David is on the run. For a lot of the time in 1 Samuel, David was on the run from Saul, who, as well as being king at that time, was also David’s father-in-law; but he wanted to kill David. Now, in 2 Samuel, David is on the run again. But this time he’s on the run from his son, Absalom, who wanted to be king in place of David.
So, in chapter 15 we read about Absalom’s conspiracy and how he stole the hearts of the people away from David and onto himself. And then he made arrangements for his messengers to proclaim throughout the land that he was now king in Hebron. When David heard what had happened, he decided to flee from Jerusalem. If he stayed, Jerusalem would be destroyed by Absalom. And so, it was better for him to leave. And a number of people wanted to go with him, including a load of foreigners — the Ke-re-thites and the Pe-le-thites and the Gittites — as well as the priests and Levites and his friend, Hushai. David let the foreigners go with him. After all, they were soldiers who could help David in any battle. But he sent the priests and Levites and Hushai back to Jerusalem to act as his spies.
That was in chapter 15. In chapter 16, we read about two people David met after leaving Jerusalem; and we read about two people Absalom spoke to after arriving in Jerusalem. David met Ziba, who appeared to be one of his supporters, but really he was only a manipulator, who was only prepared to help David in order to help himself. And then David met Shimei who falsely accused David of murdering his way to the throne and who cursed David and threw stones at him.
So, David met these two men. And Absalom spoke to two men. He first spoke to Hushai who appeared to be one of his supporters, but really he remained loyal to David; and, as we see in today’s chapter, he was ready to do what he could to frustrate Absalom’s plans. And Absalom also spoke to Ahithophel, who was once loyal to David, but who had now thrown in his lot with Absalom. And he advised Absalom to do a terrible thing. He advised him to sleep with David’s concubines. Sleeping with them would be an offence to David and it would be a sign to the nation that just as Absalom had taken David’s concubines for himself, so he had taken David’s kingdom for himself.
And last week we thought about how David’s humiliation and suffering foreshadowed the humiliation and suffering of Christ our King, who was falsely accused and who suffered at the hands of wicked men, who crucified him. And Christ our King endured the hatred of the world, as well as the wrath of God, because there was no other way to save us from our sin and misery than for him to suffer these things to pay for our what we have done wrong and to make peace for us with God.
And so, it was God’s will for David to suffer, because by suffering he was foreshadowing the suffering of our Saviour. But we also saw last week that God was in control of what was happening to David. And though Ahithophel did not realise it, he was in fact fulfilling the word of the Lord. Back in chapter 12, God announced to David through the prophet Nathan that someone close to David would do in broad daylight what he had done in secret. What had David done in secret? He had slept with another man’s wife. And so, what David did in secret, Absalom did in broad daylight when he slept with his father’s concubines. Though Ahithophel did not realise it, he was in fact fulfilling the word of the Lord when he advised Absalom to do this terrible thing. And it shows us that God is in complete control of all things and he’s able to use even the sins of wicked men and women to fulfil his own holy and wise plans.
And we see how God is in control of all things in today’s chapter. Absalom is trying to decide what to do next. Ahithophel proposes a plan, which seems to everyone like a good plan. But then, out of the blue it seems, Absalom asks Hushai for a second opinion. And Hushai was able to persuade the king not to follow Ahithophel’s advice. And it’s remarkable, because, as we’re told in the last verse of chapter 16, in those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who enquires of God. In other words, everyone listened to him. But on this occasion, they didn’t listen to him. Why not? Well, our narrator knows why not. And it’s because our God is the great King who controls of all his creatures and all of their actions for his own glory.
Verses 1 to 4
And so, in verses 1 to 4, Ahithophel gives his advice to Absalom. ‘This is what I would do’, he says. Or other English translations put it differently. They have Ahithophel saying, ‘Let me do the following….’ And that’s the better translation, because Ahithophel wants to carry out the mission himself. And this is his plan.
