The End of the Righteous and the Wicked
A sermon on Proverbs 10:17-11:31 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 11/6/05
In C.S. Lewis' classic children's tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – which will show in movie theaters next month - an evil witch has taken over the land of Narnia. This once beautiful land has become a waste, where it is always cold, always winter and never Christmas. But the Narnians hold on to a prophecy of long ago, a prophecy about the King, Aslan, a Lion who will return to rule:
Wrong will be right
when Aslan comes in sight.
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more.
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
To bring this about, Aslan transports four children magically from our world to Narnia. They end up in the lodge of Mr and Mrs Beaver, who tell them that they are to meet the king, Aslan Himself. Mr Beaver explains:
“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Our God is merciful, showering His people with undeserved favor. He’s good. He’s the King. He saves His people. And, as King, He also is a God of justice. “Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight.” That’s a biblical idea:
Our God is not safe. He is not tolerant. He will exact horrible, just punishment on His enemies. He should be feared.
Our passage in Proverbs deals with these issues, focusing on three questions.
Last week, looking at passages that surround today’s text, we focused on the words of our mouth. We considered the impact of our words on ourselves, the impact of our words on others, and the relationship between what we say and eternity. In introduction, we also looked briefly at the nature of true riches: true riches are eternal rather than temporary, they come from God rather than from our own efforts. The book of Proverbs acknowledges that wicked men will seem to prosper for a while, that they often gain temporal riches. But this book also shows clearly that such prosperity is fleeting. True life comes to the righteous, and death comes to the wicked. Our words give insight into whether we are headed to life or death.
Today’s passage provides much more detail about the end of the righteous and wicked. The main lesson: Wisdom is the way to life. Remember that “wisdom” in Proverbs is not simply knowledge plus experience, but God-centered: Seeing who God is, seeing how He rules the world, and responding appropriately. Today’s text says specifically to live wisely we need to see that God is righteous; we need to see that He rules the world in such a way that the righteous is benefit; we need to respond by throw ourselves on His mercy, seeking righteousness from Him. That’s the way of wisdom. Fools, on the other hand, try to assure their own security, their own honor, and their won pleasure. But God rules the world in such a way that they never attain true security, honor, and pleasure.
Our outline this morning has only two headings:
We’ll ask four questions under this heading: What do you fear? Where is your security? How do you get honor? How certain is punishment?
What do you fear?
What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. 25 When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever. Proverbs 10: 24-25
These verses speak of end: The wicked’s dread has not yet happened; the desire of the righteous has not yet been granted. The tempest is not yet over. But justice will be done. God will punish the wicked and establish the righteous.
What is the motivation of the wicked? What are they trying to attain?
There is nothing wrong with aiming to attain these goals, these desires. But the wicked use wrong means to attain them. Instead of trusting in God, instead of living by faith in Him, instead of diligently serving Him in the confidence that He will meet my every need, the wicked are those who say, “No! I won’t trust God to provide security. I’ll get it for myself, by whatever means necessary! If that means ripping off my employees or my employer so I get more wealth to build up my nest egg, so be it! If that means killing my unborn child, so be it! If that means lying, pretending to be something I’m really not, so be it!” The wicked use similar justifications for behavior that leads to power, pleasure, honor, and accomplishment.
If that is what the wicked are trying to attain, what do they dread? The wicked make great sacrifices to achieve these objectives. Their greatest dread is thus failing to attain their objective: making these great sacrifices, and gaining nothing:
What the wicked dreads will come upon him. All he worked for, all he sinned for, will be seen as but a moment of getting what he thought he wanted – and then finding, first, it didn’t satisfy and, second, even that unsatisfactory bit of joy is taken away, forever. The tempest or storm comes, leaving him desolate. In recent months we’ve seen literal storms that devastating cities and villages, killing thousands and taking away the livelihood of many more. But these storms are only a pale foreshadowing of the final tempest we will all face – either at the time of our death, or at the end of the age. That final tempest will take away all that we worked for on earth, all that we attained: positions, possessions, people. For the wicked, there will be nothing left.
The end of the righteous is in sharp contrast: All their desires are granted. They are established firmly forever. They have perfect security. They have no need for personal power, for the most powerful One of all works for them. They have the highest honor. They have all joy. As the psalmist says,
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
That’s the end of the righteous.
