Proverbs 19:21

Sermon preached on January 7, 2018 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2018. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

What are your plans for 2018? Many people make New Year's Resolutions. I don't do that personally but I still have lots of plans for 2018. As Christians we have spiritual plans, plans to grow in holiness, in love for others, plans to be more kind, compassionate. Plans to improve what we say, to have our speech be helpful to people instead of hurtful. We also may have professional plans, things about our job that we want to do better. Or perhaps some of us want to get a better job. We also have plans to go places, visit family and friends.

But no matter how much we plan, no matter how much we save, our plans might not come to pass. Our text says, (Proverbs 19:21)

"Many are the plans in a man's heart,
but it is the Lord's purpose
that prevails."

Our text reminds me of the words of James 4: 13–15. It says,

"Now listen, you who say,
'Today or tomorrow we will go
to this or that city,
spend a year there,
carry on business and make money.'
Why, you do not even know
what will happen tomorrow.
What is your life?
You are a mist that appears
for a little while and then vanishes.
Instead, you ought to say,
'If it is the Lord's will,
we will live and do this or that.' "

Both texts highlight the uncertainty of our plans. We make plans but they are uncertain of coming to pass. Our text also tells us that man's plans are many. There's a contrast between that and the Lord's purpose, which is one. People have many plans but the Lord has one purpose. The Lord's purpose will prevail.

Let's break these two things down. Hopefully this breakdown will illustrate a way of thinking that should characterize us. As Christians we are to think differently than non-Christians about the future, about how we should react to disappointments, unexpected things.

We see first that we see in our text is that

our plans are many and aren't certain of coming to pass.

The contrast with God's purpose prevailing highlights the fact that our plans are merely that—plans. They don't have within them the ability to actually carry out the plan. Our plans may or may not come to pass. No matter how much we prepare, no matter how strong our will, no matter how great our resources—our plans do not have within them the actual ability to succeed.

Our text is structured in such a way that it contains two chiastic opposite parallels. The outer parallel has the contrast, (Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31, NICOT; Eerdmans, 2005, p. 114)

"many" versus "it will stand,"

Man's plans are many, but the Lord's one plan will prevail. Our plans are also 'many' not only in the sense that they a multitude, but they are very imperfect in that they often come to nothing. They aren't realized.

It also implies that our plans are often changeable and are often at cross purposes to each another. They are imperfect. 'Many', in the context here, opposed to God's one plan, has connotations of being flawed, ill thought out, not good.

We see an example of these things in the story of Joseph being sold into slavery. You'll remember when Joseph's brothers saw him coming toward them, they said, (Genesis 37:19–22)

"Here comes that dreamer!
Come now,
let's kill him and throw him
into one of these cisterns
and say that a ferocious animal
devoured him.
Then we'll see what comes
of his dreams."

But Reuben didn't want them to kill him. We read,

"When Reuben heard this, he tried
to rescue him from their hands.'
Let's not take his life,'he said.
'Don't shed any blood.
Throw him into this cistern
here in the desert,
but don't lay a hand on him.'
Reuben said this to rescue him
from them and take him
back to his father."

In contrast to his brothers, Reuben had noble plan. But his plan to rescue Joseph didn't come to fruition. He must have gone on watch. When the others were eating, they saw, (Genesis 37:25–27)

"a caravan of Ishmaelites
coming from Gilead.
Their camels were loaded with spices,
balm and myrrh,
and they were on their way
to take them down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers,
'What will we gain if we kill
our brother and cover up his blood?
Come, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites
and not lay our hands on him;
after all, he is our brother,
our own flesh and blood.'
His brothers agreed."

Reuben was away when all this happened. When he came back and saw that Joseph was gone, he tore his robes in grief. His plan to rescue Joseph didn't succeed. He never got a chance to even begin to implement.

The other brothers had plans. First they were going to kill Joseph with their own hands. That didn't come to fruition. Then they had plans to have him die in the cistern. That also didn't come to fruition. On Judah's suggestion they sold Joseph into slavery.

Even Joseph had plans. His plan was to plead with his brothers for his life. When his brothers came to Egypt to buy food during the famine, they didn't recognize Joseph and when he demanded that they bring Benjamin down, they said to one another, (Genesis 42:21)

"Surely we are being punished
because of our brother.
We saw how distressed he was
when he pleaded with us for his life,
but we would not listen;
that's why this distress
has come upon us."

The brothers had many plans. But the only one that came to pass was selling Joseph into slavery. The other plans, good and bad, never came to fruition. It was God's plan that prevailed. God had a plan for Joseph to go down into Egypt, for Joseph to become Pharaoh's right hand man, and to save his whole family during the famine. (Genesis 45:4-7) God thwarted the plans of men. He brought forth His plan.

Our text tells us that in contrast to man's many plans,

God has one plan and that plan comes to pass.

Men have many plans. But God has one plan.

We have already seen that with man's plans, the 'many' indicated imperfect. God has one plan. That plan is perfect. He doesn't need a backup plan. When Adam and Eve sinned, God didn't need to go to Plan B. No. Before the creation of the world He chose people in Christ. He knows the beginning from the end. He is never taken by surprise. There is never any flaw in His plan. Romans 12:2 says of God's will;

"his good, pleasing and perfect will."

