When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.
Sinners have a little fun – while alive. They make huge plans for pleasure and posterity. They expect and hope to do bigger and better things. They plan to get everything rolling along more perfectly. Then they die. Then they have nothing. Then they are nothing.
Death is the great equalizer. It rips from the rich all their wealth; it tears from the strong any athletic prowess; it corrupts the face, body, and hair of the beautiful; it removes the wits and memories of the intelligent; it neuters the authority and power of leaders; it takes from parents their beloved children; it leaves homeless those who loved their fine homes. No matter what the wicked expected or hoped to do, the King of Terrors takes it all away.
Jesus told of a rich man who planned new barns to hold his great wealth, and he said to himself, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:16-21).
Worldly men arrive in life naked and ignorant, and they leave the same helpless way. Yet they waste their lives chasing goals that disappear in one second – the second they die. They see others die and take nothing with them, yet they keep running as fast as they can on the unmerciful treadmill of ambition, greed, and covetousness until it spits them off into death and hell. What fools! Then they have nothing. Then they are nothing.
Are such words too harsh? They are nothing compared to the shock of the first second in hell. In a horrible flash of understanding, every sinner will know there is a God, that his whole earthly life was a waste, and that he has an eternity of unbearable torment ahead. He will not think for a second about his big plans on earth, for they will be entirely gone. Why do you think strong warnings about such a future are harsh? Are you also deceived?
The world is insane! They set goals of high salaries, prestigious positions, large houses, fancy cars, fine clothes, the most expensive schools for their children, and other ridiculous ambitions. Some of them say, “He who dies with the most toys – wins.” They chase their neighbors daily to make sure they are not left behind in the mad rush to accumulate things and experience pleasure. Then they lose everything in one second.
Consider what David wrote about this insanity in Psalm 39. He wrote, “Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them” (Ps 39:6). Solomon, after experimenting with more than you can even imagine, added this summary: “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl 1:14). Believe it!
Consider what David wrote in Psalm 49. There the Lord ridiculed the insanity of the rich and their ambitions. It is a sermon to warn all men of the vanity of worldly riches. Whether a man is wise or foolish, he dies like an animal, and he cannot take anything with him. There is nothing a rich man can do to buy his way out of death. He quickly turns into a clay carcass dumped in a grave, yet his descendants chase the same illusion.
Alexander the Great died before turning 33. His arrogant and ambitious plans of building this and doing that totally disappeared. His final words of transition were not understood, so there was no succession. His family was murdered, so there was no successor. His four generals fought over the scraps of his empire, and today Greece is a byword in the world, unable even to feed or manage itself without large subsidies from the European Union.
The illustrations of this proverb are endless. What happened to the grandiose plans of Adolph Hitler? Even remembering him favorably is nearly a crime in most nations. His enemies the Jews are dominant again in many aspects of society. What of Mao Zedong? The progress China has made since his death is due primarily to repudiating his ideas. What of Joseph Stalin? James Dean? JFK? Marilyn Monroe? John Lennon? JFK, Jr.?
Everything sinners hope for and plan for ends at death – their expectations and hopes perish. All they valued is totally wiped out by the King of Terrors. They will never watch another Super Bowl, attend a World Series, or bet on March Madness. But righteous men have hope in their death (Pr 10:28; 14:32), for their expectation is of another world that outstrips this world by every measure as light is superior to darkness. Give God the glory!
See the “successful Christian businessman,” who puts business above Christ and eternity. He silences his conscience by attending church and throwing a little of his prosperity in the offering plate. But the driving force in his life is the pursuit of financial and social standing. He has the only reward he will ever get – the approval of the little people, who think he is a success. The Lord and all wise men know where he is going, to the fire that is not quenched, and where every man is a pauper, without even a shirt on his back.
Christian, make no boast of tomorrow, for you do not know what will happen tomorrow (Pr 27:1). While God allows you to make business plans, and He expects you to do so in prudent wisdom, you do not even know if you will be alive tomorrow, so you are to submit your plans to God’s will with these words: “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (Jas 4:15). You need life for any plans to work.
Christian, the death that strips the wicked of everything they hope for brings more for you than they could acquire or imagine. Wealth? You will inherit the universe. Strength? You will live forever. Beauty? You will have a glorified body. Intelligence? You will know all things. Authority? You will judge angels. Children? You will have a family reunion like never imagined. Home? Mansions have been prepared for you by the King of kings.
Christian, do not be a belly worshipper by caring about earthly things (Phil 3:18-19). Be like David and Paul, who knew the life that comes after death totally surpasses earthly life in duration, glory, pleasure, or any other measure (Phil 3:20-21; Ps 49:15; 73:24). If you have been properly baptized, you buried your earthly life beneath the water to live a life for Christ and heaven – and baptism’s symbolism will soon be realized (Col 3:1-4).