RPM, Volume 16, Number 34, August 17 to August 23, 2014

Best Laid Plans

Proverbs 16:1-5

By D. Marion Clark


Here is a common phrase intended to make us pause — "keep in mind." How many times have you said or it has been said to you?

"Keep in mind that you must be home before dark."

"Keep in mind that your boss is keeping an eye on you."

"Keep in mind what happened last time you tried doing that."

There are the more philosophical "keep-in-minds":

"Keep in mind that man has always wrestled over the problem of evil."

"Keep in mind that some day you will die."

"Keep in mind how insignificant we really are in the universe."

The "keep-in-mind" stuff is meant to give us a proper perspective on what we actually do. It is a reminder that there is something more to consider than just the question of "would this be neat to do?" That before we react, we need to take into account other circumstances or higher principles.

Proverbs has one primary "keep-in-mind" consideration that overhangs all its maxims. It is this: Keep in mind that God is in charge. Every proverb this morning specifically calls that truth to mind.

The Text

To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue.

What specifically is being stated here? Is it that we may plan in our hearts what we are going to say, but the Lord determines what we actually say? We have felt that experience before. "Where did I come up with that? I wasn't planning to say that." Or does the proverb mean this: we are given the freedom to inwardly plan our course of action or speech, but the Lord responds in such a way as to determine what will in the end take place? Thus, make what plans we may, God outwits us to carry out his will. Does it mean that though we make plans, we are to commit our plans to the Lord so that it is carried out? That is the message of verse 3. However specific we want to get, the simple (or profoundly complex) principle is this: though we experience freedom in making our plans, it is the Lord (in whatever manner he so chooses) who determines the outcome.

This matter of free will and God's providence certainly is a complex one for mortal minds, but Scripture is consistent in proclaiming that man is responsible for his actions, and, yet, God as the Sovereign Lord directs all events to meet his ends for his glory.

Consider how Scripture presents Israel's history. Here are two samples documenting resistance and rebellion against the Lord's will by individuals.

To deliver the Hebrews out of Egypt, Moses had to contend against Pharaoh who stubbornly resisted even in as the ten plagues struck his country.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'" 2 Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go" (Exodus 5:1,2).

The kingdom of Israel was divided into the northern and southern kingdoms because of King Rehoboam's refusal to listen to wise counsel and follow foolish counsel. The son of Solomon, he rejected his father's counselors who advised him to "lighten the yoke" of hard labor and taxation that Solomon had placed on the people, and thus win the allegiance of the people. Instead, he followed the counsel of his young friends and answered the people's demands in this manner: "My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions" (1 Kings 12:14). Thus the people rebelled, splitting the covenant kingdom of Israel.

Now consider these verses:

The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go" (Exodus 4:21).
So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite (1 Kings 12:15).

What are we to do with these verses? This is like stuff from the "X-Files." Behold, there is a secret conspiracy behind the scenes manipulating the events! Evidently, God has some explaining to do! What do you mean hardening Pharaoh's heart and then sending plagues because his heart was hardened? What do you mean being behind the breakup of your kingdom?

How does Scripture respond to such questions? We'll let a pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar, give his answer as recorded in Daniel 4:34-35:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High;
I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: "What have you done?"

We will come back to this matter, but keep in mind that God ultimately determines the outcome of man's plans, of our lives. We cannot escape him nor defeat him.

2 All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.

Now, this certainly is a proverb that should make us pause. All of us would like to say that we are willing to own up to our sins and confess them freely, but are we honest with ourselves? How many times have we resorted to the phrase, "All I was trying to do…"?

"All I was trying to do was help. I don't know why she should get so upset."

"All I was trying to do was show concern. I don't know why I should be accused of being a busybody."

"All I was trying to do was bring attention to a problem. I don't know why I should be thought of as being critical."

Of course our ways seem innocent to us, at least to us good Christian people. I am not being hypocritical when I use that term. I do consider us to be Christian people who consciously intend to be good and honoring to the Lord. We don't wake up in the morning and gleefully plan to harm others and sin against God's laws. We don't think to ourselves how we are going to exalt ourselves over others; how we are going to make the lives of others (especially in our families) miserable.

Who among us would say to ourselves, "I don't care what Scripture says. I am going to do what I want to do"? No, we believe that we are doing our best to follow the Lord. Yes, we sin, but not intentionally, and we are quick to own up to our failings.

Why then, does the image of us standing alone before God, the Almighty Judge, pouring out the motives of our hearts as though sand onto a scale unnerve us. We have made our defense: "I've done my best. I know I sinned, but my intentions were good." He then pulls out a bag labeled "Motives of X's Heart" and begins pouring what looks like sand onto a balance scale that measures innocence. The counterweight of innocence appears very light. Are we confident, glad to see we are about to be vindicated?

Look, we know the truth about this. I am willing to admit my "mistakes." I am willing to call them sins. What is unbearable hard for me is to admit to myself that I acted out of mean spiritedness. I really did want to hurt you and make me look good at your expense. I really was jealous. I really was acting from pride or vindictiveness or some other rotten motive. And that is much harder for me to admit to myself than the sinful act, because it reaches to the condition of my heart.

But God knows our hearts. He weighs our motives which he knows perfectly. That is why we are surprised, and will be further surprised, at God's judgments. He goes straight to the motives of the hearts. We are always protesting that we not be judged by our "occasional" sinful actions. We don't mean to sin; we try to be good. If people, if God, would examine our motives, it would be seen that we are good intentioned people.

Are you sure? Because keep in mind that your motives — not your perceived motives — but your true motives will be, are being, weighed by God.