In David's song in 2 Samuel 22:31 he said,

"As for God,
his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD is flawless."

In Deuteronomy 32:4, in his great song, Moses said of God,

"He is the Rock,
his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he."

Not only is God's plan one, perfect, not needing or being capable of any improvement, but

God's purpose prevails.

Our text says,

"it is the Lord's purpose
that prevails."

In the first part of Psalm 33:11 (HCSB) uses the same Hebrew word, translated there as 'counsel'. It says of God's purpose,

"The counsel of the LORD
stands forever,"

God's plan stands firm forever. It does not change. It is one and nothing can stop God's purpose from being fulfilled. Isaiah 14:27 says,

"For the Lord Almighty has purposed,
and who can thwart him?
His hand is stretched out,
and who can turn it back?"

We see the same word used multiple times in Isaiah 46:8–11. God said,

"Remember this, fix it in mind,
take it to heart, you rebels.
Remember the former things,
those of long ago;
I am God,
and there is no other;
I am God,
and there is none like me.
I make known the end
from the beginning,
from ancient times,
what is still to come.
I say:
My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.
From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land,
a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said,
that will I bring about;
what I have planned,
that will I do."

God's purpose never changes. He will bring it to pass.

What does all this mean for us? As we have entered a new year—what does this mean for us?

First for Christians, this means that

you are to be seeking and embracing God's will.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray, (Matthew 6:10)

"your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth
as it is in heaven."

We need to take that seriously. Instead of focusing on our plans, on earthly, temporal things—we need to be seeking what the Lord wants. Jesus told us that we are to, (Matthew 6:33)

"seek first his kingdom
and his righteousness,"

God's will is to be very precious to us. In John 4:34 Jesus said,

"My food is to do the will of him
who sent me and to finish his work."

Whatever situation we find ourselves in, we are to seek to bring glory to Jesus in it. Our will shouldn't matter, it should be so subservient to God's will that it fades into the background.

Secondly, for Christians, this means that

you should believe God's promises.

The fulfillment of God's promises are part of God's perfect purpose. When Judah was threatened, when Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah plotted against it, God said to Judah, (Isaiah 7:5–9)

"Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son
have plotted your ruin, saying,
'Let us invade Judah;
let us tear it apart and divide it
among ourselves,
and make the son of Tabeel
king over it.'
Yet this is what
the Sovereign Lord says:
'It will not take place,
it will not happen,
for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years Ephraim
will be too shattered to be a people."

You can be confident of that God will protect you, keep you safe, bring you to glory. God's purpose to do that is sure. Don't be afraid. Trust God, trust His promises. Put your confidence in that.

He will surely save us. You have nothing to fear. As Jesus said in John 10:27–29,

"My sheep hear My voice,
I know them,
and they follow Me.
I give them eternal life,
and they will never perish—ever!
No one will snatch them out of My hand.
My Father,
who has given them to Me,
is greater than all.
No one is able to snatch them
out of the Father's hand."

As the apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:6,

"being confident of this,
that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus."

What comfort! The purpose of the Lord will prevail. All His promises will come true. Be like Abraham. Romans 4:18 says,

"Against all hope,
Abraham in hope believed and
so became the father of many nations,
just as it had been said to him,
'So shall your offspring be.' "

Thirdly, Christians, recognize that

some of your plans for good will not prevail.

Reuben's plans to rescue Joseph came to nothing. It was because God had bigger plans—to save Jacob's whole family from famine.

If your plans for good don't come to pass—know that God has better plans. Someone has said,

"Write your plans in pencil and let God have the eraser."

God's purpose is to bring forth a new heaven and a new earth with His people there with Him. If you're disappointed that your plans for good don't work out—don't be discouraged. Keep working, keep living for the Lord. Don't give up. The apostle Paul wanted to visit his new converts in Thessalonica. He wrote, (1 Thessalonians 2:17–18)

"But, brothers, when we were
torn away from you
for a short time
(in person, not in thought),
out of our intense longing
we made every effort to see you.
For we wanted to come to you—
certainly I, Paul, did,
again and again—
but Satan stopped us."

Paul pressed on. He kept doing the work of the Lord.

Also know that God will make your plans for holiness prevail. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says,

"It is God's will that you
should be sanctified:"

If you are foiled with outward plans for good—know that it is God's will for you to be holy, to grow in love, in righteousness. His plans there will prevail. Give yourselves to sanctification for God's glory.

Fourthly, for any who are not Christians,

this shows the futility of making plans that are against God's revealed will.

Pharaoh had plans to keep Israel enslaved. His plans were thwarted. Sennacherib, king of Assyria had plans to take Jerusalem. He was right at its gates, yet he failed.

You can't fight against God and win. He offers you peace, peace through Jesus. Go to Jesus. Find life. Psalm 127:1.

"Unless the LORD builds a house,
its builders labor over it in vain;
unless the LORD watches over a city,
the watchman stays alert in vain."

If you don't go to Jesus, all your work will be in vain. Every bit of it.