Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Prosperity of the Wicked

I will punish the men who are settled on their lees,
who say in their heart, ‘The LORD does neither good nor evil.
Zephaniah 1:12b

Wait for the LORD!  Be strong, and He will strengthen your heart.
Wait, I say, for the LORD!
Psalm 27:14

It can be very puzzling when the Lord does not do what seems to us to be needed.  Even Israel’s prophets were puzzled and disappointed by God’s failure to act in the face of obvious injustice.  Lonely, frustrated Jeremiah cried out to God (12:1–2a), “You are righteous, O LORD, although I complain to you.  Nevertheless, let me speak with you about your judgments.  Why does the way of wicked men prosper?  All those who deal treacherously are at ease.  You have planted them and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit.  You are near in their mouth, but you are far from their affections.
I have felt the same way at times.  The Lord is right in all his ways, I know; still, I wonder why the wicked schemes of men succeed so often?  In this world, I have learned, evil sometimes wins.  Why does God not stop it from succeeding?
Young David must have had feelings like that, persecuted as he was by King Saul, though David had done only good to the King.  It must have been a great encouragement to David when the Spirit spoke through him and said (Ps. 37:7–11), “Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for Him.  Do not fret yourself because of him who makes his way prosperous, because of the man who carries out evil schemes.  Refrain from anger and depart from rage.  Do not fret yourself in any way to do evil.  For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait on the LORD will inherit the land.  Yet a little while, and the wicked man will be no more.  Though you diligently watch his place, he will not be there.  But the meek will inherit the land, and they will delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”
When David became King, one of his chief musicians was a man named Asaph.  This Asaph also went through a time of great frustration at God blessing the wicked, and when he was past that trial of his faith, he wrote a song about it:

Psalm 73
A Psalm by Asaph.

1. Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; my steps were almost gone.
3. For I was envious of those who are praised.  I saw the happiness of wicked men.
4. For there are no bonds on them until death, and their bodies are stout.
5. They are not in trouble as other men are, and they are not plagued along with other men.
6. Therefore, pride encircles them like a necklace; violence covers them like a garment.
7. Their eye stands out with fatness; they have more than heart can wish.
8. They mock and speak wickedly of oppression; they speak loftily.
9. They set their mouth against heaven, and their tongue walks through the earth.
10. Therefore, His people turn away after them, and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.
11. And they say, “How can God know?” and “Is there knowledge on high?”
12. Behold, these are the wicked, always at ease; they increase in wealth.
13. Truly, in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence,
14. for I am plagued all day long, and correction comes to me every morning.

At this point in Asaph’s song of testimony, he says he stopped and realized what a bad example he would be to God’s children if he gave in to the feelings of envy and bitterness:

15. If I had decided, “I will talk that way,” behold, I would have offended a generation of your children.
16. When I tried to understand this, it was hard for me
17. until I entered into God’s sanctuary; then, I considered their end.
18. You have surely put them [the wicked] in slippery places; you cause them to fall into ruin.
19. How suddenly they come to desolation!  They come to an end, consumed by terrors.
20. As it is with a dream after one has wakened, when you rise up, my Lord, you will disregard their semblance.

When Asaph’s faith in God’s judgments was restored, he realized how foolish he had been:

21. When my heart was bitter, my soul was pierced,
22. and I was brutish and did not understand.  I was like an animal before you.
23. Yet, I was always with you.  You held onto my right hand.
24. With your counsel, you will guide me, and afterwards, you will receive me to glory.
25. Whom have I in heaven but you?  And I delight in none on earth besides you.
26. My flesh and my heart fail.  God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27. For, behold, those far from you will perish.  You will destroy all who go a-whoring from you.
28. But as for me, the nearness of God is good for me.  I have made the Lord Jehovah my refuge, that I might declare all your works.

The key to Asaph’s deliverance was this: “I entered into God’s sanctuary; then, I considered their end.”  In other words, when Asaph was at his lowest point, he was still seeking God, and when he sought God, God answered him, and when God answered him, Asaph believed what God said.  That was the key.
When the ungodly prosper, when God does not immediately punish them for their behavior, they are happy and feel blessed, and they become more ungodly than ever.  They think either that God is pleased with them or that there is no reason to fear His judgments at all.  When the upright see the wicked prosperous and happy, they seek God to find out why the wicked are so blessed.  And when He shows them His coming judgments, they are encouraged and are content to wait on Him.