Ecclesiastes 8: 11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
What is a “sentence?” It is a judgment. Let us say that a man goes to court because he was caught robbing a house and maybe he had a gun on him at the time. He has a trial and is found guilty and then the judge “sentences” him to time in prison. Because of the use of a gun, the judge sentences the individual to thirty years in prison for the burglary and possessing a firearm in the act. So, there is the sentence or judgment that he is guilty and from the moment the judge pronounces the sentence, the individual is under judgment. He is under the condemnation of the court and the government and the law of the land. The judge has condemned him to a punishment of thirty years, so there is the sentence against his evil work of breaking and entering and using the gun, and so forth. However, the carrying out of the sentence is the execution of it and that takes place over the course of the next thirty years. He was sentenced. Then he goes to jail and it is “day one.” He gets the haircut and receives his prison clothes and they take all his possessions and place him in the cell. He eats his meals and the day passes and the night comes and then there is “day two,” and so forth, for the next thirty years or until he is paroled. That is the execution of the judgment or the carrying out of the sentence of judgment. So, let us think about that as we read this verse again: “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” We recognize that in our court system a punishment is often grievous because it is of a long duration; the longer the sentence, the more grievous it is. If someone gets life in prison without the possibility of parole, that is most grievous, excepting the death penalty. Then there are people that get sentenced to fifteen, twenty, twenty-five or thirty years in prison and we understand from our own system of justice that “time” is very important regarding punishment – the longer the time period, the more grievous. For instance, someone could be sentenced to only one to three years. That is punishment, but it is not quite as bad because it is not as long. The lesser time period means that it is less grievous. It is less affliction. The time element is very important insofar as punishment is concerned. It can really be a factor that serves to afflict like nothing else. Yes, it is very bad in prison. You do not have your freedom. You are confined and you cannot go outside the gate. Sometimes, you cannot even go out of your little cell. You must eat the food they provide and wear the clothes they give you to wear. There are all sorts of aspects to the punishment, but the major part of the punishment is the duration. What you can handle for one year is a different matter in the fifth year; and what you can handle after five years is a different story than what you can handle after ten years. The longer the sentence goes, the harder it becomes and the more difficult it becomes and your mind is constantly on the end of the sentence: “When will the thirtieth year come? Maybe I will get parole.” A drawn-out punishment makes it especially grievous compared to a punishment of lesser time duration. That is just how we naturally understand things.
When we look at the Bible, we find that God has often drawn out judgments. For example, if you read the Book of Judges, we find that Israel would go astray and there would arise an evil king of a neighboring nation that would afflict Israel. Israel would become servants of that nation and they would have to give them their crops. They were grievously afflicted, sometimes for many, many years. It was hardly ever the case that God would say, “Israel has gone astray and they have been unfaithful, so I will afflict them by raising up the neighboring nation of Moab and Moab will afflict them for 48 hours.” No – that would hardly be noticed. It was over the course of many years that they were afflicted and then the Israelites would cry out and beseech the Lord to deliver them; then God would raise up a judge to be their deliverer. So, there was a time element for the judgment that God brought through neighboring nations. There was a time element with the judgment of the Assyrians upon Samaria, the ten tribes in the north. It did not happen immediately, but it happened over the course of time. We also know there was a time element upon the apostate nation of Judah. Good king Josiah died in 609 BC and judgment then came through the Egyptians, followed by the Babylonians, and there was a prolonged period of judgment upon the people of Judah. It was very, very grievous. They were taken captive and the wall of the city was torn down and the temple was destroyed. It was terrible and it worked out over the course of seventy years, from 609 BC to 539 BC. It was an especially grievous time for the nation of Judah in the history of the people of God. The punishment was year, after year, after year and the drawn out nature of it served to greatly afflict and it served to add to the awfulness of the punishment that God brought upon them. Time is often key.