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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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2 SAMUEL 17

PREPARATIONS FOR THE ULTIMATE AND DECISIVE BATTLE

This chapter recounts the maneuvers both of Absalom and his partisans and that of David and his supporters as they got ready for the final resolution of the conflict initiated by Absalom's attempt to seize the throne of Israel. There was no device by which a conflict of this nature could have been resolved without bloodshed.

AHITHOPHEL'S COUNSEL TO STRIKE AT ONCE


 
Verses 1-4
Moreover Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night: and I will come upon him while he is weary and weak-handed, and will make him afraid; and all the people that are with him shall flee; and I will smite the king only; and I will bring back all the people unto thee: the man whom thou seekest is as if all returned: [so] all the people shall be in peace. And the saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel.

Let me choose twelve thousand men
(2 Samuel 17:1). This line in all probability gives us the clue to Ahithophel's defection from David. He simply desired to usurp the kingdom himself. If Absalom had consented to this request, then Ahithophel, with the pick of Absalom's army, would quickly have destroyed David and then would himself have been the supreme power in Israel.

Furthermore, this is the only possible way in which the lives of Bathsheba and Solomon could have been saved. It should be remembered that they were, respectively, the grand-daughter and the great-grandson of Ahithophel; and if Absalom had indeed succeeded David, nothing on earth could have saved their lives. Therefore, we believe that Ahithophel probably hated Absalom even more than he hated David and that, given the twelve thousand men he requested here, he would quickly have disposed of Absalom also.

Of course, we cannot prove such a theory as this, but it also explains another reason for Ahithophel's counsel for Absalom to take David's concubines. This was the "bait" intended by Ahithophel to keep Absalom occupied in the opening days of the mortal confrontation between Absalom and his father. As we shall see, a moment later, there was only one thing that kept Absalom from yielding to that temptation.

I will set out and pursue David tonight
(2 Samuel 17:1). Scholars generally agree that tonight in this passage was the night of that day when David fled Jerusalem, but it is by no means certain that Ahithophel's advice regarding Absalom's violating the king's ten concubines had as yet been followed by Absalom. This writer's opinion is the same as that of H. P. Smith who wrote that, The debate between Ahithophel and Hushai (as in this chapter) was held on the day of Absalom's arrival in Jerusalem, after the appropriation of the concubines had been decided upon and before it had been consummated.F1 This appears to be a key factor in Absalom's choice of a delay in the attack on David.

"Ahithophel's advice here shows his political sagacity; if it had been adopted, it would have extinguished the cause of David."F2

You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace
(2 Samuel 17:3). What this said to Absalom was that, If we can only kill David, there will be no civil war.F3

And the advice pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel
(2 Samuel 17:4). That Absalom was prepared to adopt this advice to kill his father that very night without any qualm of conscience or feeling for his father shows how far he had degenerated into his depravity.F4 That, a moment later, he was so easily convinced to reject this plan indicates the shallowness of his perception and his inability to reach a decision.F5

The heartless ingratitude of the beast Absalom was mentioned by Henry: "It was not long since Absalom himself had fled from Jerusalem because of his murder of Amnon; but David contented himself to allow Absalom to live as an exile, although Absalom surely deserved to be brought home and executed. However, so void of all natural affection is Absalom that now, when his father had fled Jerusalem, not for any crime, but for fear, Absalom eagerly thirsts for his father's blood."F6

AHITHOPHEL'S COUNSEL DEFEATED


 
Verses 5-14
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. And Hushai said unto Absalom, The counsel that Ahithophel hath given this time is not good. Hushai said moreover, Thou knowest thy father and his men, that they are mighty men, and they are 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 are fallen at the first, that whosoever heareth it will say, There is a slaughter among the people that follow Absalom. And even he that is valiant, whose heart is as the heart of a lion, will utterly melt; for all Israel knoweth that thy father is a mighty man, and they that are with him are valiant men. But I counsel that all Israel be gathered together 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 we will not leave 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 Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For Jehovah had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that Jehovah might bring evil upon Absalom.

