A well-taught Christian might be surprised by Solomon’s declaration in verse 18. “The WICKED shall be a ransom for the RIGHTEOUS; and the transgressor for the upright.” When the Christian reads the word “ransom” he might automatically think of several New Testament scriptures which speak of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. He might instantly think of the holy and perfect Saviour giving His life as a ransom for our salvation. But this is quite the opposite. There is a parallel with this verse, but there is also an enormous difference.
Let’s compare this verse with Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45.
The Lord Jesus Christ gave His life as a ransom for the soul of His elect.
“The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” “For even the Son of man came … to give his life a ransom for many.” I Timothy 2:6 adds that Christ Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all…” That is “all” in the sense of “all those He intended to save.”
Imagine that early one morning, we look at our phone and a headline declares that a child has been kidnaped. Some wretched people have snatched the baby of a wealthy family and are holding that child for ransom. Because of the risk involved and society’s condemnation of such a cowardly crime, the kidnapers are demanding an enormous amount of money – a million dollars. They care nothing about the child; that little girl is only a tool – a means to their end – extorted wealth. In their estimation the money is more valuable than the child. BUT they are hoping that the parents think that their child is more valuable than a million dollars.
In a much different way, you and I were locked in the dirty, cold basement of the wrath and law of God. We were not children of wealth and position; we were the worthless children of the lawbreaker Adam. It can hardly be said that we were of value to anyone, let alone to the holy God. Nevertheless the Lord chose to redeem us from the curse of the law and to bring us to His eternal and glorious home. But what is the price that the law demands? The demand was so high it appeared that this kidnaper intended to keep us for eternity. He had no intention of giving us up. BUT ….. for the right price anything is possible. What does the law demand? It is more than an eye for an eye; it is a LIFE for a life.
But it is not just ANY life; this will take the life of the Son of God. The ransom necessary for the purchase of my soul was not a few pennies on the dollar. It took divine gold to ransom my lead-filled heart. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God…” The infinitely just One paid the ransom price of death for unjust people like us. And in so doing He brought us to God, out of the depths of our imprisonment.
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” The beautiful and holy Son of God ransomed us from the curse of the law. He entered the dungeon of our incarceration and entombment, setting us free and pulling the cell door closed upon Himself.
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
In salvation, we see an infinite price paid to ransom our worthless souls. How utterly different is that ransom from the one to which Solomon refers. And yet ….. there is a similarity.
The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous.
Solomon isn’t speaking about this ransom as a “satisfaction” – the payment of a debt. The law demands my death as a sinner, but Christ Jesus paid that debt. I am free through the sacrifice of the Saviour on my behalf. That is not to what Solomon refers. He is thinking simply of a void being filled; something or someone replacing another. And the Bible abounds in this sort of illustration.
The Book of Esther speaks of a hungry gallows. Haman, the Jew-hater built a gallows upon which to hang Mordecai, the relative of Queen Esther. It was 50 cubits high – 75 feet or so – it was magnificent. Everything was set for the execution except for the permission of the king. But the promise of God – which is hinted in the proverb – took effect. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” King Ahasuerus ordered: “Hang him thereon. So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified.” In this case “the wicked (was) a ransom for the righteous; and the transgressor for the upright.”
In the taking of the city of Jericho, one man disobeyed God, stealing some of the wealth of the fallen city. As a result, when the nation attacked the city of Ai, God’s anger fell on Israel rather than their enemy. It was a brutal and humbling defeat – a defeat which logically should never have come – but God was angry. When a search was made, it was determined that a man named “Achan,” with the encouragement of his wife and family, possessed property which should have been dedicated to the Lord. Swift and decisive action was taken. Achan and his family died as a ransom for the rest of the nation. Guilty people died in the place of others who were innocent in regard to Jericho. “So the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger” against Israel. “The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous; and the transgressor for the upright.”
In Isaiah 43 the Lord was using the prophet to reminding Israel of His past blessings. In verse 3 he said, “For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.” This could refer to one of several events, but the closest to that day was when Sennacherib was intending to destroy Jerusalem, when he changed his mind and moved on to attack Egypt and Ethiopia instead. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” “For I am the LORD thy God… I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.”
The Hebrew word for “ransom” is interesting and complicated. It is found seventeen times in the Old Testament, but it is translated seven different ways. It is rendered “village” in one place and the ointment “camphire” in two others; things difficult to understand. Most often it is “ransom,” but also “satisfaction” and “bribe,” both of which make sense. Then I was reading an article earlier this week where it was pointed out that this word is used in the building of Noah’s ark – “Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.” The noun “pitch” is the Hebrew word “ransom,” and in this case it suggests “a covering” or “coating.” The wicked are sometimes used by the Lord to cover and protect the righteous.
Here is Solomon’s point – God can ordain that the wicked take the place of the righteous. Jehovah has promised to protect His people; to protect us. And the Lord has more means to accomplish His will than we have the means to imagine them.
Mordecai may have thought his life was over – powerful Haman had built a gallows specifically to hang him. Was he worried? I don’t know, but I doubt it. Would it have done any good? The Lord took care of the problem, by turning the king against his counselor. But He could have used so many other means. The Lord could have set the gallows on fire with a lightning bolt. He could have sent Mordecai into the king’s prison for a while. He could have struck Haman dead with a heart attack or stroke. He could have pushed Mordecai into a well, where no one found him for days. The Lord has an innumerable number of tools in his cabinet. But in this case, Haman’s life became a ransom or a substitute for Mordecai’s.
The Book of Esther is sometimes criticized because the Name of the Lord is not mentioned. But He is there. And the God of Esther and Mordecai; the God of Joshua and of Isaiah, is still on the throne today. We have nothing to fear from our human enemies, our national enemies or our satanic enemies. We can leave our deliverance in the hands of the Lord. We NEED to leave our deliverance to Him. He can do a thousand things to deliver us, and one of them might be to use the enemy himself. “The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous; and the transgressor for the upright.”