Some people seem to believe, that if you manage to find “God directs his steps” in a bible verse or two, then this means that God directs ALL steps of ALL people ALL THE TIME with NO EXCEPTION and with NO involvement by man.
God is in Jer. 10:23 speaking to Israel through the prophet of Jeremiah. God warns the israelites from doing as the heathens (who were acting against the will of God) by not being dismayed by the signs in heaven. Instead of letting the stars direct our steps, we should let God direct our steps – but then we have to seek his will. “The customs of the people are in vain” according to God, and as an example he gives details about the heathens decorating and erecting false idols to worship. This is actually the same verses which some people commonly use to show that it’s a sin to make use of christmas trees, but they fail to see that this is about building false idols.
3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
As a contrast to mute and false gods, GOD is a living God! We are also told that his WRATH will cause people to tremble, because apparently people’s behavior sometimes cause God to be angry and to show indignation at their doings. Things definitely don’t always turn out the way God wants, and false gods and other sins always happen against his will.
10 But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.
Their false gods have certainly not made the heavens and the earth, so they are worshiping them in vain. They are breaking the first commandment, which is to worship God alone.
11 Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens—14 Every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.15 They are vanity, and the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish.
But not all people are wicked heathens who worship false gods. At least they are not supposed to! God seems to fear that the crimes of the heathen will even affect the children of Jacob.
16 The portion of Jacob is not like them: for he is the former of all things; and Israel is the rod of his inheritance: The Lord of hosts is his name.
God’s tabernacle is spoiled, and his children are gone forth of him (even risking to devour the children of Jacob), and God is grieved that they have stopped caring for his tabernacle the way they used to. Even the pastors have become brutish and they have not sought the Lord. For this reason (their refusal to seek the Lord) they shall not prosper, and the consequence will be that their flocks shall be scattered. So not only are the heathens involved in wickedness, but God’s own children are too!
20 My tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken: my children are gone forth of me, and they are not: there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtains.21 For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.
It’s in this context that v. 23 comes in. A man is not supposed to turn his back on God by not seeking his guidance, and to drift away in his own ways. Man is not supposed to direct his own steps, but God is supposed to direct his steps – which is impossible if man doesn’t even seek God. Man is supposed to be corrected by God, but the heathens have chosen to not seek God or call on his name. They have eaten up even Jacob! No wonder God is grieved and uses Jeremiah to warn his unruly people.
23 O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.24 O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.25 Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name: for they have eaten up Jacob, and devoured him, and consumed him, and have made his habitation desolate.
The promise is that if we acknowledge the Lord in all our ways, HE SHALL DIRECT OUR STEPS!
Prov. 1 My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:2 For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:4 So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.