2 Samuel 17 – Absalom Decides His Direction
A. The advice of Ahithophel and of Hushai.
1. (1-4) The counsel of Ahithophel.
Moreover Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Now let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and weak, and make him afraid. And all the people who are with him will flee, and I will strike only the king. Then I will bring back all the people to you. When all return except the man whom you seek, all the people will be at peace.” And the saying pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel.
a. I will arise and pursue David tonight: Ahithophel advised a quick, selective attack against David only (I will strike only the king). He advised urgency, doing it all while David was still west of the Jordan River.
b. I will strike only the king: This slip of the tongue was more like an unknowing prophecy. Deep in his heart even Ahithophel knew that David was the real king.
c. And the saying please Absalom and all the elders of Israel: Ahithophel’s plan was smart. It was bold and had a high probability of success and it would spare Israel a protracted civil war between the supporters of David and the supporters of Absalom.
2. (5-10) Hushai disagrees with Ahithophel’s advice.
Then Absalom said, “Now call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he says too.” And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom spoke to him, saying, “Ahithophel has spoken in this manner. Shall we do as he says? If not, speak up.” So Hushai said to Absalom: “The advice that Ahithophel has given is not good at this time.” “For,” said Hushai, “you know your father and his men, that they are mighty men, and they are enraged in their minds, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field; and your father is a man of war, and will not camp with the people. Surely by now he is hidden in some pit, or in some other place. And it will be, when some of them are overthrown at the first, that whoever hears it will say, ‘There is a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ And even he who is valiant, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will melt completely. For all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and those who are with him are valiant men.”
a. Now call Hushai the Archite: It is a remarkable evidence of the hand of God and answer to David’s prayer in 2 Samuel 15:31 that Absalom even asked for another opinion after such wise, well-received counsel.
b. The advice that Ahithophel has given is not good at this time: We can imagine that Hushai’s heart sank when heard of the smart plan Ahithophel suggested. He had to quickly think of a counter-plan so that he could defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, as David asked him to do in 2 Samuel 15:32-35.
c. You know your father and his men, that they are mighty men: Hushai spoke of the David of the past, not the David of the present. Hushai saw David with his own eyes and knew that he was not strong and mighty. He hoped that Absalom would vividly remember the David of the past.
d. Like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field… by now he is hidden is some pit: Hushai knew David could barely keep himself together, but he effectively painted the picture that David and his men were dangerous and should not be attacked quickly.
e. There is a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom: Hushai’s point is that it was too risky to attack David immediately. We can imagine that he said all this praying that God would indeed answer David’s prayer and defeat the counsel of Ahithophel.
3. (11-13) Hushai advises Absalom to raise a huge army and get David in person.
“Therefore I advise that all Israel be fully gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, like the sand that is by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. So we will come upon him in some place where he may be found, and we will fall on him as the dew falls on the ground. And of him and all the men who are with him there shall not be left so much as one. Moreover, if he has withdrawn into a city, then all Israel shall bring ropes to that city; and we will pull it into the river, until there is not one small stone found there.”
a. I advise that all Israel be fully gathered: This would take time. Hushai not only wanted to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, he also wanted to do whatever he could to buy David more time before the inevitable attack came.
b. And that you go to battle in person: This suggestion favored Absalom’s vanity. He could prove that he was a mighty soldier like his father David. In Ahithophel’s plan Ahithophel led the battle; in Hushai’s plan Absalom led the battle.
4. (14) Absalom and the elders favor Hushai’s advice.
So Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The advice of Hushai the Archite is better than the advice of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had purposed to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring disaster on Absalom.
a. The advice of Hushai the Archite is better than the advice of Ahithophel: This was the first time anyone said this – people always favored the advice of Ahithophel. One reason Absalom liked Hushai’s advice was because it appealed to his vanity.
b. The LORD had purposed to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel: This was the greater reason why the advice of Ahithophel was rejected. God was in control. The throne of Israel belonged to Him, and He could grant it or deny at His will.
i. Absalom had the smartest man in Israel on his side, but David’s prayer was mightier than Ahithophel’s smarts. God led Ahithophel to give foolish counsel that was listened to (as in 2 Samuel 16:20-23). God allowed Ahithophel to give great advice and yet have it be rejected. God was in control; the LORD had purposed.
ii. “This is one of the great principles of life which every page of the Bible emphasizes and illustrates. Men cannot escape God. They go their own way, but that way never sets them free from the authority and the invincible power of God.” (Morgan)
iii. We see that the LORD purposed to defeat the good advice of Ahithophelbecause David prayed. Prayer moves the hand of God, and David prayed: O Lord, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness! (2 Samuel 15:31)
c. That the LORD might bring disaster on Absalom: In all of this there was a severe chastening for David, and he knew it. Yet God did not forsake David during this time of chastening. He was there for David at this time also. He was not out to destroy David, but to correct him.
B. David is warned of Absalom’s plan.
1. (15-16) Zadok sends his sons to tell David.
Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, “Thus and so Ahithophel advised Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and so I have advised. Now therefore, send quickly and tell David, saying, ‘Do not spend this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily cross over, lest the king and all the people who are with him be swallowed up.’”
a. Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: This is exactly what David had in mind when he sent Hushai and the priests back to Absalom (2 Samuel 15:35-36).
b. Do not spend this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily cross over: Hushai meant that David should cross over the Jordan River, giving him room and time to regroup before Absalom’s attack.
2. (17-22) David is warned.
Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz stayed at En Rogel, for they dared not be seen coming into the city; so a female servant would come and tell them, and they would go and tell King David. Nevertheless a lad saw them, and told Absalom. But both of them went away quickly and came to a man’s house in Bahurim, who had a well in his court; and they went down into it. Then the woman took and spread a covering over the well’s mouth, and spread ground grain on it; and the thing was not known. And when Absalom’s servants came to the woman at the house, they said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” So the woman said to them, “They have gone over the water brook.” And when they had searched and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem. Now it came to pass, after they had departed, that they came up out of the well and went and told King David, and said to David, “Arise and cross over the water quickly. For thus has Ahithophel advised against you.” So David and all the people who were with him arose and crossed over the Jordan. By morning light not one of them was left who had not gone over the Jordan.
a. A man’s house in Bahurim: Jonathan and Ahimaaz could find help along the way. The whole nation had not gone over to Absalom, especially since he publicly disgraced David’s concubines.
b. So David and all the people who were with him arose and crossed over the Jordan: Because of this successful intelligence operation, David escaped the immediate danger from Absalom.
3. (23) Ahithophel commits suicide.
Now when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed, he saddled a donkey, and arose and went home to his house, to his city. Then he put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died; and he was buried in his father’s tomb.
a. When Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed: Ahithophel did not kill himself over hurt feelings because his counsel was rejected. Instead, he was wise enough to know that under Hushai’s plan Absalom would fail and Ahithophel would be implicated in the conspiracy. He knew all was lost.
b. He put his household in order, and hanged himself: Ahithophel committed suicide, and we know that suicide is a sin because it is self-murder and God commanded you shall not murder (Exodus 20:13). Yet suicide should not be regarded as an unforgivable sin. Anyone who does commit suicide has given in to the lies and deceptions of Satan, whose purpose is to kill and destroy (John 10:10).
i. “Suicide is always the ultimate action of cowardice. In the case of Saul, and in many similar cases, it is perfectly natural; but let it never be glorified as heroic. It is the last resort of the man who dare not stand up to life.” (Morgan)
ii. “I desire to call your attention to the text on account of its very remarkable character. ‘He put his house in order, and hanged himself.’To put his house in order, showed that he was a prudent man; to hang himself, proved that he was a fool. Herein is a strange mixture of discretion and desperation, mind and madness. Shall a man have wisdom enough to arrange his worldly affairs with care, and yet shall he be so hapless as to take his own life afterwards?” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Thousands set their houses in order, but destroy their souls; they look well to their flocks and their herds, but not to their hearts’ best interests. They gather broken shells with continuous industry, but they throw away priceless diamonds. They exercise forethought, prudence, care, everywhere but where they are most required. They save their money, but squander their happiness; they are guardians of their estates, but suicides of their souls.” (Spurgeon)
4. (24-26) Absalom crosses the Jordan to pursue David.
Then David went to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed over the Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him. And Absalom made Amasa captain of the army instead of Joab. This Amasa was the son of a man whose name was Jithra, an Israelite, who had gone in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother. So Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead.
a. Absalom crossed over the Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him: Now Absalom was the head of Israel’s army. This was good for Absalom’s vanity, but bad for success on the battlefield.
i. “Absalom’s vanity ensured his ruin.” (Morgan)
b. Absalom made Amasa captain of the army instead of Joab: Amasa was the son of a niece of David and a cousin of Joab.
5. (27-29) David finds supporters in Gilead.
Now it happened, when David had come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the people of Ammon, Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds and basins, earthen vessels and wheat, barley and flour, parched grain and beans, lentils and parched seeds, honey and curds, sheep and cheese of the herd, for David and the people who were with him to eat. For they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”
a. Shobi… Machir… Barzillai: These otherwise obscure men are given special mention because they helped David in a time of great need. Friends in need are friends indeed.
b. The people are hungry and weary and thirst in the wilderness: These helpers of David were not dramatic warriors, but they helped David in this crisis as much as the bravest soldier. They were specially sent by God to comfort David in his affliction.
i. “It was as though God stooped over that stricken soul, and as the blows of the rod cut long furrows in the sufferer’s back, the balm of Gliead was poured into the gaping wounds. Voices spoke more gently; hands touched his more softly; pitiful compassion rained tender assurances about his path; and, better than all, the bright-harnessed angels of God’s protection encamped about his path and his lying down.” (Meyer)
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