Gracefully Truthful


Discover the original intent of Scripture. Make good application to our everyday lives.
Become equipped to correctly handle the Word of Truth!

Read His Words Before Ours!

Proverbs 21:1-4

A king’s heart is like channeled water in the LORD’s hand: He directs it wherever he chooses. 2 All a person’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs hearts.

3 Doing what is righteous and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. 4 The lamp that guides the wicked—haughty eyes and an arrogant heart—is sin.

The Original Intent

1) If the Lord directs a king’s heart, why are there evil rulers? (verse 1)

Adam Clarke explains the allusion of a king’s heart like channeled waters in verse 1 to the “Eastern method of watering their lands. Several canals are dug from one stream; and by opening a particular sluice, the [farmer] can direct a stream to whatever part he pleases.” Solomon declares that God does this with a king’s heart by channeling it where He will.

But how can Solomon imply that God directs the hearts of evil kings? We know God is sovereign (Isaiah 46:10), but He also gives everyone free will to choose whether they will worship Him or reject Him. (Joshua 24:15) God sets out a plan for each person’s life (Jeremiah 29:11) that will accomplish good and will enjoy delight, but anyone can decide to go his own way leading to destruction. (Proverbs 14:12) God directs, but does not force, each person’s journey.

R.C. Sproul asserts, “God’s control extends even to the evils committed by rulers […]. The Lord is no less in control of evil than He is of good, and no sin takes place apart from His sovereign will.” God directs the hearts of leaders because, as author Jack Hayford claims, “God has placed them in their positions. As to whether they have ruled in evil or righteousness, they will give account, but it is God’s sovereignty that has ordained their term of government nonetheless.” (Romans 13:1-4)

This is evidenced in the reign of Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16, when God allows wicked Pharaoh to live in order to demonstrate God’s power and make His name known. David Platt suggests it gives us confidence “to know that ultimately every leader is under the . . . rule and reign of God, even leaders who defy God, He holds their hearts in His hands.”

Rejoice that no matter who the ruler is, God directs that ruler’s heart; none can thwart the ultimate authority of God!

The Everyday Application

1) If the Lord directs a king’s heart, why are there evil rulers? (verse 1)

I read Norman Grubb’s book about a Welsh missionary called Rees Howells, Intercessor and was impressed by Howell’s intercession over King Edward VIII’s abdication of the British throne. He prayed intently that God would lead the king and that God’s will be done. Eventually, he followed God’s leading to pray the king would end his reign, and he rejoiced when Edward stepped down.

Rees Howell had no way of knowing in 1936 that King Edward VIII was a Nazi sympathizer, and consequently how different the British Empire would have been under King Edward. What Rees Howell did know was the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “A king’s heart is like channeled water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever he chooses.”

The missionary knew God could influence the king’s heart. Even though he was grieved to have the king, who was the titular head of the Church of England, choose marrying a divorced woman over being king, Howell believed God was allowing it and he didn’t need to understand. All he needed was to trust God’s provision and pray for His will to be done. (Matthew 6:10)

David Platt asserts, “this proverb drives us to . . . pray and believe for the hearts of those who lead us.” Jack Hayford agrees, noting “Such praying makes possible the rise of righteous rule in any land, for God overrules in all things when intercessory prayer prevails.”

Whether we are under the rule of a good leader or one who ignores God’s laws, we are encouraged to pray for them that God would direct their hearts to do his will. (1 Timothy 2:1-2) We can trust God at His Word that even when a leader is disobeying God, the Lord is fulfilling His will and His plans. (Psalm 115:3)

The Original Intent

2) Why does God elevate doing what is righteous and just over His required sacrifices? (verse 3)

Part of religious life under Old Testament law was the ritual of sacrifice. Bringing an animal to the altar for sacrifice was a way to atone for sins (Leviticus 6:6-7), although it was imperfect for the blood of animals can never atone for human sin (Hebrews 10:4), only the sinless, divine man Jesus can accomplish this.

Authors Tim Mackie and Aeron Sullivan explain, “Animal sacrifices were sacred symbols of God’s love and mercy. These symbols point forward by highlighting the great rift between God and His people, even as He dwells among them.” Mart De Haan notes that sacrifice “was heaven’s way of reminding them that even unintentional sins were harmful. (Leviticus 4:1-4)

The importance of sacrifice in Jewish life makes Solomon’s words in Proverbs 21:3 even more impactful, “Doing what is righteous and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” Solomon knew God values the contents of a person’s heart (1 Samuel 16:7) and the motivations for their actions more than performance of rituals. God values our obedience above sacrifice because laying down our own will to choose His illustrates our love for Him and our reliance on Him.

God reiterates in Hosea 6:6 that He desires us to love and know Him more than sacrifice. Solomon’s words prepared God’s people for Jesus, who would come as the final atonement for sins, ending ritual sacrifices by becoming the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29) Jesus would come and promote mercy over sacrifice. (Matthew 9:12)

Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, humanity was offered forgiveness, freedom, and new life for anyone who would receive it. We don’t need to do anything to earn it; there are no rituals to perform or sacrifices to make. When we accept God’s forgiveness by trusting in Jesus, God adopts us into His family and gives us the Holy Spirit to help us do what is right and just.

