II Samuel 17

1. Moreover Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Now let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight.

Once Absalom has carried out his adultery with his father’s wives, he goes to Ahithophel for more advice. Ahithophel is ready with the next part of his plan. He wants to elect twelve thousand men and go into action with them, leading them in pursuit after David this very night. This is no doubt the next part of his plan to get personal vengeance against David for what he did to his granddaughter Bathsheba and her husband. He wants to be the one to hunt him down and destroy him himself.

2. 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.

Though his plan may have been motivated by a desire for personal revenge, this does not mean that Ahithophel has not thought it out very well. He knows that this night above all nights David and his defenders will be tired out and feeble handed. David will not have had time to rally his courage or his strength, nor to gather his supporters who may not have been with him at the time at Jerusalem. If Ahithophel and a large company of men come upon them unexpectedly like this, it will cause fear and consternation among David’s disheartened forces. David’s men would probably start to flee, and when they do, David will be all but defenseless against a force such as Ahithophel will have at his command. In this way, Ahithophel will be able to kill only David and spare most of his supporters.

This plan had the benefit for Ahithophel not only of allowing him to take a hand personally in his revenge against David, but it also made highly likely that the members of his own family who were among David’s forces would survive. Ahithophel’s own son Eliam, Bathsheba’s father, was with David as one of his mighty men, and Ahithophel would not have wanted to see him killed in the fighting. His granddaughter Bathsheba was also with David as one of his wives, as we well know. Ahithophel wanted to see David dead, true, but he also doubtless wanted the members of his own family who were with David to come home safely. This plan, if followed and successful, would have allowed him to see this personal goal met as well.

3. 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.”

By this judicious use of force, Ahithophel will not only destroy David, but will also do so without causing a bigger rift among the people of Israel than is absolutely necessary. With their former master dead, the people who were once with David will have no cause to rally around, and will probably think they have little choice but to return to Absalom. With the one exception of David himself, the people will likely all end up returning to Jerusalem peacefully to accept Absalom as their new ruler. In this way, no lengthy and costly civil war will result that might turn some against Absalom permanently in bitterness for dead loved ones.

Moreover Ahithophel will have his son and granddaughter back as well, and all, in his own mind anyway, will be right again. Never mind that he will have placed a conscienceless and immoral man on the throne of his nation. If David’s actions were condemnable, how much more would be Absalom’s in his place? If David committed adultery, would Absalom shy from it? He had already done it ten times with his own father’s wives! What Bathsheba, or even a better woman than Bathsheba was, would be safe under his reign? How many Uriah’s would result from this godless man being in charge? Would he ever be struck in his conscience for such actions? Would he ever turn back to the LORD in repentance and seek forgiveness, as David had done? No doubt nothing but injustice and wickedness would have marked Absalom’s reign. Not to mention that he probably would have turned to idolatry. Ahithophel’s ideal situation was nothing but a dream, since he went about achieving it by ungodly means. He perhaps not would have liked the outcome of his own plan, had it been successful. Fortunately, he never made it to that place to discover the full consequences of what he had done.

4. And the saying pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

This advice was pleasing in the eyes of Absalom and of all the elders, the representative men of Israel, who were with him. Indeed, Ahithophel’s advice was very good, and it is hard to find any fault with it. It might well have worked just as Ahithophel said had Absalom ultimately heeded it. Yet Absalom and Ahithophel have not just rebelled and lifted up their hands against David, but they have ultimately rebelled and lifted up their hands against Jehovah, Who set David on the throne and not Absalom. He will not allow the good advice of Ahithophel to stand, and thanks to David’s wise plan a ready means is available for Him to overthrow it.

5. Then Absalom said, “Now call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he says too.”

Here we see Yahweh start to move to frustrate the clever plans of Ahithophel. Absalom might well have taken Ahithophel’s advice unquestioningly and followed it immediately, as he did in the case of the concubines. Yet for some reason he thinks of Hushai the Archite, and decides he wants a second opinion from his mouth as well. Thus Hushai did not have to insert himself to oppose the advice of Ahithophel, which might have made him look suspicious. Absalom actually asked for him to give his advice either for or against the advice of Ahithophel! Remember: this is just why David sent Hushai: to seek to frustrate Ahithophel’s good advice. Perhaps Hushai too had a reputation for being a wise man, though not as wise as Ahithophel, and David hoped for just such a result. With Yahweh moving behind it, this is just what comes to pass.