Verses 27-30 elaborate on these points:
27 The fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short. 28 The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish. 29 The way of the LORD is a stronghold to the blameless, but destruction to evildoers. 30 The righteous will never be removed, but the wicked will not dwell in the land. Proverbs 10:27-30
Once again, we see that the righteous are secure, for the Lord is their stronghold. They can never be removed from God’s hand. In contrast, all that the wicked hope for will end. The Lord Himself, far from protecting them, will be the one to destroy them.
In addition to being secure, the righteous are joyous. Note when they are joyous, according to verse 28: Today! Although they do not yet see their hopes fulfilled, the righteous are confident in their faithful God, and thus have great joy even before He fulfills all His promises. Those who have only destruction ahead of them can never have that deep joy.
The hope of the righteous is life – that is, eternal life. God’s kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and thus they will never be removed from the land. The wicked, however, face the loss of everything. They have no stake in God’s kingdom.
What do you fear? You need not fear what the wicked dread.
Where is your security?
Chapter 11:4-8 brings the focus even more clearly on the security of the righteous and the loss of all security for the wicked:
4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. 5 The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. 6 The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust. 7 When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too. 8 The righteous is delivered from trouble, and the wicked walks into it instead. Proverbs 11:4-8
A day of wrath is coming. He will be no means leave the guilty unpunished. In this life, getting riches through wrong means may enable you to subvert justice. With that money, you may be able to bribe your way out of punishment, or to buy off witnesses, or to hire the most accomplished criminal lawyer to get you acquitted. But all the riches in the world will gain you nothing on the last day. As verse 7 says, if you are wicked, you have no hope at all then. You have depended on your wealth for security, but when you die, you leave all that behind. Furthermore, as verse 5 says, the very wickedness that you thought led to security will lead to your fall. Indeed, the very lusts and desires you try to satisfy will betray you, and lay you open (verse 6).
Verse 7 is ultimate: The wicked person thinks he is being so smart. He thinks those who are righteous are just stupid, not doing what needs to be done to attain goals. But he himself is walking right into trouble. He brings about his own downfall. In an attempt to gain security, he loses all security.
In contrast, again and again the author promises the righteous deliverance from trouble and from death. Eternal security is found in righteousness. And, on this side of the cross, we see clearly that righteousness is found only in Jesus Christ. He, thus, is our only security.
How do you gain honor?
Chapter 11:16-22 focuses on the rewards of the righteous, but this section begins and ends with references to women that may seem out of place. Upon closer examination, however, these two complementary proverbs provide insightful bookends for the rest of the section:
11:16 A gracious woman gets honor, and violent men get riches.
11:22 Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.
Verse 16 looks puzzling. Is it commending violence to us in order to gain riches? No. Remember, we just looked at verse 4 of the same chapter, which tells us that earthly riches – the only kind of riches violent men can get – do not profit on the day of wrath. So although violent men look so mighty, so powerful, so hard to resist, they, in the end, after all their efforts, attain much, much less than a single gracious woman. Many violent men, despite their power, gain only what perishes; a single gracious woman, despite her relative weakness, gains what is much more valuable. Unlike their riches that do not profit, her honor lasts forever. Some gracious women attain a degree of honor on earth, as their gracious faith is recorded in the Bible: Hannah, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene. Many more women we have never heard of will receive great honor on the last day. A gracious woman may be oppressed, may be beaten, may be downtrodden. But the woman of faith who perseveres in grace by trusting in Christ will be honored eternally.
A gracious woman trusts in God, in Christ. On the other hand, the woman who trusts in her physical beauty is pictured by a different image: A pig, wallowing in dung and mud, with a beautiful ring in its nose. Now, if you see such a pig, you’re not going to focus on the ring. Instead, you’ll smell the refuse, you’ll see the mud, you’ll see the filth. The ring brings the pig no honor, for the creature’s filth obscures and overwhelms whatever beauty the ring possesses. Just so with physical beauty in a woman without discretion. Her beauty will bring no honor ultimately, even if it seems to bring her honor temporarily. She will be exposed for what she really is.
So don’t strive for physical beauty. Strive to be Christlike. Strive to be wise. Strive to be a sage. Strive to love.
These pictures of the contrasting women bracket proverbs that highlight and underline the contrasting ends of the righteous and wicked. Consider 11:18:
The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.
