Proverbs 22:17—24:22 contains thirty “sayings to the wise,” which are Solomon’s words of wisdom for those who put their faith and hope in God. The penultimate saying states, “Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked, for the evildoer has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out” (Proverbs 24:19–20).
This proverb’s point is that wise people do not need to worry, despair, or fret when evildoers experience success because such people have no hope of a triumphant future. The wicked are not to be envied because their success is only temporary. Any satisfaction they enjoy is here today and gone tomorrow. In the end, they are destined for destruction (Psalm 34:16; 37:38). In a parallel saying of the wise, Solomon advises, “Don’t envy sinners, but always continue to fear the Lord. You will be rewarded for this; your hope will not be disappointed” (Proverbs 23:17–18, NLT). The reward of sinners is short-lived, but those who put their hope in the Lord have a sure and confident expectation of God’s eternal faithfulness and presence (Psalm 71:5).
This same idea unfolds in Psalm 73. Asaph confesses that he nearly gave up hope in God’s goodness when he envied and fretted over the success of evildoers: “But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else” (Psalm 73:2–5, NLT). Asaph regains his footing when he remembers the fate of evildoers: “Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked. Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors” (Psalm 73:17–19, NLT; see also Psalm 73:27).
The English verb fret in Proverbs 24:19 is probably a bit mild for the original Hebrew term’s meaning. “Do not get burned up” or “do not get yourself infuriated” might be a better rendering. It’s not unusual for Christians to become furious with anger when they see godless people prospering. But if we allow our focus to shift away from God’s goodness and faithfulness to the success and prosperity of the wicked, like Asaph, we can lose our way, too.
Nothing good comes from letting envy fester in our hearts. It becomes like a “cancer in the bones” (Proverbs 14:30, NLT). James warns, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14–16). When we are envious of the wicked, we become just like them. But when we let go of our jealous indignation, our outlook shifts back to the eternal perspective where our trusting eyes of faith are firmly fixed on God.
The lesson of Proverbs 24:19 echoes in King David’s words: “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:1–4).
In Scripture, a lamp, or the light of a candle, is often a symbol of prosperity and success. When we’re tempted to fret because of evildoers—when a godless person wins the promotion we deserve—remember, “The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out” (Proverbs 13:9). David affirms, “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Psalm 18:28).
The believer has a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11); the wicked do not. For this reason, we should not get all worked up and fret because of evildoers. If we do, we reveal our spiritual short-sightedness and lack of trust in the integrity and faithfulness of God. We forget that “the eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12, NLT). If we fix our thoughts on God and not the fleeting fortune of the wicked, if we trust in the Lord and hope in His steadfast love, God will keep our hearts in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3; see also Psalm 33:18).