Many believe that “God is in Control” is the Gospel truth. “Brother Rodriguez, that is what the Bible says!” Is it? If it is, then we are stuck with it. Maybe we should look at that idea a little closer before coming to a conclusion.
Following is a verse interpreted to uphold the theology that God ultimately controls all leaders in human government.
The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord like channels of water; he turns it wherever he wants (Proverbs 21:1 NET).
Many assume that verse means that all rulers are like puppets on a string, and God is the master puppeteer. That was never a Biblical view but one that originated in the beliefs about mythical gods and their treatment of mankind. Among these mythical gods, humans were like pawns in a game of otherworldly chess played by them. The gods set human fate according to their will. That same thinking infiltrated Christianity beginning in the second century. We could go into a lengthy discussion of how Greek pagan thought supplanted Jewish Messianic Biblical thought of the 1st century church in Jerusalem. I will spare you the details, but ideas prevalent in paganism about their mythological gods and their relationship with humanity had a deep impact on Christian Biblical interpretation as the church moved further west into pagan territory. Historically, the church to the west by the 3rd and 4th century would have been almost unrecognizable to Jesus, the apostles, and the churches that sprang up among the Jewish believers around Jerusalem and its vicinity. Anybody that has done research into the history of the church between the 1st and 4th century knows this to be true. (1)
The idea that God is like a master puppeteer or a divine chess master in control of all human actions, and that all humans must bow to His will, was a part of heathen or pagan mythology. Pagan gods could force their will upon humans at their every whim. It did not matter if their will was immoral or unrighteous. Human beings had no choice in their fate. Whatever the gods willed was to be done even by unwilling humanity.
That posited idea takes away from human beings all powers of decision and makes them automatons that are forcibly subject to the divine will. If God could do that with kings and government leaders, or any human being for that matter, why not do that with the unsaved on planet earth? Why not force everyone to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, and mandate that everyone to go to heaven? We could start the Millennium tomorrow and get on with eternity if that were the case! That is not the case because human beings can choose their eternal destiny, and they have a choice in this life to serve or disobey God.
The right to choose
From the beginning, God gave people the right to choose, and it has never been rescinded. He commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that IF they did eat of the forbidden tree, then they would die (Genesis 2:17). God gave them a choice, but they chose the wrong thing and suffered the consequences. It was not God’s plan that they chose evil, but they did, and God respected their choice. If God was sovereign as people think, as in full control of all circumstances, why not rebuke the devil and stop sin in the garden? Why not stop the many millennia of the rule of darkness that perverted His creation and brought it a devastating curse?
Many think that God created man to fail and sin. They believe that God in His sovereignty had some purpose in all this damnation and planetary misery. Really? Step back from religion and theology and hear that nonsense for what it is. “Sovereignty” and “God is in control” as taught in much of Christendom is a perverted and twisted traditional religious idea that makes God into an indiscriminate murderer and destroyer that somehow favors evils to strike mankind for some mysterious purposes. Those ideas make human beings into robotic servants subject to the “control” of the “programmer” (God).
Let us get specific.
Those that think that because of God’s sovereignty, He is control of all human actions, what then do you do with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, ISIS, and all the evil rulers, empires, and terrorist organizations that have plagued the planet? God would have to be worse than all of them if this human cesspool of evil and bondage were of His design and under His total control. The idea is so ludicrous and preposterous that only in churches will people believe that nonsense and utter stupidity. I do not have any nice words to describe the foolishness of the “God is in control of everything” crowd.
God sent Jesus. Those that trust and follow Him (believe) will be saved, and those that do not will be damned (John 3:15-18, 36; 12:48; Mark 16:16, etc.). The choice between life and death, blessing or curses, love and hatred, and obedience or disobedience has always been among men. God has never taken it away, and never will!
