Some people, maybe you, consider the Bible to be a source of good advice. However, there are also plenty of examples of bad decision-making. For the class I teach we covered a few good examples and how we can learn from them.
In each of the cases below, the underlying premise is that God is the source of all wisdom and distancing ourselves from His council increases the chances of big mistakes. As a bonus, I’m including the notes from the follow-up class where we covered a few good examples to compliment the bad.
Israel and the Gibeonites – Joshua 9:3-6,14-16
3 However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. 6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”
14 The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.
16 Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them.
What went wrong? They did not seek God’s council. (see below for how to get God’s council)
Beheading of John the Baptist – Mark 6:18-26
Just to be clear, it was not John that made the mistake, but Herod.
18For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19So Herodias (Herod’s wife) nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
21Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.
We see here that John was beguiled into doing something he would not normally have done.
What went wrong? two things: The influence of an ungodly spouse and having a higher regard for the opinion of his peers than for God.
Johoshaphat and King Ahab – 2 Chronicles 18 (select verses)
1 Jehoshaphat enjoyed great riches and high esteem, and he made an alliance with Ahab of Israel by having his son marry Ahab’s daughter. 2 A few years later he went to Samaria to visit Ahab, who prepared a great banquet for him and his officials. They butchered great numbers of sheep, goats, and cattle for the feast. Then Ahab enticed Jehoshaphat to join forces with him to recover Ramoth-gilead.
3 “Will you go with me to Ramoth-gilead?” King Ahab of Israel asked King Jehoshaphat of Judah.
Jehoshaphat replied, “Why, of course! You and I are as one, and my troops are your troops. We will certainly join you in battle.” 4 Then Jehoshaphat added, “But first let’s find out what the Lord says.”
5 So the king of Israel summoned the prophets, 400 of them, and asked them, “Should we go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should I hold back?”
They all replied, “Yes, go right ahead! God will give the king victory.”
6 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not also a prophet of the Lord here? We should ask him the same question.”
8 So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, “Quick! Bring Micaiah son of Imlah.”
14 When Micaiah arrived before the king, Ahab asked him, “Micaiah, should we go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should I hold back?”
Micaiah replied sarcastically, “Yes, go up and be victorious, for you will have victory over them!”
15 But the king replied sharply, “How many times must I demand that you speak only the truth to me when you speak for the Lord?”
16 Then Micaiah told him, “In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘Their master has been killed. Send them home in peace.’”
If you read on after this you find that Ahab and Jehoshaphat go on into battle despite the warning against doing so. As foretold, Ahab is killed – the only causality – but not in battle, an errant arrow pierces his armour.
What went wrong? Ahab and Jehoshaphat went through the effort to learn what God’s directions were and then promptly ignored them.
To summarize the mistakes:
- Pray to seek God’s council
- Avoid the influence of the ungodly
- Seek the approval of God instead of those of your peers
- Don’t ignore God’s advice
Counterpoint: Examples of good decision makers
Gideon and the fleece – Judges 6:33-40
33 Soon afterward the armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east formed an alliance against Israel and crossed the Jordan, camping in the valley of Jezreel. 34 Then the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him. 35 He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded.
36 Then Gideon said to God, “If you are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised, 37 prove it to me in this way. I will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor tonight. If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised.” 38 And that is just what happened. When Gideon got up early the next morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung out a whole bowlful of water.
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Please don’t be angry with me, but let me make one more request. Let me use the fleece for one more test. This time let the fleece remain dry while the ground around it is wet with dew.” 40 So that night God did as Gideon asked. The fleece was dry in the morning, but the ground was covered with dew.
Gideon highly valued the direction of God and, as we see in chapter 7, obeyed him. But he didn’t trust himself and searched deeper to ensure he was acting in accordance with God’s desires.
What we learned: Understand God’s desires before you act.
Esther prepares to meet the king – Esther 4:10-17, 5:1-3
10 Then Esther told [her servant] to go back and relay this message to Mordecai: 11 “All the king’s officials and even the people in the provinces know that anyone who appears before the king in his inner court without being invited is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter. And the king has not called for me to come to him for thirty days.” 12 So [the servant] gave Esther’s message to Mordecai.
13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”
15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
1 On the third day of the fast, Esther put on her royal robes and entered the inner court of the palace, just across from the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne, facing the entrance. 2 When he saw Queen Esther standing there in the inner court, he welcomed her and held out the gold scepter to her. So Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter.
3 Then the king asked her, “What do you want, Queen Esther? What is your request? I will give it to you, even if it is half the kingdom!”
What we learned: Earnestly seek God’s will
The Bereans – Acts 17:10-12
10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. 12 As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.
What we learned: God’s plan never contradicts the scriptures, therefore always check to ensure your actions are in line with the Bible.
I hope this is helpful to you, the list of good and bad examples is short, share your favourite in the comment area below.