Wherefore Doth the Way of the Wicked Prosper?
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

We have been been considering a subject which we have entitled “Questions Which Demand An Answer.” These are not ordinary Bible questions for which you might find an answer by looking at some chapter or verse or in some Bible dictionary. These are questions which are presented in the Word of God which demand an answer because they are questions which all of us have faced or will face at some time or other. These questions were faced by Bible characters. They had to find the answer to them, and as they have found the answers, we are able to find the answers as well.

Some of you do not particularly need to consider these questions for yourself, for you may not have been particularly concerned about them. I say that with tongue in cheek because I think that all of us at some time or other have faced questions such as these we are considering together. But certainly whether you need to know the answer to the questions for yourself or for someone else, you need to know the question and the answer because of those to whom you might minister.

The question that we are going to consider today is one that has been asked often by many, and that is, “Wherefore Doth the Way of the Wicked Prosper?” Of course, that question was asked by Jeremiah in chapter of the book that bears his name. Follow in your Bibles as I read from Jeremiah, chapter 12, verse ‘:

Jeremiah 12:

1 Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?

A compound question Jeremiah asked was, “Why, Lord, do the wicked prosper? Lord, why is it that everybody who does what is wrong seems to be so happy?” This question that we are going to consider today presents the dilemma that every one of us face when we look at this question and ask ourselves the question. We say to ourselves, “Lord, why is it that when we do the very best that we can, the very worst seems to happen? And Lord, why is it when the wicked do the very worst that they can do, everything that is good—yes, Lord, even the very best—seems to happen to them?”

Jeremiah's Dilemma

We want to notice with you the dilemma that each of the men that we are going to think about today faced when this question came to the forefront of their minds. In Jeremiah, chapter 12, verses 1-4, Jeremiah's dilemma is stated. Look again at verse 1:

Jeremiah 12:

1 Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?
2 Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.
3 But thou, O LORD, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee: pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter.
4 How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end.

We do not have time to pursue this thought, but I suggest that you do when you have time—the thought behind the question which Jeremiah asked. In the previous chapter the reason is given. Jeremiah had been faithful in the teaching of the Word of God and what he had to say was not particularly pleasant. People did not like it, so they devised a plan against him. They were going to kill him. He said, “Lord, I was like a lamb or an ox that was brought to the slaughter,” in Jeremiah, chapter 11, verse 19. “Everybody knew about this before I knew about it. Lord, everybody knew what was going to happen and all the details of the plan. I was the last one to learn about it, and Lord, I don't understand why You would let a thing like that happen. Lord, they even came to me,” down in verse 21, “and said, ‘Prophesy not in the name of the Lord that thou die not by our hand'.”

Jeremiah talked to God in chapter 12, verse 1. He began with the words: “Righteous art thou, O LORD. I know that everything that You do is right.” But even though he knew that, and even though he was willing to tell God that, and he was sincere when he did, he said, “I have got to talk with You about something. Let me talk with Thee of thy judgments. Lord, shall not the judge of all the earth do right? Yes, He shall. He never makes a mistake, but Lord, I still don't understand why is it that the wicked prosper in everything they do? Why is it that everything I do faithfully costs me, and everything the wicked ignore in relation to the plan and the purpose of God seems not to be a hindrance to their blessing? Lord, I don't understand.”

Let me pause by way of interruption to suggest to you that you need not feel as though something is wrong with you or your faith if you question God. Sometimes individuals are told that if they have the faith they ought to have, they will accept willingly by faith everything that happens without question. That simply isn't true. Hear me today. It is not the questions that you ask; it is what you do when God gives you the answer.

Don't ever be afraid to tell God how disappointed you are in what has happened. Don't ever be afraid to ask God why. Better to do that than to harbor resentment in your heart until that resentment turns into bitterness and the whole Body of Christ is defiled.

Jeremiah was concerned not only with the question as far as he himself was concerned, but he was concerned in regard to the land of God and the people of God. He said, as we read in this passage of Scripture: “These wicked people are living in the borders of our land, and God, You cannot bless our land as long as wicked people are here. Lord, here I am preaching my life out. Here I am seeing my strength ebb away. Here I am facing death because I have dared to declare the whole message You have told me to declare. How long are you going to let these wicked people get away with their wickedness and refuse to bless our land?” There it is—expressed in a slightly different way, but still the same question: “Why, Lord, do the wicked prosper?”

Job's Dilemma

Job faced this question. It is recorded in Job, chapter 20. Job, of course, is a familiar character to all of us. We are well aware of the physical afflictions which he suffered at the hand of Satan with the permission of God. We are well aware of all of the material and financial losses through which he went, still at the hand of Satan with the permission of God, but one of Job's greatest trials was his three friends who thought they were being helpful.