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live (Deuteronomy 30:19 NKJV- See also Jeremiah 21:8 and ff., and Amos 5:14)
Who has the choice to make? God? God is in control of whether we have life or death, blessing or cursing? No, human beings must choose. What is the problem? Many want it to be God's choice, but God has left it up to us as to what we choose. He does tell us to choose life because He wants us to live, but the ultimate choice is left to us as long as we are on the earth. Granted, once you leave your body, your final fate is set. Eternal life to those that know Jesus and serve God, and eternal damnation for those that rejected the Lord and doing what was right according to His Word. (See Romans 1:16-32 through 2:1-11 for Paul's teaching on the subject.)
And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15 NKJV)
God does not choose for you whom you will serve? The choice is left up to YOU and ME!
I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me. (Psalms 119:30 NKJV)
The Psalmist said he chose the way of truth. God did not choose it for him.
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. (Proverbs 1:29 NKJV)
Who makes the choice here? The person rejecting the knowledge (knowing and doing the Word) of the Lord. Choosing to fear (honor and respect) the Lord is in human hands. It is not in God's hands. It's our choice of whether we revere the Lord or not.
Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings. (Isaiah 7:15 NKJV)
For fun, think about it. Who chose for you that you should eat corn flakes or eggs and biscuits this morning? Was it God? No, you chose what to eat. He calls upon us to fast at times, but it is our choice whether to obey or disobey His instruction. In the same way, we choose between good and evil. God desires we reject the evil and choose the good, but whether we do or not is in our hands.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24 NKJV)
Whom we will serve is in our hands. God does not make that choice for us.
So that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:10 NET).
You decide what is best! Yes, we follow the leading of the Lord and what His Word says to make the right choices, but no one can take away your right to choose. Even martyrs chose Jesus and refused to deny their faith regardless of the deadly end results.
Here is one more portion of Scripture that blows wrong theology about the life and death of a believer completely out the door.
But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith. (Philippians 1:22-25 NKJV)
What do you think of that? Do you mean to tell me that Paul had a choice in the matter whether to die and be with the Lord or to stay in the body because the Philippians needed to get more from his ministry? Do mean to tell me we can have a choice? YES!
We can do things to extend our days upon the earth. We can also do things to cut our days short upon the earth. Anyone that has read the first three chapters of the book of Proverbs should know that. See Proverbs 1:32-33; 2:20-22; 3:1-2, 7-8, 13-18, and I dare anyone to refute the clear teaching of the Scripture! A part of God's divine protection is that we be satisfied with a long life (Psalms 91:16). Who or what do you believe? Do you believe God or the traditional idiocy of many sectors of Christendom that think all matters of life and death are in God's hands? The Scriptures above prove the massive errors believed in these areas of choice, even in the areas of life and death.
How about this often half-quoted verse? These verses tell us one way to extend our days upon the earth.
“Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: 3 “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2, 3; Paul is quoting from Exodus 20:12 -NKJV)
Don't quote the first part without also quoting the second part about living long on the earth.
Here is another portion of Scripture that tells us how we can extend our life upon the earth. The apostle Peter quoted it.
10 It is written in the psalms, If you love life and want to live a good, long time, then be careful what you say. Don’t tell lies or spread gossip or talk about improper things. 11 Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the Lord watches over the righteous, and His ears are attuned to their prayers. But His face is set against His enemies; He will punish evildoers. (1Peter 3:10-12 -The Voice translation- a quotation from Psalms 34:12-16)
Let’s get our theology straight! The ONLY way to straighten up our ideas is by looking at Scripture after Scripture like we are doing here, but there are many more that prove the point.
Again, and for the record, it is an impossibility to trust and obey the Lord or to distrust and disobey Him unless you have a choice, a right to decide. Believing or unbelief is a human choice. God will not force “faith” (faithfulness, trust, obedience) on you any more than He will force unbelief on you.
Does God control all government leaders?
“But isn’t the obvious meaning of Proverbs 21:1 that, because of His sovereignty, He can control everyone whenever He wishes?” No, it does not mean that at all once you take into consideration Hosea 8:4 and Nehemiah 9:17 and a truckload of other verses!
They enthroned kings without my consent! They appointed princes without my approval (Hosea 8:4a NET)!
They refused to obey and did not recall your miracles that you had performed among them. Instead, they rebelled and appointed a leader to return to their bondage in Egypt (Nehemiah 9:17a NKJV).