We cannot agree with the opinion that, "One reason why Absalom adopted the counsel of Hushai may have been his reluctance to kill his father, because clearly the main purpose of Ahithophel was David's death."F7 This cannot be correct, because Hushai's advice also was designed to kill not only King David, but also "all of the men who were with him; not one will be left" (2 Samuel 17:12).

This time the counsel which Ahithophel has given is not good
(2 Samuel 17:7). The appearance of the words this time at the head of the sentence means that, Hushai concurred with Ahithophel's counsel regarding the concubines, that it was good.F8

All the commentators have been profuse in their praise of Hushai's speech here. Indeed it was a masterpiece. "It was: (a) eloquent; (b) appealing; and (c) flattering."F9 Furthermore, there was much cleverness in it. Ahithophel's notion, for example, that he might take David by surprise, although apparently true enough in the light of David's taking a rest at Bahurim, was refuted by Hushai's claim that, "David was not such a fool as to expose himself unnecessarily to danger and that even at that moment he was probably hiding in some cave or other secret place."F10

They are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Your father is expert in war ... He is a mighty man ... The men with him are valiant men
(2 Samuel 17:8-10). No one in Israel would have denied such truth as this, with which Hushai loaded his appeal. All that Hushai said about the bravery and heroism of David and his men was well founded,F11 and universally known in Israel.

However, there were also some bold, flattering implications and outright lies in Hushai's appeal.

My counsel is that all Israel from Dan to Beersheba be gathered to you
(2 Samuel 17:11). The deception lay in this very assumption.F12 There was never the slightest possibility of anything like that ever happening on behalf of Absalom.

The skillful flattery of Hushai is evident in the glorious picture of Absalom riding in majesty at the head of a vast army, and in his boastful description of how "we" (yes, he included himself in Absalom's service) would destroy any city where David may try to defend himself.

That you go to battle in person
(2 Samuel 17:11). This word-picture of Absalom riding in his royal clothing at the head of a mighty army most certainly appealed to Absalom, especially, if there had been any suspicion on his part of Ahithophel's suggestion that he lead twelve thousand, hand-picked soldiers of Absalom's troops.

The eloquence of Hushai appeared in his simile of the bear robbed of her cubs in the field, and in that of the dew.

We shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground
(2 Samuel 17:12). This was a glorying picture of Absalom's triumph, Like the drops of dew, in vast numbers, as our irresistible host falls in their unavoidable descent upon our enemies.F13 One must admit that Hushai was able to talk an overwhelmingly victorious military campaign!

The Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom
(2 Samuel 17:14). Yes, Ahithophel's plan was not perfect; and Hushai had expertly pointed out some flaws in it; but, It was still by far the best option that was open to him.F14 R. P. Smith pointed out that, It was so plain to the sacred author here that Absalom's success depended absolutely upon his taking Ahithophel's advice for rapid action, that nothing less than the direct intervention of the Divine Providence itself could account for Absalom and his `elders of all Israel' rejecting it.F15

Why, actually, did Absalom reject the advice that could have given him the victory? Of course, it was the will of God that he should have done so. The flattering counsel of Hushai was one link in the chain of events that caused it, but only one link. David's prayer (2 Samuel 15:31) was another link. We also believe that the temptation of Absalom regarding his sexual gratification of his lust with those ten concubines of David was another link. As we noted above, that temptation was probably the bait by which Ahithophel would have detained Absalom in Jerusalem while he got control of the army.

However, much as Absalom desired to gratify his lust with the concubines, he also desired to gratify his pride as the royal conqueror riding in front of an immense army gathered all the way from Dan to Beersheba, a conceit conveyed to him in the clever words of Hushai; so naturally, he decided on the option that would gratify both lusts. Ahithophel completely overlooked that possibility. If Ahithophel had not injected that maneuver regarding the concubines, it is not improbable that Absalom would have accepted Ahithophel's counsel for military action that very night. Thus, Ahithophel's evil counsel itself, along with the evil nature of Absalom, must be reckoned as other links in the providential chain of events that destroyed Absalom. Thus, as the Lord has said, "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness" (Job 5:13).

