“Every road of a man is upright in his own eyes, but Yahweh examines the hearts.” It is natural for people to think that what they do is right. The Hebrew word “way” also means “road,” and the phrase “right in his own eyes” is idiomatic and means, “is right to him,” or “seems right to him.” So the verse could be more colloquially worded as, “Every road a man decides to take seems right to him, but Yahweh weighs the heart.”
The fact that a person thinks that what he is doing is right does not make it right. Obeying God is right and disobeying God is wrong no matter how we think or feel about what we do. God is our Creator and Judge. If a person has an evil or unclean heart, then his thoughts and actions will be ungodly even though he does not realize it. That is why the Bible commands us in James 4:8: “purify your hearts, you double-minded!” Furthermore, we must guard our hearts against becoming evil, because the heart is always changing: “More than everything else you watch over, guard your heart, for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). If a person’s heart is so wrong that he never comes to God and gets saved, then he falls into the category of Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way that leads to death” (see commentary on Prov. 14:12).
The fact that our hearts can be ungodly but we not be aware of it is why it is imperative that we enlist wise and honest counselors to help us stay on track with God (Prov. 11:14; 12:15; 15:22; 24:6). In the law of the United States, “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” and the same is true for the law of God. The Word of God contains God’s commands to us, and we are responsible to obey Him even if we have not taken the time to learn what those commands are. That is why Jesus said, “the one who did not know [the will of God] but did things worthy of stripes, will be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:48), in contrast to the one who knew the will of God but ignored it who will be beaten with many stripes (Luke 12:47). We should want to receive a full reward in the next life, but we can lose it if we disobey knowingly or unknowingly (2 John 1:8). The Word of God is freely available to most people, and the wise take the time to learn it.