II Samuel 17:15-29
15 Hushai told Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, “Ahithophel has advised Absalom and the elders of Israel to do such and such, but I have advised them to do so and so. 16 Now send a message at once and tell David, ‘Do not spend the night at the fords in the wilderness; cross over without fail, or the king and all the people with him will be swallowed up.’” 17 Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying at En Rogel. A female servant was to go and inform them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they could not risk being seen entering the city. 18 But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So the two of them left at once and went to the house of a man in Bahurim. He had a well in his courtyard, and they climbed down into it. 19 His wife took a covering and spread it out over the opening of the well and scattered grain over it. No one knew anything about it. 20 When Absalom’s men came to the woman at the house, they asked, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” The woman answered them, “They crossed over the brook.” The men searched but found no one, so they returned to Jerusalem. 21 After they had gone, the two climbed out of the well and went to inform King David. They said to him, “Set out and cross the river at once; Ahithophel has advised such and such against you.” 22 So David and all the people with him set out and crossed the Jordan. By daybreak, no one was left who had not crossed the Jordan. 23 When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb. 24 David went to Mahanaim, and Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. 25 Absalom had appointed Amasa over the army in place of Joab. Amasa was the son of Jether, an Ishmaelite who had married Abigail, the daughter of Nahash (possibly another name of Jessie) and sister of Zeruiah the mother of Joab. 26 The Israelites and Absalom camped in the land of Gilead. 27 When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim 28 brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, 29 honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, “The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.”
What happens to us in the process of life, career or service to God, is not as influential or important as how we finish. In these verses David is still in the processes of life and serving his God. His course of action and attitude will lead him through more years of difficulties and successes and eventually to a completion of his desire to prepare for the construction of the temple and seeing his son, Solomon, ascend to the throne. Ahithophel, however, does not finish well. A leader’s last actions are often the most important and to finish well is a worthy goal for all who want to influence others well.
1. The Spy Network is Successful 15-22
We may assume that Absalom, having made a decision about his course of action, began to implement Hushai’s advice. They probably congratulated themselves on their certain up-coming victory and send word to all the tribes of Israel to gather together. David’s friends, meanwhile, focus on getting the message to David that would bring him up-to-date. Following David’s arrangements, Hushai informed the priests about his meeting with Absalom and his counselors. Verses 15-16 say, “Hushai told Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, ‘Ahithophel has advised Absalom and the elders of Israel to do such and such, but I have advised them to do so and so. Now send a message at once and tell David, “Do not spend the night at the fords in the wilderness; cross over without fail, or the king and all the people with him will be swallowed up.”’”
Evidently Hushai was either not certain what Absalom had decided or, perhaps, he thought Absalom could change his mind. He had been called in to give the advice and it is possible he had also been dismissed before the decision was made. Hushai’s message to David contained advice as to what to do in the event that Absalom does not do what Hushai had advised. Hushai was wise to do this. He did not want David and his army to be swallowed up. To be careful is usually prudent.
Anyway, the message was delivered to the priests who passed it to the young woman who was to deliver it to the two sons of the priests Jonathan and Ahimahaz for delivery to David.
Absalom was evidently exercising caution too, because the two messengers needed to wait at En-Rogel. Verse 17 says, “Jonathan and Ahimahaz were staying at En Rogel. A female servant was to go and inform them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they could not risk being seen entering the city.” Instructions were sent to them by a poor simple young woman, who possibly went to that well pretending to get water.
Absalom’s network was busy too and a young man saw the two sons of the priests. Verses 18-19 say, “But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So the two of them left at once and went to the house of a man in Bahurim. He had a well in his courtyard, and they climbed down into it. His wife took a covering and spread it out over the opening of the well and scattered grain over it. No one knew anything about it.” Not long before this, David himself had been there at Bahurim. The two boys hiding in the well, the ingenious woman covering the well with a cloth and scattering grain over it, and the successful escape of the two to go on their journey is as interesting a story as you will see in any movie today. The pursuers did not even know there was a well as they eventually also went on their way.
When the two pursuers returned to Jerusalem and Absalom without their captives, it is good that Absalom did not kill the two fathers, Zadok and Abiathar, as Saul did to Ahimelek when Ahimelek had helped David. Verse 21 tells of their success, “After they had gone, the two climbed out of the well and went to inform King David. They said to him, ‘Set out and cross the river at once; Ahithophel has advised such and such against you.’” So the two messengers reached David successfully. And as a result of this success David and his men crossed the Jordan. “So David and all the people with him set out and crossed the Jordan. By daybreak, no one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.”
On the other side of the Jordan was a Levites’ city in the territory of Gad named Mahanaim. This was not far from Rabbah a chief city of the Ammonites. Abner had taken Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, there and made him king when Saul died. David followed the advice of Hushai and fled across the Jordan and went to that city. No one was left behind as they crossed the Jordan or as they marched further. There were none so tired that they could not make this last part of their journey. There were no accidents. Everyone fled successfully. So David now had time to raise an Army to fight against the rebels. Hushai had given good counsel—good for David—to Absalom.
2. The End of Ahithophel 23
Howsoever wise Ahtihophel had been and no matter how astute and helpful he had been to David, Ahithophel, at the end of his life made a tragically unwise and very foolish decision. He killed himself. The story line seems to indicate that his biggest problem was that his advice was not followed. So in this sad part of the narrative we can learn several critical things. Suicide is very inconsiderate of others who love us and causes one’s family to suffer immensely. But, beyond that, there is much to learn from this unique story as we will discover by the power of the living Word of God—life-giving lessons out of a life-taking story.
