On Seeking Advice

“Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (Proverbs 13:10).

The Bible reminds us of the value of good advice. Yet seeking that advice requires the right attitude if we are to benefit from it. A person may say he is looking for advice, when he’s really just looking for approval. Perhaps he has already made up his mind and just wants someone to agree with him. Or he is only interested in “advice” that affirms his own ego. Such a person is in no frame of mind to profit from wise counsel.

In the Old Testament I find several people who sought advice, but were too blinded by selfish pride to receive it properly.

Rehoboam was set to become the new king of Israel. But first, the people asked him to lighten the burdens they had endured under his father, Solomon. When Rehoboam consulted the older men who had served his father, they advised that if he kindly granted this request, he would win the people’s loyalty. But Rehoboam rejected their guidance and sought the opinion of his younger peers. Their advice was that he should talk tough with the people and promise to make things even harder. This advice Rehoboam eagerly followed, not because it was wise (it wasn’t), but because it bolstered his own self-importance. The result was the division of the kingdom; ten of the twelve tribes abandoned Rehoboam (1 Kings 12).

King Ahab was planning to go to war. His ally, the godly king Jehoshaphat, insisted on seeking prophetic counsel first. So Ahab gathered 400 of his “prophets”—nothing more than yes-men—who naturally foretold a great victory. But then came Micaiah, a true prophet of God. Ahab hated him because his prophecies about him were always unpleasant. And sure enough, Micaiah said there would be calamity if Ahab went to war. Instead of heeding this inspired counsel, a furious Ahab imprisoned the good prophet and then marched off to battle. The result was the very disaster Micaiah had foretold; in fact, Ahab lost his life (2 Chronicles 18).

Absalom led a rebellion against his father David and forced him to flee Jerusalem. For advice on his next move, Absalom turned to his counselors, Ahithophel and Hushai. The wise Ahithophel advised taking a strike force against David immediately, while the king was still weary and vulnerable. But Hushai (who was secretly working for David) spoke of taking time to muster a grand army from all Israel, with Absalom himself leading them in the assault, overwhelming all who stood in his way. Strategically, Ahithophel’s plan was far better; but the advice of Hushai, appealing as it did to Absalom’s pride, was more pleasing. The result was Absalom’s defeat and death (2 Samuel 17).

A couple of observations: First, Rehoboam, Ahab, and Absalom were not well-intentioned men who just happened to make a poor decision; they were self-willed men who let pride impair their judgment. Second, the Bible makes it clear that God’s providence was at work in all of these cases (1 Kings 12:15; 2 Chronicles 18:22; 2 Samuel 17:14). But notice how the Lord used each man’s own foolish vanity against him. Each of these men faced a pivotal decision; each one sought counsel; each one received advice that was politically or strategically solid; each one instead opted for (poor) advice that was more appealing to his own pride; and each one reaped the disastrous consequences.

You and I may not be kings or princes shaping the fortunes of a nation, but we face important choices. Their effects may be far-reaching—even eternal. Let’s be careful not to let sinful pride get in the way of good counsel. Pride can cause us, like Ahab, to think that we already know best, rejecting any advice that doesn’t conform to our plans. It can cause us, like Rehoboam, to consult unreliable sources—for example, ignoring the wise and experienced in favor of the youthful and trendy. It can cause us, like Absalom, to be suckered in by bad advice that happens to feed our own egos.

Do I appreciate the value of good advice? “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25:11-12).

Am I too self-absorbed to accept guidance when it is offered to me? “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).

Am I humble enough to listen to wise counsel even when it is not enjoyable to hear? “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6).

When others come to me for advice, do I tell them what they want to hear, or what they need to hear? “He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’ peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and a good blessing will come upon them” (Proverbs 24:24-25). “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue” (Proverbs 28:23).

And whether I’m seeking advice or giving it, is it firmly grounded in the word of God? “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).