Proverbs in 365 Devotions
Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. 2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
The Beautiful Dance between
Election and Accountability
Today we begin Proverbs 21 with a great mystery. Here are two verses one after the other that clue us toward the compatibility between Gods sovereignty and our responsibility. It’s the beautiful dance between the doctrine of election and what I would call the doctrine of mans accountability to God. These verses I think fall somewhere under one or the other doctrine.
The good relationship between these two truths are bold and powerful enough to lead a person to amazing peace and yet contentious enough to drive one to despair if they refuse to trust God and rest in his sovereignty.
So lets give it a go… and at the least touch on this great mystery…
1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
Now Solomon, no doubt was thinking of himself at the least; as he was the king of Israel and realized that God was working on him and changing his heart… But is this a truth for all kings? All leaders? Dictators, Emperors, Presidents, Governors? Does it go further to all leadership positions at our workplace and in family units? Or further? Does God turn the hearts of all men wherever he will? And if he does… and would this not infringe on mankind’s will?
Now bear in mind I am not claiming to have all the answers. I look at this as being a wonderful life long journey in knowing the character of our great God.
Now, first let’s touch on how God moves the heart of kings.
Verse 1 seems pretty clear right? Speaking of Gods moving of the kings heart:
1 … he turns it wherever he will.
It’s a bit difficult to spin or rationalize this straightforward statement of Solomon. And yet he does not expound on it which is common for many of the proverbs.
I think many times when we come to a passage or a piece of Gods word that is difficult or does not seem to fit into this giant puzzle of the theology of God easily... like a puzzle piece that we can’t quite fit; we set that piece aside don’t we, until other similar pieces begin to fall in place and then we say: Ah this is great and the piece snaps in perfectly snug.
So before we begin to get all tied up in knots and grudgingly force this piece about the sovereignty of God where it should not go; let’s just look at some other pieces… Does this truth go along with the rest of the puzzle?
My mind goes to the Pharaoh in Egypt… remember?…who’s heart was hardened by God to not let Israel go… this happened over and over until at the end God himself was glorified over all the so called gods of Egypt and he was glorified to Israel and even the word spread everywhere so that the whole world might know that the Lord who Israel worshiped was the one true God over all.
As Romans 11:36 says: For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
So as for Pharaoh, some say that he hardened his own heart many times first and then God stepped in and hardened it as though pharaohs heart was far too calloused to ever repent… but I don’t believe that is quite right. Actually God had declared that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart twice even before Moses ever spoke to him… and finally when the scriptures say Pharaoh hardened his heart the text says says how it was the fulfillment of Gods word.
Exodus 8:15 (speaking of Pharaoh) ...he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
So pharaoh’s hardening of his own heart was connected to something greater than his own self. It was the fulfillment of Gods word because the text says it happened “as the LORD had said”. And you know, throughout the old testament kings of Israel and Judah God moved the hearts of not only good kings but evil ones as well yet always it was for his glory.
Then on the other end of the spectrum I think about Nebuchadnezzar, who was ruler of Babylon. In Jeremiah 25 we find God sent for him to overtake Judah. In some context God refers to Nebuchadnezzar as his servant even though he was an evil king.
Think about this with me for a minute if you will and hopefully I can make what I'm trying to say a bit more clear.
Nebuchadnezzar like us all was born out of fellowship with God... this was Gods doing... It began with Adam and Eve. Remember how when they believed satan over God he removed them from his fellowship... and from then on all their descendants were born this way so that includes Nebuchadnezzar.
That's the way we all start out. God made him that way because of sin… But then God made him king over Babylon. He sought out and proclaimed his own power and glory... So consider with me if you will, that at this point Nebuchadnezzar did not have true free will. He was like you and I… like every man who comes into this world… a slave to sin.. We are all tethered to the fall of Adam and have a heart bent to sin…. its in our nature.
So God moved in his heart to bring discipline on Judah and take many into captivity in Babylon. Remember that included people like Daniel the prophet, along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego… who lived through the firey furnace..
Anyway Nebuchadnezzar treasured his own life and the glory of his power like we all do… and God moved his heart to serve him in disciplining Judah and finally God moved in his heart again like our Proverbs text indicates… and God showed him two things. His own depravity and Gods amazing glory.
You know, something happens when God gives us eyes to see him as more beautiful than anything the world has to offer… When we see him as the good news of great joy the angel told the shepherds about at Jesus birth… When we are given eyes to see him as the greatest treasure in the universe worth leaving all for Jesus spoke of in Matthew 13:44 something happens… Our will is no longer bound to sinful things and all its promises of satisfaction. When God worked in Nebuchadnezzar to discipline Judah it was within the bounds of his own treasuring of sin.
I believe that God gives us true free will when he gives us eyes to see Jesus for who he is. Our will is no longer bound to sinful things. And what person does not go for the greatest treasure when they see it? If they treasure laziness that's what they will seek after every day… If its money and riches… that's what they’ll be working for… if its power and glory like Neb… you get the idea. It’s just that before we see Jesus for who he is we only have the treasures of the world to choose from… that's all we know about… and they all end in despair and death.
So, we really do not deserve the grace of be given eyes to see Jesus as one worth delighting in do we? Our seeing him, our wanting him in the right way or our will for him… even our believing.. our trusting and taking joy in his words… our delight for him… it is all a free gift of grace.
It may be difficult to think about our will as being something that at its core cannot be changed without God being the one who does it but here are a couple straightforward examples:
Romans 9:16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Philippians 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
And then as we are about to close I want to share another verse that includes the sovereignty of God and how it is compatible with our own will… how they dance together… how God chooses to give us grace… how it's all his grace and he quickens our will and yet it is still our will and our intentionality which has been made alive... we are a new creation made by God so he gets all the glory.
Like Solomon, Paul unites these two doctrines… our accountability and Gods sovereignty.. Here's what he says in 1st Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
So today's devotion is not meant to tie up all the loose ends for you… The character of God… his 100% grace in our life… not of works lest any man should boast… How there is none that understands or seeks after God… how we are all gone out of the way… and to trust God that he is just and righteous and yet sovereign… knowing and trusting he does not choose us based on our own righteousness… All these superior ways of God… for me it is a wonderful thing to pursue and yet at the end of the day when I lay down my eyes to sleep I have a great peace about trusting all to my heavenly Father. Not knowing all things now has become a great gift in itself because it lets us rest and rely on the one who’s character we have come to trust and has never let us down.
Finally, I’ll close out with these e last words of King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel chapter 4 after God turned his heart and gave him eyes to see the glory of God. I trust you can find a prayer from yourself to God within these words.
Daniel 4:34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 3 5all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.