Some kings and princes (leaders of some country) disobeyed God and refused to do what He said. Have you read the extensive list of kings that disobeyed God in the Old Testament? Most of the kings of Israel and Judah disobeyed and rebelled against the Lord. Most of these rebellious kings usually died off quickly and were replaced by another that would do worse.
There is no way to read First and Second Chronicles and be oblivious to the fact that most kings did not have their hearts in the hand of the Lord. If God could have turned any of the hearts of these kings whenever He wanted, why didn’t He turn any of the hearts of the evil kings?
Obviously, something is wrong with the way we have understood Proverbs 21:1 and many other verses that would seem at first glance to imply that “God is in control” of all human affairs and events. If God is completely in control of human events, then how do we account for the death and destruction flooding this planet over millennia? How can we say God is in control of everything with a straight face and see the evil at work on this planet? Is God in control when women are raped, children are sold into slavery, young women are forced to be sex slaves, and Islamic terrorist organizations murder, rape, maim, behead, and knife to death men, women, and children? Only idiotic, ignoramus, anti-Biblical, religious, traditional BUNK could blind a person to believe that God is in control of all that bad stuff. He is not!
I know I am repeating myself, and maybe belaboring the point though using different words, but this subject of sovereignty and “God’s control” are too important to give a lightweight answer.
In the sense that God’s prophetic words concerning our planet will happen, yes, He is in control of that! The promised return of Jesus to rule and reign on the earth will occur no matter what anybody decides or chooses against it. The Book of Revelation will happen regardless of who is in government and who is not! Some events will transpire no matter what anybody believes or does because God said it, and His Word will accomplish what He wants (Isaiah 55:11). He is sovereign and in control where these events are concerned, but He is not ruling over the human will when people decide to disobey and rebel against Him and follow the devil. As far as humanity and their right to choose, God is not in control of their wrong choices or their corrupt activities.
Jesus said that the thief is the one that comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). To believe that evil comes because God is in control means that you believe that God is the thief! Yes, God does allow a lot of evil stuff because many human beings have rejected Him, embraced the darkness and false religions, and they are in Satan’s territory as the “destroyer.” People choose darkness, and they reap destruction and death. The wages of sin are still death (Romans 6:23). When people choose evil and disobedience against God and His holy commandments, He turns them over to their enemies. As one example among many, read Judges 2:7-23. This truth is taught excessively in the Bible from cover to cover!
There were kings and princes ordained by people that were never in God’s plan. They were NOT God's will! People voted them in” without God approval.
We have some kings in Scripture that lived during a time in history where God had His Word on the line concerning His people. Sometimes God put a “decision” in their hearts to do something in line with His will and they obeyed. Other times, judgment came against some of them until they obeyed. He can do that whenever necessary!
One prominent example was Nebuchadnezzar. He disobeyed the Lord and was severely judged to wander the earth for seven years with the mind of an animal. When He recognized God and was willing to obey Him, the kingdom was restored to him, and he was reinstated as King of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar was a part of a greater plan that had to do with God’s people. Because of their sin, God turned over the nation of Israel to Nebuchadnezzar. (See the book of Jeremiah.) He took thousands into captivity, and they were to remain in that land for a minimum of seventy years. The prophet Jeremiah spoke the Word of the Lord concerning Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon, and the exile of the sons of Israel. There was a divine Word in place, and events had to line up to fulfill the Word of the Lord. Nebuchadnezzar was a key player in these developments.
Pharaoh continued to oppose the Word of the Lord that Moses proclaimed concerning the release of Israel from Egyptian bondage. He hardened his heart and God agreed, in turn, allowing the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Through ten judgments, Pharaoh complied with the Word of the Lord. Again, a Word was spoken to Abraham and his descendants, and it was necessary for the Lord to bring it to pass (Genesis 15:13, 14).
There are occasions like those, but those are not the usual succession of events in the earth. Kings and all government leaders have a choice to make whether they will serve the Lord, and whether they will be a force for good or evil.
