2 Samuel 16 and 17
In working out His own eternal designs, in ministering to the spiritual and temporal needs of His people, and in delivering them from their enemies, God acts as sovereign, employing subordinate agents or dispensing with them as He pleases. That He is not restrained by the lack of means is evident from His feeding two million Israelites in the wilderness for the space of forty years, by giving them bread from heaven; and from other signal instances recorded in His Word. Nevertheless, generally, He is pleased to make use of means in the accomplishment of His everlasting decrees. Oftentimes those means are feeble ones, altogether inadequate in themselves for accomplishing the ends they do—to show us that their sufficiency lies in Him who deigns to make use of them. Where human agents are employed by God, their unmeetness and unworthiness is often quite apparent, and this, that we may glory not in them, but in the One who condescends to place His treasure in earthen vessels. Unless his principle be clearly recognized by us, we are apt to stumble at the manifest faults in the instruments God employs.
God has never had but one perfect Servant on this earth, and His surpassing excellency is made the more conspicuous by the numerous imperfections of all others. Yet we must not take delight in looking for or dwelling upon the blemishes of those God made use of—like unclean birds see in carrion to feed upon. Who are we, so full of sin ourselves, that we should throw stones at others? On the other hand, the faults recorded in Scripture of those whom God used in various ways must not be made a shelter behind which we hide, in order to excuse our own sins. It is the bearing in mind of these obvious rules which often occasions a real difficulty to the minister of God, whether his preaching be oral or written. It is his duty to use as warnings the faults of Biblical characters; yet, alas, in doing so, he frequently has occasion to condemn himself; yet that is beneficial if it truly humbles him before God.
We are now to consider the means used by God in delivering His servant from the murderous designs of his enemies. If there had been a Jonathan in Saul’s palace to plead his cause and give him intelligence of his father’s plans, so now God raised up an Hushai at the headquarters of Absalom to render him aid and forward him notice of what was impending. Reliable messengers to carry these important tidings from him to David were present in the persons of the two priests, whom David had sent back to Jerusalem in order to there serve his interests; though they had been obliged to lodge outside the city at Enrogel, where a servant-girl communicated, in turn, with them. Yet one other link in the chain was required in order for the contact to be established: the two priests were seen as they started out on their mission, and were pursued by Absalom’s men; but a protector was raised up for them, and they escaped. Thus, in this one instance God made use of a prominent politician, two priests, a maidservant, and a farmer and his wife.
"Then said Absalom, call now Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear likewise what he saith. And when Hushai was come to Absalom, Absalom spake unto him, saying, Ahithophel hath spoken after this manner: shall we do after his saying? if not, speak thou" (2 Sam. 17:5,6). Let it not be forgotten that "the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom" (16:23). Is it not, then, truly remarkable that Absalom did not act promptly on his advice, instead of now conferring with Hushai; the more so as the plan propounded by Ahithophel had "pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel" (v. 4). There is only one satisfactory explanation: God had decreed otherwise! This is far more, my reader, than an incident in ancient history: it furnishes an example of how God regulates the affairs of nations today. Have we not witnessed individuals as devoid of all natural affections, as godless, as ruthless, as unscrupulous as was Absalom, who have forced themselves into the high places of national and international affairs!
Yes, my reader, what the Holy Spirit has recorded here in 2 Samuel 17 is something of much greater importance than an episode which transpired thousands of years ago. The anointed eye may discern in and through it the light of heaven being shed upon the political affairs of earth. God governs as truly in the houses of legislature and in the secret conferences of rulers and diplomats, as He does the elements and the heavenly bodies: He it is who rules their selfish schemings and overrules the counter plans of others. It was so here in Jerusalem in the long ago; it is so, just as actually now, at London, Washington, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Rome. The very reason why the Spirit has chronicled our incident in the imperishable pages of Holy Writ is that God’s people in all succeeding generations might know that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whosoever He will" (Dan. 4:17, 25, 32)— alas, that through the ignorance and unfaithfulness of the modern pulpit so many believers are now deprived of that comforting assurance.
