“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”
(Proverbs 11:14)

“Majority is right!” This seems to be the mantra and guiding principle in the world today. The acceptance of this saying is perhaps exacerbated by the rise of democracy as the system of government in many countries today. The government is voted in by the people and policies are decided by the populace. As a result, the leadership of the country can easily be tempted to play to the demands of the populace. In such cases, might in terms of numbers is considered as right.

This philosophy has sadly crept into the church today. Many decisions are made on the basis of the majority. Some have resorted to Proverbs 11:14b in support of this practice – “. . . but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety”. This is sometimes termed euphemistically as “the collective wisdom of the people”.

This ill-understanding of the proverb is also reflected in certain commentaries. One commentator remarked, “Finding such wise counsel comes not just from seeking one source, but an ‘abundance of counsellors’. Through the diversity of their insights, one may begin to detect a pattern of common agreement. The proclivities of one and the opinions of the few are balanced by the collective wisdom of many.”

A look at daily situations reveal that there are times where the majority can be drastically wrong. We may recall certain multiple choice or “True or False” questions where the majority has actually chosen an answer that is wrong. If the majority claims that “1+1=3”, does that make the statement right? Certainly not! Let us also bear in mind that majority in the world do not believe that Jesus Christ is God. Does that mean that they are right? The answer would once again be an emphatic “No”!

History also warns us against basing our decisions upon the majority. In the time of the Judges, the children of Israel did what was right in their own eyes, and ultimately sinned against God. The culmination of this resulted in Israel’s rejection of the rule of God in the nation (theocracy). By the power of the people (democracy), Israel demanded a human king just like the surrounding nations (monarchy). In the time of the Apostles, many rejected the message of Christianity. Paul had to face persecution from both the Gentiles and his countrymen for the sake of the gospel. But this does not negate the fact that the gospel of Christ is the truth.

Of course, one must not swing to the extreme to claim that the “collective wisdom” has no merit. It is true that “what one may miss another may hit upon” (Gill). But a critical factor in deciding the success of the group would be who the counsellors are. If the collective is made up of those who are wise, then we can be assured that the counsel rendered by this multitude of sages would be for the benefit of everyone. But if the council is made up of men who are fools, you can be very sure that the advice rendered would surely result in disaster.

This is the point which the proverb is trying to prove. The teaching of Proverbs 11:14 is not focusing on the merits of consulting a multitude for advice, but rather the importance of men who are truly wise in God’s Word. This can be seen in the use of the two words for “counsel” in the Proverb.

The first word for “counsel” is the term tachbulāh. This is a nautical term which involves the action of rope-pulling in order to steer a ship on the right course. The counsel given in this proverb is therefore right counsel that is given from God’s Word. An absence of good advice from God’s Word is a sure recipe for disaster. This was the experience of the nation of Israel. When there was a lack of men who were truly wise in the Word of God, the nation duly fell. When the priests were derelict in their duty, and false prophets arose to pevert the Word of God, the people plunged in gross wickedness and immorality. There was still much “counsel” and “advice” given by the derelict priests and false prophets, but it was bad advice and counsel that kills.

On the other hand, we are told in the second half of the proverb that “in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” The term for “counsellors” here is yoētz, which is the general term for any advice or counsel. Since it is used with the term tachbulāh, it has to refer to godly counsellors who are wise in God’s Word. It is interesting, however, that the term is written in the singular (i.e. literally “multitude of counsellor”). This multitude of counsellors are not a group with diversified opinions and spirits. Rather they are of one mind and one spirit, founded upon the forever inerrant and infallible Word of everlasting life, which is our sole supreme authority of faith and practice. This certainly flies in the face of those who likes to consult multiple views and opinions before picking their desired answer as though life decisions are like “multiple choice questions”!

What happens when we are blessed by a united group of wise men who are wise in God’s Word? The proverb tells us that “there is safety”. The term “safety” (yāshav) describes deliverance from a precarious situation. The Bible views God’s people as being found in precarious and perilous times from which they are to be delivered. When there is a presence of God-fearing men who are wise in His truth, the advice and counsel delivered will guide God’s people through these dangerous situations and there will be refuge and safety. Are not God’s people in a time of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20)? Therefore, right counsellors of God’s Word are exactly what the nation of Israel needed for them to be an effective witness for Christ in the world of darkness.

The principle of Proverbs 11:14 can be seen in Biblical Church government. The Bible teaches that the local church is governed not by one man but by a plurality of elders or presbyters (from the Greek presbuteros). But these presbyters are not to be any men but those who are the most spiritually mature and qualified in the church. That is the reason God gave us the qualification of the elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9. The deacons will then assist the Board of Elders in ensuring that the administration of the church is running smoothly. They are also to be spiritually qualified men (see 1 Timothy 3:8-13). Together with the Board of Elders, they would form the Session of the church. When qualified men who are wise in God’s Word are in place within the church, the result would be a leadership of one mind and one spirit in the Word of God. There would then be safety with the church. On the other hand, a leadership void of knowledge of God’s Word would soon result in the fall of the church.

The principle of Proverbs 11:14 should also be applied at all levels of the church. Those leading fellowship groups and committees should be people who are well-grounded in the Bible. Sadly, there is a proliferation of bad advice and counsel, but a dearth of good advice from God’s Word because the “counsellors” know so little of God’s Word and the truth. There are many today who promote so-called “counselling” ministries in the churches, yet offer so little in terms of the true wisdom of God’s Word.

Now the Bible also exhorts us that we should encourage and admonish one another (Romans 15:14; Galatians 6:1-2; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24). It is a duty and not an option. But what kind of counsel and advice do we give to our fellow brethren? What is the spirit in which we counsel others? Is it based upon the Word of God? How are we able to counsel correctly if we are not well-versed in God’s Word? Therefore it is imperative that every Christian must know God’s Word well, otherwise he is not able to fulfill his role of encouraging and admonishing one another! We are therefore thankful to God to see members attend the Sunday School and the FEBC Night Classes. May the Lord grant us an increased appetite for His Word!

In conclusion, Proverbs 11:14 teaches us the importance of having counsellors who are wise in God’s Word. When they are absent, the people will be destroyed. But when there is a group of men who are committed and wise in His Word, God can use this group of men who are united in His Word as instruments to bring about the work of deliverance. What the church needs are men and women who are wise and mature in God’s Word. Our prayer is that God would raise such men and women from our midst who will stand like young Daniel in a time of worldliness, falsehood and apostasy, even if it means being the minority.

Let us always bear in mind – “Not might is right, but right is might”. Amen.

Loving in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew