Whose Voice Do You Listen To? (a meditation on advice and discernment)

Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom. ~ 2 Samuel 16:23

We’ve all taken bad advice and probably gave some as well. Sometimes it’s a simple mistake because we don’t have all the facts and perspectives. Other times it’s because the people we listened to weren’t as wise as we thought they were.

This is why we need discernment—the ability to not just base our actions and choices on the way something sounds or the perceived authority of the one speaking, but to think through the advice and the consequences.

Ahithophel had been a counselor for King David. When David’s son Absalom persuaded people to support a coup so he could take the throne, David fled for his life but Absalom retained Ahithophel as a trusted advisor. Absalom desired to know how to strengthen his new reign, so he called his advisor and listened to his voice because “the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God.”

In other words, it sounded good. It sounded authoritative. It sounded wise. It sounded like a divine decree.

Yet Ahithophel’s advice was not good. He told Absalom to go sleep with his father’s concubines and make himself a stench to his father to win more support from the people (2 Samuel 16:21). Though a concubine may not have officially been considered a wife, she had several wife-like qualities.[1] And the Old Testament Law spoke against a man bringing shame upon his father in the way that Ahithophel suggested (Leviticus 18:8).

Ahithophel’s words may have sounded like the voice of God but they were far from it.

So it is, when we seek advice from others we need to test it. Even if it sounds good or sounds authoritative and wise, we need to check it with God’s word. God has given us his wisdom. No, he hasn’t spoken directly to every situation we face but the wisdom contained in the Bible will help us keep decisions and advice in proper perspective.

If the advice agrees with God’s word, then it is a good sign that it is at the very least permissible and quite possibly the right thing for the situation. If the advice contradicts God’s word, then it should be avoided at all cost. If the advice doesn’t fit a situation directly addressed by God’s word, then it is an opportunity for more prayer, more seeking, and then doing what we believe is best and right at the moment.

This is true discernment: seeking wisdom and advice from others, but placing God’s word as the supreme word.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

[1] There are, of course, questions as to why God allowed some of his faithful Old Testament saints to have concubines and even practice polygamy. That discussion goes beyond the scope of this present post and will have to wait for another time. However, it fits along with what Jesus said after being asked why the Law of Moses allowed for certificates of divorce if divorce was not good: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8).

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