This verse in Proverbs chapter 20 is a part of a larger section of proverbs that deals with the discerning the character of people. Solomon was the master of reading people because God has given him a unique gift of wisdom – and even Solomon reminds us here that the heart of a man is deep waters.
The heart of a man is like deep waters.
Now, what does that mean? It does not mean deep in the sense of a profound statement – “whoa, that was deep bro.”
Rather, this reading indicates that the reason that we do the things that we do – good or bad – are the results of things that are way down deep – difficult for others to get to. The imagery is reminiscent of a well. Some estimates put Jacobs well (from the story in John 4) at around 75 feet. That is a good ways down. You might be able to see the reflection of the water if the angle of the light is correct, but that’s about it. You won’t be able to see what is in the water – if it is clean, if an animal feel in and died, etc etc. We know very little of the actual character of the water from 75 above its surface.
The same is true about the heart of a person according to this verse. We might be able to see the reflection of their hearts a bit in the way that they act, but on the surface we know very little about what has made them the way that they are. We know very little about the motives behind their actions. The more time I spend as a pastor, the more I realize the truth contained within this proverb. I think that I know a student, and then they walk into my office and drop a bomb that I did not see coming.
However, as I continue to grow as a pastor, these bombs are less and less likely because I continue to learn to draw out their heart.
The second section of this proverb is, perhaps, one of the most difficult and scary things to do with people – friends, colleagues, family members, etc.
But a man of understanding will draw it out
The imagery here is the work of pulling a full bucket of water out of the 75 ft. well – this can be hard work. In the case of human beings, it’s often harder because water doesn’t fight back – humans usually guard their hearts pretty firmly. This is why the proverb notes that it takes understanding to draw out the heart. Understanding often involves patience.
So, what does all of this matter?
It has important meaning for us from both angles.
As a person who, according to this text, has a heart like deep waters, we need to be willing to let people draw the water from our hearts. We need to be open to them seeing the bacteria in the water, the dead animal that fell down the well, etc etc. We need to be willing to let people in on the things that have discolored our water – sin. Sadly too few people are willing to do this for fear of being judged. Then, as sin festers, someone else ends up drawing up this diseased water and it kills them when they drink it.
Diseased water might come out as substance abuse, physical abuse, suicide, depression, sexual misconduct, fiscal dishonesty, and many other things. People need people – this is the way that God made us – for community. So, let a few trusted people into your life and allow them to mine the depths of your heart – it might just save you from a giant sin geyser that blows up with diseased water all over everyone that you care about a ruins your life.
Be the type of friend that is willing to take the time to draw out the deep waters of those in your life. Sometimes they will be resistant, but that’s okay. We don’t want to be nosy or overbearing. However, think through what it means for you to be a person of understanding that draws out the deep waters of the hearts of those around you. It takes investment of time and serious risk. Broaching the topics that are found in the deep waters takes guts. Will you be willing to have that kind of courage to dig deep and the understanding and patience that it takes to walk through sometimes very ugly things?
If we would all follow these Biblical principals, we might see fewer friends, colleagues, and family members ruin their lives due to the disease in the deep waters finally killing someone.
Above all, the best thing that we can do for people is introduce them to Jesus – living water.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14 ESV)