The Final End of the Wicked
“A sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.”- Ecclesiastes 8:12–13
Waiting for justice to be done is one of the hardest aspects of life in our fallen world. So often, we see the righteous trodden underfoot and the enemies of our Lord ascendant, and this might tempt us to wonder if things will ever be set right. Our innate sense that justice will win in the end, however, keeps us from succumbing to nihilism, and it gives us hope for an afterlife where evil is judged and good triumphs. But this hope is not mere wishful thinking, for it is confirmed in Scripture. As Paul tells us, those who do not “obey the truth” will one day reap what they have sown in the form of divine judgment (Rom. 2:6–11).
Paul is not the only biblical author to speak of the final judgment, for he actually draws from a tradition in the Hebrew Bible that looks forward to the last-day judgment of sin and vindication of God’s children. This tradition, however, is often given implicitly and not presented explicitly in the Old Testament. Today’s passage is one such example of the implicit hope of final resurrection and judgment in the old covenant revelation.
The Preacher has already said that wicked men and women are often honored despite their evil, and this might make us think that evil people will never get their due. In fact, the apparent delay of divine justice seems to make wicked people even worse (Eccl. 8:10–11). Yet in Ecclesiastes 8:12–13, we learn that the success of wicked people is but a temporary thing. The Preacher teaches this by means of a paradox, telling us that the sinner prolongs his life and that he does not prolong his days. What could the Preacher mean? The answer lies in the fact that the Preacher is looking at the world from two different perspectives. From the earthly, limited view of human beings, it does seem that many wicked people live longer than would be due if their evil were taken fully into account. They prolong their lives, not seeming to be set back by their misdeeds. Yet from a heavenly perspective, from the foundation of the fear of God, they do not lengthen their lives at all. Their days are actually “like a shadow.” They come and go quickly (Ps. 102:11). Although the wicked may seem to meet with great success, from the vantage point of eternity, it is only fleeting.
On the other hand, it will go well for those who fear God (Eccl. 8:12). By linking the lack of fearing the Lord with the failure to prolong one’s days (v. 13), the Preacher is pointing us to the fact that the fear of God will lengthen our lives. Thus, we have an implicit reference to heaven, where the redeemed will enjoy life in the Lord’s presence forever.
The fear of the Lord is not only the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7); it is also the prerequisite for eternal life. It is not that such fear is a meritorious work that God rewards with eternal life; rather, such fear is born of saving faith that unites us to Christ, whose merit alone will save us. Though fearing the Lord may not bring with it much earthly success, it will bring us to eternal life, where we will see justice win and evil vanquished. Let us fear the Lord as we look for that day.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 17:24–28
1 Peter 2:17