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Do Good Get Good, Do Bad Get Bad
Proverbs 12:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 No ill befalls the righteous,
but the wicked are filled with trouble.
No ill befalls the righteous: Here the Hebrew word (aven) translated ill refers to a calamity of great suffering and distress from being harmed, injured, or having a misfortune come upon you. The Hebrew verb (annah) rendered befalls here means to be allowed or permitted to happen. Righteous; upright; just: (Heb. tsedeq) refers to one who is in a righteous standing before God, who is characterized by righteous actions and morals in accordance with God’s moral standards.
but the wicked are filled with trouble: Wicked (Heb. rā·šāʿ) is the unrighteous who are evil, being guilty of willfully and purposely violating the standards of God. In the Old Testament, it refers to the one who refuses to acknowledge or obey God. In the book of Proverbs explicitly, it refers to the foolish one who ignores or refuses to follow the divine teachings of God. It is a state or condition of evil that focuses on the violating of God’s laws or standards. The Hebrew verb (male) rendered filled with trouble means that they will experience nothing but trouble.
These kinds of proverbs have caused some difficulty in many churches because they are treated like absolutes or guarantees; if we do A we will get B. Proverbs are not to be applied in this sense in an imperfect world, with imperfect people. The best phrase that we can put before the proverb is “generally speaking.” Let us look at Proverbs 22:6 as our example, it says, “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (ESV) Let us look at an easy version of this, “direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” (NLT) Is this an absolute guarantee that, if I raise my children in the best way, when they get older, they will not leave it? No. Let us place our phrase in front of it. ‘Generally speaking,’ if you direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.’
Again, we ask, is a proverb to be interpreted as a universal law? Is it like the law of the Medes and the Persians, which could never be overruled (Esther 8:8)? Is it to be interpreted absolutely, as the laws of thermodynamics, which describe what must always take place? It is apparent when reading proverbs that many of them seem to be less than absolute in their applicability. Certainly, the wicked person does not experience trouble every second of every day.