2 Samuel Chapter 17


The Death of Ahithophel

      • Ahithophel told Absalom, “Let me choose 12,000 men and we will set out in pursuit of David tonight. I will catch up with him while he is exhausted and weak. He’ll panic and all the people with him will run away. I will only kill the king and bring the rest of the people back like a bride coming home to her husband. After all, it is only the one man’s life that you seek, and all the people will be at peace.”

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes discuss a discrepancy in the text, “Heb ‘like the returning of all, the man whom you are seeking.’ The LXX reads differently: ‘And I will return all the people to you the way a bride returns to her husband, except for the life of the one man whom you are seeking.’ The other early versions also struggled with this verse. Modern translations are divided as well: the NAB, NRSV, REB, and NLT follow the LXX, while the NASB and NIV follow the Hebrew text.”

      • This seemed like a good proposal to Absalom and all the elders of Israel. But Absalom said, “Bring Hushai the Arkite and let’s hear what he has to say.” So Hushai came to Absalom and Absalom said, “Here is what Ahithophel has proposed. Should we follow his advice? If not, what do you suggest?”

      • Hushai replied to Absalom, “This time Ahithophel’s advice isn’t good. You know your father and his men- they are mighty warriors, and they are as angry as a bear robbed of her cubs. Your father is an experienced soldier. He won’t stay overnight with the people. He is probably already hiding in a cave or somewhere. If it turns out that he attacks our troops first, whoever hears about it will say, ‘There has been a great slaughter among Absalom’s followers!’ Then even the bravest of men, whose heart is like a lion’s, will melt with fear because all of Israel knows that your father and the valiant troops with him are brave. Therefore, this is my advice: Gather all of Israel to you, from Dan all the way to Beersheba, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Then, you lead them into battle personally. We will attack him wherever we find him, falling on him as dew falls upon the ground. Neither he nor a single one of his men will be left alive. If he retreats to some city, then all of Israel will bring ropes to that city and drag it down to the valley so that not even a pebble will be left.”

        • ESV Study Bible explains, “Cities were often attacked by pulling down the walls by means of ropes attached to grappling hooks. Since cities were usually build on high places, they were hard to rebuild once the stones of their walls had been dragged into the valley…”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The nationwide military conscription from…Dan to Beersheba (the northern and southern limits of Israel) was intended to produce an overwhelmingly superior fighting force.”

      • Now, Yahweh had decreed that Ahithophel’s good advice be undermined in order for Yahweh to bring disaster on Absalom. So, Absalom and all the Israelite men said, “The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than Ahithophel’s advice.”

        • ESV Study Bible provides this excellent summary, “This chaper presents the crucial contest between Ahithophel and Hushai before Absalom and the elders of Israel…Ahithophel makes the very sound proposal to attack and kill David immediately. With no one else to turn to, he says, the whole country would embrace Absalom. If this ‘good counsel’ (v. 14) had been followed, it is likely that David, whose large group was indeed weary and discouraged (v. 2; see 16:14), would have been defeated. Absalom, however, decides to hear the opinion of Hushai. He trusts him enough to hear him but, sensibly, not enough to invite him to take part in the deliberations of the war council (Call Hushai. 17:5). Hushai gives a vivid, time-consuming speech full of similes, making a proposal that is flattering to Absalom as leader of all Israel (v. 11), but that will let David regroup and choose his own time and place of battle with his experienced, trained force. Hushai then apparently withdraws while the council considers the proposals…The council rejects Ahithophel’s good counsel in favor of Hushai’s deceptive and wrong counsel. The writer specifically says that this rejection was the work of the Lord (v. 14)…The poor decision seals Absalom’s doom…”

          • Here was a wonderful effect of Divine Providence blinding Absalom’s mind and influencing his heart, that he could not rest in Ahithophel’s counsel, and that he should desire Hushai’s advice. But there is no contending with that God who can arm a man against himself, and destroy him by his own mistakes and passions. Ahithophel’s former counsel was followed, for God intended to correct David; but his latter counsel was not followed, for God meant not to destroy him. He can overrule all counsels. Whatever wisdom or help any man employs or affords, the success is from God alone, who will not let his people perish.”