God’s Word is a living Word, and not an obsolete history of things which took place in the far-distant past. It is to our own irreparable loss if we fail to turn its light upon the mysteries of life and the "dark places of the earth." And surely there are no darker places than the conference chambers of politicians and international diplomats: God "setteth up over the kingdom of men, the basest of men" (Dan. 4:17). where His claims and the interests of His people are either totally ignored or blatantly defied: yet, even there the Most High is supreme, and has His way. Only so far are they allowed to go in their evil schemings and greedy plannings. If on the one hand there is a bloodthirsty Ahithophel (a military leader) who urges the modern dictator to the shedding of innocent blood, on the other hand God raises up an Hushai (though his name may not appear in our newspapers), who restrains and checks by advising cautious delay, and his counsel is made (by God) to thwart or modify the more extreme measures of the former. In the Day to come we shall find that 2 Samuel 17 has often ken duplicated in the politics of this world, particularly in those of Europe.
"And Hushai said unto Absalom, The counsel that Ahithophel hath given is not good at this time" (v. 7). Hushai was put to rather a severe test. In the first place, Absalom had already evidenced some suspicion of his loyalty to himself, when he first appeared on the scene (16:17). In the second place, Ahithophel had just advanced a plan which met with general approval. And in the third place, to criticize the scheme of Ahithophel might well be to increase Absalom’s suspicion against himself. But he stood his ground, and at some risk to himself, did what he could to befriend David. He came right out and boldly challenged the counsel of his rival, yet he prudently took the edge off the blow by his modification of "at this time." His language was skillfully chosen: he did not say "such a course would be downright madness," but only it "is not good"—it is unwise to employ harsher language than is absolutely necessary. Thus Absalom discovered that his counsellors did not agree—it is by diversity of views and policies that a balance is preserved in the affairs of human government.
"For, said Hushai, thou knowest thy father and his men, that they be mighty men, 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" (v. 8). In these words Hushai artfully suggests that Ahithophel was seriously misjudging the ease of his task. He had lightly and bumptiously declared "I will smite the king only" (v. 2). But that was not such a simple task as Ahithophel supposed. David was something more than a pasteboard monarch: he was a man of great courage and much experience in the arts of warfare. Moreover, he was accompanied by valiant warriors, who were in an angry mood over the shameful necessity of their beloved master’s flight from Jerusalem, and would not stand idly by while he was slaughtered. Absalom had better pause and face the terribly real difficulties of the situation, for it is often a fatal mistake to underestimate the strength of an adversary. To sit down first and count the cost (Luke 14:28) is always a prudent course to follow rash and ill-considered measures are likely to meet with failure. But much grace is needed in this feverish age to act thoughtfully and cautiously, and not rush blindly ahead.
"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 followeth Absalom" (v. 9). The fugitive king was not the type of man to seek his ease: he "will not lodge with the people," but rather will he, as a seasoned warrior, resort to subtle strategy, and lie in a well-chosen ambush, from which he will unexpectedly spring out, and slay at least the foremost of Ahithophel’s men. And that would seriously prejudice Absalom’s cause, for the news would quickly go forth that David was victor in the field. The practical lesson which this points for us, is that we must not commit the folly of underestimating the strength and subtlety of our spiritual enemies, and that we must carefully consider what are the best ways and means of overcoming them. Our lusts often secretly hide themselves, and then spring forth when they are least expected. Satan generally attacks us from an unlooked-for quarter. He has had far more experience than we, and we need to tread cautiously if he is not to gain a serious advantage over us.
"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" (v. 10). Hushai is here pressing upon Absalom what would inevitably follow if that should eventuated which he had mentioned in the previous verse. In case David succeeded in springing a trap and the advance guard of Ahithophel’s proposed expedition were slain, as would most probably happen when pitted against such a wily antagonist as the conqueror of Goliath, only one course would surely follow—the entire force sent against David would be demoralized. The inexperienced men Ahithophel led, though superior in numbers, would now feel they were no match for the braves in the king’s forces, and they would be utterly dismayed. That would be fatal to Absalom’s cause, as a little reflection must make apparent. Human nature is fickle, and men in the mass are even more easily swayed than are individuals: it takes little to turn the tide of public opinion.
