What does Proverbs 16:9 mean?
ESV: The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
NIV: In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.
NASB: The mind of a person plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.
CSB: A person's heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.
NLT: We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
KJV: A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
Verse Commentary:
This echoes a similar proverb, recorded in verse 1 (Proverbs 16:1). A person can plan out every aspect of their life; yet God is the one who ultimately decides what will happen. New Testament writers such as Paul (Romans 9:20–21) and James (James 4:13–15) reinforce this idea. Nothing we intend can override God's will (Psalm 33:10; Job 42:2). That does not mean planning is wrong—but what we plan needs to be prepared in a spirit of humility and obedience.

Isaiah 53:6 describes human beings as sheep that have wandered away from God. We have all gone astray, and regardless of how intelligent a person is, "it is not in man who walks to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Nevertheless, if a person seeks God's will and walks by the Spirit in the light of God's Word, the Lord will approve and guide his steps. Paul's letter to the Ephesians gives good counsel about how believers should walk. It tells us to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1), walk not "as [unbelievers] do, in the futility of their minds" (Ephesians 4:17), "walk in love" (Ephesians 5:2), "walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8), and walk wisely (Ephesians 5:15). Galatians 5:16 instructs us to "walk by the Spirit."
Verse Context:
Proverbs 16:1–9 reflects on the heart's intention to make plans and the Lord's rule over that planning. Committing one's ways to God, with reverence, is the wise way to make plans. The Lord has a purpose for everything He created (1 Timothy 4:4). This continues the main section of the book of Proverbs: a compilation of short, general-case statements of wisdom.
Chapter Summary:
This part of Solomon's proverbs emphasizes human motives, self-control, and common sense. Many of these proverbs are arranged in a two-part style. The first and second half of these statements make the same basic point, but from opposite perspectives. Notable verses are verses 9 and 33, speaking of God's sovereignty, and verse 18, a famous warning about arrogance. Also often cited is verse 25, which repeats Proverbs 14:12 and encourages self-reflection.
Chapter Context:
A lengthy list of Solomon's wise sayings began in chapter 10. Chapter 16 begins a section mostly composed of comparisons and completions. It extends to Proverbs 22:16. Man's thoughts, speech, motives, and conduct are examined in this chapter. The chapter also addresses pride, evil, and injustice.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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