Our study for today, in which we shall see the main events of the civil war unfolding, is 2 Samuel 16:15-17:23. When David chose to abandon Jerusalem rather than defend it, Absalom and those who had gathered to his cause took it without a fight (v. 15). Then Hushai, following David’s plan, approached Absalom, proclaiming, “Long live the king!” (v. 16). Absalom was surprised by Hushai’s apparent defection from David; but after an explanation, he believed Hushai, and took him into his confidence (vv. 17-19).
Next, in verses 16:20-17:5, Ahithophel who was loyal to Absalom gave Absalom two pieces of advice. Ahithophel’s first advice to Absalom was to take the ten concubines that David left to care for the palace (15:16) and sexually use them, which he did. He had a tent with open sides pitched on the roof of the palace and had sex with his fathers concubines in full view of the public (16:20-22). This seems like strange advice to us, but in their cultural context it had wisdom. An act such as this made a final break with David. There was no going back. There never could be forgiveness; and under those circumstances, Absalom’s forces would fight harder, because they would believe that they didn’t dare lose the war. Incidentally, this was a fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy back in 12:11. Absalom was publicly doing to David what David had done privately with Bathsheba.
Ahithophel’s second piece of advice to Absalom was to give Ahithophel 12,000 men to immediately take against David (17:1-4). The idea was to find David and kill him before he had any opportunity to raise a resistance against Absalom. Ahithophel’s advice was highly esteemed by Absalom, as it had been by his father before him (16:23). And Absalom and the elders liked it,
Ahithophel’s advice to pursue David immediately was solid. A swift blow might have defeated him, even if they weren’t able to kill him. But Absalom made the mistake of seeking a second opinion from Hushai, who was David’s man.
As we see in verses 5-14, Hushai offered a different strategy, one that would afford David time to organize, if it were followed. Hushai suggested that Ahithophel’s advice was flawed, because David and his men were experienced warriors who would fight the way a bear defends her cubs. Moreover David himself would be well hidden. There would be no chance of killing him. In addition, if word got out that some of Absalom’s troops were killed, it would discourage the rest of Absalom’s armies (vv. 7-10).
Hushai recommended, instead, that Absalom not attack until he could gather a great army from all Israel with which he could easily crush David and his forces (vv. 11-13). What Hushai did not say, and which Absalom and his elders did not think about, was the fact that once the dust settled, the people in the various tribes might rally to David as readily as to Absalom. And indeed that is what happened.
Notice the commentary by the author in the last sentence of verse 14. In his view the Lord was behind the decision by Absalom to follow Hushai’s advice, because the Lord wanted Absalom to be ruined.
Hushai had no way of knowing which advice Absalom would follow. So, as recorded in verses 15-22, he immediately sent word to David through the priests to cross the Jordan as soon as possible. The message consisted of a report on the two plans offered by Ahithophel and Hushai and a recommendation to cross the Jordan to safety immediately (vv. 15-16). The priest’s sons were stationed not in the city, but at a place called En-rogel, the spring of Rogel, located on the outskirts of the city. They were there, because their spying efforts would be discovered if they were seen moving in and out of the city. So a servant-girl was to carry the message to the sons of the priest at En-rogel, and they were to carry it to David from there (v. 17).
Unfortunately, they were seen anyway. A boy, who was a spy for Absalom, saw them and reported their activities. Only quick thinking and the help of a woman saved their lives. They hid in a well, and the woman placed a covering over the opening and spread drying grain on it (vv. 18-19). Then she then told Absalom’s people that they had gone in a certain direction, and they were not discovered (v 20).
Thus the mission of the sons of the priest was accomplished. David got Hushai’s message and crossed the Jordan to safety (vv. 21-22).
As it turned out, the situation wasn’t as urgent as it could have been, because Absalom decided to follow Hushai’s advice instead of Ahithophel’s. This crushed Ahithophel’s spirit, because he knew, or at least sensed, that David’s escape meant that David eventually would win the war. And of course that would be the end of Ahithophel. He would be killed as a traitor. So Ahithophel calmly went home and took his own life (v. 23).
Turning to application, we find in this passage a contrast between Ahithophel and Hushai. Let’s begin with Ahithophel. He started out as a trusted adviser to King David. Then he joined Absalom’s conspiracy as a trusted adviser of Absalom. But Absalom didn’t follow his advice. And Ahithophel ended up taking his own life.
Ahithophel made a choice. Politically it was a gamble that he lost. He backed the wrong horse, so to speak. And it cost him his life. But Ahithophel’s decision was more than a political decision. It was a moral decision. He betrayed David by his choice. And David was God’s anointed. Ahithophel by his choice went against God. Thus he demonstrated his poor character and his sinful nature. His example is one we do not want to follow.
And then there was Hushai. Absalom followed Hushai’s advice, and David won the war as a result. Hushai also had been a trusted adviser to David. But he chose to be loyal to God’s anointed, David, by posing as a defector on David’s behalf. Hushai’s decision, like that of Ahithophel, also was both political and moral. But Hushai chose the moral road of loyalty to God’s anointed, and thus to God. Therefore Hushai is a good example for us to follow.