Proverbs 21:1
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turns it wherever he will.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XXI.

(1) As the rivers of water.—Channels for irrigation (comp. Psalm 1:3). He turns the heart of the king, whose favour is as the latter rain (Proverbs 16:15) and dew (Proverbs 19:12), now towards one suppliant and now towards another, as He thinks fit, for “the hearts of kings are in His rule and governance.”

Proverbs 21:1. The king’s heart — His very inward purposes and inclinations, which seem to be most in a man’s own power, and out of the reach of all other beings; and much more his tongue, and hand, and all his outward actions; are in the hand of the Lord — Subject to the influence, control, and government of the great Lord of all. As the rivers of water — Which husbandmen, or gardeners, can draw by little channels into the adjacent grounds, as they please. He names kings, not to exclude other men, but because they are more arbitrary and uncontrollable than others. He turneth it — Hebrew, ישׂנו, he inclineth, or bendeth it; whithersoever he will — So that they fulfil his counsels and designs, either of mercy, or of correction to themselves, or to their people. God does this partly by suggesting those considerations to their minds which have a commanding influence upon their wills and affections, and partly by a powerful, although insensible operation upon their minds and hearts.21:1 The believer, perceiving that the Lord rules every heart as he sees fit, like the husbandman who turns the water through his grounds as he pleases, seeks to have his own heart, and the hearts of others, directed in his faith, fear, and love. 2. We are partial in judging ourselves and our actions. 3. Many deceive themselves with a conceit that outward devotions will excuse unrighteousness. 4. Sin is the pride, the ambition, the glory, the joy, and the business of wicked men. 5. The really diligent employ foresight as well as labour. 6. While men seek wealth by unlawful practices, they seek death. 7. Injustice will return upon the sinner, and will destroy him here and for ever. 8. The way of mankind by nature is froward and strange.Rivers of water - See the Psalm 1:3 note. As the cultivator directs the stream into the channels where it is most wanted, so Yahweh directs the thoughts of the true king, that his favors may fall, not at random, but in harmony with a divine order. CHAPTER 21

Pr 21:1-31.

1. rivers—irrigating channels (Ps 1:3), whose course was easily turned (compare De 11:10). God disposes even kings as He pleases (Pr 16:9; Ps 33:15). The king’s heart; his very inward purposes and inclinations, which seem to be most in a man’s own power, and out of the reach of all others, and much more his tongue and hand, and all his outward actions. He names kings not to exclude other men, but because they are more arbitrary and uncontrollable than other men.

As the rivers of water; which husbandmen or gardeners can draw by little channels into the adjacent grounds as they please, and as their occasions require.

He turneth it; directeth and boweth, partly by suggesting those things to their minds which have a commanding influence upon their wills; and partly by a direct and immediate motion of their wills and affections, which being God’s creatures must needs be as subject to his power and pleasure as either men’s minds or bodies are, and which he moves sweetly and suitably to their own nature, though strongly and effectually.

Withersoever he will; so as they shall fulfil his counsels and designs, either of mercy or of correction to themselves, or to their people.

The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water,.... The heart of every king, and all that is in it, his thoughts, counsels, purposes, and designs; the hearts of bad kings, as Pharaoh, whom the Lord hardened and softened at pleasure; the antichristian kings, into whose hearts he put it to give their kingdoms to the beast, Revelation 17:17; the hearts of good kings, as David, Solomon, Cyrus, and others: and if the hearts of kings are in the hands of the Lord, which are full of things of the greatest importance with respect to the government of the world; and which are generally more untractable and unmanageable; and who are more resolute and positive, and will have their own wills and ways, especially arbitrary princes; then much more the hearts of other persons. And which are as "rivers of water"; for so the words may be rendered, as rivers of water is "the heart of a king", which is "in the hand of the Lord"; unstable, fluid, and fluctuating; and yet the Lord can stay and settle, and fix them, and keep them steady and within bounds: or which, like a torrent of water, comes with force and impetus; and so the Septuagint render it, "the force of waters"; and bears all before it, as do the wills of despotic kings; and yet these the Lord can stop and bound, and rule and overrule: or like rivers of water, reviving and refreshing, so is the heart of a good king, full of wisdom and prudence, of integrity and faithfulness, of clemency and goodness; the streams of whose bounty and kindness flow among his subjects, to their great pleasure and profit; so Christ, the King of kings, is said to be as "rivers of water", Isaiah 32:2. The allusion is to gardeners, that make channels for the water to run in, to water their gardens; or to husbandmen, that cut aqueducts from rivers, to water their fields; or to the turning of the course of rivers, as Euphrates was by Cyrus, when he took Babylon. The heart of a king is as much at the dispose of the Lord, and can be turned by him as easily as such canals may be made, or the course of a river turned; for it follows:

he turneth it whithersoever he will; contrary to their first designs, and to answer another purpose; oftentimes towards his people, and for the good of his cause and interest, which they never designed; and to bring about such things as were out of their view. And so, in conversion, the Lord can turn the hearts of men as he pleases; their understanding, will, and affections, are in his hands: he can make the understanding light which was darkness, and so turn it from darkness to light; he can take off the stiffness of the will, and turn it from its bias and bent, and make it willing to that which is good in the day of his power: he can turn the channel and course of the affections from sinful lusts and pleasures, to himself, his son, his truths, word, worship, ordinances, and people; he can take out of the heart what he pleases, its ignorance, hardness, enmity, unbelief, pride, and vanity; and he can put in what he pleases, his fear, his laws, his Spirit, and the gifts and graces of if; he can change and turn it just as he will; he that made the heart can operate upon it, and do with it as seems good in his sight. The Heathens very wrongly call one of their deities Verticordia (o), from the power of turning the heart they ascribe to it; however, this shows their sense, that to turn the heart is the property of deity.

