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What does it mean that a man’s heart plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9)?

Lord directs steps

Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, discusses the relationship of man’s planning and God’s directing work multiple times (Proverbs 16:1; 19:21; 20:24). One example of this is found in Proverbs 16:9: “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps” (NKJV). Humanity often plans and prepares for future events, but in each case God directs the outcome.

The book of Job provides a great example of this relationship between one’s plans and God’s directing ministry. God considered Job a righteous man (Job 1:1, 8). Undoubtedly, Job had plans for the future, including continued work in the fields (Job 1:14–15), making sacrifices for his children (Job 1:5), accepting good from the Lord (Job 2:10), etc. During a prosperous time of Job’s life (Job 1:1–3), Satan appeared before the Lord and was given permission to test Job’s fear of the Lord. Satan carried out this testing by taking things that belonged to Job such as his material possessions, family, and health, sure that Job would curse God because of his loss. God directed these events, utilizing Satan as a tool for testing Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). Job certainly did not plan on losing all his possessions (Job 1:13–17), his children dying in a natural disaster (Job 1:18–19), and having his wife tell him to curse God and die (Job 2:9), but God directed the outcomes.

The story of Job doesn’t end there, of course, but the contrast in Job’s plans and the steps that God directed Job to take shows the relationship between man’s future planning and God’s present directing work. Just as God directed the circumstances and events in the life of Job, God directs and determines our circumstances and events today. We can take comfort in knowing that the Almighty God is in control of outcomes.

Another example of the Lord directing the steps of humanity is seen in Psalm 37:20–26. David, the second king of Israel, wrote this psalm in the later years of his life (Psalm 37:25). Part of the psalm contrasts the actions taken by the Lord toward the wicked and the righteous. In verse 22 David discusses “those the Lord blesses” and “those He curses.” The blessed are the righteous under the Mosaic Law, while the cursed are the wicked (see Deuteronomy 27—28). The righteous man, who delights in the Lord, is promised “firm steps” (Psalm 37:23). He can move forward with confidence because, “though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (verse 24).

As a result of God’s directing work, David rejoices in the outcomes: “Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever” (Psalm 37:28b–29). God’s sovereignty should comfort the believer in Christ. God is in control. It is wise to plan for the future, but we should find comfort in that, ultimately, God directs our steps. His plan leads us in a good path—one we should all rejoice in.

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Questions about Proverbs

What does it mean that a man’s heart plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9)?
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This page last updated: January 18, 2023