In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon bemoaned many facets of life that from his vantage point were vanity and striving after wind. This is a somber perspective on life and in some respects reflects the effects of Solomon’s folly for having tested his ability to remain wise while engaging in all manner of foolish pursuits. As far away from God as Solomon drifted, he did not completely forget his creator. He came full circle in his faith and concluded this book with the charge to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Eccl. 12:13).
As Solomon made this journey, he focused on something that has troubled godly people for all time. How are we to react when it seems that the wicked prosper in their evil deeds? In Eccl. 8:11-13 Solomon said, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given to fully to do evil. Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.”
Here Solomon noted a common attitude among human beings. When we do something we know is wrong and do not immediately receive punishment, we are emboldened to continue in that activity. Whether it is the child getting into the cookie jar, or a criminal breaking into a house, or someone telling a falsehood, or whatever it might be, if we appear to get away with it, we are more likely to do it again.
When the righteous observe such behavior, they may wonder about the wisdom of living a godly lifestyle. They may wonder about God’s justice in allowing the wicked to succeed in their evil deeds. They may wonder why their lives are not as materially blessed as those of the unrighteous. All of these are understandable reactions, when it seems that evil prospers. They are understandable, but they are not biblical reactions.
The plain truth of scripture is that all evildoers will be held accountable for their deeds. Solomon spoke of it in general terms in Eccl. 8:11-13. He knew that a delay in the execution of God’s judgment did not mean that judgment would not be meted out. The righteous will be rewarded for their godliness, and the wicked will be punished for their evil deeds. This is an unchangeable feature of God’s character.
One statement of this truth is found in Nahum 1:3, in the words the prophet spoke to the city of Nineveh. He said, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” The last phrase of this statement is important. God will not leave the guilty unpunished. His justice will not allow the wicked to get away with their evil deeds. This is a truth that is as fundamental to our faith as is the promise of reward for the righteous. There cannot be a reward for obedience if there is no punishment for disobedience.
The New Testament echoes this truth. One example of this is 2 Corinthians 5:10, where Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” So then, we do not fret because of evildoers and we do not envy them, for God will bring them to justice and put out their lamp (Proverbs 24:19). Although evil seems to prosper, its destiny is the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:14).