It is amazing to us that none of the commentaries we have consulted explored the possibilities we have suggested here. Given the evil nature, both of Ahithophel and of Absalom, there is no logical reason for denying these possibilities.

DAVID'S LINE OF COMMUNICATIONS WITH JERUSALEM


 
Verses 15-20
Then said Hushai unto Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, Thus and thus did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel; and thus and thus have I counselled. Now therefore send quickly, and tell David, saying, Lodge not this night at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over; lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people that are with him. Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying by En-rogel; and a maid-servant used to go and tell them; and they went and told king David: for they might not be seen to come into the city. But a lad saw them, and told Absalom: and they went both of them away quickly, and came to the house of a man in Bahurim, who had a well in his court; and they went down thither. And the woman took and spread the covering over the well's mouth, and strewed bruised grain thereon; and nothing was known. And Absalom's servants came to the woman to the house; and they said, Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan? And the woman said unto them, They are gone over the brook of water. And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.

Do not lodge tonight at the fords
(2 Samuel 17:15). This stern warning to David from Hushai indicates that, Although Hushai had been invited to give his advice to Absalom, he was not a part of the final session in which the decision was made. He did not know which plan would be followed, so he warned David on the assumption that Ahithophel's counsel might actually be followed.F16

"These verses reveal how the underground worked to keep David informed of events in Jerusalem."F17

A maidservant used to go and tell them. they would go and tell King David
(2 Samuel 17:17). The verbs here are frequentative, indicating that this system of communication was used continually. It must have taken Absalom a long time to have mustered the large force Hushai had recommended (and also to exhaust his pleasure with the ten concubines); and all the while David was kept well informed of what was happening in Jerusalem.F18

En-Rogel
(2 Samuel 17:17). This place was called the fuller's well in the neighborhood of Jerusalem below the junction of the valley of Hinnom with that of Jehoshaphat.F19 The woman mentioned in this same verse was either a servant of one of the priests, or possibly one employed in the tabernacle service.F20 Her going to that well would have aroused no suspicion, because the carrying of water from wells was normally done by the women in those times.

From this it is clear that the event described in 2 Sam. 17:18-20 occurred on the first day that David's communications system was put in use, as indicated in 2 Sam. 17:21. However, the messengers lost little time; because David got the message in plenty of time to move his whole party across the Jordan before daylight. Apparently, the system worked perfectly after that.

The woman. scattered grain upon it
(2 Samuel 17:19). Keil tells us that the Vulgate explains this, As if drying peeled barley.F21

They have gone over the water brook
(2 Samuel 17:20). This is not a reference to the Jordan River, which would never have been referred to as a mere brook, but to a small stream of water near Bahurim.

DAVID HEEDED WARNING AND CROSSED THE JORDAN


 
Verses 21, 22
And it came to pass, after they were departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David; and they said unto David, Arise ye, and pass quickly over the water; for thus hath Ahithophel counselled against you. Then David arose, and all the people that were with him, and they passed over the Jordan: by the morning light there lacked not one of them that was not gone over the Jordan.

Moving twelve thousand men with their supplies and equipment across the Jordan would have required a great deal of time, and with this maneuver David bought the time that he needed to rally his forces for the final showdown. Matthew Henry and others have supposed that upon that occasion after David crossed the Jordan, "He penned Ps. 42 and Ps. 43, `Looking back upon Jerusalem from the land of the Jordan' (Psalms 42:6)."F22

THE SUICIDE OF AHITHOPHEL

Not only had Absalom's acceptance of Hushai's counsel assured the failure of Absalom's rebellion, it also spelled the end of Ahithophel's hope of getting control of the army, and, as far as he was concerned, that ended any reason he might have had for continuing to live. If Absalom lost his bid for the throne, Ahithophel would surely have been executed by David, and even if he had won, Ahithophel could never have prevented the execution of all David's sons, including his own beloved great-grandson Solomon. He simply decided to end it all by committing suicide.