6. 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.”

Hushai was apparently not there among the elders of Israel, but he readily comes when Absalom calls for him. Absalom then reviews for him Ahithophel’s advice. Clearly this is an abbreviation of what Absalom said, for he must have set forth Ahithophel’s plan to Hushai, whereas here we just have his summary statement. Then, he asks if Hushai agrees and thinks they should follow Ahithophel’s advice? If not, he asks him to give his own advice. What a question! What a perfect setup for Hushai! We can clearly see the help of the LORD behind this, for nothing could go more smoothly for the cause of David than this!

7. So Hushai said to Absalom: “The advice that Ahithophel has given is not good at this time.

Hushai responds, and as we might have suspected he says that Ahithophel’s advice was not good in this one case. Considering how unquestioningly Absalom has taken all his advice up to this point this is quite a bold claim! Hushai will have to be very clever to back it up in an acceptable way. We will see how he does this in the following verses.

8. 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.

Hushai reminds Absalom that his father and his men are mighty men, as they have proven in many a battle. He further suggests that they must now be enraged in their minds. Yet in Hebrew this says that they are bitter in their souls. The “soul,” remember, was the seat of emotions, and he is telling Absalom that their emotions will be stirred up by their flight. He compares their attitude to that of a bear bereaved of her cubs in the wild. Thus he suggests that they will not be nearly so easy to overwhelm as Ahithophel has suggested. Moreover, he points out that David is an experienced man of war, and in his wisdom he might not make his camp and sleep with his men. What would become then of Ahithophel’s plan, if they tried it?

So this is the clever way Hushai seeks to undermine Ahithophel’s good advice. He plays on Absalom’s fears and the reputation David’s men had. He hopes to paralyze him now, when he ought to act while David and his men are reeling and on the run, so that David and his forces can reach a defensible place and gather their resources.

9. 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.’

Hushai suggests that by now David will have hidden himself in some secret pit or in some other hiding place, so that when Ahithophel’s men attack they will fail to find him. It was well known to everyone how David had hidden from Saul and how that king had been unable, in spite of years of trying, to find them. If this happens to Israel’s forces, then, with their purpose unaccomplished and if some of their men start to fall before David’s men, whom he has already characterized as bitter in soul like a mother bear without her cubs, this might start a panic among Absalom’s troops. He suggests that everyone who hears that some of them have started to fall will panic and think that they are being slaughtered.

Again, notice that Hushai is playing on Absalom’s caution and fears. He knows, and Absalom must also have known, that this very scenario he describes has happened to David’s enemies many times before. This is because Jehovah caused a panic among them. Yet this had not happened to Israelites! Of course, then Israelites were not fighting against God’s anointed and his mighty men. We can see why Absalom might have been rather afraid of his father, and why his fear would lead him to heed Hushai’s bad advice.

10. 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.

Hushai finishes off his scenario of doom for Absalom’s men if they follow the plan of Ahithophel. Once the people start imagining a slaughter like he describes, then even the heart of the sons of valor among Absalom’s men, whose hearts are like the heart of a lion, will melt completely. “Melting they will melt” is the Hebrew figure of speech used. He warns that this will happen because all Israel knows of the reputation that David has as a mighty man, and the reputation that his companions have of being strong men. How could they help but panic if they meet David’s men in a rage and start to be slaughtered? So he continues to play on Absalom’s fears.

11. 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.

Having played on Absalom’s fears if he follows Ahithophel’s sound advice, he now begins to promote his own, bad advice. He colorfully describes the mighty army Absalom will be able to gather if he only waits to do so. All Israel will be gathered to Absalom, from Dan in the extreme north to Beersheba in the extreme south, the boundaries of Israel at this time. They will be so great they will be like the sand that is by the sea for multitude. This sounds grand and glorious, but Absalom had already mustered the people who had chosen to side with him. More and more had been joining Absalom day after day, as we saw earlier, and the conspiracy was strong. Was he really likely to gather such a great army as Hushai here suggests, however? Probably not. No doubt he will be able to gather more than he currently has, but nothing like the unlimited size Hushai makes it sound like he will gather. Nevertheless, after frightening Absalom by suggesting great danger in Ahithophel’s good advice, he now plays up a false sense of safety and invincibility if Absalom will just wait to gather a few more troops.

