The news media expresses concern about what 2018 will bring in international relations. The ABC quotes North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un saying he has nuclear missiles covering the USA and that “the button is on his desk”.[i] The Australian newspaper writes about world tensions and world leaders and tries to anticipate what they might do and what it might mean for world peace or conflict in the year ahead.[ii] We who place our trust in God know that these rulers, as they jockey to influence one another and anticipate one another’s moves, are themselves being ruled by a yet Higher Authority. As we move into 2018 it’s good to keep in mind that the hearts of rulers are in the hands of God. No matter how powerful rulers may be, there is a Ruler in heaven who rules the nations and directs also world leaders. As Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
That’s not just a proverb for Old Testament times when kings were, by and large, feared despotic dictators. If the king was angry, woe betide you. There were no laws to keep them in check; they were tyrants who determined whether you lived or died. The proverb applies just as much for today, though there are other types of power players who attend international conferences and shape world events. Perhaps the power players have different titles—core leader, president—or the power players are international bodies—UNO, Unesco, etc. Yet the hearts of all are in the Lord’s hand.
The late Dr K Schilder once preached on this text from Proverbs 21:1[iii] and said the day will come when there will be no democracy and everyone and everything will be placed under one authority, united under the dominion of the antichrist. The thought of world leaders being united under this antichrist may seem frightening to us. But remember that there is a King of kings and a God over the so-called gods, and that God will direct everything for He leads rulers’ hearts. Not just their hand or their foot but their heart is in God’s hand and will be led where He wants to lead.
That reference to the heart is of course symbolical language. The heart is the centre, the place where plans originate and where the philosophy of the state is determined. It’s the centre where everything begins, and that heart is bent by God to perform His will. In fact, God does that through His Holy Spirit.
We need to keep in mind, says Schilder, that the Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of regeneration, of friendliness, of comfort in affliction, but the Spirit also carries out the work of the Trinity by working blindness and hardness of heart. He directs things. For example, He did not permit some apostles to preach in one place, saying you may not go this way but must go that way (Acts 16). That’s also the way the Holy Spirit works in politics, science and, yes, in church. He leads all where He wills.
He is ahead of everyone. Remember, for example, how Jeroboam was being prepared in Egypt while Solomon was still feasting with his wives. The Holy Spirit works blindness in one and hardening in another. He says: at Solomon’s request I gave him wisdom, knowledge and insight. But He also says: woe to the land if its king is a child. It’s in God’s hand if he traps the wise in their own craftiness. It’s He who blinds the eyes of false prophets, so that they no longer know what’s going on and speak foolishness.
If God wants to destroy someone He does not necessarily kill him but makes him foolish. That action of God is never too late but is ahead of everyone because He sees through them and knows the source of their thoughts and actions. He has, as it were, a microphone in the heart of those with power. He knows exactly what they are planning.
God is free to exercise power. He bends the heart like rivers of water, we read. That’s his freedom. We need to think here of canals of irrigation. Open a tap and the water streams onto one or other area of land and waters it. Close the tap and it dries up.
There is great comfort for the Lord’s church, says Schilder, when we read that not God’s hand but the hand of the Lord bends the heart of the king. The Lord’s hand. That denotes Israel’s God, a God who is not only almighty but who has bound himself in covenant with Israel. He established an eternal covenant of grace. And this God governs not just locally or regionally but governs universally. There is but one God. He, our good Friend and covenant Partner, leads world politics. And in His free will and covenant purpose He leads both Augustus and the anti-Christ: yes, especially the latter, like a river of water.
In the latter days, says Schilder, those in power will say: “It’s ready. We have all the diplomats in our pocket and all the kings are being strung along. We have terrorised all the hearts.” Yet even then God leads the hearts of these people. He will have sent a power of delusion whereby they believe the lie. Just as when, in Ahab’s days, Micah the prophet saw a meeting in heaven. God presided, and the angels stood around. God says: Ahab must be removed but he won’t go, the fool. Then one of the angels says: I will go and strike him with blindness through his prophets. Note that this messenger does not come from hell but from heaven. God sends a power of delusion! The messenger administered the lies that are spoken. In order to give Ahab advice, four hundred prophets appear. And they stand there lying when they say: ‘Go and conquer, oh king.’ Only one prophet says: ‘Do not go, king.’ But God leads the heart of the king. The king reasons: one is only one, and four hundred is four hundred times as many. But he does not understand that they are governed by a spirit of delusion.
And Paul says, this spirit of delusion will later be repeated (2 Thess. 2:11). It’s enough to make one shudder, but also to go forward comforted. For God is Father, and we should not stare ourselves blind at world leaders engaging in power plays. That would be unbelief. The Father has them all in his hand. In fact, He has his hand in their heart, even his Spirit in their heart.
Who doesn’t think here of the beautiful Heidelberg Catechism when it speaks of leaf and blade, rain and drought, health and sickness, riches and poverty, etc., coming not by chance but by God’s fatherly hand? Yes, the time will come when we will be boycotted. Health and sickness: who knows what type of chemical warfare the power leaders will think of? Yet not by chance. Think of Saul, the foolish king; of Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful dictator; of Solomon, the resplendent ruler; of Ahab, the shrewd diplomat. All were in God’s hand.
The Holy Spirit directs all things towards the New Jerusalem; the new heaven and new earth.
In the coming Kingdom of Peace, says Schilder, there will no longer be struggle between nature and culture. In the new Paradise the tree of life will regularly provide its fruit from month to month. There God eternally leads the economy.
Whoever does not give his heart to Him here will not see that Paradise but reap eternal misery.
Blessed beyond measure, however, will be he who in this life presented his heart in humble subservience to his God and Father.
[ii] The Weekend Australian, December 30 2017, PP.11-12.
[iii] K Schilder, Preken 3, Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, Goes, 1955, pp. 195-204.