3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Literally, the term for "commit" is "roll." We are to roll to the Lord what we do. It is similar to the expression "put in the hands of the Lord." I wonder if the term "commend" might not be better. We are to commend to the Lord what we do, placing in his hands the outcome of our actions, trusting him to preserve us, cause good to come forth, and he be glorified. It is to leave to God the results, trusting in his sovereign will.

To commend our ways requires that we have already commended ourselves to God. We trust God. It is not a blind trust. The Jews founded their trust on God's deliverance from Egypt, preserving them in the wilderness, and leading them into the Promised Land. We establish our trust on Christ's deliverance wrought on the cross. He delivered us, has preserved our souls, and has led us into his kingdom. Therefore, we trust him to continue to deliver, preserve, and ultimately glorify us.

If we commend to the Lord whatever we do; if we show peaceful trust, then plans have a way of falling into place. Doors have a way of opening up and the wrong doors closing. If our motivations are right, the plans take the right form and achieve the right results. I think that is the primary point of the proverb. One who has commended himself and his ways to the Lord generally finds that his plans succeed, because those plans themselves are in line with God's will.

But understand that the very act of commending one's ways to the Lord implies that we accept the times when our plans do not succeed. Indeed, it means that we are trusting God to alter our plans as necessary and even to bring needed chastisement. Commending our ways to the Lord means that we are trusting God, rather than ourselves, to know our hearts fully, to know our motivations and for him to act accordingly. To commend our ways to the Lord is to keep in mind that we and our ways belong to him and are to serve for his purposes and glory.

4 The LORD works out everything for his own ends—even the wicked for a day of disaster.

Some translations use the term "makes" instead of works, but the NIV probably has the right nuance. As the TWOT notes, it "refers primarily to God's acts in history, not his acts in creation." Again, we enter into a complex, and more accurately, a mystery of how God's providence works. How does he control, yet provide freedom? What is the rhyme and reason for wickedness? Scripture does not give a complete answer, and I don't know how it can given our limited ability to comprehend the ways of God. How can mortal man understand the infinite God? At some point, indeed, many points we have to say, "Let God be God."

This proverb is for us to turn to when events like 9-11 occur. Such events cause us to ask, "Where was God?" "Why did this happen?" "Is God in control?" "Will the wicked get away with this?" This proverb says that the wicked get away with nothing. It says that even 9-11 was under the control of God and serves the purpose or purposes for which he, not the wicked, intended.

Such a teaching might seem discomforting. How could God be involved in such a monstrous event? Religious leaders were quick last year to disavow God's involvement and cast him a sympathetic onlooker. It is true that God is not the author of evil as James 1:13,17 teach. But if God is merely a compassionate God who wishes bad things didn't happen; if God was watching the airplanes heading into the buildings simply wishing they would miss, consider then the greater discomforting thought — we are on our own. I had no loved ones die on 9-11, but I have had loved ones die "before their time." And I tell you now that the comforting thought is that their deaths fit into God's plans. That he is working all things out, including, no, especially including all the bad, rotten stuff that goes on; he is working all things out for the purpose which he intended. The wicked are getting away with nothing. Whether they are acting in conscious defiance of God; whether they foolishly think they are pleasing God; whatever the case, they can do nothing but what he permits and what will serve his purpose.

That gives me comfort because the most despairing thought of all is not that good people suffer and die, but that they suffer and die for no reason; that ultimately there is no reason for why anything happens, good or bad. That in time no one is remembered; nothing serves any purpose. Keep in mind, that whatever happens (and we have no guarantee what may happen); keep in mind that The LORD works out everything for his own ends—even the wicked for a day of disaster.

5 The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.

This proverb reiterates the latter half of the previous one. We've discussed before when considering 15:25 that "the proud of heart" is a synonym for the wicked. And as we noted in that proverb the point is that God will punish the wicked. It may be immediately in ways clearly demonstrated; it may be in ways not so clearly seen; it will culminate in the Day of Judgment. Judgment will happen and will be administered with exact measure as fitting the crimes. Keep in mind that the wicked will receive their due as merited and at the right time that God has planned.


Considering these proverbs together, we are to conclude that God, not man, is in control of this world. Man has used his apparent freedom to make his own form of misery, but ultimately all is working out towards God's purposes which we know will end in his glory revealed and his chosen people sharing in that glory.

These proverbs are telling us to keep in mind this ultimate truth. Keep in mind when disaster strikes, it is serving God's purpose, not frustrating it. Keep in mind when you stumble, have doors shut in your face, run into brick walls (and whatever else clich├ęs you can come up with!) that God's will goes forth undaunted.

And we can trust him. This is the God who bears such love for us that he would give his Son to die for us. How then could he go through such lengths to gain such good for us, and then let it all fall apart? No, you can trust his love; you can trust his wisdom and his righteousness. If you should falter about these things, look back to the cross and you will be steadied. Meanwhile, commend your ways to the Lord so that when your ways are troubled you may still be at peace and see how your plans in his hands bring forth good. Keep in mind that all things occur for a purpose, whether or not we may understand that purpose.

And through these proverbs let us learn to be less confident of ourselves. Let us be less assured of our motives, less assured of our hearts, and less assured that we have "committed our ways to the Lord." Let us be less assured about what we do and more assured about what God does. Be assured, thus, that God does have us in his hands whether or not we have fully commended ourselves to him. Be assured that even if our hearts are not as chaste in their motivations as we may think, it is the Lord who purifies our hearts.

You see, the key to peace in life, the key to success in life is not developing an assured self-confidence in our ability to follow the Lord. The key lies in an assurance in God's ability to keep us faithful, to work out our ways to suit his purpose. The key is to keep in mind that Yahweh, the LORD, is the Sovereign Lord who reigns over his creation, and he is the Good Shepherd who cares for each of his sheep.

Keep in mind that what the LORD said through Jerermiah to his chosen people of Israel when exile faced them — so he says to you his people:

>For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29.11-13)
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