The Everyday Application

2) Why does God elevate doing what is righteous and just over His required sacrifices? (verse 3)

There was a time when I kept doing something I knew I shouldn’t. I still attended church every week, read my Bible, and prayed daily. In a way these practices insulated me from the reality of my disobedience to God. I figured I couldn’t be too bad off if I was still in church and praying. I acknowledged my sin and purposed to do better, but this ritual became a weekly occurrence that comforted me but didn’t ultimately change me.

God let me coast like this for a time, but eventually He showed me that no matter how many good, religious deeds I performed, what He wanted was for my heart to change. He wanted me to obey His Word, repent of my sin, and restore the relationship between us that was impeded by my willful disobedience. I relied on the structure of my religious practices to make me feel better, and I damaged my relationship with God in the process.

God’s Spirit helped me practically understand His heart that was spoken through Solomon’s words in Proverbs 21:3, “Doing what is righteous and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” God wanted me to choose His will, not just go through the motions of serving Him. I have learned that God wants EVERYTHING from me, including my whole heart (Deuteronomy 6:5), every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5-6) and each deed (Romans 8:13). He doesn’t want me to hold any part of my heart back for myself.

It is disobedient and deceptive to obey Him in everything except even one small area. He wants it all. In return for our surrender, He promises to be our All in All (1 Corinthians 15:28), supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19), to fill us with joy (Psalm 30:5) and satisfy our souls (Isaiah 58:11).

Giving Him my whole heart so I can enjoy His Everything is an exchange I am happy to make!

The Original Intent

3) Why is it sinful to have haughty eyes and an arrogant heart? (verse 4)

In Proverbs 21:4 Solomon writes, “The lamp that guides the wicked—haughty eyes and an arrogant heart—is sin.” He doesn’t mention evil, murder, lies, or any of the other things that might come to mind when one thinks of sin. He mentions an arrogant heart, the very thing that got Lucifer (Satan) kicked out of Heaven for trying to overthrow God. (Isaiah 14:13)

Adam and Eve also had problems with an arrogant heart; their desire to be equal to God (Genesis 3:5) caused them to disobey God’s commands and earn banishment from the Garden of Eden. Solomon emphasizes the connection between sin and arrogance because it is where sin begins. Andrew Murray explains, “Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is the first duty and the highest virtue of the creature, and the root of every virtue. And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil.”

Scripture is filled with verses declaring God’s rightful hatred of arrogance. (Proverbs 6:16-17, Psalm 101:5, James 4:6, and Proverbs 8:13) God is not impressed by our position, title, wealth, or social status. As Dr. Bill Edgar notes, “All stand before God as equals; He is no respecter of persons. Consequently, haughty looks, whether based on social distinctions of inherited title, wealth, education, position, or achievement, defy God, who made the poor as well as the rich. God hates such looks.”

God values humility and modeled it perfectly for us. (Philippians 2:8) Time and again in the Scriptures, in both Old and New Testaments, we read the command to be humble. (Micah 6:8, Psalm 149:4, Matthew 18:4, Colossians 3:12-13)

Also repeatedly for emphasis, the Bible tells us that the one who humbles himself will be exalted by God. (Matthew 23:12, James 4:10, and Luke 14:11) The wicked are guided by a deceptive “lamp” fueled by arrogant sin, but the righteous are guided by the true and trustworthy lamp of God’s Word that will never lead us astray. (Psalm 119:105) Let us purpose to walk humbly in the light of God (1 John 1:7) that we may not stumble in our way. In doing so, we will avoid the sin Solomon warns against!

The Everyday Application

3) Why is it sinful to have haughty eyes and an arrogant heart? (verse 4)

One of my favorite childhood books is Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. The main character, Pauline Fossil, is an English girl who acts on the London stage to earn money for her struggling family. When Pauline wins the lead in Alice in Wonderland, she is ecstatic, but her brush with fame goes to her head and she becomes insufferable to work alongside. When she refuses to obey the director’s instruction to hang up her coat because she is too important to do such a trivial thing, she is reprimanded and replaced by the understudy.

Pauline proved what her guardian had told her in quoting God’s Word, “Pride comes before destruction”. (Proverbs 16:18) She also proved the truth of Solomon’ words in Proverbs 21:4, “The lamp that guides the wicked—haughty eyes and an arrogant heart—is sin.” Pauline enjoyed the attention she received for a job well done, and she began to believe she deserved special treatment and was superior to other actors. Her sin of prideful arrogance is an easy trap to fall into.

G. Campbell Morgan asserts, “For a man to follow a self-centered desire without recognition of guidance from God is of the essence of sin.” When we care more about getting our own way than following God’s way, we run into trouble. (1 Corinthians 8:1) When we put God first and humble ourselves before Him (1 Peter 5:6) we are walking in the safety of God’s ways.

Elisabeth Elliot stated, “If I am to love the Lord my God with all my mind, there will not be room in it for carnality, for pride, for anxiety, for the love of myself.” When we take our eyes off ourselves and focus on God, we are better able to avoid sin and live the life He intends for us. (Matthew 6:33)

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