Solomon was very right when he said that, “… wisdom is a protection even as money is a protection, But the [excellent] advantage of knowledge is that wisdom shields and preserves the lives of its possessors.” – Ecclesiastes 7:12. So, wisdom, when paired with money, is great, but when compared among themselves, wisdom is infinitely better.
However, I’ve always wondered why the wisdom of Ahithophel did not deliver him. The man who was so wise that even David was afraid when he learnt that Ahithophel had crossed the carpet to the camp of his son-enemy, Absalom. Ahithophel was an acclaimed prudent man who knew the best strategy to apply to make the most out of any circumstance. But why was his wisdom unable to shield and preserve him when it mattered most? Why did he commit suicide?
Prologue – What happened
Absalom slew Amnon after the latter slept with his sister Tamar through deceit; he feigned sickness and invited his sister to take care of him following the counsel of his friend.
Absalom was greatly enraged upon hearing this and orchestrated a plan to kill Amnon, King David’s oldest son. He hosted a party of all the King’s children and instructed that Amnon be killed once he was no longer sober.
After the death of Amnon, Absalom fled to Geshur, to his grandfather by his mother’s side. He was afraid for his life and so remained with his grandfather, who was king of Geshur, for three whole years.
The Jewish historian Josephus records that after four years, David sent for Absalom to come home, not for punishment but that he might be with him, for the effects of his anger were abated by the length of time. Joab, David’s army commander, was instrumental in fostering peace between both men.
Absalom eventually returned but didn’t receive an audience from the king for two years until he devised another questionable means to get the attention of Joab. Joab’s intervention eventually sealed his return to the palace and reconciliation with king David.
It did not take long after this reconciliation before Absalom began to plot a coup to force his father David out of the throne. He began by devising a means to turn the hearts of the people of Israel toward him. When he saw that he had gained some popularity among the people, he decided that it was time for the full revelation of his thoughts.
One day he asked for and was granted permission by David to travel to Hebron to sacrifice to God. Hebron was the birthplace of Absalom, but unknown to David, that was a plot to establish himself as the king. He sent out spies throughout the land, who at his instruction will sound the trumpet and declare Absalom king in Hebron.
As part of this insurrection, although some Bible commentators think he was the instigator, Absalom recruited Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor. Upon hearing this and knowing that Absalom was bent on killing him and destroying the city of Jerusalem, David fled with his servants – the part of the army that was still loyal to him.
Who was Ahithophel
Ahithophel was the father of Eliam (2 Samuel 23:34), and Eliam was the father of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3). So, Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba. This is the same Bathsheba that David saw bathing outside her house and decided to have her as a wife after killing Uriah, her husband. So, Ahithophel may have been seeking a way to revenge David for such sin against his granddaughter and the death of his in-law.
But most importantly is that Ahithophel was one of David’s most trusted counsellors and the father of one of David’s heroes. To show how close he was to David, we read in Psalm 41:9 as David lamented,
“Even my own close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me [betraying me].” And in Psalm 55:12- 14, ” For it was not an enemy that reproached me; Then I could have born it: Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; Then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, My guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, And walked unto the house of God in company.”
These verses show how close Ahithophel was to David and the level of relationship they had. He knew David’s way of thinking and strategies, so he was the best in position to give an insider’s view of David’s possible reactions to the rebellion.
Why was his counsel so potent
The Bible recorded in 2 Samuel 16: 23 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 ” because he had such wisdom and inspiration of God upon him.
To be likened to an oracle of God showed his profound understanding of matters to the point of being able to foresee what was the best strategy to employ in any given situation. Ahithophel was a deep politician who was both subtle and vast in public affairs. He was a very prudent man and sharp in seeing what was the advantageous thing to do each time.
This was why David was really afraid when he learnt that Ahithophel was joined to Absalom. David earnestly prayed that God would alienate the mind of Absalom from Ahithophel because the mixture that results from a usurper and an oracle of satan is deadly. And except God intervened, David’s head was certain to be separated from his neck.
It is noteworthy also that such wisdom and inspiration from God wasn’t taken away from him even when he was against God’s servant. What God did was to confuse it with the counsel of Hushai. When God gives a gift or talent, He sometimes still allows the gifts even when the receiver moves away from divine purpose.
The counsel of Ahithophel and its advantages
Driven by his sagacity of kingdom matters and his devilish wisdom, Ahithophel told Absalom to go into his father’s concubines to demonstrate to the whole Israelites that his difference with his father David was irreconcilable. Absalom needed the whole nation to accept him as king and to join him in the eventuality of a battle with David. But most of the people in Jerusalem were still afraid of openly voicing their hatred for David because they were afraid that Absalom and David might reconcile at some point and they will be on the receiving end of David’s wrath.
But by following Ahithophel’s counsel and sleeping with David’s concubines, everyone would know that nothing will ever reconcile both men ever again. This will make the people with Absalom more vocal against David and ready to fight for him fearlessly. Absalom gave heed to this deadly counsel and slept with his father’s concubines on the roof of the royal palace, in the sight of all the multitude. What a shameful counsel, what a despicable boldness and what a reprehensible act before God and man!
Sleeping with your father’s wives was the height of immorality and abomination. Specifically outlawed by God in Deuteronomy 22:30, we see that in Leviticus 20:11 such repugnant act is punishable by death, “And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” In fact, the Corinthian Church, who were gentiles, was sharply rebuked by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 because of this act. Reuben lost his firstborn blessings because of this act too.
So, this was something unimaginable even for the wicked Absalom. But as always, even evil men have men who constantly push them into doing more evil than they could ever imagine. As Hitler had his circle of devilish men in Goebbels, Göring, Himmler and Hess, so did Absalom have his in Ahithophel and some men of Israel.
Emboldened by the previous results of his counsel and the latest one he has given to Absalom, Ahithophel went on to unleash his final strategy, to decimate David and his men, “pursue David immediately and kill him” Ahithophel counselled.
One would really wonder why a friend of David would follow a debased irate youth as Absalom if not for vengeance. Ahithophel already had an esteemed office in David’s regime as his preferred counsellor, a sort of vice president even before Hushai, who was David’s companion. So, why would he want his ‘friend’ dead if not for some personal vendetta?
Besides the theme of vengeance by Ahithophel, we also see the fulfilment of the prophecy of Nathan after David defiled Bathsheba and killed Uriah – Samuel 12:11 “thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.”
The strategy behind Ahithophel’s counsel
Ahithophel’s counsel to chase after David immediately and kill him is something that wasn’t just born out of rage but was strategically correct as well. He knew David inside-out and could predict his feelings and strategies. In fact, David upon hearing of his son’s insurrection was in grief, but when he heard that Ahithophel had defected to Absalom’s camp, his grief greatly increased.
Also, David would be unwise to hide away alone with just a few men, without surrounding himself with the thousands of people who were with him. This was a trying moment for him as a father and as a king, and he doesn’t know when the enemy would strike. So, having as many valiant men as possible was a better option.
The scenario is different from when Saul was chasing after David with just a few men; Absalom had a greater portion of the people and an insider in David’s cabinet on his part. So, militarily speaking, Ahithophel’s counsel was apt. Moreover, Absalom wasn’t to go with them: Ahithophel would choose 12,000 men and go to execute king David. Then, he’ll bring all the people on the other camp back to Jerusalem for unity. What an evil genius!
To further show that Ahithophel’s counsel was what Italians would call ‘lungimirante’ (far-sighted), he advised that ONLY David be killed and the people around him spared. That way, Absalom would show Israel that he is a unifying figure who just wanted to take away David and no other person. Absalom was already in the business of portraying himself as a man of the people when he cunning diverted the people that came to the palace to seek justice. So, employing Ahithophel’s strategy would further consolidate such feeling in the hearts of all Israel. No wonder the counsel “pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel.”
Hushai’s intervention with his counsel
But there was Hushai; there was an answer to the prayers of David; there was God’s strategy; there was the Superior Immortal Wisdom that gave wisdom to the mortal Ahithophel. This Ahithophel didn’t take into consideration while dispensing his wit; this he didn’t and couldn’t foresee.