Let me choose 12,000 men. I’ve said before that the word for thousand can refer either to a thousand or to a company of men. It might have been difficult for him to call up 12,000 men immediately, but there may have been twelve companies of men ready to go in Jerusalem.
And Ahithophel wants to act immediately. Let me choose the men and set out tonight in pursuit of David. So, let’s not delay. Let’s not wait around. Let’s act now. We leave tonight.
And let’s go tonight, so I can attack David while he’s tired and weak. He’s tried and weak, because he’s had to leave Jerusalem in a hurry and he’s on the run. He and his wives and children and his men will be exhausted.
And Ahithophel wants to strike David with terror so that those who are with him will flee. So, before they have a chance to get organised, let me make a surprise attack. They’ll be disorganised and unprepared and so, they’ll panic and run away to save their lives.
And Ahithophel is only interested in getting David. There’s no need for an all-out slaughter. Let me strike David down and we’ll bring everyone else back to you: ‘The death of the man you seek will mean the return of all.’ So, there’s no need for a long, drawn-out civil war, which will mean lots and lots of people are killed or injured. Let me make a quick raid, in and out, to get David and to get home again.
That’s his plan. And look at verse 4:
This plan seemed good to Absalom and all the elders of Israel.
Verses 5 to 14a
So, they’ve got a plan together. Let’s do it. That’s what we’re expecting, isn’t it? But out of the blue it seems, Absalom says in verse 5:
Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so that we can hear what he has to say.
Although Ahithophel’s plan seemed good to Absalom, he still wants a second opinion. And according to verse 6, when Hushai was brought before Absalom, Absalom said:
Ahithophel has given this advice.
Instead of repeating everything Absalom said to Hushai, the narrator abbreviates what he said, but we can assume that he told Hushai exactly what Ahithophel was proposing. And that’s good, because it means Hushai can shape his reply to undermine what Ahithophel had said.
And Hushai undermines Ahithophel wonderfully. He begins by saying that Ahithophel’s advice is not good this time. It’s not good this time. Normally his advice is excellent and everyone should follow it. But not this time. And I’ll tell you why. And you can imagine Absalom and all the elders with him leaning forward in their seats to hear what’s wrong with Ahithophel’s advice this time. And this is what he said.
Firstly, everyone knows David and his men are great fighters. They are mighty warriors. They are like a wild bear who has been robbed of her cubs. Who would want to face a wild bear who has lost her cubs? And who would want to face David when he’s angry? Ahithophel thinks they’ll be tired and weak and therefore a push-over. But even though they’re tired and weak, they are fierce fighters.
Furthermore, David is an experienced fighter. So, he’ll not spend the night with his troops. He’ll be hiding in a safe place somewhere. So, Ahithophel thinks it will be possible to strike David down. But you won’t be able to find David.
And then, if you get into a fight with them and David’s men are able to kill some of your army, then it will only frighten and demoralise the rest of the nation who hear about it. They’ll have second thoughts about supporting you; and even the bravest soldier, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will melt with fear, because everyone knows your father is a fighter, a mighty warrior, and that those who are with him are brave. So, Ahithophel thinks it will be easy to get David. But it won’t.
So, here’s what you should do instead, says Hushai. Let all Israel be gathered to you. That is, get as big an army as possible. So, we’ll not rely on a small raid, but we’ll have a big campaign. And you yourself, Absalom, can lead them into battle. And you see, he massaging Absalom’s ego. Ahithophel’s plan was all about what Ahithophel would do. And so, if he succeeded, he would get all the glory. Absalom plan, if it worked, would mean Absalom got all the glory, because he would be seen as the great leader of this great army.
And then, let’s attack David and his men and we won’t let any of them live. We’ll kill them all. If they flee to a city, then we’ll get all of Israel to pull that city apart with ropes. So, Ahithophel wants to lead a small army to strike down David alone. Hushai proposes that Absalom should lead a big army and strike down David and all who sided with him. Let’s destroy them all.
