(Continued from page 577)
Hushai the inspired "double agent" cunningly preserves King David from Absalom!
There appear to be a number of reasons for David to make the decision to flee, even though he does not abdicate. First, David has learned the truth that God will bring about troubles in his kingdom, from within his own family. If the rebellion of Absalom is a part of the divine discipline he has brought upon himself, David is not sure whether he should resist it. If this is of God, will David be fighting against God to fight against this rebellion? David clearly indicates his intention to wait until he has a sense of certainty about what he should do:
25 The king said to Zadok, "Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in the sight of the LORD, then He will bring me back again and show me both it and His habitation. 26 "But if He should say thus, 'I have no delight in you,' behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him." 27 The king said also to Zadok the priest, "Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Ahimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. 28 "See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me" (2 Samuel 15:25-284).
Furthermore, David may be concerned about the welfare of those who dwell in Jerusalem. Will he be placing them in danger by staying behind and fighting to defend the city? From Psalm 51:17-18 ("The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. By Thy favor do good to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem), one might conclude that the walls of Jerusalem were not completed, thus making it more difficult to defend at this point in time. Finally, we know that David loves Absalom. He does not want to precipitate a fight with him because he does not wish to kill him (cf. 2 Samuel 18). Why start a fight you are not willing to win? Absalom was ready and willing to kill David, and others if necessary; David was not willing to kill Absalom and so chose flight over a fight.
David's response to the loss of Athithopel was to utter a prayer that God would somehow thwart the counsel of Ahithophel. The answer to his prayer was not that far off, for David had hardly finished his prayer when he was joined by Hushai, who had rent his clothes and poured dirt on his head in mourning over the King's retreat (15:32). David ordered him to return and join Absalom as a counterspy, then report their military plans back to him. He would report to David through the two loyal priests, Abiathar and Zadok: "Behold, they have there with them their two sons, and by them ye shall send unto me every thing that ye can hear" (v362). We have another view of the difference in David's attitude to adversity, and the troubles that have befallen him and his family, when we read (2 Samuel 16:5-144):
5 When King David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out from there a man of the family of the house of Saul whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera; he came out cursing continually as he came. 6 He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; and all the people and all the mighty men were at his right hand and at his left. 7 Thus Shimei said when he cursed, "Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed, and worthless fellow! 8 "The LORD has returned upon you all the bloodshed of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. And behold, you are taken in your own evil, for you are a man of bloodshed!" 9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head." 10 But the king said, "What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, and if the LORD has told him, 'Curse David,' then who shall say, 'Why have you done so?"' 11 Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, "Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him. 12 "Perhaps the LORD will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day." 13 So David and his men went on the way; and Shimei went along on the hillside parallel with him and as he went he cursed and cast stones and threw dust at him. 14 The king and all the people who were with him arrived weary and he refreshed himself there.
As we read this account of Shimei's verbal attack on the anointed king of Israel, we may be amazed at how stupid he appears. Here is but one man, verbally attacking David and physically abusing him, although David's bodyguards doubtlessly did not allow Shimei to get close enough to David to do him any physical harm with his stone-throwing. This man does not seem to care that any one of David's bodyguards could cut off his head in a moment, should David give permission to do so. Shimei's accusations are interesting, for he accuses David of being a "man of bloodshed." We immediately think in terms of Uriah and his death, ordered by David himself. But that is not what Shimei mentions specifically, for he speaks of David's shedding of blood in terms of Saul and his house (v8). It appears that Shimei was entirely out of order, calling God's anointed king David a "worthless fellow," and accusing him of the blood of Saul and his family, for which he was not responsible. Abishai wanted to shut this man's mouth permanently, by cutting off his head, but David refused permission, convinced of the sovereignty of God in all these matters. He knew that Shimei's actions were wrong, even that his accusations were inaccurate. In spite of this David believed that it was possible that God was speaking to him through this man, and thus he would not seek to silence one through whom God might be speaking. Instead, he proceeded on his way, looking to God for his vindication. In this we are reminded that David here reverts to type, for he is the forerunner to the Servant King who set the ultimate example in humility in adversity when He refused to respond to any false accusations at His illegal Sanhedrin trial and crucifixion (Matthew 26:63-27:50). Weary no doubt from the physical aspects of this trek, but also from the emotionally draining elements of this whole journey, David and his supporters arrived at the destination, where they will await further word from Jerusalem.