Oftentimes that is true. Oftentimes we can bear the trial through which God has asked us to go much easier if we didn't have to put up with all of the comments which well-meaning and well-intentioned people make. Do not let that statement discourage you from the ministry of a helpfulness to friends. Don't let that statement discourage you from doing what God really wants you to do; but let me encourage you to be very careful in your ministry with others that you do not seem as the friends of Job seemed—to be false friends who were quick with the solutions and yet did not show any evidence of knowing the solution any better than the person to whom they ministered.

Bildad had spoken and Bildad had told Job back in chapter 18 that wicked people will have a hard time, that wicked people just don't ever have anything good happen to them. Of course, if you are familiar with the book of Job, the thrust of that statement was, “So you are wicked, Job. All of these bad things that have happened to you have happened because of your wickedness.”

Chapter 20 took up the same theme and drove that theme home to Job. He summed up his remarks in verse 29:

Job 20:

29 This is the portion of a wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed unto him by God.

“Job, the way things are happening to you and the things that are occurring in your life are proof that you are not right with God.” Comforting friends, weren't they? When they left off all of their discussion in chapter 21, he introduced a number of things about how he felt and then he zeroed in on the question in verse 7:

Job 21:

7 Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?
8 Their seed is established in their sight with them, and their offspring before their eyes.
9 Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them.
10 Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf.
11 They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance.
12 They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ.
13 They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.
14 Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?

Job said, concerning his three friends, “Fellows, I have heard everything you say, but that is not the way the wicked appear to me. I heard everything you said to me. I heard everything you said and I know what you are thinking; but when I look upon the wicked, that is not what is happening to them. Everything good happens to them.” Then he said, “I have a question for you. If you really want to help me, then you answer this question. Wherefore do the wicked live and become old, yea are mighty in power?”

The same question, asked in a slightly different way, but a question that Job faced, found him in a dilemma. It doesn't seem right, but that is the way it is.

The Psalmist's Dilemma

The Psalmist faced this question and expressed it in a slightly different way in Psalm 94. Turn there and notice how the Psalmist, unnamed—perhaps David, perhaps Asaph; we do not know—asked the question. Notice verse 1:

Psalm 94:

1 O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
2 Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.
3 [Here is the question.] LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
4 How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?
5 They break in pieces thy people, O LORD, and afflict thine heritage.
6 They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
7 Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.

Glancing back at verse 3, you will notice that the Psalmist asked the same question, but in a little different way: “Lord, how long?” No question in the mind of the Psalmist that what he was seeing was the way that it was. The wicked, apparently as far as the eye could see, were being blessed and the righteous seemed to be hurt more than helped. He said, “Lord, how long? I want to know now. How long is this going to go on?”

The dilemma in which the people at whom we have looked together found themselves was due not to the unfairness of God, but was due to how the wicked appeared to them. It was due to the fact that they saw the wicked doing things that were absolutely contrary to the principles of God and were getting away with it.

Let me say in fairness to these people about whom we are speaking, and in fairness to many of us who have faced this question at some time in our lives, it wasn't so much that material wealth seemed to be the possession of these people, while poverty seemed to be the possession of so many spirituals, but it was simply that in the light of their attitude toward God, the blessings were still forthcoming.

I would like for you to go with me to these passages of Scripture at which we have looked and notice in a more emphatic way the description which each one of these men brought to our attention. Let us go back to Jeremiah, chapter 12, as I suggest to you that Jeremiah said that these individuals rendered a lip service to God but knew nothing about heart gratitude. Let me say that again. They rendered lip service to God but they knew nothing about heart gratitude. Notice verse 2:

Jeremiah 12:

2 Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: [notice] thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.

“Thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.” The word reins here could be translated by the word kidney , and the thought is, “the inner recesses of the individual.” Because of the time that this translation was made, these people thought that the kidney was the source of life. It is simply man's effort to convey God's thought. The idea is that these people were very quick with their lips to talk religiously, but their innermost being, the real person, was far from God, so Jeremiah said, “God, I need to talk to you. I don't quite understand why these people are being prospered because Lord, You know and I know that they praise You with their lips, but they do not worship You with their hearts. God, You know and I know that they talk the language, but they don't know the Person, and they are getting away with it.”

It is difficult when you have an opportunity of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ personally and have sweet fellowship with Him as only you can have if you really know Him as Savior, it is difficult to be with somebody that acts like they know Him and who uses all the language, but you know from your contact with them that their heart is not right with God. You know that they have never received Jesus Christ as their Savior. Perhaps you are attempting to witness to them and you have the opportunity of sharing with them something that God has done for you. Even though they may not say anything at all, you see them looking at you with a look that says, “You poor fool. You say God is blessing you. Well, I don't give near as much time to God as you do, but look what He has done for me.”