David had told Hushai to return to the city and pretend to serve as a servant to Absalom, although his primary goal would be to counter Ahithophel’s counsel and send information via Zadok and Abiathar’s sons to him.
So, after Ahithophel had dished his deliciously garnished seven-fold counsel to Absalom and the elders of Israel, Absalom sought for a second opinion. An opinion he didn’t seek before defiling his father’s concubines on the rooftop, maybe because Hushai wasn’t around then. “I have two of my father’s best men in my camp. Why not put their cunningness to good use seeing I would be confirmed king soonest” Absalom would have thought to himself.
So, despite how sweet Ahithophel’s counsel sounded, Absalom decided to invite Hushai to hear his own opinion, probably thinking that Hushai would certainly back such a plan. But the sweetness soon turned sour as Hushai began speaking of perspectives Ahithophel hadn’t touched in his diarrheic discharge. As soon as Hushai learnt of Ahithophel’s design, he knew he had to say the opposite because he knew too well that Ahithophel’s counsel was simply the best.
“And Hushai said unto Absalom, The counsel that Ahithophel hath given is not good at this time. 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. 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.
Therefore I counsel that all Israel be generally gathered unto thee, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude; and that thou go to battle in thine own person. 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. 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.”
And while Hushai was still speaking, God worked on the hearts of Absalom and the men with him that as soon as he was done speaking, they all chorused, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” Because “God had determined to discredit the counsel of Ahithophel so as to bring ruin on Absalom.”
The end of Ahithophel and his counsel
The humiliation that Ahithophel suffered was so much that he couldn’t stand it. This was a man whose words were final. I could see him agitating, trying to convince Absalom and the men of Israel that Hushai’s strategy was simply offering an escape route to David. I can see him whispering into the ears of Absalom but was unheard, shouting at the top of his voice when Hushai was done speaking but all to no avail. I could see Absalom shout him down before deciding to follow the counsel of Hushai.
It was humbling; it was humiliating; it was a thing he was not used to and will never accept from a little child as Absalom. He had freely given out his pernicious counsels all these days and Absalom had conscientiously followed them, getting the desired results. “Why would he at this juncture listen to Hushai, who isn’t worth my hair” I can hear Ahithophel screaming to himself.
Was Ahithophel affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect? I can’t tell because he did truly had some ability. In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. People affected by this often see themselves as better and more competent than their opponents. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability.
God had given Ahithophel the wisdom that he displayed at various times as the preferred strategist of David in matters concerning war and governance. But he soon thought himself to be wiser than everyone, including Hushai. Just like satan who thought he was wiser and more capable of leading than the God who created him.
Ahithophel knew that the end for him had come, il treno ha raggiunto la capolinea (the train had reached its final destination). It was not only the humiliation this time, but the certain awareness that David would defeat Absalom if Hushai’s counsel was implemented. And when this happens, it’d be difficult to still imagine his occipital bone resting on his atlas a minute after. Ahithophel’s fate was decided, his end was sure, and his destination left no doubts.
So, he had no bullets left in his cartridge to shoot, no more ink flowing from his brain cartridge, his wisdom had run dry and even an exit strategy for his life was lacking. All that kept ringing in his once blossoming and peaceful mind was death; “go and hang yourself” kept echoing in his inner chambers. And he couldn’t but obey this inner voice that was once inspired by the Spirit of God. – Job 32:8.
Ahithophel, the man that God decorated with great wisdom and wit, the man that worked with David (the man after God’s heart), a trusted counsellor, a revered strategist, a fear to his enemies, was about to end his life in the most dishonourable manner. The way that cowards die. The way that men who have no liver to face their opponents, to fight and lose honourably, die.
In 2 Samuel 17:23 we are told that “... when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.”
How is the mighty fallen! How is walking prudence brought low to hang on a tree, like a thief, like a cursed man. Ahithophel was gone and so was his counsel to destroy the Lord’s anointed. Such is the end of men who utilise their talents for an evil course, who despise their Maker and His Anointed and embrace His enemy and insurrectionists.
Scriptural references: 2 Samuel chapters 13 through 17.
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