The wicked are thus like the beautiful woman without discretion. They think their wickedness will earn wages of honor, accomplishment, and pleasure. Instead, the wages of sin is death. Their wages are thus deceitful. They are the one who are deceived. In contrast, the reward of righteous is certain, and thus not deceptive in the least. As Peter writes, the righteous have an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
Verse 21 begins with the words, “Be assured!” Verse 19 can be translated to begin similarly: “Yes indeed!” The author adds such words because to our eyes, it often does not look the righteous will be rewarded. It often does not look like the wicked will be punished. It often does not look like the gracious woman will attain honor – instead, it looks like physical beauty will lead to honor. But we are to be assured. We are to hold on to these truths. Even though it may not look like it now, we are to know for sure: evil will be punished. The righteous will be rewarded. Why? Verse 20 is key:
Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.
This is the basis of our hope. This is the basis of our knowledge of the end. God delights in His people, in those devoted to Him. From the beginning of creation, God has been preparing a people for His own possession, a people who will live to the praise of His glorious grace, a people who will delight in Him and thus bring Him glory. The righteous are those people. Those who are an abomination to Him, on the other hand, have no hope.
How certain is punishment?
To close this section, look at the last verse in chapter 11:
If the righteous is repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner! Proverbs 11:31
Think carefully here. On first reading, you’ve probably misunderstood the verse. Are the righteous repaid with good on earth? We have already seen that earthly riches do not profit; they always fail. We have already seen that the reward of the righteous is eternal in scope. So what does the author mean when he talks about the repayment of the righteous on earth?
Furthermore, consider: Is God’s punishment of the wicked more certain or of a higher intensity than His reward of the righteous? Once again, we have already seen that this section of Proverbs highlights again and again the absolute certainty of God’s rewarding the righteous.
So what does verse 31 mean? Think of it this way. All of the righteous are sinners. None are perfect. All sin. And many of the righteous do suffer God’s discipline on earth. They are repaid, in effect, for this sins, in part, sometimes, on earth. We can think of many biblical characters for whom this is true: Moses, who did not enter the promised land. Eli, whose sons die in battle. David, whose children sin grievously against each other and against him.
But if the righteous are repaid sometimes and in part for their sins on earth, how much more will the wicked be repaid for their sins in eternity!
Peter quotes from the ancient Greek translation of this Proverb in 1 Peter 4:18. The words are a bit different, but the idea is similar:
“If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:19
Knowing the certainty of the punishment of the wicked, therefore, Peter exhorts us – even when suffering – to trust God and live lives worthy of our calling. That’s the call of this section of Proverbs also. How will you then live? In light of the end of the righteous and the wicked, how will you spend your days? Let’s turn to the verses in today’s text that speak to that theme.
We could summarize the life of the wicked as being self-focused. Now, remember, we’re using a biblical definition of the righteous and the wicked here. So the wicked include all those who are not righteous in God’s eyes. The wicked thus include many people who, by human standards, are quite other-centered, people who devote their lives to doing good for others. Many of these people are not gaining money for themselves, nor are they gaining fame or power. Yet they could still be self-focused, aiming at a sense of accomplishment, or aiming at being honored by those they care most about.
The righteous, on the other hand, follow God’s Law. Remember how Jesus summarizes the Law and the Prophets: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). The righteous are thus truly other-focused: Focusing on loving God and on loving other people. They therefore achieve the great object of their desire: Knowing God Himself.
Several verses in today’s passage bring out how we live such an other-focused life. We’ll look at a few of these verses under three headings:
The righteous man is generous
It is no surprise that the one who loves God and loves others will be generous. But this passage argues that that very generosity leads to more joy for the giver. As Jesus says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Act 20:35). Consider Proverbs 11:24-25:
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. 25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
Why don’t people give generously? Because they think will lose by doing so. They think they won’t have enough to meet their needs. They think they will lose their security.
But that is not so in God’s economy. Those who give become richer; those who give water to the thirsty will drink deeply of the coldest, most refreshing water.
Point is not: Give money in order to make more money. We’ve already seen that the righteous – that is, the generous – may appear to suffer for a time. The wicked – that is, those who are stingy – will appear to prosper.
Instead, the point is: “Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight.” God will see to it that no one loses ultimately by giving. You may receive your return in another currency – such as receiving your return in love rather than in money. You may receive your return after a period of hardship. But always, always what you gain by giving is more than what you gave up. What Jesus call “treasure in heaven” will always be of much greater value than what you gave on earth.
Verse 26 of chapter 11 mentions part of the reward:
26 The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.
In a time of scarcity, those with stocks of food might hold on to them, thinking the price will go up even more. So they might refuse to sell even to a hungry person who has the money to buy. The person who sells today loses the potential financial gain of the future price increase. But what does he receive? Blessing. Thanksgiving. This is a reward indeed – a reward much more valuable than a few – or many – dollars.
