Well, the Coronavirus has gone from a local reality in China to a global pandemic according to the World Health Organization. Because of this nations have closed themselves off, travel bans have begun, universities have sent students home, sports leagues abroad have suspended seasons, and all over the world people have grown concerned. Watching and hearing such things can truly be a bit un-nerving can’t it? Or maybe you’re more than concerned, maybe you feel as if the world is all of sudden spiraling out of control? Maybe, from all of these things taking place it seems to you that God’s rule, God’s reign, and God’s purposes are a bit ‘iffy.’ All of this is understandable, for sure, but allow me to remind you of what we believe. We believe that God is King, sovereign, in control, on the throne. We believe that nothing can undermine, frustrate, or overthrow God’s purposes in this world. We believe our God governs all things to the glory of His name and the good of His people. These are fundamental, rock-solid truths we must remember in times like this. So, however you feel amid all of this, I think we all could do with a robust reminder of God’s supreme rule and authority over all things.
And guess what? It’s almost as if God knows exactly what we need. In our series through 2 Samuel, we’ve arrived at a chapter intended to show us these very things. In chapter 17 we see God’s Kingdom attacked, God’s people under great threat, and it seems all of it is hanging by a thread. But we see more. We also see God sovereign over that attack and God providing for His people during this attack.
So I believe God has much to encourage our hearts with today and that by the end of this chapter we’ll arrive, Lord willing, at a peace that can only come by seeing, savoring, and rejoicing that the Lord is King.
There are three movements to this chapter, begin with me in…
The Counselors (v1-14)
As chapter 16 ended we read of the deplorable counsel Ahithophel gave to Absalom, how Absalom was eager to carry it out, and that Ahithophel’s counsel was esteemed highly by both David in the past and clearly by Absalom in the present. As we begin chapter 17 the storyline doesn’t seem to skip a beat in v1-3 as Ahithophel gives more counsel. “Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise 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.”
Ahithophel’s counsel to Absalom is clear, calculated, and concise. First, he would select a large force of 12,000 men. 12,000 probably to symbolically represent the whole nation coming out against David. With this group behind him Ahithophel wants to pursue David that very night. Second, he desires to hurry and attack that very night because he knows David and those with him are currently weak and weary. He believes this will throw them into a dreadful panic forcing them to flee in all directions. Third, he will avoid all collateral damage and execute David alone. And fourth, with David no longer being alive Ahithophel would seek a peaceful resolution and return of all the people to Absalom and under his reign. Or perhaps see it like this: Ahithophel promised all the people would be at peace at the cost of only one man’s life.
We don’t know if Ahithophel thought Absalom lacked the fortitude to lead this operation but we do know that he sure thought that he was strong enough to lead it. The tone of his advice in v1-3 is all about him, ‘Let me choose…I will arise…I will come…I will strike…I will bring.’ Nonetheless, if you’re in Absalom’s position this is good advice. David is at a weak moment currently and he and his people wouldn’t be able to handle a surprise attack. If Absalom were a wise king he’d take advantage of the moment while he has it and secure his place as king over this kingdom. After all, we read 16:23, what can be better than the advice of Ahithophel who is always correct. So it’s no surprise that we then read in v4, “And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.”
You’d think at this point all hope is lost. That Absalom will immediately follow this counsel, send out Ahithophel to kill David, and welcome all the people home…but in a very unexpected turn of events, he doesn’t. Rather, in v5 Absalom says, “Call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say.” Do you see what’s going on here that Absalom and Ahithophel don’t see? Remember 15:31, David had just heard his grandfather and famed counselor Ahithophel had joined up with Absalom and he utters a short prayer, “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” Remember also 15:34, David is doing his own sneaking and plotting by sending his friend Hushai back into the city so that he can “defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel.” See what’s going now? All indications would seem to lead us to the conclusion that Absalom is about to put Ahithophel’s plan into action at the end of v4, but in v5 David’s prayer begins to be answered and David’s plan begins to unfold.
So after Absalom calls for a second opinion, in walks Hushai and in v6 Absalom makes his job a lot easier telling him, “Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you speak.” Now in v7-13 we see his counsel, “Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” Hushai said, “You know that your father and his men are mighty men, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Besides, your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the people. Behold, even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits or in some other place. And as soon as some of the people fall at the first attack, whoever hears it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ Then even the valiant man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and that those who are with him are valiant men. But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, as the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. So we shall come upon him in some place where he is to be found, and we shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground, and of him and all the men with him not one will be left. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there.”