In chapter 16:15, the narrative of Absalom's invasion continues. We read that Absalom and all his followers entered Jerusalem with Ahithophel, David's former friend and counselor. Immediately Hushai, the double agent, approached him (v162) and said, "God save the king". Absalom was suspicious and asked, "Is this thy kindness to thy friend? why wentest thou not with thy friend"? Hushai was cunning enough to be convincing and replied (v18-192): "Nay; but whom the Lord, and this people, and all the men of Israel, choose, his will I be, and with him will I abide. And again, whom should I serve? should I not serve in the presence of his son? as I have served in thy father's presence, so will I be in thy presence." With his eloquence he convinced Absalom of his loyalty to him rather than King David.
Absalom then turned to Ahithophel and asked advice as to his next the step in the coup. His reply was, "Go in unto thy father's concubines, which he hath left to keep the house" (v212). This, as we have seen before, was an announcement that one claimed the position of a defeated king: "So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel" (v222). This was his formal claim to his father's throne and it was so understood by all the people of Jerusalem. The coup was now complete and there could be no turning back. Absalom's actions regarding David's wives are not only a gesture which symbolically proclaims his taking of the throne, it is also the fulfilment of Nathan's prophetic words in chapter 12:
9 'Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' 11 "Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun"' (2 Samuel 12:9-124).
There was never any doubt that God would bring about that which He had spoken through Nathan. The author of our text does not want us to miss the fact that this event is, in part, the fulfilment of Nathan's words. David sinned with one woman, taking her as his wife when she was the wife of another, and now Absalom takes ten wives of David and makes them his own wife by sleeping with them. David sinned in private; Absalom purposely made a spectacle of his sin, so that all Israel would know what he was about. Indeed, it was on the rooftop of the palace so that everyone 'under the sun' would learn of it as prophesied! The taking of a king's harem symbolized the taking of a man's place and of replacing him and Ruben did this by taking one of Jacob's concubines (Genesis 35:22; cf. 49:4). Adonijah also attempts to do this with Abishag, one of David's concubines (1 Kings 2:13-25). David's humiliation in this was great. We should never deceive ourselves into thinking that any sin is worth the price. If David could have seen where his sin was leading, he would never have chosen the path he did. As Christians we need to learn from David's tragic sin, rather than learn the hard way as he did, that sin never pays.
The advice that Ahithophel gave in 2 Samuel 17:1-3 was good advice for Absalom's purposes. He counseled pursuing David with an army of twelve thousand men, while he and his supporters were still exhausted after their sudden retreat. Ahithophel even promised that he would be the one to strike down the king and lead his followers back to Jerusalem. No wonder he has been called a type of Judas by some commentators9 since he represents a midrashic pattern of history repeating itself! The narrative goes on to say that the advice "pleased Absalom well" (v42). What a son! He could be pleased with a plan that included the deliberate murder of his father! However, Absalom wanted a second opinion. He called Hushai, and outlined Ahithophel's strategy and asked for comments. Hushai reconized that this was good advice from Absalom's view-point, but very bad for David. So, as a counter-spy, he came up with a counter-plan. But first he explained why he believed Ahithophel's strategy would not work (v8-102):
Thou knowest thy father and his men, that they be mightymen, 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, and will not lodge with the people. Behold, he is hid now in some pit, or in some other place: and it will come to pass, when some of them be overthrown at the first, that whosoever heareth it will say, There is a slaughter among the people that follow Absalom. And he also that is valiant, whose heart is as the heart of a lion, shall utterly melt. for all Israel knoweth that thy father is a mighty man, and they which be with him are valiant men.
