"The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity"
This is the Hebrew word maaseh which means deed, work. This is the word used when God says that He wants His people to do certain things. It is an action word. The actual doing of justice brings great fulfillment to the people who are righteous.
This is the Hebrew word mishpat which is the word justice. It carries the idea of clear leadership but also the ability to make decisions in difficult cases.
This is the Hebrew word simha which means joy, gladness, internal happiness. The idea is that those who deliver and decide to do things God's way have a gladness in their soul in making those decisions and in living out the way God says to live.
Solomon notices that righteous people get great delight in doing what is right in God's eyes even if it is difficult. They gain a deeper inner satisfaction when they do what they know pleases God. While those who are wicked find even the thought of doing what is right sending a shudder down their spine. Solomon is making an observation, but it is also clear which position he is advocating.
The idea of righteousness in the Old Testament is two-fold: staying within the moral boundaries of the Ten Commandments and doing the wise (triple-win, beneficial for all concerned, loving) thing. Righteousness is not just staying away from evil as it has been sometimes portrayed in certain Christian and Jewish circles. It is doing the positive righteous action within the moral boundary structure of the Ten Commandments. When those who are righteous are asked to do justice, they realize that stopping a person from doing a specific evil benefits everybody and the whole of the society. This is always missed by those who want to enjoy their particular selfish sin.
This is the Hebrew word mehitta which means terror destruction. There are two possible directions that this idea goes in this verse and both could be true. First, that Solomon is saying that when the righteous do justice, it means destruction to those who are workers of iniquity. Second, when the workers of iniquity think about doing the just thing, they are terrorized by the thought. Both would seem to be true, but the former would be more of the thrust of the verse. Solomon seems to be pointing out that if you want to have joy in your life, then live out a life of good decisions that are pleasing to God. You will have joy and you will also be destroying, terrorizing, and ruining those who are workers of iniquity.
This tells us that some people lose when justice is done; when what is righteous is pushed forward. The people who lose are those who are workers of iniquity. Our society has been unwilling to define all of what it means to be a worker of iniquity, so it gets upset when some people lose. It doesn't want those people to be hurt or damaged, so it has become unwilling to make the righteous decisions. Our society is becoming paralyzed because it does not understand what wickedness and iniquity is. It is becoming unable to make a truly righteous decision because major groups within society will be damaged by those righteous decisions, and they are pushing back against those decisions.
When a society can no longer clearly label right and wrong, then it does not know what it is fighting against. Its lack of clarity will cause it to drown in a sea of evil.
This is the Hebrew word awen which means trouble, iniquity, evil. Notice that this is a part of a phrase: the workers of iniquity – the workers of trouble. These are people who actually go outside the boundaries of the Ten Commandments to accomplish their selfish purposes. They want something and they do not care what they have to do to get it or who they have to harm to accomplish it.
The questions for today: Do you find joy in doing the right thing? Are you facing a tough decision today? Do you know the right thing to do, but it will be hard to do? Are you terrorized by the thought that someone will find out what you have been really doing? When faced with a decision, which one will bring joy from the heart of God and which one will break God's heart in the pursuit of your selfish desires?
workers of iniquity
This is a label for those who live outside of the moral boundaries of the Ten Commandments. They don’t just trespass into evil and then get back and try and lead a moral life. These people steal and continue stealing. These people live in adultery; they don’t just have an affair. These people live through violence, intimidation, and murder. These people develop a whole lifestyle of rebellion against proper authorities. What Solomon is saying about these folks is that whenever the righteous really goes after justice, it terrorizes the people who live beyond the boundaries of morality because the more morality, the less room for the wicked to operate.