The Hand of the LORD (Proverbs 21:1)

Proverbs 21:1 in light of proper hermeneutical principles.

For starters, it is an interesting study to look at the things in the book of Proverbs that belong to the LORD: the eyes of the LORD, the chastening of the LORD, the curse of the LORD, the blessing of the LORD, the way of the LORD, the name of the LORD, the counsel of the LORD, the candle of the LORD, and the hand of the LORD.

The Hand of the LORD

Proverbs 21:1-2 “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.  Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.”

Phrases:

As the rivers of water

I have often thought of the Mississippi when I’ve read this verse.  The reality is that it is more related to a canal that a farmer would dig to send water to his crops; or perhaps a brook that a husbandman would dam up so that he could direct waters to his fields.  The idea hints strongly at nourishment; the LORD desires to use the king to supply needed nourishment to people.

The heart of the king

The heart is the seat of emotions.  It encompasses the idea of the mind and will, the affections and emotions, and really, even the soul and spirit.  This speaks of the motivations, meditations, and curriculum of life.

This seat of emotions is the possession of the king.  It references the leader of people; the ruler of the nation.

(Is) In the hand of the LORD

I love this phrase.  Think of the times when this concept is used in the Scripture.

Jesus stated on the cross that He commended His Spirit into the hand of the Father.  (Luke 23:46)

Think also of John 10:22-30 – the Good Shepherd!

The hand of the LORD is an entity over which no one else has control.  Solomon’s statement indicates that the inner most part of the king’s affections, motives, and will are in the hand of the LORD.

He turneth it withersoever He will

This final part of the verse indicates God’s absolute control.

This phrase is worded like this: “upon all His delight, He turns it.”  The words indicate that the heart of the king is totally controlled by the LORD and that the movement of it is completely controlled by the LORD according to what delights Him.

Essentially, the king serves completely at the delight of God; his heart is in the hand of God to use it however He sees fit.

Interpretation:

This verse has been quoted by many people over the years when a ruler does not measure up to an ideal.  We pray for him . . . as we should, and then we recite this verse and hope that God will “change his heart.”  I’m guilty of this thinking myself.

I’m going to give an analysis which is more in keeping with the rules of the interpretation of Scripture.  Howbeit, I do want to say that I do believe that God is capable of turning the heart of a king or leader, even if he is not a God-fearing man.  Even though, I think this verse should be considered as something other than a statement on God’s sovereignty, I do not doubt – and Biblical history proves that God can and does direct the hearts of men.  Pharaoh, Cyrus, and Artexerxes are all examples.

A couple of rules of interpretation should be noted here.  These are questions that an individual should ask himself when studying any passage of Scripture:

1.  Who wrote the passage?

2.  To whom was it written?

3.  What was the purpose of the writing?

4.  What, if any, are the problems addressed in the writing?

5.  What, if any, are the solutions offered?

Sometimes, these questions are easily answered, sometimes they are not, but the answers almost always point one to the Holy Spirit’s intent in inspiring a passage of Scripture.

Here are the answers:

1.  Who wrote the passage? Solomon.

2.  To whom was it written?  Primarily, his son (s); secondarily, his subjects.

3.  What was the purpose of the writing?  Proverbs 1:1-9

4.  What, if any, are the problems addressed in the writing?  None that we know of.

5.  What, if any, are the solutions offered?  None, if there are no problems evidenced in the passage.

There are also a couple of questions that relate uniquely to this passage:

1.  When was it written?  In the dispensation of the law (not the church), by a king who was himself to be living under the law of God and intended to be the executive in the closest thing to a Theocratic form of government that will be seen until the Millennial reign of Christ on the earth.

2.  Which king was in view?  Solomon.

Basically, this passage does not indicate that Solomon is concerned that a bad king is in control and that his encouragement is to remind the people that God guides the king.  Why should he, when he was the king at the time he wrote the book, be encouraging the people to “take heart” when you have a bad king?  He was the king whose wisdom, power, wealth, and influence had no equal on the known earth at the time.

In the mind of Solomon, he was the king; in the mind of his son, Solomon was the king; in the mind of his subjects, Solomon was the king.  The king in this verse, to his son and his subjects would have been Solomon – that is the context.

For your own study sometime, in the book of Proverbs, Solomon writes of “a king,” “the king”, and “kings.”  It appears that when Solomon is writing, a reference in the singular is either a reference to himself, or a challenge to his offspring regarding their family dynasty; when he writes plurally of “kings” he seems to be indicating “kings” or “leaders” in general.  The statement “the king” is almost certainly Solomon writing of himself in the 3rd person.

Back to the context however, with Solomon as the king in 21:1, this verse should be viewed as a testimony of Solomon’s character more than a statement of God’s sovereignty.

Application:

It is inward, not outward!  It is personal, not political.

There would be a relative application to either the son or the subject.  To his son, this is a testimony of Solomon’s relationship with God with a hope that his son would follow in his steps.  To his subjects, it would have been an assurance that their leader was under the control of Jehovah and that he was a channel through which God intended to nourish them.  With that view in mind, consider a few things that Solomon must have understood about himself.  Principles can be developed from Solomon’s example:

1.  “God intends to use me to nourish others” (as the rivers of water)

2.  “God directs me according to His pleasure” (He turneth it withersoever He will)

3.  “I am in the hand of the LORD”  (There is no better place to be).

Verse 2 is connected.  “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.”

Solomon recognized that every man – himself included – considered his chosen courses to be right, but that God is the one who measures, ponders, and weighs what is in man.  So, in verse 2, Solomon understood more about himself.

