The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:1–3—NKJV)

It is a given that there is only one reality. It must also be admitted that every single individual filters his observation of reality through his perceptions and personal values. This is why facts and truth must be accorded a higher priority and allegiance rather than opinions, feelings, dreams, and impressions. Your eternal salvation depends upon this distinction, let alone society’s well-being. Wishful thinking can only doom both.

A few observations about our text are in order. First, the first three verses of the chapter express the key thoughts of Solomon, and the rest of the verses of the chapter illustrate them. Second, each of the first three verses has found its way into common sayings. Verse one: Man proposes, God disposes. Verse two: Only God knows for sure. Verse three is contradicted and sadly perverted by the saying “it is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission”.

Utilizing divinely granted wisdom, Solomon begins his review of mankind’s wishful thinking from the top down. He begins with the heart of the king. At the outset of any administration, coronation, or regime, plans, goals, and priorities are put forth in flowery terms and in dreamy brilliance. Our text reminds us that kings are but flesh. God—the Immortal—holds the king’s heart—the mortal—in His hands. Though the king, in heady days of adulation and splendor, proposes and defines his course, God forces the king in directions he does not chose. The word translated “river” can be better translated “irrigation course.” Just as farmers direct water’s flow through ingenious dams and ditches utilizing gravity and pressure, so God forces the energy and resources of a king in directions beyond the king’s control, fondest dreams, and hoped-for legacy. All the wishful thinking in the world does not alter the facts recorded as statistics in history. Facts are stubborn things. God defines the course of your life. It is therefore wise for the king (and by extension all of the rest of us mortals) to yield to the Creator rather than live in some sort of “alternative reality.”

Solomon next addresses another key component to reality. God is the final arbiter of every man’s actions, not wistfully altered recounting, not good intentions, and not nuanced, parsed, or finessed sophistry of perceptions and mental gymnastics. God is the Record Keeper, the sole (soul) Judge, and final Authority on all matters. Though a man claims that his “way is right” (Hebrew: smooth and straight), God puts His divine yardstick to it. He weighs the heart. In case you miss the significance of God’s words, Proverbss 16:2 states, “all the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits.” Proverbs 24:12 reads, “If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” 1s Samuels 16:7 records, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” It is therefore wise to seek to understand and embrace God’s verdicts on what you have done, and bring yourself into conformity to His righteous standards.

Finally, Solomon turns man’s “alternative morality” of “asking forgiveness” (after the fact) on its head. God demands that you do what He declares is right dealing and what He declares is just dealing. Sadly, man thinks “might makes right” and that justice is found only in perceived equal outcomes (“end justifies the means”)—whether just-dealing is honored or not. Wishful utopian thinking that is divorced from factual reality invites cruel consequences. Someone once said that you can ignore reality, but you cannot ignore the consequences. It is therefore wise to learn to think, placing a higher priority upon facts and truth, particularly those derived from God’s Word, than all other considerations. Your eternity and man’s society depend upon it. Trust and obey.