“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, ESV)
The statement posited by Solomon in Proverbs 16:9 is quite a provocative verse of scripture, especially in today’s do-it-yourself society. A culture used to planning its own progress step-by-step hates the reality that there is One higher who can thwart those plans in an instant. Hurricanes, traffic jams, postponed flights, and unexpected illnesses cannot occur without the oversight of the sovereign God of this universe, and these God-ordained circumstances often delay, deter, or destroy the plans that we made. Such situations serve as stark reminders of God’s sovereignty.
In our recent studies in the Proverbs, we have witnessed Solomon wax more theological as he continues his loving yet stern advice to his children. Perhaps, as time goes on, he realizes that his children are not far from leaving his presence and so his desire is to hone their understanding of God’s pervasive characteristics; in our previous study in Chapter 15, this desire is manifest in an adage of God’s omniscience and omnipresence. In the opening verses of Chapter 16, we find a brief exposition of God’s sovereignty.
In one sense, this section is like an asterisk to everything Solomon has been inspired to say. It’s as if his children have been given a list of ways they can live wisely and prosper in life, but the footnote at the bottom of the page says, “Your plans are subject to change without notice.”
Is Solomon’s intent to cast his children into doubt? Does the knowledge that God’s plans will always trump our plans give us hope or uncertainty? What is the purpose behind this thought, and, if God will do what he pleases anyway despite our relentless planning, is planning even worth the work?
Despite the efforts of atheists and other opponents of Christianity to suggest otherwise, the Lord’s sovereignty over the affairs of men is not intended to make us into fatalists (those who merely sit back and say, “Whatever happens was meant to be, so I might as well do nothing”). For those who know the Lord, this doctrine is actually a source of motivation to live rightly. After all, righteous living is a central theme of Proverbs.
So how does God’s complete sovereignty compel us to live wisely? Verses 3 and 4a are key, “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established, The LORD has made everything for its purpose.” In other words, while God is sovereign over all that happens, he does not order things arbitrarily; rather, he does so according to his perfect will. And since God himself is love, holiness, and wisdom, believers can be assured that all things he does on earth are for good purposes. Understanding this concept helps us see that the “traffic jams” of life actually have good intentions behind them, no matter how frustrating they may seem at the moment! What a comfort to know that as we plan our steps, the Lord is going before us, establishing us in places that are ultimately for our good and his glory!