The Would-Be King, The Would-Be Advisors

The advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one inquired of the word of God; so was all the advice of Ahithophel regarded by both David and Absalom. (2 Samuel 16:23 NASB)

This chapter, or even this entire account of David and Absalom, could be called, “Fooling Some Of The People Some Of The Time.”  The contrast continues between David, the king selected by God, and his son, Absalom who would be king by right of treachery.  Absalom has lied and burrowed his way into the hearts and minds of some of the people, the ‘men of Israel’, but David has true friends, true followers, and the true hearts and minds of the nation.  At the last section of this chapter, we look at the would-be king, and his would-be advisers.

The Counselor, Hushai

Absalom and Hushai enter the city at the same time, and as Hushai, the friend of David, is brought to Absalom, he goes through the litany of ‘God save the King!’  From the previous chapter we know that Hushai is still the friend of David.  He’s simply the informer for the intelligence network David setup as he left Jerusalem.  But Absalom is not initially convinced.  It’s hard for him, even given his enormous vanity, to believe such a friend of his father would abandon him so easily.

Hushai essentially says that the right to rule lies with the people, and since they seem to be following Absalom, so will he.  He avoids trashing David, which would never be believed.  He does not vaunt the qualities of Absalom, which would never be believed.  He provides an examination of the situation in cool, reasonable, and clear terms.  His explanation doesn’t even make himself as much unfaithful to David as faithful to the people of Israel and their god.  To a merely pragmatic ego-centric ‘practical atheist’, it makes perfect sense.  And I think this indicates that Hushai’s understanding of Absalom is spot on.

The dialogue between Absalom and Hushai is instructive here.  Absalom’s question about Hushai’s loyalty to David uses a word which we normally think of as ‘covenant love/faithfulness’.  It’s a word that is always ‘done’, as in ‘do faithfulness’ or ‘do love’ or whatever word is used to translate it.  God does it to us, and He wants us to do it with Him (which we’re terrible at).  The use of this word pulls in, possibly in a mocking tone, the religious position of David and his God and his friends.  It could be that Absalom is mocking the faithfulness of God to David by pointing out the current situation doesn’t support such a view.  And Hushai standing before him is even further proof of God’s faithlessness to David.

The response to this question is also instructive.  Hushai seems to imply that the chosen one of God is the chosen one of the people.  This hasn’t been the behavior of God in the past, but Absalom doesn’t seem that familiar with the stories.  On the other hand, that does dovetail well with the slow progression of David to the throne over all Israel.  Absalom seems well disposed to infer that indeed not only does he have the hearts of the people, but also the heart of God since, here he stands.  To the degree that he believes in some sort of deity, he seems to believe such a one is with him; but only on pragmatic grounds, here he stands in Jerusalem in his father’s place as proof.

The Counselor, Ahithophel

Absalom, flush with the adrenaline of success and heady to be at the forefront of the people of Israel, standing in his father’s place, finally to rule over this people, asks the obvious question on everyone’s mind; “So, what do we do now?”

Having schemed for the last eight years, committed murder, used his sister’s rape to further his own ends, plotted in the open in the gate of Jerusalem, and calculated every encounter and relationship, now seems at a loss.  It’s almost as if he never really thought he’d get this far.  On the other hand, with so much yet left to do to solidify his position, he could be asking, ‘what do we do first’, but there’s a way to ask that and he didn’t use those terms.

Perhaps the best indication of how he truly got to that position to ask such a question is in that he asks Ahithophel.  It could be that this question aimed at this man illuminates him as the driver of this ‘Bus to the Abyss’.  If that is so, Ahithophel’s ‘bus ride’ limited by the one he has chosen as his ‘vehicle’.  Absalom sees little beyond his own self-importance in his world, not even the central importance of Ahithophel.  But for now, Ahithophel continues to see a path.

The advice given takes a surprising direction.  In our culture and society, this just seems strange and unnecessary; perhaps even twisted.  It was even more twisted in their setting.  I think Ahithophel’s advice is aimed at a perceived element of ‘being king’.  From various Scriptural clues, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in that day, sexual virility is part of what makes one a ‘valid king’, or at least a powerful one.  If you picture a lion and his pride, you have some sort of idea of the image.  Ahithophel is counseling Absalom to publicly undermine this element of David’s kingship.

The result is supposed to be to demonstrate to the people that there is no turning back, for Absalom or for the people following him.  It should strengthen the people following Absalom, and demonstrate to the people undecided that Absalom is truly the rightful king now.  He has taken the place of his father on both the throne and ‘the bed’.  I’m not sure that it strengthened his position or not.  I’m not even sure there wasn’t some other motive for Ahithophel in all of this.  I’m just not sure.  Ahithophel is an enigma to me.

Absalom certainly seems favorable to the recommendation.  This one of Ahithophel’s recommendations is at least fun for him!  The sheer vanity and self-importance of the man would not permit him to think otherwise.  He probably considered himself to be a great replacement in the lives of the concubines.  Ahithophel’s advice here was perfectly aimed at both Absalom, and his father; and drove an irreconcilable wedge between them and between the people and their king.  It was nicely done, and supports the final statement of this chapter, sited above.

But he is not God.  And God has not had His final word just yet.  I suppose that is where I find my point of application.  That may be the point of the writer, at least as far as we are in the story.  The statement forms a hinge in the story where Ahithophel goes from in to out with his ‘vehicle to power’, Absalom.  It’s a statement that perhaps illustrates that Ahithophel is himself as, or even more, ego-centric than the would-be king.  Such a self-perception is a dangerous trap, but an attractive one.

And In Conclusion…

It is a struggle of mine to avoid falling in love with my own views.  As I have said before, focusing on ‘knothole theology’ is partly a method to avoid this problem I have.  I don’t want to be Ahithophel, using another to drive myself to the top.  I don’t want to be Absalom regarding myself as the rightful one to ‘rule’ (whatever ‘rule’ may mean for me at the time).  Considering the contrast, I want to be like David, willing to step aside to save others.  I want to be patient enough to wait for what my Master brings, as He brings it, whenever He brings it.  I want to follow His lead, and work in the work He does.

So, in my job that I both love and hate, I am to honor my Master above my company.  In my family I am to have the heart of my Master toward my wife and daughter.  In my church I am to seek the collective unifying worship of my King, and collective ministry to His world.  But in all of this, I must seek to constantly keep my heart and mind; my focus and intention; completely on my Master.

And all the people said, ‘well Duh!’  Okay then, what’s your view through the knothole? No, seriously, we all need your view.

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Matt Brumage

Educated for Christian ministry, but currently working in the business world.

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