(o) Valer. Maximus, l. 8. c. 15. s. 12. Vid. Ovid. Fasti, l. 4. v. 158.

The {a} king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it wherever he will.

(a) Though kings seem to have all things at commandment, they are not able to bring their own purposes to pass unless God has appointed: much less are the inferiors able.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. rivers] Lit. streams, or channels of water is the heart of a king in the hand of Jehovah. The comparison is drawn from artificial irrigation. The irrigator has complete control over the water supply. He cuts his channels and directs his streams whithersoever and in whatever measure he pleases. Comp. Psalm 1:3.Verse 1. - The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water. We are to think of the little channels used for irrigation. As these are altogether under the gardener's control, so the heart of the king, who might seem to have no superior, is directed by God. He turneth it whithersoever he will. By hidden influences and providential arrangements God disposes the monarch to order his government so as to carry out his designs, to spread around joy and plenty. The system of irrigation signified in this passage is still to be seen in Eastern lands. "Flower beds and gardens of herbs are always made at a little lower level than the surrounding ground, and are divided into small squares, a slight edging of earth banking the whole round on each side. Water is then let in, and floods the entire surface till the soil is thoroughly saturated; after which the moisture is turned off to another bed, by simply closing the opening in the one under water, by a turn of the bare foot of the gardener, and making another in the same way with the foot, in the next bed, and thus the whole garden is in due course watered .... Only, in this case, the hand is supposed to make the gap in the clay bank of the streamlet, and divert the current" (Geikie, 'Holy Land and Bible,' 1:9). So in Virgil we find ('Ecl.,' 3:111) -

"Claudite jam rivos, pueri; sat prata biberunt."

"Now close the cuts; enough the meads have drunk." 25 It is a snare to a man to cry out hastily "holy;"

     And first after vows to investigate.

Two other interpretations of the first line have been proposed. The snare of a man devours, i.e., destroys the holy; but then מוקשׁ אדם must be an expression of an action, instead of an expression of an endurance, which is impossible. The same is true against the explanation: the snare of a man devours, i.e., consumes, eats up the holy, which as such is withdrawn from common use. Jerome with his devotare sanctos, and Luther with his das Heilige lestern [to calumniate the holy], give to לוּע equals בּלע a meaning which loses itself in the arbitrary. Accordingly, nothing is to be done with the meaning καταπίεται (Aquila, the Venet.). But ילע will be the abbreviated fut. of לוּע (from ילוּע), or לעע (ילע), Job 6:3 equals (Arab.) laghâ temere loqui (proloqui); and קדשׁ (after Hitzig: consecration, which is contrary to usage) is like κορβᾶν, Mark 7:11, the exclamation to which one suddenly gives utterance, thereby meaning that this or that among his possessions henceforth no longer belongs to him, but is consecrated to God, and thus ought to be delivered up to the temple. Such a sudden vow and halting deference to the oath that has been uttered is a snare to a man, for he comes to know that he has injured himself by the alienation of his property, which he has vowed beyond that which was due from him, or that the fulfilling of his vow is connected with difficulties, and perhaps also to others, with regard to whom its disposal was not permitted to him, is of evil consequences, or it may be he is overcome by repentance and is constrained to break his oath. The lxx hits the true meaning of the proverb with rare success: Παγὶς ἀνδρὶ ταχύ τι τῶν ἰδίων ἁγιάσαι, μετὰ δὲ τὸ εὔξασθαι μετανοεῖν γίνεται. נדרים is plur. of the category (cf. 16b Chethı̂b), and בקּר, as 2 Kings 16:15, Arab. baḳr, examinare, inquirere, means to subject to investigation, viz., whether he ought to observe, and might observe, a vow such as this, or whether he might not and ought not rather to renounce it (Fleischer). Viewed syntactically, 25a is so difficult, that Bertheau, with Hitzig, punctuates ילע; but this substantive must be formed from a verb ילע (cf. Habakkuk 3:13), and this would mean, after (Arab.) wala', "to long eagerly for," which is not suitable here. The punctuation shows ילע as the 3rd fut. What interpreters here say of the doubled accent of the word arises from ignorance: the correct punctuation is ילע, with Gaja to ע, to give the final guttural more force in utterance. The poet appears to place in the foreground: "a snare for a man," as a rubrum; and then continuing the description, he cries out suddenly "holy!" and after the vow, he proceeds to deliberate upon it. Fleischer rightly: post vota inquisiturus est (in ea) equals יהיה לבקּר; vid., at Habakkuk 1:17, which passage Hitzig also compares as syntactically very closely related.

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