I’m still processing all the incredible teaching and advice from the author course I just finished. I trust those industry experts’ advice. Why? Because their results prove their advice works. They’ve demonstrated it in their lives, their clients’ lives, and I’m [just] starting to reproduce it in my life. Also, those instructors are Christians. I know they hold themselves to a higher standard than the world’s.
That got me thinking about advice versus counsel.
The world is full of advice, whether we ask for it or not. Relationship advice. Financial advice. Coronavirus advice. We’d like to turn a deaf ear to most of it—much like Job after he’d listened to his friends’ “advice” long enough (Job 15:8). In frustration, Job finally shouted, “Do you have a monopoly on wisdom?”
(You go, Job!)
Interestingly, God distinguishes between advice and counsel. So should we.
Pros and Cons of Advice
In the Old Testament, the word “advice” (etsah) occurs eighty-nine times. Etsah can be good or bad advice. But, notably, it’s always human advice.
When Saul was hunting David, he cried out to God, “How long must I make decisions [etsah] alone with sorrow in my heart day after day?” (Psalm 13:2, GOD’s WORD Translation) In other words, “I’ve thought of everything I could do, taken my own best advice—and still nothing has changed.”
As king, David’s most trusted advisor was Ahithophel. His advice was so valued that it “was like the consultation of the word of God” (2 Samuel 16:23, BSB). Unfortunately, Ahithophel played both ends against the middle when he joined Absolom’s revolt against David (2 Samuel 15–17).
Remember the prophet Nathan? In 1 Kings 12, when David is very old, Nathan advises David’s wife, Bathsheba, to present herself to David so she can argue for Solomon becoming king. Another one of David’s sons was declaring himself king—just because he thought he could—and Bathsheba needed to stand in the breach.
Thankfully, Solomon does become king. But when his son Rehoboam ascends the throne, he ignores the sage advice of elders and the pleas of his subjects. Instead, Rehoboam listens to the advice of “young men.” Unseasoned, unlearned upstarts (1 Kings 12:13-14). Part of that fallout is the united kingdom of Israel becomes divided.
People’s advice can be fallible, yet God-inspired advice has value. In Exodus 18:13-26, Moses took wise advice from his father-in-law when the burdens of leading the Israelites overwhelmed him. Proverbs 15:22 says input from many advisors helps plans succeed.
Counsel’s Higher Altitude and Attitude
So what is “counsel”? Intuitively, the word seems weightier than advice. That’s objectively true in the Bible. It always associates counsel with God. There’s no committee—and an ocean of difference stands between the Bible’s definitions of advice and counsel.
Ephesians 1:11 (ESV) says, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel [boule] of his will.”
[My apologies … Boule contains an accent mark that doesn’t “translate” in this format.]
Boule means a resolved plan. No polling “here’s what I think.” Boule refers to God’s immutable plans, joined at the hip to His eternal purposes. As much as you’d like to give God input to help His plans unfold the way you think they should, God works everything according to His own counsel. (Aren’t you glad?)
The only time the Bible mentions etsah/advice and God in the same sentence is when God challenges human wisdom. For example (Job 38:2, BSB), God asks Job, “Who is this who obscures My counsel [etsah] by words without knowledge?” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?”
Shut my mouth.
I’m grateful for people’s advice. But: Human advice must pass through the sifter of God's discernment (Psalm 119:25). Click To Tweet David pleaded with God, “Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on your commands” (Psalm 119:166, CSB).
We should yearn after God’s counsel. Not man’s advice.
Easy to say. Hard to do.
When your mind races with “what ifs” and “what abouts,” inhale deeply and say, “God, I need Your counsel. Your wisdom. Not mine. Please calm my heart and mind to hear what You want me to say and do.”
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve prayed that during this pandemic. But it works. It’ll for you, too.