Proverbs 21:18

Ransom for the Righteous

The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous,
and the transgressor for the upright.

The Meaning of the Proverb

1. This proverb is not saying that wicked men shall REDEEM the righteous.

a. This concept of the ransom in this passage is not soteriological: it has nothing to do with atonement for sin or salvation.
• This proverb has it backwards with respect to a ransom for sin.
• A ransom for sin involved an innocent victim offered instead of the guilty party.
• Christ, the sinless Lamb of God was a ransom for our sins… we who are guilty sinners.

b. According to man’s justice the guilty are punished and pay a price for the sake of the righteous… that the righteous may be delivered.
• When a lawless criminal breaks into the home of an innocent family and does much damage to the home, if he is caught, the “wicked pays a ransom” for the righteous.
• He may go to jail. He may have to pay restitution.
• In a court of human justice, the wicked and the transgressors are the ones who are to pay the price.
• The guilty criminal is punished, and the innocent is cleared… delivered… “ransomed” by the guilty.

c. Divine love is the opposite. The just pays the price for the unjust!
• I Pet. 3:18 – “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.”

2. But in our proverb, Solomon is not talking about love which results in a ransom price for sin, but he’s talking about justice.

a. And Solomon noted that sometimes in God’s providence, wicked men who seek to harm the righteous become themselves the victims of a strange sort of providential justice.
• Here Solomon speaks of the wicked as a ransom for righteous. (Sometimes the unjust pays a price for the just—backwards.)
• This is not a ransom for sin or salvation.
• We know it is not because God does accept the sacrifice of the wicked as a payment for sin.
• Prov. 21:27 – The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to God.
• A proper interpretation of this verse must define “ransom” as something other than a “ransom for sin.”

b. Solomon seems to be using the term “ransom” in a generic sense. Sometimes the term simply means “a price paid.”
• Sometimes the term was used for shekels paid by each male to prevent divine judgment.
• It was also used of money used to buy off enemies (to prevent them from invading).

3. The proverb states that (sometimes but not always—remember, this is a proverb) the wicked pay a price on behalf of the righteous.

a. Sometimes, transgressors end up paying a price on behalf of the upright.

b. There are times when the wicked (who often persecute the righteous) end up paying a price which “sets free” the very righteous people they have persecuted.

c. In ordinary, everyday life, the wicked often cause the righteous to suffer. That’s the way things normally happen in our sin cursed earth.

d. But here Solomon notes an exception to that rule. There are times when the wicked end up paying a price that benefits the godly and the upright.

4. Prov. 11:8 – Here Solomon speaks of times when the wicked plan evil devices to trap the righteous… but the evil are taken in their own traps.

a. Thus, the wicked became their ransom, in the sense that they have become the ransom or substitute for the righteous.

b. The trap was planned by the wicked to cause havoc for the righteous.

c. Maybe you have experienced this.
• Perhaps some hateful person you know planned an elaborate (or maybe a simple) scheme in hopes of doing you harm.
• It could be a verbal trap;.
• It could be that they led you down a pathway they knew would do you harm.
• Or perhaps at work they plotted to make you look like a fool before the boss, and to make themselves look like a geniuses.

d. Sometimes when they plan a trap for the righteous, “The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.”

e. Sometimes the evil plans of wicked men against the righteous backfire on them.

f. The wicked end up paying a “ransom” which brings deliverance for the righteous.

5. In the end, one way or another, the wicked will pay; if not in this life, in the life to come.

a. It seems like the wicked get away with murder in this life.

b. The wicked prosper in the world and the righteous often suffer.

c. But in the end, the wicked will pay because the wages of sin is death.

d. Sooner or later this truth will catch up with the wicked, and in God’s time, the righteous will be delivered. (ransom)

e. It may be in this life, but not necessarily. It may be in the life to come… but eventually, justice will prevail.

f. However, in this proverb, Solomon seems to hint that often even in THIS LIFE, there are times when God turns the tables on wicked men… and they become a ransom for the righteous…

The Illustration of the Proverb

1. Haman was hung for (in the place of) the righteous Mordecai.

a. The book of Esther is full of intrigue.

b. In God’s providence, a Jewish woman, Esther became queen in Persia; yet her identity as a Jew was not known.

c. During those days another man rose to prominence: the wicked Haman. He hated the Jews.

d. What really caused him such hatred was the fact that Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, would not honor him and bow before him.

e. To take out his vengeance against Mordecai and his people, the Jews, Haman devised a plot to have all the Jews slaughtered throughout the entire Persian Empire.

f. To make his plot complete, Haman had gallows built on which he planned to have Mordecai hanged.

g. But his evil plot backfired. The king turned against Haman and favored Mordecai.

h. Esther 7:9-10 – In God’s providence, Haman was hung on the very gallows he had built to hang Mordecai.

i. Mordecai and the Jewish people were delivered, and the wicked Haman was hung. This was more than just poetic justice in a story line. This was real justice!

j. Prov. 11:8 – The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.

k. Or, in the words of our proverb tonight: The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.

l. The wicked transgressor Haman ended up as the ransom that delivered Mordecai, Esther, and the Jewish people.

2. Achan was stoned as a ransom for the camp of righteous Israel.

a. Here we have another historical illustration of this principle.

b. As the Jews invaded Jericho, they were specifically commanded NOT to take any booty.

c. Josh. 7:21 – But Achan violated his orders. He stole some expensive Babylonian clothing and some gold bars and hid them.

d. As a result of Achan’s sin, after defeating the larger city of Jericho, the Jews were defeated by the small city of Ai.

e. Achan’s sinful actions put the whole nation of Israel at risk of Divine wrath and judgment.

f. Josh. 7:1 – Notice that it says that “the children of Israel committed a trespass” in the accursed thing FOR Achan took of the accursed thing.

g. The sin of Achan was imputed to the whole nation. The whole nation was held accountable for his sin.

h. And if they did nothing about it, the whole nation would have been judged for his sin.

i. Sin was found in the camp… and the camp would have to pay a price.

j. Joshua 7:24-26 – Achan was judged for his sin. The wicked sinner was executed… and he became (in a sense) a ransom for the rest of the camp.

k. “The Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger.”

l. “The wicked (Achan) shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.

3. Sheba was beheaded as a ransom to deliver an innocent city.

a. In II Sam. 20, we have the account of Joab’s army chasing a man named Sheba. He was a rebel against David.

b. Now he is being hunted by David’s military leader, Joab.

c. Sheba entered the city called Abel. The city was laid siege, and all the people stood the risk of being starved to death or being killed.

d. II Sam. 20:16-22 – An old wise woman of the city called over the city wall for Joab.
• Joab explained to her that the wicked Sheba was hiding in the city… using them as human shields… hiding behind them.
• The wise old woman realized how serious Joab was. Her beloved city might be destroyed!
• Thus, she promised Joab that she would have Sheba’s head thrown over the wall… which is exactly what she did.
• As a result, Sheba paid a price (his own head) which delivered an innocent city.

e. “The wicked (Sheba) shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.”

f. His head became the ransom price for the righteous.

4. Sometimes the wicked suffer in the place of the righteous. In that sense, they are “like” a ransom for them.