He hanged himself because his advice was not taken. He was so upset and disturbed that he deliberately went home, put things in order and hanged himself. He felt slighted. His judgment had always been appreciated and accepted but now he felt an intolerable insult cast on his reputation for wisdom. His judgment always used to hold sway at the counsel-board, but now another’s opinion and wisdom is thought wiser and better than his. His problem was his pride. His proud heart cannot bear the affront and the more he considered it, the more violent his resentments grew. At last he could not live to see another preferred before him. All men think he is a wise man, but he thinks he is the only wise man. The problem is that when he killed himself, he shows that he is not a wise man at all. So, after all, he confirmed to everyone what he himself would not, could not bear to think—that he is not wise. If we think too well of ourselves it can lead to trouble.
What do we need to do to separate our ideas, suggestions and pieces of advice from our egos? If we put our ego on the line when we put our advice on the line, we enter dangerous territory. You are wise? Good! But acknowledge that all wisdom is not yours. That belongs to God Who portions parts of it out to all His children. Learn to make your suggestion and then let the counselors or decision-makers decide what they feel is the best advice. If we always have to be right, and our advice always has to be taken, we will surely alienate the thinking of prudent people around us. Far better to say, this is my suggestion, my perspective. Think about it and decide what you feel is the best.
Ahithophel may have truly thought his advise was better than Hushai’s and that if Absalom followed Hushai’s advise, Absalom would loose against David. That meant that if David won, he himself would be in great danger. He would be a great criminal in David’s view because he had advised against David. Furthermore, he had advised Absalom to lie with David’s concubines. Was that not a rather personal and perhaps deliberate insult to king David who had been intimate with those women? Could or would David forgive him for giving that advice?
The name Ahithophel means brother of folly, ruin or foolishness. Nothing indicates so much folly as self-murder. This murder was not done in the spontaneous un-thinking moment of a foolish whim; it was very deliberate. He went to his city, to his house, and after taking that time, he still did it. He put his house in order, balanced his books and settled his estate, all demonstrating that he was sane, yet murdered himself which shows us that he did not have the sense to humble himself or even wait until he could see the result of Hushai’s advice. God through Jeremiah 9:23 said, “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom.” Psalms 7:15-16 say, “Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made. The trouble they cause recoils on them; their violence comes down on their own heads.”
Ahithophel’s death might have been an advantage to David, because if Absalom had succeeded and Ahithophel had lived, Ahithophel could yet have been a problem to David. But that was not to be.
In II Sam 15:31 we see how David prayed when he heard that Ahithophel was a counselor to Absalom. “Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.” And now we see how beautifully, thoroughly, completely and judiciously God answered that prayer. Not only Ahithophel’s counsel, but his life also, was turned into foolishness. God answers prayer well. He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
We do not know if it was an honorable burial or not, but Ahithophel was buried in his father’s tomb. Hopefully the evil in the counsel he gave Absalom would be all the more clearly revealed as evil by the foolishness of Ahithophel’s last act. Though he deserved the burial of a donkey, he was buried as a man. If there ever was a demonstration of the wisdom of Solomon we could see it in this burial. Solomon wrote in Eccl. 8:10, “Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.”
3. A Banquet in the Presence of My Enemies. 24-29
Following Hushai’s advice Absalom got all the men of Israel with him and with himself, at the head of them, “crossed the Jordan” (v 24). Having driven his father out of the country, he now sought to drive him out of the world. He set up his base in Gilead. Verse 26 says, “The Israelites and Absalom camped in the land of Gilead.”
David had two older sisters, Zeruiah and Abigail, Zuruiah was the mother of Joab and Abigail was the mother of Amasa with her husband Jether an Ishmaleite. David had made Joab his general and Absalom now made Amasa his general. So the head of David’s army, Joab, and the head of Absalom’s army, Amasa, were cousins—sons of David’s sisters. Amasa was in the same relation to David that Joab was—they were both his nephews. These two cousins became the heads of two opposing armies.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:4). Enemies were near. Many of them all around. Yet God used three men to provide food for David and his army: Shobi, son of Nahash and evidently a younger brother in the royal family of the Ammonites in Rabbah, was kind to him. It is probable that he had frowned on the indignity his brother Hanun had done to David’s ambassadors, and possibly for that had received kindnesses from David, which he now returned. The Scripture says that we should do good to all men. Gal. 6:10 says, “Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” David did, and time and again we see that it benefited David when those kindnesses were repaid. Makir the son of Ammiel from Lo Dibar had earlier assisted Mephibosheth until David relieved him of that duty. Now Makir came to David with food supplies. Barzillai the Gideadite also contributed to the supplies. God used these three men to provide bedding, bowls, pottery, wheat, barley, flour, roasted grain, beans, lentils, honey, curds, sheep and cheese from cows milk.
David did not ask for or compel them and certainly did not plunder them. Of their own free will they brought to David this abundant supply of food stuffs. They were concerned for him in his present difficulties. Here is a lesson in generous and open-handed behavior. David was generous, now these men were generous. Some Christian preachers on television do not understand this dynamic. If we are generous and caring, God will provide for His work without our coercing others to support our ministries. Sometimes we see situations today in which strangers (like Shobi, Makir and Barzillai) or distant acquaintances compensate for kindnesses we are not given even by our relatives.
If we as leaders want to finish well, two lessons stand out here. One, we need to keep our ego and our advice separate. It may well be that our advice is the best—after all we think it is which is why we give it—but we free people around us to make their own decisions more easily when we release our advice. This is what I think; you think about it and do what you feel is wise. Two, kindnesses are not always repaid here on earth (but will surely be repaid in the next life). However, they are often repaid here on earth. Whether they are repaid here or not, kindness is a good policy and a fruit of the Spirit. Eccl. 11:1 says, “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return.” Be kind. Be generous.