That is hard to take. That presents the dilemma that we are talking about, when you see, as Jeremiah saw them, people who give lip service but not heart gratitude to God.

Flip back over to Job, chapter 21. Job said, “God, the reason I am bothered by all this is that these people do not have a real respect for you. They say, ‘Lord, who is God? We don't need Him'.” The way Job expressed it down in verses 14-15, we read:

Job 21:

14 Therefore they say unto God, [Remember, they say unto God.] Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?

I have summarized the information in those two verses in the phraseology, “What is God? We don't need Him. You are always talking about God and what God has done for you and what God can do for you. Well, let me tell you something. I don't think that there is that much to that. I don't need God. I get along very well without Him. I don't need his help and besides I don't know that God is interested in the things that you are talking about. I think God expects us to do some of the things that you expect God to do.”

How often the person who says that seems to be the very epitome of success, seems to be the very top of the pile, and here you are knowing that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. You know here in your own heart that your dependence is upon God and upon God alone, and it is not getting you anything. You pray about everything. There is nothing that you do that you do not pray about. Here is some event that is going to happen in your life. You bathe that whole event in prayer and you say, “I know that God is going to work everything out.” He doesn't, but here are these people who say, “Why bother to pray? We don't even pray about things like that,” and it all works out for them. You see, the way you see things, the way that it appears to you, is what makes the dilemma bearable.

Turn to Psalm 94 again and let's notice what the Psalmist had to say about this very same thing. The Psalmist said, “These people say, ‘God doesn't know and God doesn't care'.” The verse where he actually expressed that thought is in verse 7:

Psalm 94:

7 Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.

What was it the Psalmist said about his wicked friends, his wicked friends who seemed to be prosperous while he was having such a hard time? He said, “Lord, those people say that God doesn't even see the things that are happening down here on this earth. They say that God doesn't know when they do certain things, and Lord, on top of that, they even say that You don't hear but that You don't care anyway. Lord, I have always been careful about what I have done because I know that the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous to behold their cry. Lord, I have always thought that You were interested in me. I thought that as a father pity his children, so you have compassion on me, and what has it gotten me? Lord, I don't understand it. My friend over here said that he never prays about anything, that God doesn't even care about those little things, and on top of that, God doesn't see when those things happen. I don't understand it, Lord. Who is right? Lord, could it be that all the time I have spent trusting You really doesn't matter? Is it true, Lord, that You really don't care? Maybe they are right.”

You do understand what I am saying to you, don't you? The dilemma that Jeremiah and Job and the Psalmist found themselves in was due to their description of their wicked friends as it appeared to them, and let me pause to emphasize that what they saw was not wrong. That was what they saw because that is the way it is.

If you will look at Psalm 73, you will notice that Asaph had this very same problem that these other folk had and he summed up the situation as he actually saw it by saying that the problem with the wicked is such as is described in verses 11-12. As a matter of fact, he asked the question in the same way that the Psalmist asked it in Psalm 94. In Psalm 73, verse 11, he said:

Psalm 73:

11 And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?

Then he summed it up: “Lord, let's face the facts. Let's look at it as it actually is. These are the ungodly who prosper in the world and they increase in riches.”

That phrase, “increase in riches,” might be rendered, “and Lord, they continue to increase in riches.” Of course, what he was thinking was simply this: “God, they are getting blessed continually. Their riches increase. They have more now than when they started, but, Lord, everything seems to be worse for me. Instead of getting better, it is getting worse.”

I ask the question not because I expect an answer, but to provoke your thinking about this. Tell me how long have you been in a situation when you have said to yourself and to God, “How much worse is it going to get? How long is it going to continue? Can it get any worse than it already has?”

You try to encourage your faith and say, “No it won't,” and some well-meaning friend comes along and says, “You know, it really can't get any worse,” but it does. Then again you look round about you and see all these folk whom you know don't care anything at all about God and everything seems to be right in their lives. It is hard to take, isn't it? It might even cause you to weaken in faith. It might even cause you to give up on the whole thing.

Notice here in Psalm 73, verse 2. Asaph was honest enough to say that that was the way he felt about it. In verse 2, he said:

Psalm 73:

2 But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.
3 For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Are you to that place where your feet are almost goneand your steps have nearly slipped off the very precipice of faithlessness on which you stand? You have to have the answer. I can't give you the answer by asking you to turn to a chapter and verse and then simply saying, “Now, here is the answer to your question, the wicked prosper and you don't because”, but what I can tell you is that you can find the answer to the question and comfort for your own heart if you consider the destiny of the wicked. You see, most of us are shortsighted people. We can only see the little bit in front of us. We cannot see the end from the beginning.

