This is not the usual word used for “fear of the Lord.” This word (פַּחַד) has the connotation of terror or dread, the kind of fear that makes you tremble. It is used in passages where God’s wrath is poured out on an enemy (“the dread of the Lord fell upon them,” 1 Sam 11:7, 2 Chron 14:13).
This is the certain knowledge you are about to be swept away in judgment and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Think about the feeling you have when you drive through an obvious speed trap going well over the speed limit. You know you are about to face a righteous judgment and no argument you can make will prevent getting a ticket.
These unbelievers lack the sense to know they are about to fall under God’s wrath and face a righteous judgment. They lack the sense to make provisions against the coming judgment, whether that is to hide, bargain, or repent.
The wicked are “unbelievers.” The noun is the same as Psalm 1:4 (רָשָׁע). These are people who simply do not recognize the God of Israel as having any authority over them. As a result, they live life outside of Wisdom.
- They flatter themselves in their own eyes. The verb “flatter” (חלק) has the sense of “make smooth,” either by pounding something out with a hammer (Isa 41:7) or by using oil. In Wisdom literature, the metaphor is smooth, slippery words, usually to flatter someone. For example, Prov 2:16 and 7:5 refer to the smooth words of the adulteress. Psalm 55:21 describes the words of a false companion and betrayer as “smooth like butter, softer than
- They think their iniquity cannot be found out and hated. Beyond self-deceptive flattery, the wicked think what they are doing is in secret and cannot be discovered. What makes this flattery self-destructive is the wicked platter themselves. They have adapted their thinking so they can imagine themselves as something other than people destined for destruction.
- They speak “trouble and deceit,” or perhaps “disaster and disillusionment.” The second word (מִרְמָה) has the sense of fraud or trickery, such as fraudulent balances or weights (Hos 12:8, Amos 8:5). But these are not dishonest weights in the market, but rather the words coming from the person’s mouth. If one is going to flatter oneself, then the words they speak are more than likely going to be lies and deceptions.
- They have ceased “to act wisely and do good.” To “act wisely” is a hifel infinitive construct of שׂכל, a word normally associated with success or have insight (cf. Gen 3:6). Some translations use “prudent” for this word. To act wisely or prudently is to make a good decision based on careful reflection which results in success. “Doing good” in the Hebrew Bible covers a wide range of moral and ethical choices, very often these are good deeds toward other people.
- They plot trouble or disaster. The noun (אָוֶן) can have the sense of a looming disaster, but since the wicked person is plotting out the disaster, they intend to cause trouble for someone—they are “up to no good.”
- They stand on the “not good” path and do not reject evil. This verse recalls Psalm 1 and much of the wisdom tradition. There are two “paths” one can follow, two ways to go through life. These wicked do not just flirt with disaster, they are actively seek it out!
In summary, when there is no fear of the Lord, there is nothing but trouble! The wicked as described here live in utter ignorance of the looming disaster them face.