Being made in the image of God, who is Himself light and in whom is no darkness at all (Gen. 1:26–27; 1 John 1:5), we instinctively look for wicked people to fail. Our God-given sense of justice understands that evil must be punished, and this is why all human societies have established systems of justice that, however imperfectly, generally seek to punish bad behavior. Yet we all learn at a young age that things do not always work out this way. All too often, wicked individuals go unpunished. Some of them even achieve great success and are never held to account for their crimes on this side of heaven.
Ecclesiastes understands this and says that the reality of the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked is “vanity,” or perplexing (Eccl. 8:14). It is indeed confusing to us why our Creator, in His providence, sometimes allows evil men and women to greatly succeed. In all of our confusion over this matter, however, we must remember that no matter the degree of success that the wicked find, their happiness will certainly come to an end. Proverbs 5:22–23 is one of many passages in Scripture reminding us of that comforting truth.
Today’s passage points out that the success of wicked men is, in the final analysis, an illusion. Their iniquities ensnare them and hold them fast in sin, leading to their destruction (v. 22). The image is borrowed from an animal’s being caught in a trap by a hunter; once ensnared, the animal’s end is certain. But unlike an animal that is trapped by someone else, the wicked trap themselves; they sow the seeds of their own destruction. This is not to deny that impenitent sinners experience true joys and accomplishments; rather, the point is that whatever measure of success they enjoy, their days of prosperity will not last beyond their deaths. Many of them, in fact, will find failure even after they have been successful for decades. We see this even in our own day when the heinous behavior of celebrities and leaders who have been beloved for decades finally comes to light.
Verse 23 indicates that the wicked die “for lack of discipline” (v. 23). Instead of heeding the wise instruction of the Word of God, they never practice true repentance, and so they die. Often this takes the form of what from our perspective is premature death, such as when otherwise healthy people die young because of foolish decisions they have made. But in every case, the death that the impenitent wicked find is the eternal death and destruction that they suffer consciously under the wrath of the Lord in hell (Rev. 20:10, 14; 21:8).