And, of course, let’s remember that Hushai is on David’s side. He doesn’t want Absalom to gather a big army to strike down David and all his men. What he wants to do is to stop Absalom from following Ahithophel’s plan, which was a good plan and which was likely to succeed. Hushai’s plan would take time to put into action, because it would take time to call up such a big army. And that would give David time to flee. So, that’s what Hushai is thinking about. He needs to give David time to escape and to get organised for a battle against Absalom.
And look at the beginning of verse 14. Having listen first to Ahithophel and then to Hushai, Absalom said:
The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel.
It’s astonishing. Up until that moment, the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who enquires of God. Everyone listened to his advice, because it was considered the best advice. But on this occasion, Absalom listened to Hushai. It’s astonishing.
Verses 15 to 22
Let’s leap over the rest of verse 14 for now. When we come to verse 15, we need to assume that Hushai does not yet know that Absalom had decided to follow his plan. We take it that after Hushai proposed his plan, he was asked to leave the room while Absalom and the elders discussed it. So, Hushai doesn’t know whether Absalom has decided to follow Ahithophel’s advice or his own advice. And just in case he follows Ahithophel’s advice, it’s important that Hushai sends word to David to get as far away as possible. Don’t stop. Keep going. Get away, because — who knows? — maybe Absalom will follow Ahithophel’s advice and send an army that very night to pursue David.
So, Hushai told the priests what Ahithophel and he had said. And the priests sent a servant girl with a message for their sons who were to get the message to David. But according to verse 18, someone saw the servant girl and the sons together. He told Absalom who sent some men to get the sons, who are now hiding in a well, which had been covered up so that it can’t be seen. And according to verse 20, though Absalom’s men searched for the sons, they couldn’t find them. And so, the sons climbed out of the well and made their way to David to give him the message from Hushai. And so, David and his men set out and crossed the River Jordan that very night. And so, even if Absalom decided to follow Ahithophel’s advice, and pursued David that very night, David and his men were now safe.
Verses 23 to 29
And in the last part of the chapter we learn that when Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he went home, put his house in order, and hanged himself. The commentators think he saw the writing on the wall and that David would defeat Absalom and regain the throne. And so, rather than face the wrath of David, whom he had betrayed, he killed himself. I mentioned last week that Ahithophel foreshadowed Judas Iscariot, because Ahithophel was once loyal to David, but then he turned on David and betrayed him, just as Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus. And, of course, Ahithophel foreshadowed Judas in another way, because both of them ended up killing themselves.
Meanwhile, Absalom and his army crossed the Jordan and they camped in Gilead to prepare for a battle with David and his men. Meanwhile three men came to help David. The first man, Shobi, was a foreigner. The second man, Makir, once supported Saul. The third man, Barzillai, was from Gilead where Absalom was now camped. But instead of supporting Absalom, these three men were on David’s side and they brought David and his men supplies.
Let’s turn back to verse 14 where the narrator explains why Absalom did not immediately accept Ahithophel’s advice, but also asked for Hushai’s advice. And in verse 14 we’re told:
For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.
The Lord ‘had determined’. Other English translations say that ‘the Lord had ordained’, because the Hebrew word means ‘commanded’. The Lord is the great King, who made all things and who sustains all things and he rules over all things. He controls all his creatures and all of their actions. So why was it that normally everyone listened to Ahithophel’s advice, but on this occasion Absalom did not? The reason he did not listen to Ahithophel’s advice is because the Lord had commanded that this would be the case this time. The Lord determined what would happen. He ordained what would take place. And since it was the will of the Lord to bring disaster on Absalom, then the Lord gave the command that Ahithophel’s advice should on this occasion be rejected and Hushai’s advice should be followed.
