Wisdom acknowledges the sovereignty of God. God is omniscient - which means He knows all things past, present, and future. God also is working all things together to bring about His will that all things work together for good - and also work together for His own greatest glory. These are basic truths hat we learn from the Scriptures. Passages like Romans 8:38 and Romans 11:34-36 make these things very clear.
We read here in Proverbs that a man's steps are ordained by the Lord. I wish I could write a pithy little article that would once and for all solve the problem that seems to exist between our seeming ability to make choices - and God's ultimate soveriegnty over all things. But if such an article could be written it would already have been by men far more educated and godly than I am. But let me lay before you a few facts. First - you are going to have to make a whole series of choices today. It would be better if you made them in concert with God's will. Second - God is working in your life even if you choose today to be a rebellious little toot. Third - God will ultimately get everything that He desires and is working toward. And finally fourth - there is nothing you can do to thwart God's ultimate plans for His own glory and for the gospel of Jesus Christ. These are things that are true - will continue to be true - and are even true if you choose to think they are not.
God ordains our steps - He guides our way. For some this is relatively easy because they see God's will portrayed in the Scriptures and quickly submit - receive His power to do them - and enjoy bringing glory to God. Others are not so muh this way. For them the process of God working in their lives involves more than a fair share of rebellion, self-will, and self-seeking. Thus for them the will of God is a process of guidance through the Word - and guidance through discipline. In the end God receives what He desires both ways - one just takes longer - and often involves more pain and hard-learned lessons. Regardless of how you come to His desired ends - they will be accomplished.
The second half of this verse asks us a question, "How then can man understand his way?" This question is meant to be answered two ways. First of all, there is no real way for us to understand our way - at least in our own thinking. Consider for a moment Job. He walked with God - was considered blameless - yet he faced incredible suffering for God's ultimate purposes. The entire book of Job deals with him and his friends trying to "understand God's way." It consists of his friends telling him he was ungodly - that was why he had to suffer. It also consists of Job wrestling with the reasonf for his suffering Himself. There is little light of day in all these wranglings until 30 plus chapters into the book. Then God, first through Elihu, and then through His direct revelation asks Job a serious of questions. In all honesty these questions do not really answer the burning inquiry that Job - and those of us who read this historical account - have within our hearts. In the end, we come to the conclusion that God is God, God is good, and therefore no matter what happens in our lives - God ultimately purposes it for our good and His glory. We are left with the explanation of Proverbs - how can a man understand his way?
There is an encouragement in all this though. That is the second answer to this question. How can a man understand His way? The answer is that he can only understand his way in relation to God. People spend their entire lives living for things that are worthless. Their lives are summed up as a cautionary tale for us to learn from in life. Consider the rich farmer who thought only of himself all his life. Some 30-50 years were spent allowing this man to accumulate a fortune. At the end of his life he had a bumper crop unlike any he ever had, and wondered what to do with it. His ungodly, ill-informed reply was to tear down his existing barns and build bigger ones. Then he could keep everything for himself - and retire rich and full. God then broke in on the scene informing him that he would die that night - and that all his wealth would mean nothing - except as a warning to all others who did not choose to be "rich toward God." What we would consider a total waste - God used to warn any generations about greed and self-serving living.
A man understands his way in relationship with God. That is the only way to do this. A man understands his way by studying and understanding the Scriptures - which reveal to us the mind and heart of God. A man understands his way by turning to God and seeking to live for His ultimate purposes and plans. Philosophers may spend a lifetime trying to grasp a life of meaning and purpose - yet - if they only use their own understanding are like the blind leading the blind. As the Word of God itself tells us, if a man does not see according to God's light and revelation as given by the Holy Spirit in the Word - that man does not have the light of day. The truth is that God has been and still is working in this world to accomplish His desire and work toward His end. Life will be so much better for us if we acknowledge this - submit to it - and seek to walk surrendered to His sovereignty and His eternal plans.