In the context of this passage, Jeremiah brings an inquiry before Yahweh. His faithful prophetic ministry has brought him great sorrow and persecution. His fellow countrymen abandoned both he and his message. Israel’s faithless disposition, immorality, irreverence, love of false teaching, and treachery has brought them comfort, not judgment. It has brought them ease not hardship. Jeremiah, a righteous man and faithful prophet, suffered while the rebellious were prosperous. Yahweh answers his question, in the rest of the chapter, with the promise that judgment toward Israel and the rebellious nations are imminent and unavoidable.
We are taught something that is pertinent to our own day. We see the wicked in a state of bliss and living in comfort. False teachers enjoy decadence and high praise from men. The treacherous are well-esteemed and rewarded for their deeds inside and outside of the church. We see men and women of gross immorality parading it down the avenues of major cities. Infants are murdered in masses without recompense, it seems. Have we not asked God the same? “Why do the wicked prosper?”
One answer is that the wicked prosper because God’s common grace is dispensed to them so that they may repent and believe in the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is God’s own stay of execution, and His long-suffering mercy that causes the wicked to prosper. This prosperity will inevitably serve as an insurmountable indictment against the wicked. Their opulence and decadence is supposed to drive them to their knees in repentance and submission to the Creator. It is supposed to cause them to realize that God has given them things with liberality, however He has given His Son as a sacrifice for their sins. Yet, they are not motivated to worship Him, but instead worship the creation (Romans 1:18-27).
The wicked prosper because judgment is imminent. Just as Jeremiah, the weeping Prophet, could no longer fathom the reality of the wicked prospering, so too is the Christian weary of the wicked having their celebrations of rebelliousness toward God. The wicked misappropriate their prosperity and are woefully unprepared for the wrath of God which will surely come upon them (Luke 12:16-20). Judgment is most severe when one is caught by surprise because of it. Eternal judgment is most severe when one has thought enough insurance has been purchased to avoid its horrors. The wicked prosper because this life is the only heaven that will be theirs, even with its occasional miseries. The wicked prosper because they have forfeited the eternal glories of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and instead have settled for the distractions of a fleeting prosperity and a vain hope that will vanish before them. The wicked prosper not because they have escaped suffering, but because judgment is imminent. It is on the horizon, yet they have ignored it. Although their prosperity is permitted by God, He takes no pleasure in them. Just as Israel was uprooted and judged, both in the Old and New Testament, Jesus Christ will judge the wicked in the last day. They will plead what will prove to be inadequate to save them from God’s wrath. Some will plead their morality, others their “good” deeds. When he searches the church, some will vainly quote their favorite theologians to him, others will plead their years of “service” to the church. Some will justify their sin as a means to an end, but it is certain that many will perish. Why do the wicked prosper? Because the great delusion is that they have heaped upon themselves, what they believed to be a fortress while instead it is an eternal tomb. And it is through all eternity that they will suffer, because they loved their prosperity more than Jesus Christ and the path of suffering which meets with glory.