God often leads us to places we never expected to go. Sometimes it’s to a new house or city, and other times it’s to a new job or church. God’s providence can be even more surprising when it comes to our trials. We may receive a bad medical diagnosis, seemingly out of the blue; family trouble may come at an unexpected moment; or financial calamity may strike without warning. In such times, it can be difficult to understand how God is directing our lives.
Psalm 25 is instructive when we find ourselves in surprising, difficult circumstances like these. Much of Psalm 25 consists of David’s praying to the Lord for help, instruction, and forgiveness. He also praises the Lord for who He is. Building on many of these requests and praises, David says in verse 12: “Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.” This verse has deep significance, though perhaps it’s easy for our eyes to skim over it.
Commentaries describe how the verse can be taken in two different ways. On the one hand, it could mean that “the man who fears the LORD” will be instructed in the way that he—the man—should choose. That is, because the man fears the Lord, whatever direction he chooses will prove instructive, because he fears the Lord and has made a God-fearing choice.
There’s another way that this verse can be understood, however. It could mean that God will instruct “the man who fears the Lord” in the way that He—God—should choose. If we understand the verse in this way, we are prompted to consider the sovereignty of God. He directs all our circumstances such that they turn out for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). Did my house suddenly flood? Did I receive a cancer diagnosis? These circumstances are not outside His control, and though I may not completely understand them, I have His promise that He is instructing me in them. That means that my loving and gracious heavenly Father is intentionally at work in my life. His instruction is often filled with trials and suffering. But in the end, He gives joy (Heb. 12:1–11).
Admittedly, the two ways this verse can be understood are not entirely different. Whether it emphasizes the God-fearing man’s choice or God’s choice for the God-fearing man, God’s sovereignty is still acknowledged as the primary cause for confidence. Matthew Henry points out this paradox in his commentary on this passage: “It comes all to one, for he that fears the Lord chooses the things that please him. If we choose the right way, he that directed our choice will direct our steps, and will lead us in it. If we choose wisely, God will give us grace to walk wisely.” God is always instructing us, even as we make choices and encounter surprising—and sometimes difficult—circumstances, because His sovereignty extends over all things. That is cause for peace, rest, and hope.