Proverbs 21:1 says

The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.

This seems to imply that kings (and perhaps everyone else too) don't have freewill, but that God determines their decisions. How do non-Calvinists view this verse?

  • The Bible also says that God directed kings such as Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:31-35) and Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1-3). Could this issue have to do with the Sovereignty of God?
    – Lesley
    Nov 19, 2020 at 8:31
  • This will be a matter of interpretation. Some see this verse as being messianic and a prophecy of the coming one.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 19, 2020 at 9:33
  • 1
    The question of freewill and God's sovereignty could never be answered based on only one verse in the Bible. My book on Calvinism vs Arminianism does not mention Proverbs 21:1.
    – Lesley
    Nov 19, 2020 at 16:52

2 Answers 2


This verse does not stand alone. As is the case with many of the proverbs the entire thought is expressed in two (or more) verses:

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. - Proverbs 21:1-2

These verses highlight two critical features. 1) The ability of humans to choose for themselves, 2) God's sovereign ability to judge and use those choices as He wills.

The King's heart is like a stream of water; it has an energy and a direction. The way that he directs that energy is what he has determined (in his own eyes) to be right. However, it is God and not man who is in charge of the ultimate outcome.

We see this very clearly demonstrated in the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), whose brothers sold him into slavery. Years later those same brothers found themselves standing before Joseph who was now high in command of Egypt. Through all of the difficulties he endured due to his brother's evil intentions Joseph was able to see that the sovereign hand of God had orchestrated a plan to rescue his father's household from devastation by famine, and he famously said to them:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. - Genesis 50:20

And we now can look back and see how this deliverance from famine became slavery in Egypt, which became deliverance from Egypt, which became the establishment of Israel, which became the advent of Jesus Christ, the world's Savior.

Evil was intended and God brought forth good, indeed.


As a non-Calvinist, I'd say that if it's taken literally, that would be the case; but should we take it literally? After all, we already know that God has given us the choice to choose between good and evil in this world and this implies the existence of free will. Thus, we should simply interpret this verse as simply demonstrating the magnitude of Gods power, if He so chooses to exert it all in the worldly sphere.

John Calvin himself ascribed free-will to all people, in the sense that they act 'voluntarily, and not by compulsion.' More, he also said, 'that man has a choice and it is self-determined' and that his actions stem from his 'own voluntary choosing.'

  • 1
    You may not be aware, but personal opinions are not on-topic here. You'll need to provide quotes or references from authoritative Arminian sources to answer a question like this.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 19, 2020 at 8:29

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