To have spiritual discernment is a very valuable asset. In Scripture we find that there were those who failed in the matter, such as Isaac who did not discern that Jacob was impersonating Esau (Genesis 27:23). He clearly had doubts as to the voice (verse 22), but he clearly allowed these to be overridden by the fact that he felt what he thought were Esau’s hairy hands. Scripture would lead us to know the Lord’s voice. If we know his voice we are not likely to be led astray by a strange voice, as Christ himself said: “The sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out... the sheep follow him, because they know his voice” (John 10:3/4). Consider also the rest of the chapter. It also may be noticed here that Jacob was deceiving his father, but later he was himself deceived by his sons (Genesis 37:32/33). We may say that the government of God overtook him; so that what he did to his father his own sons did to him.
Solomon asked for discernment and he got it (1 Kings 3:7-12). Note that Solomon’s request pleased the Lord. It is like what James says in his epistle: “But if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all freely and reproaches not, and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5). The idea of wisdom is very close to that of discernment, so that Christ speaks of the wisdomof Solomon (Matthew 12:42).
Needless to say, God cannot give to us what he has not got Himself. However, Scripture tells us that God has discernment (1 Chronicles 28:9), though there could never be any possibility of Him not having it as, after all, He is the only wise God (Romans 16:27). God’s word discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
If we look at the case of Joshua, he appears to have been lacking in discernment. He thought that the sound of alternate singing was the sound of war on one occasion (Exodus 32:17). Later, we find that he had not discerned that it was because Israel had sinned that they had lost a battle (Joshua 7:6-12). Then there was the matter of the Gibeonites. He and the princes of Israel were deceived (Joshua 9).
If we come to the positive side in the New Testament we find that Peter had discernment. He discerned that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). God had given him the discernment to see this (verse 17). He discerned that Ananias and Sapphira his wife were not honest, but were trying to get credit for something that they had not done (Acts 5:1-10). Then Peter discerned that Simon (often called the sorcerer) was not right (Acts 8:9-24).
We need to see that not everyone has real discernment. Paul speaks of “discerning of spirits” as a special gift which not all have (1 Corinthians 12:10). People may listen to ministry, that is, someone speaking from a platform. The hearers may discern that what is being said is of the Spirit of God, or perhaps not. They may discern that the speaker’s spirit is not right. I have known such persons.
What we need to see is that discernment is something we can ask God for as the Psalmist did: “Teach me good discernment and knowledge” (Psalm 119:66). Proverbs 1:2 and 2:3 show the value of discernment and the need to be earnest in seeking to get it. This is not to puff us up as knowledge can do (1 Corinthians 8:1), but it is something we can thank God for (1 Corinthians 1:4-8). It appears that Peter had become somewhat inflated as a result of what Christ had said to him as quoted above, because further down the chapter he is found rebuking the Lord (Matthew 16:22).
Maybe in a day to come Christ will say to someone: “Blessed bethy discernment” as David did to Abigail (1 Samuel 25:33), but note he said first: “Blessed be Jehovah” (verse 32). Anything good has its source in God as Christ Himself recognised (Mark 10:18).