Before we get to his advice did you notice how much longer Hushai’s counsel is than Ahithophel’s? Ahithophel’s counsel is just like him, it’s quick, straightforward, and full of action, only taking 42 Hebrew words. Hushai’s counsel on the other hand is triple the length, it’s filled with a warnings, symbolic language, comes at a much slower pace, and takes up 129 Hebrew words. This shows us the intention of these counselors. Ahithophel knows quick action is needed while Hushai desires to slow things down.
Well what did Hushai advise? He begins by casting doubt on Ahithophel’s plan. He acknowledges in v7 that while Ahithophel’s advice is usually right, this time his words are not good. Then in v8-10 he begins expanding on this with a key phrase saying, “You know…” This would’ve been music to prideful Absalom, because Hushai says Absalom already knows what Ahithophel doesn’t, that David and his men are mighty warriors. That David and his men haven’t ever been undone in a battle, and that they’re formidable opponents. He calls them ‘enraged…experts in war’ saying that even now David is already planning how to defend an attack, not spending the night with the people but lying hidden away somewhere, which implies that he won’t be found as easy as Ahithophel thinks. More so, Ahithophel thinks he will surprise David, but isn’t it more likely that David surprises him? Then as soon as he pounces on Ahithophel and his 12,000 men and show themselves to be mighty, even the bravest will flee. After this in v11-13 Hushai keeps going and tells Absalom what he should do instead and as he began in v8 he speaks to Absalom’s vanity in v11. ‘Ahithophel shouldn’t lead the way, no, you should. Gather all Israel and take them out to war against David, and we shall fall on him like dew falls on the ground (meaning we will smother him all around such that he can’t escape us), and whether he stands and fights or flees to a nearby city under your lead we will not leave one of them alive.’
Hushai’s counsel plays on Absalom’s fears (David is mighty, a force to be reckoned with!) but he also stirs up his vanity (Absalom, you know these things, and you should lead us!). “The speech is masterful…it simultaneously discredits Ahithophel, undermines Absalom’s confidence, and magnifies the king’s worst fears, while it buys David precious time to escape and regroup, which ultimately lays the foundation for David’s return to Jerusalem.” I think we’re now able to see that while Ahithophel’s plan was brilliant, Hushai’s counsel was brilliant. While Ahithophel knew how to defeat David, Hushai knew how to defeat Absalom. And while Ahithophel gave better advice, Hushai gave more convincingadvice. So in v14a we read, “And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” If v14 stopped there we might be tempted to elevate Hushai far higher than we ought to for his cunning wisdom and righteous craftiness. But v14 keeps on and shows us more, “For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom.” There it is! Ahithophel’s counsel took 42 words, Hushai’s counsel took 129 words, now we see the counsel that ruled over it all was no man’s, it was the Lord’s, and it’s only 14 words in the Hebrew. In other words, David’s prayer back in 15:31 has been answered, and his plan in 15:34 has succeeded. God has defeated and turned Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness by making it appear foolish to Absalom.
So in this first movement of the chapter the main characters are Absalom, Ahithophel, and Hushai. Yet, all the while there is God: sovereign, in control, reigning over these things. No trumpets announce it, no billboards advertise it, there’s only this brief little text that reveals it. And isn’t it usually like that? In all our conversations, decisions, and activities His scepter might seem hidden, things might seem iffy or out of control…but may we ever remember that among the Absaloms and Ahithophels of life, even when viruses seem to run amuck, there is truly no rogue molecule in the universe, our God reigns over all.
We’ve seen the counselors, now see…
The Spies (v15-23)
Right away the text moves away from Hushai before Absalom and the elders of Israel to Hushai sneaking to a quiet corner speaking hurriedly with the priests Zadok and Abiathar. Hushai’s counsel had slowed the pace of the narrative and now it quickens once again. v15-16 tell us, “Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, “Thus and so did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and so have I counseled. Now therefore send quickly and tell David, ‘Do not stay tonight at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over, lest the king and all the people who are with him be swallowed up.’”
Remember Zadok and Abiathar, along with their sons and Hushai had been sent back into the city to be spies for David. And even though it seems like Absalom and all the elders were swayed to reject the counsel of Ahithophel, Hushai now tells the priestly spies to plan for the worst, that David should keep on and go deeper into the wilderness lest they be swallowed up. What happens next? v17-20 tells us, “Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were waiting at En-rogel. A female servant was to go and tell them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they were not to be seen entering the city. But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So both of them went away quickly and came to the house of a man at Bahurim, who had a well in his courtyard. And they went down into it. And the woman took and spread a covering over the well’s mouth and scattered grain on it, and nothing was known of it. When Absalom’s servants came to the woman at the house, they said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” And the woman said to them, “They have gone over the brook of water.” And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.
