Whose Side Are You On? (2 Samuel 17)

Scripture reading – 2 Samuel 17

2 Samuel 17 continues the historical record of the insurrection led by Absalom, David’s thirdborn son. We are given a window, a front row seat, concerning Absalom’s war council, and the opposing strategies he was proffered.

Ahithophel’s Counsel for Pursuing David (17:1-4)

Ahithophel, an embittered, but wise man and the grandfather of Bathsheba, counseled Absalom to allow him to pursue David and his entourage that very night (17:1). His strategy was to ambush David before he could organize his “mighty men,” and “smite the king only” (17:2). Ahithophel encouraged the king, by striking the head (the king), he would “bring back all the people [and] all the people shall be in peace” (17:3). Absalom and “all the elders of Israel” agreed to the counsel (17:4); yet, Absalom made a fateful error, and a providential one for David, for he said: “Call now Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear likewise what he saith” (17:5).

Hushai’s Contrary Counsel and Diversion (17:5-14)

Remembering Hushai’s loyalty was to David, he fulfilled his mission by giving opposing counsel to that of Ahithophel. Ahithophel’s counsel was to pursue, and destroy David before he could organize, even before he could pass over the Jordan River. Hushai, however, urged that Absalom had the luxury of time, and an opportunity to gather a superior force, and by strength of power would defeat his father (17:6-12). Appealing to Absalom’s pride, and pursuit of glory, Hushai painted a picture saying that, if necessary, “all Israel [would] bring ropes to that city, and…will draw it into the river, until there be not one small stone found there” (17:13).

Though Ahithophel’s counsel was the wiser of the two, Absalom rejected his advice, and followed Hushai’s strategy, “For the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom” (17:14).

David’s Flight Across Jordan (17:15-29)

The priests, who were on David’s side in the conflict, sent word to him by way of a woman (“wench”) who met with two of David’s men at a well (17:17). After being concealed in the well by the woman, she deceived Absalom’s men with a tale that David’s men had fled the city (17:20). David’s spies returned to his encampment, and warned the king concerning Absalom’s plot (17:21). Hushai warned the king, he and his company must pass that very night over the Jordan before resting (17:22).

Absalom followed his father in a desperate pursuit; however, David and all that were with him had crossed the Jordan to Mahanaim, located on the east side of the Jordan River. There the king and his company not only refreshed themselves, but were comforted by gifts from those who were sympathetic to David (17:27-29).

The Tragic Death of Ahithophel (17:23)

His counsel rejected, Ahithophel, a man who had been one of David’s trusted counselors, understood what Absalom and those who followed him would soon learn…All was Lost. The opportunity to crush David’s forces was when he was in hasty retreat, but that time had passed. Though shamed, and humiliated by the insurrection led by his own son, David and those who were with him were men of war. In the words of Hushai’s counsel to Absalom:

2 Samuel 17:8, 10 – “Thou knowest thy father and his men, that they be mighty men, and they be chafed in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps in the field: and thy father is a man of war…all Israel knoweth that thy father is a mighty man, and they which be with him are valiant men.”

Knowing his counsel had been rejected, Ahithophel exited Absalom’s presence, and went home to put his personal affairs in order, and “hanged himself” (17:23).

Closing thoughtsThe problem with Ahithophel was not his counsel, but his spirit.

There was a time he exercised the gifts of discernment, and the wisdom of a man that consulted with the word of God (2 Samuel 16:23). Tragically, he had allowed bitterness and a vengeful spirit to supplant godly wisdom. He had opposed David, God’s anointed, and committed high treason against the king.

Warning – Before choosing sides in a conflict, a wise man assesses his spirit, for only fools oppose the LORD’S side.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith