The Limitations of Human Discernment (Prov 20:24,27)

We Plan; God Overrules: Prov 20:24 say, "A man's steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?" We make our own decisions and we are fully responsible for them. But paradoxically, God directs the steps of each. This paradox exposes the limitations of our human discernment (Prov 16:1,9).

Man Sees Only The Exterior; God Sees Our Innermost Parts: Prov 20:27 say, "The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being." At best, man can only look on the exterior; only God sees "all his innermost parts" (ESV). We might think that we have discernment and integrity (Prov 20:5). But Prov 20:6 says and asks, "Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?" Surely, our own self assessment is biased and prejudiced with blind spots and with elements of bragging and subtle self-exaltation (Prov 16:2). Also, our discernment is imperfect, for "Who can say, 'I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin'?" (Prov 20:9) "My way or the highway" is really the worst way, because it excludes God's way, which is always the best way: Proverbs 16: My Way or the Highway.

No Easy Painless Way: Prov 20:30 say, "Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes (beatings) make clean the inmost parts." Corporal punishment has a place to improve man's behavior by enforcing civility, while only God's "blows that wound" can purge us of the innermost evil within us. Ultimately, it is only by Jesus' mortal wounds on the cross that heals us (Isa 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24).

Endless Warnings Against Laziness: "Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing" (Prov 20:4). "Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare" (Prov 20:13).

Forbearing yet Discerning: "Ears that hear and eyes that see—the LORD has made them both" (Prov 20:12). Just because we are patient, ever trusting and forbearing, it does not mean that we should not exercise discernment.

Wisdom is always better than Wealth: "Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel" (Prov 20:15). The pleasures of dishonest gain are brief (Prov 20:17).

Major Decisions, Seeking Advice, Keeping Secrets: "Plans are established by seeking advice; so if you wage war, obtain guidance. A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much" (Prov 20:18-19).

Never Take Revenge: "Do not say, 'I’ll pay you back for this wrong!' Wait for the LORD, and he will avenge you" (Prov 20:22).

The Mystery of Divine Sovereignty: "A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?" (Prov 20:24) (Ps 37:23; Jer 10:23) Though a man must be responsible and exercise discernment, he must also acknowledge the limitations of it.

The Advantage of Age: "The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old" (Prov 20:29). Old age should represent wisdom, maturity, experience and holiness.