 
Verse 23
And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home, unto his city, and set his house in order, and hanged himself; and he died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.

Along with Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:5), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and King Saul (1 Samuel 31:5). Ahithophel is one of only four suicides mentioned in the Bible. The fact that he was buried in the family tomb is supposed by some to indicate that the Jews of that period accepted suicide much as any other death was accepted. We do not know if that is true or not. Many have pointed out that Ahithophel was somewhat a type of Judas Iscariot.

THE DEPLOYMENT OF DAVID'S AND ABSALOM'S FORCES


 
Verses 24-26
Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom passed over the Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him. And Absalom set Amasa over the host instead of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man, whose name was Ithra the Israelite, that went in to Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah, Joab's mother. And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead.

David came to Mahanaim
(2 Samuel 17:24). This city was well located for a temporary capital, being situated in the midst of a very productive and fruitful area. Besides that, Abner had chosen it as the capital for Mephibosheth, indicating that it could easily be defended from attack and that it was strategically located. The same reasons commended it to David as his choice of a temporary location.

Amasa. the son of a man named Ithra the Ishmaelite who had married Abigal the daughter of Nahash, the sister of Zeruiah, Joab's mother
(2 Samuel 17:25). Both Abigal and Zeruriah were David's sisters, daughters of Jesse; and the only probable way of reconciling this with 1 Chr. 2:16-17 is to suppose that Nahash was Jesse's wife. If Zeruiah and Abigal were David's sisters only by the mother, then Nahash might be the name of her first husband.F23 There are many problems of this nature in the O.T. that defy any dogmatic solution because of the limited nature of the information provided.

As Payne noted, "These last two paragraphs show how everything was going David's way. He had plenty of time to organize and received ample provisions from the people; whereas, Absalom lost his most competent advisor and had to put up with an incompetent as his general."F24

Due to the foolish decision of Absalom, a bloody civil war was now inevitable, involving all the people.

MANY OF THE PEOPLE RALLIED TO DAVID AT MAHANAIM

Absalom's popularity was not nearly as universal as he probably supposed, as indicated by the following:


 
Verses 27-29
And it came to pass, when David was come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim, brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched [grain], and beans, and lentils, and parched [pulse], and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people are hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.

All of the men mentioned here were powerful princes of Israel who had the grace and the ability to supply David's company with much-needed provisions. "This reaction of David's friends to his misfortunes bears strong testimony to the remarkable power he had for winning the affections of men. If a man is to be judged by the opinion of his friends, David must stand high in the judgment of history."F25

Shobi. of the Ammonites
(2 Samuel 17:27). Shobi's father may have been the king of the Ammonites; and David may have appointed him as a vassal king or governor of Ammon after he took Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:29).F26 In any event, He was one of the men of Rabbah to whom David had shown kindness after his capture of that city.F27

Amiel of Lo-debar
(2 Samuel 17:27). This man was a son of Ahithophel and the father of Bathsheba. Thus, Machir was Bathsheba's brother.

Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim
(2 Samuel 17:27). This man was an ancestor through a daughter of a family of priests, who were called after him, `Sons of Barzillai.' They returned from the Babylonian captivity with Ezra (Ezra 2:61-63).F28


Footnotes for 2 Samuel 17
1: International Critical Commentary, Samuel, p. 350.
2: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 205.
3: Albert Barnes, Samuel, p. 106.
4: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 1133.
5: John T. Willis, p. 377.
6: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 532.
7: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 4c, p. 417.
8: Ibid.
9: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 310.
10: The Interpreter's Bible,, op. cit., p. 1134.
11: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2c, p. 431.
12: Ibid.
13: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 107.
14: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 1134.
15: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 418.
16: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 215.
17: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 189.
18: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 1135.
19: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 205.
20: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 108.
21: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 432.
22: Matthew Henry's Commentary, op. cit., p. 534.
23: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 108.
24: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 310.
25: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 1137.
26: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 109.
27: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 434.
28: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 109.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 17". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=2sa&chapter=017>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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