The righteous man, knowing his end, is generous.
The righteous man builds up other individuals and his community
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray. Proverbs 10:17
Translators have added the word “on”. Literally the first part of the verse reads, “Whoever heeds instruction is the path to life.” Although this sounds strange, it provides a better parallel with the second half of the verse. The NIV captures the sense of the verse better than the ESV:
He who heeds discipline shows the way to life . . . Proverbs 10:17a NIV
Our task is to be the path to life for others, to show others the path to life. Are you doing this? Are you showing others – your family, your friends, your colleagues – the way to life? Or by your actions, are you leading them astray?
Proverbs 11:27 at first reading may not seem to be about other individuals:
Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it.
But consider: Who searches for evil for himself? No one. The wicked instead seek out opportunities to commit evil against others. If this is the case, because of the parallel nature of this proverb, we should add the same idea to the first half of the verse. The idea would then be something like this: “Whoever diligently seeks good for others is looking to God for favor, but whoever seeks evil for others will have evil come upon him.” Waltke comments: “The truth ‘seek, and you will find’ takes on new meaning: What you seek for others, you will find for yourself.”
We are to be other-focused, and thus we are to have an impact not only on other individuals but also on our community as a whole. Consider verses 10 and 11 of chapter 11, in reverse order:
By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.
When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.
Do you see the theme? We show individuals the path to life. We seek their good. Our actions, prayers, and words lead to God’s blessings on our wider community. When that is recognized, the entire community thanks us and rejoices.
On the other hand, the wicked’s words and deeds destroy the community, so when they die, there is rejoicing, not sorrow.
The righteous man becomes the source of life
Proverbs 11:30 sums up these ideas:
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.
Remember the picture of the tree of life. In Revelation 22, it is in the midst of the New Jerusalem; it continually bears fruit during all twelve months of the year; its leaves are for the healing of the nations. It imparts life to the true community of the saints. In Genesis 2 and 3, the tree of life is in the midst of the Garden of Eden. Eating of it provides eternal life.
So listen carefully: You, if you are righteous, can be the source of life – eternal lfe – to those around you. You can be source of healing. You can be the way to peace. You can be light in darkness. As Paul writes:
So that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. Philippians 2:15-16a NIV
Have you been laboring to attain honor, security, pleasure, or accomplishment on your own? While paying lip service to God, have your efforts been elsewhere? If you lost all, but still had God, would you still be able to rejoice?
This passage makes clear that to seek to attain any joy apart from God is certain to fail. You may have some short-term success; you may seem to attain your objectives. In this life, even if you gain all you thought you wanted, you will find that your deepest desires remain unsatisfied. And at the last day – and perhaps much sooner – you will lose all that you worked for.
Our God, the God of the Universe, is not the safe, indulgent Santa Claus in the sky that so many hope for. Instead, He is holy. He is righteous. He is just. He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In Mr Beaver’s words, He is not safe. But He is good. He is the king. And wrong will be right when our Lord Jesus returns.
So what makes sense? What is the only course that makes sense?
The answer is not: “Become righteous by your own efforts.” That won’t work. As Paul tells us, “There is no one righteous, no, not one.”
But God provides for us a righteousness that comes apart from works of any kind: The righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ.
Will you cast yourself on His mercy, and then live that God-centered, other-centered life: loving Him and loving others as you love yourself?
What keeps you from doing this? Are you afraid of what you might give up?
Consider one last verse:
A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom. Proverbs 10:23 NIV
Know that there is great delight in the way of wisdom: in seeing God, seeing how He rules the world, and responding accordingly. The way of wisdom is hard. Our God is not safe. He will stretch us beyond what we think we can bear. But He is our great delight. Thus we make no sacrifice in following Him. As David Livingstone, the 19th century missionary to Africa, wrote:
People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Away with such a word, such a view, and such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering or danger now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.
Ultimately you give up nothing in following our Lord Jesus Christ on the way of wisdom. So step out confidently. Seek His face. Desire Him above all. Throw yourself on His mercy. Humble yourself before Him. And He will be your delight.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 11/6/05. Bruce Waltke’s The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Eerdmans, 2004) was exceptionally helpful throughout. Apart from this commentary, I would have taken a completely different approach to preaching this series. He is the source for “Yes, indeed!” beginning Proverbs 11:19 (p. 498), and for leaving out “on” in 10:17 (465). The quote from Waltke is found on page 509.
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