"Therefore I counsel that all Israel be generally gathered unto thee, from Dan even to Beersheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude; and that thou go to battle in thine own person" (v. 11). This was the only logical inference to draw from the preceding premises. The "twelve thousand men" Ahithophel asked For (17:1) were altogether inadequate for success against such a general as David and against such renowned men as he commanded. Absalom must mobilize the entire manhood of the nation, and overwhelm his father by sheer force of numbers.
In counselling Absalom to undertake a general mobilization, or the gathering together of an overwhelming force, Hushai was obviously "playing for time." The longer he could induce Absalom to delay taking military action against the one he was befriending, the better would his real object be achieved. The slower Absalom was in moving, the more time would David have for putting a greater distance between himself and Jerusalem, to increase his own Forces, and to select to best advantage the site for the coming conflict. The entire design of Hushai was to counter Ahithophel’s proposed "I will arise and pursue after David this night" (v. 1). To further strengthen his argument Hushai suggests that Absalom should "go to battle in thine own person" (v. 11)—take the place of honor, and lead your own men. Indirectly, he was intimating that Ahithophel’s project had only his own ends (private revenge) and personal glory in view: note his "I will arise," "I will come upon him," "I will smite the king" (vv. 1, 2). Hushai knew well the kind of man he was dealing with, and so appealed to the pride of his heart.
As we shall see from the sequel, it was this very detail which issued in Absalom’s losing his own life. Had he followed the counsel of Ahithophel he would have remained at Jerusalem, but by accepting the advice of Hushai to go to battle in his own person, he went forth to his death. How true it is that "God taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong" (Job 5:13)! No doubt Absalom was priding himself in his prudence by obtaining the advice of both these experienced counsellors, yet that was the very thing that led to his destruction. The suggestion of Hushai appealed to his personal vanity, and by yielding thereto we are shown here that "Pride goeth before destruction." If God has placed you, my reader, in humble circumstances and in a lowly position, envy not those who take the lead, and aspire not to a place of worldly dignity and carnal honors.
"So shall we come upon him in some place where he shall be found, and we will light upon him as the dew falleth on the ground: and of him and of all the men that are with him there shall not be left so much as one" (v. 12). This completes the thoughts begun at the start of the preceding verse: by means of an enormous force we shall be able to fall upon David and his followers and utterly annihilate them: neither strategy nor valor will be of any avail against such overwhelming numbers. Such counsel as this was not only calculated to appeal to Absalom himself, but also to the unthinking masses: there would be little danger to themselves; in fact, such a plan seemed to guarantee success without any risk at all "There is safety in numbers" would be their comforting slogan. Note Hushai’s artful use of the plural number: "So shall we come upon him" and "we will light upon him" in sharp contrast from the threefold "I" of Ahithophel.
"Moreover, if he be gotten into a city, then shall all Israel bring ropes to that city, and we will draw it into the river, until there be not one small stone found there" (v. 13). Thus Hushai sought to close the door against every possible objection. Should David and his men take refuge in some city, and fortify it, instead of hiding in a pit or wood (v. 9), that would prove no obstacle to such a host as we should take against him. We will not endanger our men by seeking to force a way in, but, by main force, drag the city and its people into the river—this, of course, was not to be taken seriously, but was intended to raise a laugh. It was simply designed to signify that by no conceivable means could David either defy or escape them.
"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 (politic) counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom" (v. 14). The second half of his verse explains the first. The prudent advice of Ahithophel was rejected, and the plausible but foolish measures of Hushai were accepted—foolish because they involved so much delay. The same thing has happened scores of times in the affairs of nations, and for a similar reason. Folly often prevails over wisdom in the counsels of princes and in the houses of legislators. Why? Because God has appointed the rejection of sound counsel in order to bring on nations the vengeance which their crimes call down from heaven. It is thus that God rules the world by His providence. See that grave senator, or that sage diplomat: he rises and proposes a course of wisdom; but if God has appointed to punish the nation, some prating fanatic will impose his sophisms on the most sagacious assembly.