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.”
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.
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.
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.