Let’s read and consider Jeremiah 10:23 first: “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” First of all, this verse is NOT saying that man is not free to make his own decisions (for he has “free will”), but rather that because man is a sinner with an evil nature within him,  he will usually make wrong decisions that bring shame and heartache to him and do not bring glory to God. This is certainly true of unbelievers but it can even be true of believers if they are not allowing God to direct their steps. In Romans 7:14-20 the Apostle Paul had to write of an experience he went through shortly after he was saved which illustrates this truth. It reads, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but SIN THAT DWELLS IN ME. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) NOTHING GOOD DWELLS; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but SIN THAT DWELLS IN ME.” When Paul discovered that he had a sinful nature dwelling in him, he discovered the truth of Jeremiah 10:23, “…the way of man IS NOT IN HIMSELF; IT IS NOT IN MAN who walks to direct his own steps.” Paul learned the lesson we all need to learn; we all have SIN IN US which prevents us from “directing our own steps to the glory of God.” We must learn to allow God to direct our steps and then we will be blessed and bring glory to God. Proverbs 3:5-6 speak to this, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

Now let’s read Proverbs 20:24, “A man’s steps are of the LORD; How then can a man understand his own way.” This verse approaches our subject a bit differently, for here the emphasis is not on man’s inability to direct his steps to the glory of God, but rather on God’s SOVEREIGNTY OVER MAN and how He can and does intervene in the lives of men in order to direct us in the right path, a path which will bring blessing to us and others, and bring glory to Him. This is surely true of the believer, as we see in Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way.” But it can also apply to God directing the steps of the unsaved. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Just as a channel of water directs the flow of water, the Lord can sovereignly overrule the plans and actions of a king to bring about His own purposes, purposes that will result in man’s blessing and in God’s glory. A good example of this is seen in King Cyrus, the king of Persia. He was no doubt a heathen king, yet in Isaiah 45:1 we read, “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut.” Again, Cyrus was more than likely an unsaved man (an “unbeliever”) but here he is called God’s “anointed…whose right hand I have held.” God raised up Cyrus to be a blessing to other nations and especially to the nation of Israel (see Isaiah 44:28). I think it would be safe to say that Cyrus had no idea (in the beginning) that God was doing this and thus it proves the latter part of our verse, “How then can a man understand his own way.” But behind this heathen king God was “ordering his steps” and fulfilling His purposes through him.

In closing, perhaps the answer to your last question is simply this: God allows us “to take the wrong step” (like he did in the case of the Apostle Paul) to teach us the vanity of trusting in ourselves and thus to teach us to “trust in the LORD with all your heart” and to “acknowledge Him in all your ways.” (382.5)  (DO)