Each day brings dozens of decisions. Each day also brings thousands of new books, blogs, articles, and podcasts. Add to this our peer-to-peer connectivity and the result is that we’re more likely to spend hours seeking digital counsel than we are to take that old saint from church to lunch and ask advice.
It’s wise to seek counsel, and the type of counsel we invite matters. The Old Testament king Rehoboam was faced with two types of counsel in 1 Kings 12. Two groups spoke into his life, one older and one younger. The encounters with both can help us better understand the difference between wise counsel and foolish counsel so we can gain discernment for our would-be counselors.
Beware of the Inexperienced
The young men that Rehoboam listened to were inexperienced. While these friends may have been well-intentioned, their inexperience led to some pretty lousy advice. Two things marked their inexperience.
We’re told the inexperienced friends of Rehoboam had “grown up with him and stood before him” (1 Kings 12:8). Their knowledge of kingship and how a kingdom should be managed was dangerously limited.
Contrast this with the other group of old men. They “stood before Solomon” (1 Kings 12:6) who was unsurpassed in wisdom (1 Kings 4:30). Not only this, but they had experience under their belts. These guys were standing before Solomon, gleaning his wisdom, before Rehoboam or his buddies were even born. They’ve seen a thing or two. Not so with Rehoboam’s other friends. They’ve only stood before their peer. Simply put, they were unaware and unqualified to be offering advice to the new king.
The young mens’s ignorance led to yet another mark of their inexperience: arrogance. When advised by the older men, Rehoboam is told to treat the people of the kingdom with understanding. He’s told to speak good words to the people and the result will be their loyalty.
The young men, however, seize their first opportunity to have influence and act arrogantly. They use extreme language, telling Rehoboam to double down on his father’s harsh treatment of the people. Without any experience in running a kingdom, they advise Rehoboam to poise himself with power against the people saying, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs” (1 Kings 12:10).
The combination of ignorance and arrogance in Rehoboam’s friends resulted in a really bad decision. Rehoboam’s harshness toward the people didn’t give him favor or lead to greatness; it led to a great divide that split the kingdom in half.
Befriending the Aged
There are two tragic words used in this passage: abandoned and forsaken. Both are used to describe Rehoboam’s response to the wise counsel of the older men. He abandoned understanding for authoritarianism; he forsook gentleness for grandeur.
This is why we need older people in our lives. Experience often leads to a certain level of knowledge and modesty. Sure, biblical wisdom isn’t confined to an age, but there is something to be said about obedience and service over time.
But we have to A.S.K. for wise counsel.
Step one should always be prioritizing a regular rhythm and space for meeting with God, hearing from him in his word, and responding to him through prayer. The psalmist says Scripture is able to make the simple wise (Psalm 19:7). Paul says the sacred writings are able to make us wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). That salvation is through Jesus, who is the manifestation of wisdom. No other counselor — no matter the life experience — can replace an intimate relationship with Wisdom himself.
Serve the Church
We should be immersing ourselves in the local church. Only in the context of the local church do we rub shoulders with older saints that have the knowledgeable and modest marks of experience.
Two years ago my family was deciding whether or not to leave our role in campus ministry and go to seminary full time. Serving Christ’s church allowed us to take advantage of the gifts he’s given to his bride. We had a pastor to meet with. We had elders to offer advice. We had older mentors to weigh in.
It was hard to hear the consensus: Going to seminary now was unwise. In fact, talking with them revealed an arrogance and ignorance in my own heart. Thankfully, I was committed to their wise counsel over my deceitful heart.
What God has done in my heart and marriage over the past two years has made losing my heart’s desire worth it. And truth be told, if I had followed the advice of my peers, I’d have a diploma without many of those blessings.
Know the Story
But too much counsel can lead to decision paralysis. There’s a verse in this passage that can give us some peace even as we navigate how to make wiser decisions. After Rehoboam took the foolish counsel of his friends, we’re told it was “a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word” (1 Kings 12:15).
The Lord used foolish counsel to fulfill his word. God had promised Solomon that he would tear the kingdom from his son’s hands because of the sin Israel had committed (1 Kings 11:11). And while this promise was one of destruction, there’s a certain peace in knowing that God orchestrates even our bad decisions. In the end, our foolishness cannot trump the wisdom of God.
God used foolish counsel to tear a kingdom in two. And God used the foolishness of the cross to bring King and rebel together. We should seek out the wisdom of older saints, knowing that ultimately, we’re not saved by counsel, but by the cross.