If Proverbs 21:1 were taken to refer to kings in the same predicament as Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, I could agree on one level. However, this verse makes no mention of supernatural events changing the heart of a king. Supernatural events could be what are necessary to turn the heart and force a leader to obey the Lord. Did it happen often? No. It seems to have been relegated to special events surrounding the deliverance of His people. Other than at those times, nothing happened except the decisions of the inividual, either for good or for evil.
When the Lord started showing me that the Scripture had much to say on this subject of good or evil human government, this verse in Proverbs 21:1 stared back into my face. At face value, one could hardly help giving it the standard interpretation of “God makes kings obey His will whether they want to or not because God is in control of their hearts.” Something was wrong with that interpretation when I compared this verse with other verses on the same subject. Thank God that the entrance of His Word brings LIGHT. (Psalms 119:130 NKJV) Stick to the Word and light will come regardless of how ignorant (simple) we are.
The king in Proverbs 21:1
First, who is the king in Proverbs 21:1? If we can get that question answered, then we can start to unravel this verse in our thinking. Was Solomon speaking of a specific king, or was his statement a reference to all world leaders? People want to make this verse applicable to all kings, presidents, and prime ministers. I believe that is a mistake.
Who was this king mentioned by Solomon? I am convinced Solomon was speaking of himself as the king whose heart was in the hand of the Lord. Solomon gave his heart over to the Lord as a young man. He asked God to give him a wise and discerning heart so he could judge the people of Israel in righteousness. God granted his request in a powerful way.
“Therefore, give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. Then God said to him: “…see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you” (See 1 Kings 3:9-12 NKJV abbreviated).
Solomon’s heart was in the hand of the Lord as the channels of water because he submitted his heart to the Lord and received a wise and discerning heart from Him.
The phrase “heart in the hand of the Lord” speaks of someone who submits his or her life to God to do His will and carry out His plan. Though Solomon deviated from the Lord later in life, for many years, he served the Lord and did His will. Solomon’s heart (life) was in the hands of the Lord, and God could lead him as He wanted.
Often Proverbs gives us “stand-alone” pithy sayings that were spoken in the wisdom of God. Other times we see a few verses discussing the same subject before the subject matter changes. Sometimes certain subjects are grouped together. Proverbs 21:1 has been pulled from its context. It is not referring to a wicked king’s heart as being in the hands of the Lord. This verse speaks of a righteous king as the one whose heart in the hand of the Lord.
Let me give you a few verses before and after Proverbs 21:1 to put it in context.
Proverbs Chapter 20
- A king who sits on the throne of judgment scatters all evil with his eyes. V.8
- A wise king sifts out the wicked and brings the threshing wheel over them. V. 26
- The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the inner depths of his heart. V. 27
- Mercy and truth preserve the king, and by lovingkindness he upholds his throne. The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is their gray head. Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart. V. 28-30
Proverbs Chapter 21
- The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. V.1
- Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts. V.2
- To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. V.3
Again, Solomon's subject king in Proverbs 21:1 is a righteous king. Only a righteous king can have his heart in the hand of the Lord.
Unrighteous kings had hearts that were far from the Lord. The exceptions to that are kings that did not know God, but they were willing to obey the Lord in whatever He wanted for His people. Good examples are Cyrus and Artaxerxes (Ezra 1 and Nehemiah 2).
Look at some of these references in connection with the preceding statements: Ezra 6:22, 1 Kings 11:2-9, 15:3, 2 Kings 10:31, see 2 Chron. 6:38, 12:14, 15:12-15, 19:9, 26:16, 32:25, 26, 34:27, 31, 36:13.
(1) If you want a book that explores these truths in much more detail with references for further study, I suggest you read the book by Marvin Wilson: Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. You can get it from christianbook.com and other booksellers. If you want to delve even deeper in historical truth, get the scholarly and classic study published originally in 1960, Hebrew Thought Compared With Greek, by Thorlief Boman. It is very informative at 208 pages plus the bibliography, but I warn you, drink coffee before you read it, or you may snooze. Maybe it was just me when I read it for my university studies back many moons ago. Get it on Amazon.
I trust that this article has helped you understand a controversial subject. Be blessed in your study of the Word with me in the following podcast: Repentance Part 8!