      • Hushai told the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, “This is what Ahithophel advised Absalom and the elders of Israel to do, and this is what I advised. So, hurry and send word to David, ‘Don’t stay at the fords of the wilderness tonight. Instead, be sure you cross over. Otherwise the king and all the people with him will be overwhelmed.’”

        • ESV Study Bible notes, “…Hushai knows that if Ahithophel’s advice is accepted, there will be no time to lose, so even before he hears the result of the deliberations he sends word to David that he should at least cross the Jordan River (vv. 15-16)…”

      • Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying at En Rogel because they couldn’t risk being seen entering the city. A female servant would go and pass along information to them, then they would go and inform King David. However, a young man did see them and reported it to Absalom. So, the two of them left quickly and went to the house of a man in Bahurim. He had a well in his courtyard, and they climbed down into it. Then the man’s wife spread a covering over the mouth of the well and scattered some grain on top of it, so no one knew about it.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “En-rogel, now known as ‘Job’s Well,’ is just south of where the Kidron Valley joins the Hinnom Valley, on the boundary between Judah and Benjamin (Josh 15:7; 18:16). It would have been dangerous for the priests’ sons, apparently known supporters of David (2 Sam 17:18), to be seen in Jerusalem. Therefore, a necessary link in the chain from Hushai to David is the female servant, probably a maid in the household of one of the priests whose normal duties took her to the water.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “Because of the semiarid climate of the land of Palestine, wells were both numerous and important. Wells were constructed by digging a vertical shaft down to the water table. The top opening of wells was typically 5 to 6.5 feet in diameter, and the depth varied depending on the water table, some being quite deep…To prevent collapse, the shafts of wells were lined with field stones, and to prevent contamination of water or danger to unwary people or animals, the opening was covered in some way (e.g., with a stone slab.) Flat covers could be disguised so as to prevent discovery of the well, as appears to have been done here.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible reminds us, “Bahurim was the home of Shimei, the pro-Saul Benjaminite (16:5; 19:16). Shimei’s cursing of David at Bahurim reflected David’s decline, while the escape of Ahimaaz and Jonathan pictured the hope of David’s resurgence.”

      • When Absalom’s servants came to the woman at her home, they asked, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” The woman answered, “They crossed over the stream.” The men looked for them, but couldn’t find them, so they went back to Jerusalem.

      • After the men had gone, Ahimaaz and Jonathan climbed out of the well and went and informed King David. They told him, “Get up and cross the water quickly because Ahithophel has devised this plan against you.” So David and everyone with him got up and crossed the Jordan. By daybreak there was not one single person who hadn’t crossed the Jordan.

      • When Ahithophel realized that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and went back home to his hometown. He set his affairs in order, then he hanged himself. So, he died and was buried in his father’s tomb.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Wise enough to recognize that Absalom’s failure to follow his advice would lead to a victory and return to power for David, Ahithophel must have understood that his life was forfeit because of his treason. Ahithophel may have felt that he was only hastening the inevitable on his own terms (after having ‘put his house in order’)…”

      • Guzik cites the insightful words of Spurgeon in response to this event, “Thousands set their houses in order, but destroy their souls; they look well to their flocks and their herds, but not to their hearts’ best interests. They gather broken shells with continuous industry, but they throw away priceless diamonds. They exercise forethought, prudence, care, everywhere but where they are most required. They save their money, but squander their happiness; they are guardians of their estates, but suicides of their souls.”

      • David had arrived at Mahanaim by the time Absalom had crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. Now Absalom had appointed Amasa over the army in Joab’s place. Amasa’s father was Ithra the Ishmaelite, and his mother was Abigail, Nahash’s daughter. Abigail and Joab’s mother, Zeruiah, were sisters. Israel and Absalom camped in the land of Gilead.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Mahanaim, once the capital city of Ishbosheth and Abner (2:8, 12, 29), became David’s base of operations.”

