The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. ~Proverbs 21:1 KJV
Twenty-first century Americans have no first-hand experience living under the rule of royalty. Having rejected the English monarchy in 1776, the former British colonists, as well as waves of immigrants since that time, have always held a much more egalitarian view of the world.
So this verse perplexes American Christians. They understand on the surface, of course, that God directs the hearts of all people. But to really fathom the meaning of this verse, one must pause to consider the absolute authority wielded by any true king – or queen, for that matter. (And no, we’re not talking about Elvis or Michael Jackson here.) Proverbs 16:14-15 helps us grasp the power of a real king:
A king’s wrath is a messenger of death, but the wise will appease it. When a king’s face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring.
With a few exceptions, most monarchies in the world today are figurehead rulers. Various legislative bodies and elected officials actually run their respective countries. But when this verse was penned, a king was sovereign. His word was law. And to disrespect or disobey in the slightest was to invite a death sentence.
So along comes King Solomon, who ruled with as much authority as any king ever did, to explain that God himself is the true ruler – even of the mightiest kings. Remember that the name given to Jesus in 1 Timothy 6:15 is “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Psalm 47:2 sums up this thought for us:
For the LORD Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.
And in 1 Peter 2:13-17, the apostle Paul instructs us how we are to behave toward contemporary rulers:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
Have you prayed for those in authority over you today? Though it may seem impossible, the fact is that their hearts are in the hands of God himself. And God answers prayer.