The sneaky priest’s sons were waiting outside the city because they didn’t want to be seen and a female servant was sent to go and tell them this urgent news, but after telling them they were seen by a young man who then went and told Absalom about it. Knowing how suspicious they looked they knew they had to hide even though their message was urgent, so they went into the house of a man in Bahurim, hid in his well, and his wife spread cloth over it and scattered grain on it to give the impression it’s been like that for sometime. Apparently, Absalom’s servants had no trouble tracking the priest’s sons to this particular town and this particular house, but the valiant wife in Rahab like fashion (or maybe Hushai like fashion) sent them off on a wild goose chase saying the sons had come but had already gone on over a nearby brook. They went off to look and of course the trail went cold so they went back to the city. Clearly these guys weren’t informed and were more like anonymous henchman, because if they knew what was at stake they wouldn’t have given up so easily. v21-22 pick up next, “After they had gone, the men came up out of the well, and went and told King David. They said to David, “Arise, and go quickly over the water, for thus and so has Ahithophel counseled against you.” Then David arose, and all the people who were with him, and they crossed the Jordan. By daybreak not one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.”
Imagine waiting down in this well. The sons are hiding, trying hard not to breath loud, wondering if Absalom’s men will get the truth out of this couple, wondering how long they’ll be down there, knowing they’ve got to get to David soon. And then the cover of the well comes off and they look up probably gripping their swords, only to see the face of friends and not enemies. Up they came and off they went to tell David the news, and David quickly led all his host across the Jordan that very night.
But as all seems to well with David v23 makes an abrupt change back to Ahithophel and all isn’t well with him. “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, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.” Throughout the previous chapters Ahithophel was said to be and has shown himself to be wise, in v23 this continues. He knows the rejection of his counsel means his own ruin and the defeat of Absalom. And he knows once David returns to the city, he’ll have no place within the city, and will have to face his former king as a traitor, who will then surely face a traitor’s death. So in a manner very similar to his former counsel, the details of his own death are quick, straightforward, calculated, and deliberate, full of fast moving verbs. But as tragic as Ahithophel’s death is, be reminded what his end reminds us of. It’s a potent reminder, perhaps even a warning, of what will come of anyone who rejects God’s rule and sets themselves up against God’s Kingdom.
The Preview (v24-29)
After seeing the events unfold with the counselors and the spies, the chapter now comes to a close with a preview of what’s to come. v24-29, “Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. Now Absalom had set Amasa over the army instead of Joab. Amasa was the son of a man named Ithra the Ishmaelite, who had married Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother. And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead. When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”
So Absalom and his army are ready to go camped in Gilead, and David and his army is ready to go camped in Mahanaim. Which is significant I think, because Mahanaim means ‘two camps.’ Showing us that God’s people were once again separated into ‘two camps’ because they’ve rejected God’s king.
But as we end do not miss that three gentiles: Shobi, Machir, Barzillai bring gifts of provision to David and his people. God’s true king, in need, and receiving gifts from gentiles? Does this sound familiar? It ought to. One day another King would come, who would be the rightful and true King, He too would be in need, and He too would receive gifts from gentiles who had come from afar. How beautifully does the birth of Jesus Christ resound even here?
Also, remember…Ahithophel had planned to bring about peace through the death of one man. Do you see how God frustrated the plans formed against His Kingdom and His people? As wise and strong, or as evil and invincible as things that come against God’s people may seem, God sovereignly rules over it all, and His people can rest in Him. Why? Because God had His own counsels that would stand firm. One day He would come visit His people Himself. He would walk among us as one of us. And yet, through the death of this one Man Jesus Christ, God would indeed bring peace to all who embrace Him by faith.
As is so often the case, the best place to end as we study the life of David is the Psalms. Many think Psalm 42 was written as David and the people were on the flight out into the wilderness. If that is indeed true, Psalm 42 provides a firmness to our feet so prone to fail when trial and suffering and hazard and distress come. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:11)
Rejoice in this…the Lord is King!
 John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 421.
 Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2018), 304.
 David Toshio Tsumura, The Second Book of Samuel – NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2019) 249.
 Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 212.
 The phrase “all the elders of Israel” only occurs three times in the 1-2 Samuel. First when they demanded a king (1 Sam. 8), next when they anointed David as king (2 Sam. 5), and here in v4 when they decide to seek out and destroy the king God had given them.
 Tsumura, The Second Book of Samuel, 249.
 Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, Vol. 2, The Prophets (New York, New York: Norton, 2019), 379.
 Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel – NAC (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 412.
 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 425.
 Davis, 2 Samuel, 214.
 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 428.
 Tsumura, The Second Book of Samuel, 254.
 Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 382.
 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 433.