The Light and Momentary Success of the Wicked

The Light and Momentary Success of the Wicked

The light and momentary success of the wicked is working for them an eternal weight of affliction that will far outweigh earthly prosperity. And when we discern this end, we are strengthened to resist the pressure of our age. Rather than conforming ourselves to the pattern of this world, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Rather than seeking to placate false gods or false men, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God alone (Romans 12:1–2). 

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. (Psalm 16:4)

So far in Psalm 16, David has sought refuge in God, asking for God to preserve and keep him. He has confessed that Yahweh is not only the Lord, but that he is David’s Lord — the all-sufficient and all-satisfying Good, from whom every good gift comes. And under that greatest Good, one of the chief earthly goods that David has received is the saints in the land, God’s people. They are holy and majestic, delighting David with their grandeur. Because he loves to be near God, David likewise loves to be near his people.

As he continues to pray, David next considers another group of people, those who run after other gods. Perhaps he has in mind the nations around Israel, who seek refuge not in Yahweh, but in Baal, Dagon, and Ashtoreth. Israel is married to Yahweh, covenantally bound to him as her Lord and Husband. The nations, on the other hand, have married false gods, demonic powers. They have run after them and acquired them in marriage.

And what has happened as a result? When David considers the saints and their marriage to Yahweh, he thinks of the majesty of mountains with great delight and pleasure. When he considers idolaters around them, he sees a very different picture — sorrows, pains, injuries, hardships, and wounds. And not just static sorrows, but multiplying, growing, and abounding sorrows.

Having run after other gods and acquired them, the ungodly have brought down on themselves pain, strife, and hurt.

Prosperity of the Wicked?

Such sorrows are not always immediately evident to us. In Psalm 73, Asaph expresses his dismay at the prosperity of the wicked, and his confusion at their success. The wicked have no pangs until death; they are well-fed and insulated from trouble. They don’t have the struggles and hardships that most men do (verses 4–5). Despite their pride, violence, folly, malice, and oppression, they prosper and succeed in all that they do (verses 6–9). They are always at ease as they increase in their riches, brazenly mocking God for not seeing and not knowing of their evil (verses 10–12).

Such a picture stands in stark contrast to David’s observation in Psalm 16. So how can these two pictures be reconciled? Do the sorrows of idolaters multiply, or are the wicked always at ease? Does their idolatry injure them and cause harm, or does it redound to their prosperity and success?

Asaph shows us the way. His vexation gives way to clarity, but only after he worships Yahweh in the sanctuary. Only after he seeks refuge in God as his highest good is he able to discern the end of the wicked (Psalm 73:17). And when he does, he draws the same conclusion as David.

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