Proverbs 11:14). The truth of this proverb is conditioned by one of two things. It assumes that the counsellors are -
1. All wise and true. But this cannot be said of any human assembly, or parliament, or senate, or cabinet. If any body of counsellors could lay just claim to it, then the safety of a perfect wisdom and truth would be the necessary result. Nothing could resist its power. This condition, however, being impossible, we must resort to the alternative assumption, viz., that the counsellors are -
2. All free. In this case the conflict of opinion and aim must ultimately bring to the light what is just and good. It is the principle of free discussion that governs the proceedings of our modern parliaments. Prejudice and corrupt motive may find a place in the doings of such parliaments, but through the controversies which arise truth gradually emerges into power, and sooner or later shapes itself into irreversible laws. Circumstances, however, may elicit advice which is opposed to the better knowledge or free judgment of those who give it. A despotic king, or an infatuated people, may destroy counsel, or force it away from the lines of truth, "What to do with Vashti?" was the proposition of the king to his wise men. From the advice which was given and accepted we learn -
I. SOME OF THE MARKS OF GOOD COUNSEL.
1. It does not flatter. The words of Memucan were framed to please the king. They were very artful in their flattery. Vashti's sin against the king was expanded into a sin against all the husbands in the empire. Her punishment would confer a benefit on both "princes and people" in all the provinces. A soothing and solace to the king's wounded vanity! The desire to please and the desire to be pleased are both enemies to good counsel.
2. It is above fear. As the fear of disgrace or suffering is the greatest trial to honesty of counsel, so the conquering of such a fear, in circumstances that seemed to justify it, is its greatest triumph. Here Memucan and his companions failed. They knew the anger that burned in the king's heart, and their advice showed an anxiety to avert the effects of that anger from themselves. They valued their heads more than their virtue. Under fear, wisdom was willing to assume the guise of cunning. To get good counsel it is better to win confidence than to inspire fear. Fear is always false; love only is true.
3. It is unselfish. Whenever counsel is given, whether with or without asking, it should be entirely in the interest of those to whom it is given. Any underlying element of selfish thought is weakening, if not vitiating. It is clear that Memucan and his fellow wisdom-mongers had much regard to their own position in the advice which they gave.
4. It is just. It takes into view the interests of those whose character or position may be affected by it. Unfair or one-sided judgments arc opposed to it. In Vashti's case the counsel given assumed that she had been guilty of conduct that deserved the severest punishment, without so much as noticing the circumstances which led to it and which may have justified or palliated it. It was assumed that the queen had been disobedient, had set a bad example, and had injured not only the king, but the whole empire. Nothing was said of the folly of the king's command. Nothing was allowed for the womanly feelings that were outraged by it. Injustice in counsel deprives it of the quality of goodness or true wisdom.
5. It is reasonable. Any counsel which violates common sense, or bears a ludicrous aspect, is unworthy to he given or followed. Such counsel can only be offered to men who are known to lack a reasonable mind, or come from men who are swayed rather by policy than by principle. The advice given about Vashti is so foolish in its form as to suggest that the "wise men" were befooling their king.
II. HOW DIFFICULT IT IS FOR THE GREAT TO GET GOOD COUNSEL! To secure that advice shall be founded on truth, they must -
1. Be known to desire the truth. For the most part, a man possessing power will only receive counsel that is fashioned to suit his character and wishes. If he loves and seeks the truth, those who advise him will speak the truth. A wise and truthful counsel will grow up around him. But if he lives falsely and hates to be disturbed in his false living, the counsel that is given him will be after his liking.
2. Be able to discern the truth. Good instincts will not protect a weak man from the impositions of plausible cunning. A desire to learn and to do what is right may be defeated by a want of capacity to distinguish between competing counsels. This power of discernment, with respect to the quality of advice, greatly varies in men. Some possess it as a natural gift; some only acquire it after long experience; many never get hold of it; all have need to cultivate it with earnest care. It is a great power in the practical conduct of life.
3. Be resolute to learn the truth. For kings and other great people to get good counsel, it must be known that they will only listen to counsel that is good. A desire for the truth, and a capacity to discern it, may be accompanied by an utter want of active and determined will. Then counsel will become uncertain; honest thoughts will grow timorous in expression; dishonest thoughts will grow bold. An irresolute will favours the solicitude of bad guides. As there is a Divine Counsellor, so there is a Divine counsel - the word of the living God - holy, wise, true, just, loving, and safe. All who take and follow that counsel are made "wise unto salvation," and are "well instructed" in the things that are "unto holiness," and that "belong to peace." - D.
What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law.
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