when evil people prosper

Psa 37:1 A Psalm of David. Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
Psa 37:2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb.

Pro 10:27 The fear of the LORD prolongs days, But the years of the wicked will be shortened.

One consistent theme in the Bible is that those who are evil will receive present punishment from God. This is not punishment in the afterlife, but punishment that kills them in this life. As such, the authors of the Bible at various times become confused when present justice is not being carried out by God on Earth. The wicked are prospering while the righteous suffer:

Job 21:7 Why do the wicked live and become old, Yes, become mighty in power?
Job 21:8 Their descendants are established with them in their sight, And their offspring before their eyes.
Job 21:9 Their houses are safe from fear, Neither is the rod of God upon them.
Job 21:10 Their bull breeds without failure; Their cow calves without miscarriage.
Job 21:11 They send forth their little ones like a flock, And their children dance.
Job 21:12 They sing to the tambourine and harp, And rejoice to the sound of the flute.
Job 21:13 They spend their days in wealth, And in a moment go down to the grave.

Job is wondering to God why he suffers while people that are manifestly evil continue to prosper. Notice Job’s mindset: God actively should and does punish people who are wicked. Not only striking down their livestock, but also their children. God should and does create misery, even a painful death. “At a moment go down to the grave” is Job saying “They die peacefully.” This offends Job’s sense of righteousness.

Jeremiah wonders similarly:

Jer 12:1 Righteous are You, O LORD, when I plead with You; Yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?
Jer 12:2 You have planted them, yes, they have taken root; They grow, yes, they bear fruit. You are near in their mouth But far from their mind.

Jeremiah takes a pause from preaching to inquire why God waits to punish the wicked. He is confused, but quickly returns to prophecies of impending judgment of God. To Jeremiah, God’s rightful activity was punishing the current wicked on earth during their own lifetime. Jeremiah does not find it presumptuous to ask God why God is taking His current inactivity. In fact, it seems that Jeremiah believes he might be able to stir God to action.

The writer of Psalms 94 (unattributed psalm) states the same theme:

Psa 94:3 LORD, how long will the wicked, How long will the wicked triumph?
Psa 94:4 They utter speech, and speak insolent things; All the workers of iniquity boast in themselves.
Psa 94:5 They break in pieces Your people, O LORD, And afflict Your heritage.
Psa 94:6 They slay the widow and the stranger, And murder the fatherless.

The writer of Psalms 94 appeals to God’s love of God’s own people. Like Moses on Sinai and in the promise land, the writer appeals to God’s promise to Abraham (God’s heritage). The writer also appeals to God’s mercy towards the downtrodden (the widows, stranger, and orphans). This writer channeled his confusion about the wicked’s prosperity into a well reasoned call to action towards God. The second half ends with dire prophecy against the wicked.

Similarly themed in Psalms 73 (psalm of Asaph):

Psa 73:3 For I was envious of the boastful, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Psa 73:4 For there are no pangs in their death, But their strength is firm.
Psa 73:5 They are not in trouble as other men, Nor are they plagued like other men.
Psa 73:6 Therefore pride serves as their necklace; Violence covers them like a garment.
Psa 73:7 Their eyes bulge with abundance; They have more than heart could wish.
Psa 73:8 They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression; They speak loftily.
Psa 73:9 They set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue walks through the earth.

Psalms 73 laments the easy life of the wicked, comparing it against the suffering righteous. This psalm focuses on resentment. It also reads as if a called to action for God. The second half ends with dire prophecy against the wicked.

This was the hope of the writers of the Bible: God will rise up and punish the wicked who are currently prospering. This helped them deal with the understanding that some wicked appeared to prosper.

As everyone may know, judgement does not always happen. Mao Zedong (who murdered more human beings than anyone ever) died old. There are plenty of other examples. On the other hand, King David’s psalms petitioning God to act all seem to have worked. King David died old while his enemies died young.

Addendum:

Ecc 7:15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.

Hab 1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Hab 1:3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
Hab 1:4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

Hab 1:13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, God, Omnipotence, Open Theism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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