We are not told why Absalom seeks a second opinion from Hushai. Perhaps it is a kind of test of Hushai's loyalty? Hushai does not appear to have much time to reflect on what he should say, but his response is brilliant. He begins by acknowledging Ahithophel's great wisdom and skill as an advisor, but then goes on to state that his counsel is not good this time. No one is perfect. No one is right all the time. Ahithophel is nearly always right, but not this time. Then he presented his counter-plan (v11-132) that Absalom first muster an army from all Israel, "as the sand that is by the sea for multitude" and that Absalom personally lead it. Then they could fall upon David and his forces "as the dew falleth on the ground" and annihilate them all. If perchance he had taken refuge in a city, they would tear it down "until there be not one small stone found there". But Hushai first brilliantly challenges the assumptions on which Ahithophel's plans are based, and thus the plans as well. He proposes a very different David, one he knows very well for he has spent many years at his side, and thus suggests a very different plan. This brilliantly makes use of the fact that would normally make Absalom suspicious of taking his advice - his closeness to David! Hushai insists that Ahithophel has dangerously underestimated David and his ability to defend himself and his kingdom and reminds Absalom and the elders of Israel about David's known qualities. David is no mental weakling, but a tough and seasoned warrior. Absalom's rebellion will not break David's spirit but will antagonize him. He will be like a she-bear, deprived of her cubs. David will be ready and fighting mad! If Ahithophel comes into the wilderness to attack David, they will fight him in his own back-yard, on his turf. This sounds very reasonable for, after all, David has spent years hiding from Saul in the wilderness. Does Ahithophel really think David can easily be found sitting among the rest of the people? He will be hiding out and, when Ahithophel and his small army arrive, David will pounce on them, delivering a humiliating defeat. It will be Absalom's soldiers who will lose heart and run, not David or his men.
Hushai makes brilliant use of his knowledge of Absalom by intimating that it will take a great military leader, rather than someone like Ahithophel. It will take Absalom himself to lead this army. It will be a great battle, with a great leader, and a great victory will be the outcome - which is just the kind of plan that appeals to a man who has been accustomed to riding about in a chariot, preceded by 50 runners! Absalom loves pomp, and Hushai's plan reeks of it and therefore prevails . It is not a carelessly proposed plan, but extremely insightful and appealing and, most importantly, a plan God assured would be adopted by making it sound attractive to Absalom and his men, for we read (144):
And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom.
This seems an astounding change, for we learned earlier that Absalom's confidence in Ahithophel would be great, for his counsel was as though one had "inquired of the word of God" (16:232). Hushai knows Absalom doubts his loyalty, because he has been David's friend (16:16-19). He must know that Absalom and all the elders have already given their approval to Ahithophel's plan and that David's life may depend on the response he gives to Absalom. This certainly appears to be a predicament with massive danger involved for Hushai. But we know something else: our Omnipotent, Supernatural God is involved. David had already prayed that God would somehow nullify the counsel of Ahithophel (15:31). We also read in the text: "the LORD ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, in order that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom" (17:144). We might be inclined to minimize the difficulty of Hushai's task, as though Absalom and the elders of Israel must embrace Hushai's counsel no matter how foolish it might be. We are therefore inclined to think of Hushai's counsel as groundless and foolish, but accepted by Absalom and his servants because their eyes are blinded by the Lord to the truth of the matter. But we should acknowledge that Hushai is given great wisdom by God, and that his plan makes perfect sense, when viewed from Absalom's point of view. We should also be careful, especially after reading that people took Ahithophel's advice as "though they had taken counsel from God," and then make the mistake of thinking of Ahithophel's counsel as "good" in any moral sense. It appears to be a "good plan" in that, if followed, it seems it would result in David's death and in the consolidation of Absalom's rule over Israel. It is not "good" in any moral sense, for it actually recommends the killing of God's anointed king. It is not "good" in that it urges Absalom to commit adultery by sleeping with his father's wives. Neither can it be good in that Ahithophel apparently has his own sinful ambitions and agenda, for he declares that he will kill the king alone (17:2), which prompt him to give this counsel to Absalom. Ahithophel's counsel is extraordinarily "shrewd" in several ways. First, it almost certainly would have worked, barring the direct intervention of God. Second, it offered an appealing course of action to Absalom. He, not unlike his father David in his time of sinning with Bathsheba, can stay home from the battle and "make love" while Ahithophel and his army are making war with David. Absalom can quickly enter into his possession of the throne, yet without the dangers or discomforts of going into battle. As an added incentive, he can indulge himself with David's wives in a way that gets back at David and hurts and humiliates his father. Only David, who is Absalom's real enemy, will be killed.
