Proverbs 16:4–God Creates the Wicked FOR the Day of Trouble?

Posted: June 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

Proverbs 16:4 is a verse that has been debated by Christians time and again.  Upon first reading it sounds so, well, unloving.  Is this really an accurate picture of God?  I thought I would post some helpful thoughts from Allen P. Ross on the verse here. 

First, let me quote the verse in its entirety (from the English Standard Version, which I believe to be the best translation available today).

 “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.”

Proverbs 16:4

Here is what Dr. Ross has to say about the verse:

 “God in His sovereignty ensures that everything in life receives its appropriate retribution.  On the surface the verse strikes an immediate impression for God’s sovereignty:  all God’s acts are part of His plan.  Kidner says that ultimately there are no loose ends in God’s world (Proverbs, p. 118).  Since the wicked are punished in the end, this proverb adds that that is His plan for them.  Whybray suggests that this saying could have grown up in answer to the question, ‘Why did God create the wicked?’ (Book of Proverbs, pp. 93-94).  The line of poetry is arranged with synthetic parallelism; it affirms the truth and then expands it with the specific application about the wicked.  The verb paal means ‘to work out, bring about, accomplish’; it is naturally used of God’s sovereign control of life (see Numbers 23:23; Isa 26:12; et al.).  The interpretive difficulty concerns lamma ‘nehu; it has been taken to mean ‘for His purpose’ or ‘for its answer.’  The word is ma ‘neh (answer or response) and is not from l ma ‘an (purpose).  So the suffix likely refers to kol (everything).  The point is that God ensures that everyone’s actions and their consequences correspond—certainly the wicked for the day of calamity.  In God’s order there is just retribution for every act, for every act includes its answer or consequence.”

There have been other attempts to explain this verse. I am not sure I agree with the above interpretation given by Dr. Ross.  However, the use of the Hebrew does raise more questions and helps guide me in the right direction in seeking to understand what the author is intending to convey.

One thing is certain:  God will judge the wicked in the end.  The only hope we have is to turn from sin and place our faith in Jesus.  In so doing we are united to the one who perfectly obeyed the commands of God.  In Him, we have no condemnation. 


Dr. Allen P. Ross holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and is Professor of Old Testament Studies at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.


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