Around the turn of the 20th century, the XIT was one of the largest cattle ranches in the world. It was just over 3 million fenced in acres in the panhandle of Texas and was home to around 150,000 XIT branded cattle. Of the 100 or so cowboys that worked the spread, the most important job was saved for a select few. Their title was “the windmillers”. Where as many of the cowhands would retreat at night to camps and shelters, the windmillers were seen once a month at headquarters to pick up supplies. They lived out in the open year round with only a chuck wagon as their home. In summer swelter and winter chill, they were responsible for the upkeep and care of the 355 windmills that gave water to the cattle of the XIT ranch (Evetts, 96). The most impressive windmill on the ranch and in the world at the time rose 130 ft catching the west Texas wind (Evetts, 167).
Though they got their name from what was above ground, the real purpose of a windmill took place below ground. Though the usually didn’t stand very tall, many of the XIT windmills pumped water from well below the surface. They averaged a depth of 125 ft, with the deepest pumping water from 400 ft below ground. “Sometimes you have to dig deep to find water” is a sentiment not only shared by the wind millers of the XIT but also Solomon, the author of many of the Proverbs.
Near the end of the Proverbs that Solomon wrote, he offers up an ambiguous gem of thought. He writes:
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20.5)
A man’s heart can be many things, especially in the book of Proverbs. In our scientific thought and western philosophy, the heart is full of emotions and feelings. Occasionally, the heart is equated with desire and passion, ‘follow your heart’ and ‘what the heart wants’. But in the Biblical world, the heart was so much more. It was the mind, the will, the emotions, the passions, the decision-maker, and the life giver of the person. The heart held their personality and character, their morality and their center. So when Proverbs talks about the heart it contains so much more than just the emotions; it entails the man. “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” (Prov 27.19)
“Purposes” have filled this man in Proverbs heart. The hebrew word translated “purposes” is oft used and inconsistently translated. It can mean “advice”, “counsel”, “verdict”, “judgment”, or “consulted”. To cover the range of translations, the noun seems to indicate “a prescribed course of action”. Reheboam, for instance, receives a “consultation” from his elders, then rejects their “counsel” and accepts the “advice” of the young men he grew up around. The decision would ultimately, cost him the entirety of the Kingdom. This illustrates an issue that arises often in Scripture: the origin of the “advice” or “plans”. When the “counsel” came from the Lord or one of His Agents, universally the outcome was positive, however, when man made the recommendation, it almost always turned bad. It remains to be seen as to whether the purposes of this heart are from God or from man.
The heart has its own “prescribed course of action” and they aren’t visible on the surface. The text says they are like “deep waters”. The word for deep, ‘amoq, is used in Psalm 64 where the wicked are plotting for David. There the mind and heart of man are described as cunning [‘amoq] (Psalm 64.6). Here the wicked are obviously not led by the Lord but by the counsel of men. The cunningness of the heart is not lost in the book of Proverbs where the heart can be full of deceit, envious, and led astray. Like Jeremiah said: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure…” (Jer. 17.9) The heart can play games, its waters are deep; however (and thankfully for this man), it is not the final authority. This man in Proverbs 20.5a seems to harboring his own plans and actions that are cunning and hidden well below the surface; ones that are not in line with those of God and it would be of serious issue if they welled up and remained there.
Thankfully, the plans of a man’s heart, made in the heart of man, are clearly in submission to the thoughts and plans of God. Proverbs reminds us:
“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord” (16.3)
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (16.9)
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (19.21)
Since the Lord’s way prevails, it seems as though our hearts ought to align with his purposes, passions, and paths. This is where the man of understanding comes in.
Like the windmills that pierced the West Texas dirt, the purposes of a heart must be uncovered. The perfect person for the job is the “man of understanding” (Prov. 20.5b). He “draws the purposes out” of the heart. Two things pertinent to this discussion are made abundantly clear:
- The qualities of a man of understanding. This study began as I tried to figure out the type of man Bezalel was in Exodus 31. He was filled with “ability” which is most commonly translated as “understanding”. Solomon gives background to the type of man Bezalel was by weaving a description of a “man of understanding” throughout the book of Proverbs. He is a patient man (Prov 14.29), who delights in wisdom and good conduct (Prov 10.23) and holds his tongue (Prov 11.12), with an even temper (Prov 17.27) and the ability to make keen judgments, keeping his course straight and on track (Prov 15.21). All these qualities lead to a blessed (Prov 3.13) and prosperous life with God (Prov 19.8).
- A man needs community. Proverbs makes many claims to the need for counsel and advice, which only comes from life in community. It is the wise who seek advice, guidance, and counsel from their brothers (1.5; 12.5; 12.15; 13.10; 15.22; 19.20; 20.18). A man of understanding seeks help from others and counsel from friends. It is only those who can bring his true motives, his “prescribed course of action”, to the surface. Without that process, hearts are easily corrupted, ambitions ignored, and motives overlooked. Only in an accountable relationship, is a heart truly understood.
A man of understanding is the man that can draw out the deep waters of another’s heart and honestly take stock and examine what lies deep underground. It was the words of a mentor that showed me how selfish my ambitions were, as I desperately wanted to speak in front of thousands of teenagers about God. The ultimate goal was praiseworthy, but my ambitions were corrupted. It took the honest assessment of a true friend to point out that my dream of being a PRCA Bullfighter had much more to do with pride, than it did with serving God. It was the same man who, as I mourned my own lack of measured success and achievement in the world of Rodeo, pointed out the ministry that God has given me at this point in my career, and the awesome people I spend all summer elbow to elbow with in the arenas and back pens during the summer. These were “men of understanding” who drew out, from the depths of my heart, the “purposes” that I had, and analyzed them.
I spent 3 weeks thinking about this verse because I made every effort to show that the “man of understanding” was able to draw deeply out of his own heart…but the text seems clear to itself. My heart easily fools me and as much as I desperately want to be the man who studies, guides, and asses my own heart, it takes another to do that. I wanted to be in isolation, because I still struggle to see manhood as a group endeavor…but it is. It is a community, a brotherhood, a squad that makes men better, as much as I tried to make it not so.
Haley, J. Evetts. The XIT Ranch of Texas: And the Early Days of the LLano Estacado. (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman) 1953.