In obedience to David's earlier instructions we read (v15) that Hushai sent a complete account of the two plans to the king, via the priests Zadok and Abiathar, instructing them to send word to David by way of Jonathan and Ahimaaz who were staying at En-rogel, a small village located in the valley below the city of Jerusalem. This village was a well used water source which women would frequent to obtain water and it was probably on this pretext that the maidservant went to inform the two messengers. They were seen, however, by a lad who promptly reported it to Absalom (v18). So, they hid in the well of a friendly householder, whose wife spread grain over the opening, and sent Absalom's messengers looking for them in the opposite direction. When the young men reached David, they passed the word from Hushai (v212): "Arise, and pass quickly over the water, for thus hath Ahithophel counseled against you." Immediately, that same night, David and all who were with him crossed over the Jordan into the wilderness. Had Ahithophel set out to attack David the evening before, it may have been a very different story. When Ahithophel saw that Absalom was not going to follow his advice, he foresaw the tragedy that would come to the side he had chosen. He saddled his donkey, hurried home, evidently to another city, set his house in order, and strangled himself. He knew that he was a traitor to his old friend, and now he sensed that God's hand was against him as well as Absalom. He had gambled everything on the assumption that Absalom would prevail over David. Now he knew that Absalom was destined to be defeated and suicide seemed like the only answer. What a tragic end for a man with such great potential.
Absalom had made Amasa, a cousin of Joab, his Commander-in-Chief. As they set out in pursuit, David entered the gates of Mahanaim. At this point David's previous political astuteness began to pay off. In 2 Samuel 12:29-31, following the attack on Rabbah and the sons of Ammon, David did not slaughter them as he usually did. He put them to work. Now, as he fled across the Jordan, he was met by Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah, and now King of the Ammonites; Machir, son of Ammiel of Lodebar (17:27), the man who took in Mephibosheth after the death of King Saul and of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:4-5); and one Barzillai, a Gileadite, an elderly man of great wealth. The men brought need provisions that included beds, utensils, and a generous supply of food. They evidently remembered how David had spared the lives of their relatives. We also note from 2 Samuel 16:1-3, that Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth had also brought supplies.
As news of Absalom's movements reached him, David saw that the time for retreat was over and it was necessary to stand and fight. He took a census of his men (who numbered in the thousands) and divided them into three companies with a third under Joab, a third under Abishai, Joab's brother, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The old thrill of battle must have been coursing through David's veins, for he announced (18:22): "I will surely go forth with you myself also." However, his people dissuaded him, saying (18:32): Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now it is better that thou succour us out of the city. David agreed to stay behind at Mahanaim and wait by the gate for news of the battle. But, as his troops are about to go to war on behalf of their king, David had some final words for them. It was not the usual pep talk, with all the hype and focus on victory. Neither was it at all like Joab's words, uttered just before the attack waged on the Syrians and the Ammonites:
11 He said, "If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the sons of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will come to help you. 12 "Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what is good in His sight" (2 Samuel 10:11-124).
Instead, all the people heard him command his generals (18:52): "Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom." Everyone heard these words. How different from the advice of Ahithophel, who intended to kill David alone, and let the rest of the people live. David allowed his men to kill any other Israelite, but not his son, the leader of the revolution. He commanded those who were risking their lives for him to fight, but almost to fight not to win! His ill-founded, ill-proportioned, warped love for his evil son, was beginning to take precedence over his love for God's kingdom and God's people. But Hushai's plan brought about a bigger battle, so that not only would many of Absalom's supporters die, but Absalom himself would be killed, thus ending the revolution. Hushai's plan gave David the time he needed to organise his kind of battle, guerrilla warfare, so that the forest will kill more than his soldiers (2 Samuel 18:8). Hushai's plan made Ahithophel's counsel seem foolish, which is exactly what David had prayed for (15:31), and brought about the deliverance of David and the defeat of his enemies. Truly, the God of Israel is the only True God and He alone can bring victory out of the utmost despair and seeming disaster.
1. McKane, William. 1 and 2 Samuel. Torch Bible Commentaries. London: SCM Press, 1963
2. King James Authorized Bible, 1769
3. Laney, J. Carl, First and Second Samuel, Everyman̓s Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1982
4. New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation, 1977
5. Vos, Howard F. 1, 2 Samuel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983.
6. Moriarty, Frederick, The Second Book of Samuel, New York: Paulist Press, 1971
7. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.
8. John J. Davis and John C. Whitcomb, Israel: From Conquest to Exile (Winona Lake, Indiana, BMH Books, 1969, 1970, 1971), p. 313.
9. Hertzberg, H.W. I and 2 Samuel: A Commentary, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964.