A Man’s Steps – By Pastor/Elder Jay Swisher
A few years ago I bought a little book that looked like it would be a helpful tool to improve my ability to read the Hebrew Bible. The title gave me hope: A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew. One little chunk at a time. A small amount to ponder. It sounded like a winner.
I’ve been reading from this book every day for about four years now. Some days it’s very simple while on other days I can barely find my way through that one proverb. The ones that really puzzle me are the ones I can quickly read and understand. Maybe “understand” is the wrong word because I’m finding the proverbs are much deeper, challenging, and puzzling than I ever thought. And much more delightful. The ones that intrigue me most are the ones where the second part doesn’t seem to follow from the first part. It takes some thought to find my way through them. There is a lot of variety in the Proverbs.
The treasure of July 7th was Proverbs 20:24
A man’s steps are from the LORD;
how then can man understand his way?
At first look it seems like a challenge to understand this proverb. If the “steps” of our lives are from the Lord, how will we ever understand where we are, let alone where He is taking us? The fairly obvious answer is that we won’t, and that’s probably the point. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8, 9) and He doesn’t tell us what He’s doing or where He’s taking us.
One of the advantages of reading the Bible in the original languages is that we can see exactly what the original words are and how they are arranged. In this proverb the order of the words is an important clue to understanding. A literal translation will help:
From the LORD are the steps of a man;
But man, how can he understand his way?
This arrangement of the first line doesn’t change our understanding. There is, however, one notable difference: the order of the words. “From the LORD” is essentially one word as the preposition (“from”) attaches directly to Yahweh, the Name of God. It comes at the beginning of the line so it jumps out at us to emphasize that God is doing something significant in our lives; He’s directing our steps. Obviously, He’s not directing our steps when we get off the path into sin. But even those times are things God uses to direct our steps into repentance and deeper appreciation of His grace. This should give us great comfort. Even when everything in life seems to “go off the rails,” we can be confident that it’s not as bad as it seems because God is still directing our steps. Remember: it is the LORD who is taking us where we are going—even when it seems we are making the decisions.
With all that comfort and confidence, we can hardly wait to get to the second line. Solomon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit put “But man” at the beginning of the line where it’s unexpected. The emphasis in the first line is on the Lord; the emphasis in the second line is on man. We want to know where we are and where we are going all the time. But as God leads us, we may not understand either where we are or where we are going. How disappointing! But how true to life!
The second line is not really as discouraging as we might think. The first line is the first line for a reason: the starting point is that we must recognize who is directing our steps. That is a comfort. No matter how discouraging, puzzling, or just plain wrong things may seem to be, God is at work directing our lives and working out His purpose. Without the confidence that God is in charge of our lives, life would seem random, puzzling, dangerous, futile, impossible, and even evil. But we must not lose sight of the reality that “A man’s steps are from the LORD.”