rid themselves of the sore trial sometimes motivates them to choose the wrong path: trying to become more righteous in order to impress God so that He will alter their circumstances.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Ten): Paradox
Jeremiah, like Baruch, has become discouraged by the turbulent maelstrom of events around him, the confusion and destruction that always accompany the unraveling of a nation. Yet, the prophet's complaint is more focused than that of his scribe's. Moreover, Jeremiah's complaint does not betray the self-absorption that Baruch's grumbling exhibits. Instead, Jeremiah's complaint is oriented outside himself. It is a “green” complaint, as we would say today: The land, he declares, mourns, the herbs everywhere wither, the animals and birds are gone because the residents of the land are evil.
It is clear that the natural environment of Judah was languishing as a result of mismanagement at the hands of selfish, exploitive people. Jeremiah did not limit culpability to Judah's leaders, but speaks more generally of the “wicked” (verse 1) or of “those who dwell there” (verse 4), who have “taken root” (verse 2), that is, become established to the point that they are prospering due to their environmentally destructive activities.
Jeremiah's complaint, therefore, has at its heart the issue of prosperity on the part of the wicked, people without scruples who take advantage of others and circumstances for their own gain. Why does God permit the wicked to prosper? The psalmist Asaph broached this issue in Psalm 73:1-28. Asaph comes to understand that a time will come when, “in a moment,” God will “destroy those who destroy the earth,” as John states it in Revelation 11:18. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 8:11, “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Sooner or later, though, their sins and crimes catch up to them, and divine justice—destruction and death—follow.
A Tale of Two Complaints (Part One)
Jeremiah is not satisfied with God's assurances. In verses 15-18, the prophet retorts with words bespeaking the depth of his dejection, the seriousness of his crises of belief. Jeremiah reminds God that he has taken of God's Word and rejoiced in it; he has called on God's name and avoided the gainsayers. Yet, his pain is ongoing. Like Baruch, he finds no rest (see Jeremiah 45:3). Will God be with him to the end? Will God abandon him? The Jubilee Bible 2000 renders verse 18 this way: “Why was my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed? Wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar and as waters that fail?”
Strong words! Like Asaph, whose “feet had almost stumbled” and whose “steps had nearly slipped” when he became envious of “the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3), Jeremiah is clearly experiencing intense spiritual doubts. Can God use such an individual as His spokesman, His prophet, especially in this time of national emergency, the approaching “worst of times?”
A Tale of Two Complaints (Part Two)
Faithlessness is tearing the country apart! These verses show that the nation's leaders are glad these things are occurring because it gives them an excuse for their actions! Besides, they are prospering as a result! Politicians, doctors, lawyers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, pornographers, booksellers, movie makers, and others are prospering from this faithless, adulterous society.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment (1997)
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