The Destiny of the Wicked According to Asaph

When Asaph considered the destiny of the wicked, he found help. Let's look at the destiny of the wicked according to Asaph in verses 16-17:

Psalm 73:

16 When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;
17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

Notice the statement: This was too painful for me, but I got alone with God and I got to looking with the far sight instead of the near sight and I understood the end of the wicked.”

In the verses following, he describes the end of the wicked. In verse 18:

Psalm 73:

18 Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
19 How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.
20 As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
21 Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.
22 So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.

Asaph said, “You know, it isn't the way it seems. They seem happy, and to all outward appearances they are, but that is not the way it is. They have all the problems that are discussed in these verses. They have fear and uncertainty and terrors and finally a bleak and bitter end to look forward to.”

You say, “Goody goody, they are not having such a good time, and that just makes me feel real good.” No, no, you have missed the point. What Asaph said is, “When I think about them and then I think about what I really have, I feel sorry for them. Lord, I am even ashamed of asking why the wicked prosper.”

Look down at verse 23. This is how Asaph expresses it:

Psalm 73:

23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.

Someone says, “Oh well, it is all right to talk about I'm going to Heaven and they are going to Hell and so that evens things up.” Oh no, that is not what Asaph said. Asaph described all of the uncertainties in the paragraph that we have just read, and he said, “My, what a difference; I am continually with Thee. I am never a moment by myself. I am never on my own at any time. I am always with You.” Then this lovely expression here: “Thou hast holden Me by my right hand.”

Isn't that a comfort? There is so much in the Word about parents and children. We see a little child in a strange place, fearful. You can see the very terror in his eyes, and sometimes he will reach up trying to get hold of your hand. You are wise if he doesn't have to do that. You know the terror is there and you reach down and get hold of his hand.

Notice what the Scripture says. “…thou hast holden me by my right hand.” You see there is a difference in your holding God's hand and God's holding your hand. You know that, don't you?

I have shared this illustration with you sometime or other during the ministry here, but I was reared in Pennsylvania. We had those bitter winters, icy streets. I would be out walking with my dad when I was a little fellow and I would walk along for a while and everything would be just fine. Then I would come to a slippery place and I would fall. Then after an incident or two like that, I decided I needed some help so I would reach up and get hold of my dad's hand. But you know, I would fall again and I would hurt myself and then he would say, “Son,” and he would look down, “let me take your hand.” Then we would come to the slippery place and my feet would go out from under me and he would hold me up. He had me by my hand.

Asaph said, “Let the wicked have everything they have got. They haven't got what I have got. I've been looking superficially. I have been looking at the outside. God, you have opened my eyes. You hold me by my right hand and Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel and afterward receive me into glory.”

Most of us look at that last phrase and think everything will be all right after we get to Heaven. Well, that is not enough. We need something now, and what was it Asaph said? “Lord, You are with me continually. You hold me by my hand. You guide me with Thy counsel.”

You see, some of us would not need to be in the sad situations which we are if we recognized that there is counsel available from God. Most of us do what we do and find ourselves in the middle of the mess and ask how we can get out of it. If we could get the counsel before it happens.

Destiny of the Wicked According to the Psalmist

Let me suggest that we look at the destiny of the wicked according to the Psalmist. Go back to Psalm 37 and notice in verse 7:

Psalm 37:

7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

“Stop fretting yourself because of all of those individuals.” Of course, he recognizes too all of the blessings that they have, and then down in verse 35, he contrasts the end of the wicked with the end of the righteous. So figuratively and yet so well spoken in verse 35, he said:

Psalm 37:

35 I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
36 Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.

He said, “Oh, I have seen that growth of the wicked spreading himself like a green bay tree, the biggest tree, the healthiest tree, but I was looking for that person the other day and you know, I didn't find him. Not only did I not find him, I didn't find any remembrance of him.” Then he said in verse 37:

Psalm 37:

37 Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.

“Mark the mature man in the things of God…” He is not talking about perfection with the connotation of sinlessness. There is no such thing. Notice again:

Psalm 37:

37 Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.

He wasn't thinking here that the man would simply die in peace, but the whole goal, the whole fruit of resting in the Lord is peace. He said, “Don't look at the wicked, but watch for the upright man and know that that man has a peace that the wicked doesn't know anything about.”

You don't need me to emphasize to you that money and prestige will not bring peace. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” They are like the restless waves of the sea, but the man who has trusted Christ his whole life has peace if he is willing to take advantage of it; and that is why the Spirit of God says, “When you look at how those who don't do right prosper, when you are doing the best that you can and you don't prosper, you should pray about it. You should be thankful in it and you should leave the whole matter with God.”

The recipe for peace: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God that passeth all understanding shall guard your heart and your mind through Christ Jesus.”


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