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Proverbs 11:21

“Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered.”

Broadly speaking, we interpret the book of Proverbs correctly only if we are careful not to treat its pithy sayings as unqualified promises. The nature of a proverb is that it conveys a general but not always universal truth, and it does so in light of a specific set of circumstances. The classic example of this is Proverbs 26:4–5: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Neither one of these is to be taken as a universal truth that applies no matter the situation, as seen in the fact that they prescribe two different responses to the fool and are set right next to each other. The one to follow depends entirely on the nature of the fool in question. Some fools are not teachable, so it would be counterproductive to respond to them in the same way they have come to us. To do so would bring us down to their level and make us look like fools ourselves. On the other hand, some fools are teachable and will only get the message if we answer them in kind. Answering such fools according to their folly will actually cause them to learn something.

When a proverb overlaps with promises found elsewhere in Scripture, however, it is not inappropriate to read the proverb as a promise. Consider today’s passage. Proverbs 11:21 tells us that the evil person will certainly be punished while the righteous person will certainly be delivered. Such teaching is fully in line with passages such as Romans 2:1–11 and Revelation 20 that speak about the day on which the Lord will issue His final judgment on His creation. On that day, all injustice will be repaid with wrath and the faithful will receive their reward. In light of the entire canon of Scripture, we know that none whom the Lord will receive as righteous on that day are righteous in themselves; rather, they will be counted righteous in Christ, having been covered with His perfection through faith in Him alone (Rom. 4–5). Nevertheless, all those whom our Creator declares righteous in Christ He also renews by His Spirit, so that we bear the fruit of holiness in our lives (Gal. 5:22–23).

In stating that an evil person will surely be punished and that a righteous person will surely be delivered, Proverbs 11:21 calls attention to the fact that we will have to wait for that final day to see this perfect judgment. We only need to “be assured” of this truth if, in fact, we know that the unrighteous often escape justice and that the righteous frequently suffer. But a day is coming in which we will see the vindication of God’s justice.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

If there is no day of judgment coming, all attempts to do justice now are futile. Even the best systems of justice devised by human beings are imperfect, and they sometimes fail to punish evildoers. Only a final day of judgment guarantees that the failures of our justice systems will give way to perfect justice. Our hope is not finally that justice will prevail on this side of the grave, though we work for it. Our hope is that God’s judgment will be perfect on the last day.

For Further Study
  • Isaiah 66:15–24
  • 1 Corinthians 4:5

Blessing the Lord Now and Forever

Spiritual Healing

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From the December 2015 Issue
Dec 2015 Issue