4.  “I must be cautious of my own ways.”  This is the reason to give my heart into the hand of the LORD.  He can weigh it accurately.

Looking at the example of Solomon, a few things are learned about him, and by application about ourselves.  Though not kings like Solomon, we are believers who can have the same relationship with the Father – we are also leaders of others, whether children, churches, or communities.  We should live as nourishers of others.

Why I love America . . . and what I love more.

Even though our country is not all I want it to be, and doesn’t seem to be what it used to be, I still love the United States of America!  I have many reasons for which I have an appreciation for this great country.  However, the reasons that are the most important to me may be a little bit of surprise to some people.  Here they are (if you are in a hurry, you can scroll down and view the main points) :

1.  Because of the price paid for our liberty.  This principle can be found in the story of King David and his mighty men (1st Chronicles 11:15-19).  David’s mighty men broke through the Philistine garrison to get some water from the well of Bethlehem for David.  When they returned with the water, David would not drink it, but poured it out on the ground as a sacrifice to the LORD.  He recognized the sacrifice of the men and compared the gift of water to their blood because they were in jeopardy of their lives.  His assessment was that it would be wrong to devalue the sacrifice of these men by simply drinking down their gift to him.

Countless individuals have given their lives in the pursuit of freedom which they have then passed on to us – the people of the United States.  I, like David, recognize those sacrifices; I will not devalue them by using them selfishly.

An incalculable cost has gone into the purchase of our freedom and I love America because of the price paid for our liberty.

2.  Because of the partnership with Israel.  When God initiated His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, He concluded by stating that, “I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee.”  There is no middle of the road that says, “I will be neutral to those that are neutral towards you.”

The U.S. is viewed globally as the staunchest friend of Israel.  The question is, should we be?  The passage of Scripture in Genesis could not be any clearer.  If we abandon Israel, we are abandoning the blessing of God; if we make Israel the enemy of the United States, we have made the United States the enemy of God.  I understand that Israel has been set aside in this theological dispensation, but the fact of Biblical history is that even when Israel has been exiled, God has blessed those that bless them and judged them that were against Israel.

As long as the U.S. is a friend of Israel, we will experience at least a measure of God’s blessing; it is an indisputable fact of Scripture.

3.  Because of the piety of some of her people.  1st Kings 19:1-18 records a very interesting story.  Elijah had just shamed and then had killed the 450 prophets of Baal.  Jezebel was ready to kill him and he fled into the wilderness.   There, in an encounter with God, he declared, “I’m the only one left!”  God disagreed and told him that there were still seven thousand who had not bowed their knee to Baal!

There are still some righteous people in the U.S.  You and I could travel the country and find a decent church not too far from our destination.  I know many pastors who stand in their pulpits and speak the truths of God’s Word just like I do.  Furthermore, I’ve come to know many people, who may not attend the same church that I do, but they love the same Lord that I do – they may be in the schools, in the businesses, or in the government of our community – but they still live a life that is built primarily on the principles found in the Scriptures.

4.  Because of the philosophy of government.  The design of our government mimics the kind of government that God considered to be ideal.  As Isaiah was describing the perfect government of Christ in the Millennial Kingdom, he described the LORD in three specific ways.  Isaiah 33:22, “the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King, He will save us.”  Notice three particular words: “judge, lawgiver, king” . . .   Three different aspects of government are noticed in those three words – legislative, executive, and judicial!  The branches of government in our country reflect the aspects of Christ’s rule in his perfect kingdom.

As frustrated as we may get at times with the overreach of the executive(s) or legislating by the bench, the fact is that there is a balance of power that is so deeply ingrained in our Constitution that it would take far more than a generation to entirely upset that scale.  If you are inclined to be a little pessimistic – I encourage you to read U.S. history (especially 1861-1865) – our country has been through these cycles before and we have withstood far greater challenges.

5.  Because of the prosperity which fuels missions.  Paul challenged Timothy to encourage the believers in Ephesus who had earthly means to use that wealth in a specific way.  1st Timothy 6:17-19, ” Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

I don’t think that any country has been more philanthropic than the United States.  Even more importantly, I believe that the wealth of Christians in America has been used to fulfill the Great Commission around the world.

BUT . . . . as much as I love America, and as good as these reasons are, the reasons could change.

Furthermore, there is another perspective that supersedes what I’ve just explained.

Hebrews chapter 12 challenges believers (in context, Jewish ones) to look at others who have been people of faith (from chapter 11) as an example of how they should be running their race.  In the first 11 verses of chapter 11, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah are all mentioned as people of faith.   The author of Hebrews makes a couple of specific points about them.

1.  They lived by faith.  11:13  “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

When the author writes that they “died in faith,” he means that they came to the end of their natural life while living in faith.  The five modifying phrases describe their coming to the point of physical death while living by faith.

2.  They learned to forsake.  11:14-15  “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.”

Forsake what?  Their previous country!  They considered their earthly country to be inferior to their heavenly country and they were willing to forsake their earthly country in favor of the pursuit of the heavenly!

3.  They longed for their Father.  11:16  “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

The word “country” is referring back to the same word in verse 14.  The word is referring to the “Father Land” or the “Land of the Father.”  The rest of verse 16 makes it clear that there is an established relationship with God.

Simply put, the people of faith who were our examples, lived by faith on this earth, they learned to forsake the things of this earth, and they longed for their heavenly Father.  How different our lives would be if we refused to be distracted by the things of this earth and instead kept our focus on the things of eternity!  Our country is the greatest on earth and because of her qualities can be a tremendous tool for accomplishing the will of God, but it must be kept secondary in our affections and energies!