As the proverb says, the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. The kings of the earth think they are in charge and they have their plans which they will put into action. But what the kings of the earth do not realise is that while they have their plans, nevertheless everything kings plan and decide and do is under the control of the Lord our God, who is the great King over all. And this is true not only of the kings of the earth, but it’s true of everyone in the world. All of us are subject to God and he’s the one who determines what will happen today and tomorrow and the next day and every day and every moment of every day. In him we live and move and have our being.
And so, on this occasion, the Lord was able to give the command for Absalom to disregard Ahithophel’s advice and to listen instead to the advice of Hushai. And the reason he gave the command for Absalom to disregard Ahithophel’s advice and to listen instead to the advice of Hushai was in order to — as verse 14 tells us — bring disaster on Absalom. The Lord was determined to bring disaster on Absalom, because Absalom had rebelled against David, who was God’s Anointed King at that time. Instead of submitting to David the King, Absalom rebelled against him and he set himself up as king in place of David. And so, God was determined to bring disaster on him.
And just as it was the will of the Lord for David to suffer, because by suffering he was foreshadowing the suffering of our Saviour, so it was the will of the Lord to bring disaster on Absalom, because what was going to happen to Absalom would foreshadow what will happen to all those who refuse to submit to God’s True Anointed King, who is Jesus Christ the Lord. There is a day coming — we do not know when it will come, but we know it is coming — when Christ the King will come to earth again. When he comes, he will not come in humility and weakness, as he came before, but with glory and with power. And he will come to judge the nations and to condemn and to punish all those who refused to submit to him in this life. Everyone who did not believe in him, everyone who refused to yield to him, everyone who said ‘no’ to him will be condemned by him and will be sent away to be punished forever for all that they have done wrong in this life. He will bring disaster on them.
And that’s why the message of the church in every generation has been repent and believe. To sinners everywhere, the church proclaims that you must turn in repentance from your life of sin and unbelief; and you must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Saviour of the world, who gave up his life to pay for our sins and who shed his blood to cleanse us. And whoever repents and believes in him is pardoned by God and has peace with God, so that when Christ the King comes again, he will not condemn them, but he will gather them together and they will live with him and they will reign with him forever and forever.
Think of the water of Lily’s baptism. Water washes away the dirt from our bodies. And by this sign today, God assures you of his willingness to wash away your guilt so that no matter what you have done wrong in your life, God is willing to pardon you for the sake of Christ who died for sinners. He’s willing to cleanse you from every stain, every sin, every shortcoming, from all of your guilt and shame. For the sake of Christ who died for sinners, he’s willing to cleanse you and to treat you as if you’ve done everything right. And that’s the promise he gives to all who trust in Christ the Saviour. And so, if you have not already done so, now is the time to repent and now is the time to believe. Turn to God in prayer and ask him to wash away your guilt and to give you the free gift of eternal life for the sake of Christ who died for sinners.
And this is also good news for those who have already believed, because think about this past week and the things you have done wrong. The things you did. The things you said. Think of how you have disobeyed Christ your King and you have dishonoured him by the things you said and did and by the things you thought, which he knows all about. You too deserve to be condemned and punished forever, because you too have rebelled against Christ the King this past week and even your best deeds have been spoiled by sin. But for the sake of Christ who died for you, you have been washed and cleansed and forgiven. The disaster which should have come on you, the judgment which should have fallen on you, fell on Christ in your place, so that God no longer counts your sins against you, but he pardons you and gives you his peace.
God was determined to bring disaster on Absalom, because what was going to happen to Absalom would foreshadow what will happen to all of us, unless we repent and believe in Christ the Saviour. And those who repent and believe are washed, and cleansed, and pardoned forever.
Or think of Ahithophel, who presumably thought there was no hope of forgiveness from David. And so, he killed himself rather than face David’s wrath. But there is for you and for all of us the hope of forgiveness and eternal life, because Christ has purchased forgiveness and eternal life for all who repent and believe in him.