Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.
It takes skill to discover what others really think. What wise men think could help you succeed. What fools think could cost you dearly. Only a man of understanding will have the ability and patience to extract personal plans and opinions out of others.
The simile here compares a deep well, where the water lies well below the surface of the ground. In order to obtain the water, significant ingenuity and labor must be put forth to reach so far down and bring the water to the surface. Only creative and diligent persons will identify the means and put forth the effort. Most will look elsewhere for easier water.
There are reasons it takes similar skill to draw counsel out of others. First, they may fear letting their opinions be known. Second, they may by godliness and graciousness be modest men, and though gifted, reticent and slow to speak and discuss. Third, they may be planning sinful things, and to admit their thoughts would be to condemn themselves.
There is a positive and negative side to this proverb’s lesson. The positive application is your benefit or need to extract prudent and practical advice from wise counselors for your safety or success. The negative application is your need to discover dangerous plans lurking in the hearts or minds of those that could harm others, themselves, or you.
Good counsel from a multitude of wise advisors is necessary for your success – this is one of the most important rules of wisdom, which Solomon often repeated (Pr 11:14; 12:15; 15:22; 19:20; 20:18; 24:6). It is a very precious thing – like good cologne rejoicing the heart – to get hearty counsel from a friend (Pr 27:9; 24:26; 15:23; 25:11-12).
But obtaining such counsel may be difficult, for true wise men are also godly and sober, not willing to speak until asked properly for the right reasons (Pr 10:19; 15:2,28; 17:27; 29:11). There are also shallow wells and foaming fountains, but they are to be compared to the cackling noise of fools pouring out only folly (Pr 15:28; 29:11,20; Eccl 10:12-14).
If the wise counselor is fearful (it could be for many reasons), you should respectfully assure him that you appreciate any advice he might give, that you will use it discreetly, and that there are no strings attached and no liability or obligation on his part. You should be very cautious to criticize his advice. Let him advise you, not the other way around.
If the wise counselor is modest (it could be either appropriately or excessively), you should remind him that you need him, that he has the years, experience, or reputation for wisdom, and that you are obeying Solomon’s wisdom to ask him. You should provide sufficient background to assist his analysis and thank him well for anything he offers.
A man of understanding will know how to take the elementary advice of the previous two paragraphs and leverage it into a successful interview with either kind of wise counselor – the fearful or the modest. With both counselors, you must be open enough yourself to prove your sincerity. By practicing godly character and holding humble respect for knowledgeable men, you will learn how to draw much pure water from deep wells.
Consider Abigail’s wisdom dealing with her foolish husband and wise David. Her timing, use of gifts, great humility, gentle approach, and prudent conclusions drew water deep from David’s heart to a great victory that day (and marriage in ten days!). Consider also how the queen of Sheba approached King Solomon to learn his wisdom (I Kgs 10:1-7).
Those in authority must discover the other kind of counsel – the plans of fools or wicked men that they keep hidden for fear of punishment (Pr 25:2; 29:19; Deut 13:12-15; I Cor 1:10-13). This is the work of fathers, masters, husbands, rulers, and pastors. They must create security, plan a wise approach, and explore with wise questions to prime the pump.
Parent, do you often communicate with your children to learn their hearts and minds about the things concerning them most? Do you have the understanding taught in this proverb to draw out their inner fears and thoughts? Can you combine love, knowledge, and authority, in that order, to open your children’s hearts and help them (Pr 23:26)?
Better yet, child, do you go to the well of counsel in your house and get the advice and help you need to succeed? While you may think you know something at 16 or 26, you are in serious need of counsel. Do you know how to draw out sincere and loving instruction from your parents? This is the lesson. Open up to them, and learn from them today.
The Christian God is like no other. His counsel is not hidden away with the ancients, nor buried in endless verbal traditions, nor disguised in obscure hieroglyphics, nor reserved for some priesthood, nor chanted nonsensically in Arabic or Latin. What is needful for you is plainly written in the Bible (Deut 29:29; Ps 19:7-11; 119:128; II Tim 3:16-17).
Jesus Christ is called Counselor for the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are hidden in Him (Is 9:6; Col 2:3). Do you know Him? Do you love Him? He said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). And, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).