Whose Steps Are Ordered by God?

“A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?” Proverbs 20:24, NIV.

This verse is in my “pet peeve” file — because I hear it applied in ways I am uncomfortable with, as if all men’s steps are directed by God, making man something of a puppet; or with the thought that once we become Christians, the Holy Spirit directs all of our desires and choices. Thus God gets both the credit and the blame for all we do. How could these interpretations be true when people, saved and unsaved, still behave in ways incompatible with the character of God?
My personal experience and observation is that (1) God doesn’t normally make anyone do anything, and (2) it is all too easy to ignore his offered guidance. When I studied this verse more deeply it turned out to be an excellent example of how clarity comes from looking into the original Hebrew definitions.
To begin with, the word “man” is not the common word meaning mankind (adam) or the one for a male (“iysh“); it is “geber,” which means mankind in the fullness of his strength. A “geber” is a person at his or her strongest, wisest, most fruitful. So this verse isn’t just about any person, it is referring to one who has attained strength or excellence.
Next, the word “directed” (“ordained” in the NASB) is not translated from any Hebrew word at all; this English word has been added to give clarity to the Western mind. A literal translation would read more like, “Man at his greatest, is of the Lord.” In other words, this person got that way because of the Lord’s influence on him, because he has perceived and responded to the Lord’s guidance.
The second half of the verse supports this idea when it asks, “How then can anyone understand his way?” There are only three Hebrew words here: “adam bene derek.” Adam is mankind; bene is “understand or discern,” and “derek” means “way, path, manner, habit, or character.” It might literally read, “Mankind understand (his) ways?” Imagine an incredulous tone here, like, “Are you kidding?”
I think the writer of this Proverb was pointing out that man has a hard time understanding why he does what he does, or what subconscious things motivate him, or the end result of his choices and their effect upon his character. Only the Lord can do this. Proverb Writer is asking, how can mankind, apart from the influence of the Lord, understand how to walk his journey and choose his way of being so that he will arrive at his greatest strength, his geber glory? Only the Lord knows uniquely what each person needs to direct him out of the habits, motives and choices that weaken and rob him. Only God truly knows the heart and what is needed to change it.
My paraphrase, for whatever it’s worth: “When you see a person who has come into his best life and strength, you can know it came about because he let God direct his steps; how else could he have done this, considering man is clueless about how to heal, fix or change himself?”
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…unless you have a better idea. Your thoughts invited, and let me hear from you about your pet peeve verses.