        • Long story short, Joab and Amasa were cousins- their mothers were sisters. However, the details of the genealogy listed in the text present a couple of issues. First, Amasa’s father is listed in Chronicles by both a different name (Jether) and ethnic designation (Israelite). Second, there is argument about the identity of Nahash. Pulpit Commentary provides an excellent summation of the issues, the relevant textual evidence, as well as a short history of the various arguments and their merits (or lack thereof):

          • Ithra an Israelite. In 1 Chronicles 2:17 he is called ‘Jether the Ishmeelite.’ The first name is the same, Ithra being the emphatic form of Jether; and as it is difficult to find a reason for mentioning so ordinary a fact as that his father was an Israelite, we may conclude that ‘Ishmeelite’ is the correct reading. Bishop Wordsworth, however, suggests that ‘Israelite’ was in contrast to ‘Judahite;’ but this distinction did not come into use until after the disruption of the kingdom. The Vatican text of the Septuagint has ‘Jezreelite,’ which is probably a conjecture to get rid of the obvious error of calling him an Israelite.”

          • As an aside, note that the Septuagint tradition is split. Codex Vaticanus (i.e., “Vatican” in the citation above) has “Jezreelite”, but Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes that the Alexandrian Codex reads differently, “The Alex. MS. of the LXX reads Ishmaelite…”

          • Nahash. Jewish interpreters regard Nahash (equivalent to ‘serpent’) as another name for Jesse, quoting in proof, ‘Out of the root of Nahash (the serpent) shall come forth the basilisk’ (Isaiah 14:29), which in the Chaldee Paraphrase is explained as meaning, ‘out of the root of Jesse shall come forth the Messiah.’ This conceit would scarcely have deserved mention, had it not found a place in the margin of the Authorized Version. Some few commentators regard Nahash as a woman’s name, and think that she was a wife of Jesse, and mother of Abigail and Zeruiah, but not of David. But Nahash is so constantly a man’s name that it is easier to believe that Nahash was the first husband of David’s mother, and Abigail and Zeruiah his half-sisters, not on the father’s, but on the mother’s side. Joab and his brothers are always described as sons of Zeruiah, both to mark their relationship to David, and also because the rank was on her side.”

          • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges adds the following element of support for the understanding that Nahash was David’s mother’s first husband, “This view has in its favour the guarded statement of 1 Chronicles 2:16, which does not say that they were Jesse’s daughters, but sisters of his sons.”

      • When David arrived at Mahanaim, the following men brought several items: Shobi, Nahash’s son, who was from Rabbah of the Ammonites; Makir, Ammiel’s son, who was from Lo Debar; and Barzillai, the Gileadite who was from Rogelim. They brought bedding, bowls, pottery vessels, wheat, barley, flour, roasted grain, beans, lentils, honey, curds, flocks, and cheese. They said, “The people have surely become hungry, tired, and thirsty in the wilderness.”

        • ESV Study Bible notes, “Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites apparently was the brother of Hanun, the king of Ammon (10:2). David had probably set him on the throne in place of his brother (12:30)…Machir had sheltered Mephibosheth in his childhood (9:4). Barzillai later accompanies David on his trip back to Jerusalem (19:31-39). The fact that these people came from a distance suggests that David had real support in the area of Gilead.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible mentions an additional Barzillai mentioned in the text, “Barzillai of Gilead was probably not the same Barzillai from Meholah (21:8).”

        • Pulpit Commentary includes this very interesting additional information about Barzillai:

        • Of Barzillai, and his abode, Rogelim, nothing more is known than what is said here, and in the very interesting narrative in 2 Samuel 19:31, etc. David’s lasting gratitude to him is shown by his care for his sons (see 1 Kings 2:7). A clan of priests called themselves ‘the children of Barzillai,’ and claimed to be the descendants of his daughter. They could not, however, produce their genealogy, and were therefore degraded from the priestly office (Ezra 2:61-63). Their claim, nevertheless, is a proof that Barzillai was a little king in Gilead, when thus a priestly race thought their alliance with him so honourable as to make them forget that they were of the lineage of Aaron.”

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