Next, Hushai suggests that Absalom should go to battle in person, or in Hebrew that he should go in his own face. By saying that Absalom should go himself, he subtly implies that Ahithophel might be seeking to get glory for winning the victory against David instead of Absalom. The problem with alliances between treacherous men is that such a man can always imagine more treachery against himself. Of course, this was not really what was happening. Ahithophel did have unrevealed motives, but what he really wanted was revenge on David, not to steal the glory from Absalom. Yet it is easy enough for Hushai to insert such a suspicion in this young man’s ambitious mind. Might not Ahithophel be making a power play of his own against him? It would be best to be on the safe side and not allow him any such advantage against him.

12. 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.

He glowingly describes the victory Absalom and his might army will have on David and his puny band. In his scenario, David is easy to find. Why exactly this would be if he followed Hushai’s advice whereas it would not be if he followed Ahithophel’s, Hushai does not explain. Yet it seems this missing detail does not matter, for Absalom is eating out of his hand now and imagining this great victory which, if he follows Hushai’s advice, he will never have. After easily finding him openly taking his stand in some place, they will fall on him like the dew falls on the ground. The imaginary giant army of Absalom will be unstoppable. Moreover, Hushai implies that Ahithophel’s wise strategy of bringing David’s group back to join their brothers in peace once David is dead is actually a cowardly plan. Instead of leaving all alive but David, he suggests wiping them all out so that none are left. (This, remember, is just what Ahithophel did not want, his own relatives being with David!) Will this not show how tough Absalom is much better than just killing David and then making peace with his leaderless men? Think how much greater glory would be in this much more spectacular victory!

13. 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.”

What, Hushai asks, if David does not choose an open place to make his stand, but instead chooses a city as the place where he will defend himself against Absalom? He again majestically describes how glorious will be the result. All Israel, this mighty army that he imagines following Absalom, will bring ropes to that city and will pull it into the river piece by piece! Once they are done, not a single pebble will be found there. Think of the glory of that victory! So Hushai’s picture is of delayed but greater glory for Absalom rather than quick, easy, and small victory at the hands of Ahithophel. This advice is tailored to push all Absalom’s buttons and blind him to the problems with this strategy and the advantages of Ahithophel’s plan.

14. 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.

Absalom and all the representative men of Israel confer and decide that they think that Hushai’s counsel is better than the counsel of Ahithophel’s. Yet we learn that this was not just because of Hushai’s cleverness, though what he said was clever indeed. Yet think of the high regard Absalom had formerly held Ahithophel in, following his advice without question! This result was only achieved because Yahweh wanted it this way. He had purposed by His Own counsels to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel. He had done this with the intention of bringing the disaster on Absalom that He had planned. He might have allowed these sad events to happen to David to punish him for his sins, but He was not going to allow David to be removed from the throne permanently, nor was He going to allow the ungodly Ahithophel to usurp control over His people.

15. 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.

As soon as he has left the counsel, it seems, Hushai goes to report to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, his co-conspirators. He relates to the two priests both what Ahithophel’s counsel had been to Absalom and the elders of Israel, and what his own, deceptive counsel had been. It seems, from what we can see of the passage, that both Ahithophel and Hushai were dismissed from the counsel after giving their advice. Thus neither of them knew at first which advice Absalom was going to take. In light of this, and in case Ahithophel’s good advice would actually be taken, Hushai wants David to know about it and be prepared for it.

16. 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.’”

Next he commands the two priests to send quickly to report both these counsels to David. In case Absalom and his men decide to follow Ahithophel’s advice, he urges David not to spend the night in the plains of the wilderness near the fords of the Jordan, where he might perhaps have been expected to stay. Instead, he urges him to speedily cross over the river to the eastern lands of Israel where he can be safe. If he stays on the western bank of the Jordan, Hushai warns, the king and all the people who are with him may be swallowed up by the pursuers suggested in the good counsel of Ahithophel.