Man proposes but God disposes: Notes from Proverbs 16

The quotation Man proposes but God disposes may come down to us as a direct translation from a work of devotion written in Latin by Thomas a Kempis.
This work, his celebrated 'Of the Imitation of Christ', is the second most widely read Christian text after the Bible itself. It contains many sensitively and wisely expressed insights into spirituality and morals.
In Chapter 19 of Book 1 we find :

"For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand.
For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands".

-Man proposes, 

Proverbs 16:1-9, 33

  1. The reflections of the heart belong to mankind, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
  2. All a person’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs motives.
  3. Commit your activities to the Lord, and your plans will be established.
  4. The Lord has prepared everything for his purpose— even the wicked for the day of disaster.
  5. Everyone with a proud heart is detestable to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.
  6. Iniquity is atoned for by loyalty and faithfulness, and one turns from evil by the fear of the Lord.
  7. When a person’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
  8. Better a little with righteousness than great income with injustice.
  9. A person’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.
     33. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Notes from Derek Kidner:

  • (v 1) For all his freedom to plan, man only, in the event, advances God's designs.
  • (v 3) Our activities and plans (AV, RV thoughts) will be no less our own for being His: only less burdensome (commit is literally 'roll', as in Psalm 37:5), and better made.
  • (v 4) The general meaning is that there are ultimately no loose ends in God's world.  Everything will be put to some use and matched to its proper fate.  It does not mean God is the author of evil (James 1:13, 17).
  • (v 7) This is not a flat statement of law, but an encouragement to fearlessness.  'Consult God's wishes, not man's; He can handle the people you fear!' (Prov 29:25, Jn. 15:18)
  • (v 9) This companion to verse 1 makes its particular point by the word directeth, the Hebrews (cf. established, 12) implying that God has not merely the last word but the soundest. (Prov. 20:24, Ps. 119:33)
  • (v 33) The OT use of the word lot shows that this proverb (and 18:18) is not about God's control of all random occurrences, but about His settling of matters properly referred to Him.

Proverbs 29:25

The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.

John 15:18

“If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you.

Proverbs 20:24

Even a courageous person’s steps are determined by the Lord, so how can anyone understand his own way?

Psalm 119:133

Make my steps steady through your promise; don’t let any sin dominate me.

Proverbs 18:18

Casting the lot ends quarrels and separates powerful opponents.

Frank Derek Kidner (22 September 1913 – 27 November 2008) was a British Old Testament scholar, best known for writing commentaries.

Kidner studied piano at the Royal College of Music, before preparing for Anglican ministry at Ridley Hall, Cambridge and Christ's College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, he continued his interest in music through performances with the Cambridge University Musical Society.[1]

His first role in the Church of England was as Curate of St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks. He then served as the vicar of Holy Cross Church, Felsted. Kidner then taught at Oak Hill Theological College for thirteen years, before becoming Warden of Tyndale House in 1964. In the same year, he published his first Bible commentary, on the Book of Proverbs, in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries series.[1]

Kidner retired from his post at Tyndale House in 1978 and moved to Histon where he spent the last 30 years of his life.[2] He continued writing commentaries, concluding with The Message of Jeremiah in 1987.[1]

1. The Proverbs: an introduction and commentary. TOTC. Leicester & Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 1964.