Read: 2 Samuel 17
Moreover Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will set out and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged, and throw him into a panic; and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.” The advice pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel (2 Samuel 17:1-4, NRSV).
If Ahithophel were a car, he’d be a Ferrari. You get the sense that the young rebel, Absalom, can’t wait to take his new advisor out for a run. So when Ahithophel suggests that Absalom sleep with David’s concubines (16:20-22), Absalom does so with a flourish. Pitching a tent on the roof of the palace is the young man’s way of flaunting the break with his father—and taking his new Ferrari from 0 to 120 in 6.5 seconds. (Really—they can do that. I checked!)
If Hushai (David’s inside man) were a car, he’d be a Subaru. So, when Ahithophel blazes by with his next bit of advice, Hushai doesn’t even try to catch up. Instead, he tries to impress Absalom with steadiness and reliability. Hushai’s approach is akin to, “Sure, he’s fast, but I’ll get you there safely.”
Ahithophel wants to take 12,000 hand-picked men and pursue David immediately. The strategy is to overtake David before he has a chance to catch his breath and find a defensible position. Ahithophel predicts that David’s followers will be so over-awed by their adversaries that they will flee the field. The defenseless David will be easy prey.
Actually, it’s great advice. It accomplishes the objective quickly and with a minimum number of casualties. Absalom is right to be impressed. But just to be sure, he asks Hushai for his advice.
Not so fast, sonny-boy sort of summarizes Hushai’s strategy. It’s full of safety features and rules of the road. Here’s the gist of it: David is a fierce and experienced warrior, after all, and he’s famous for his ability to evade his enemies. Better to wait to attack him until you’ve consolidated your support. Then, even if David digs into an easily defensible position, you’ll be able to overwhelm him with your superior force.
I suspect you could have heard a pin drop after Hushai’s speech. But finally, the verdict drops, and it’s in Hushai’s favor.
The irony here is that Hushai’s advice is lousy. But then, he means for it to be. He’s secretly loyal to his friend, David, and he’s been sent into Absalom’s camp expressly so he can “defeat the counsel of Ahithophel” (15:34). He’s done a great job, though the narrator makes sure we give credit where credit is due. In an aside to the readers, the storyteller explains that “the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring ruin on Absalom” (17:14).
Even though Hushai has prevailed, he deploys one last safety feature. Using the sons of the loyal priests Zadok and Abiathar as a kind of pony express, he sends a message to David telling him to get the heck across the Jordan. After a brief but suspenseful delay, the young men deliver the message. Sunrise finds David and his whole company safely out of Absalom’s reach.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, Ahithophel is not amused. The Bible is brutally blunt about it: “When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order, and hanged himself; he died and was buried in the tomb of his father” (v. 23).
At first glance this seems like an extreme fit of pique. But I suspect his decision was one last act of strategy. He must have known his advice was better than Hushai’s. But if Absalom acted on Hushai’s advice, then Absalom would almost certainly lose. Did Ahithophel really want to risk facing David again after betraying him? I doubt it. It wasn’t a choice between good and bad, but between bad and worse. He chose to put his affairs in order and be buried in the family plot.
One wonders what he chose for his epitaph. Making allowances for the anachronism, I think this Ferrari slogan might have been a good fit: “Only those who dare truly live.”
Ponder: Subaru’s ads claim that “Subaru is love.” How did Hushai show his love for David? How can you show love to those who have put their trust in you?
Pray: Help us to love in ways that are both loyal and wise.