(2 Samuel 15.7-14, 31; 16.23-17.7, 23)
The purpose of this article is to consider the brief but strident Scriptural account of the life and death of a man named Ahithophel, and to examine some matters arising from the record that are relevant to our walk as believers in this present day.
Ahithophel was a cherished and esteemed companion of David. They enjoyed a close friendship, not unlike that between David and Jonathan. Psalm 55.12-14 refers to this relationship: "A man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet council together, and walked unto the house of God in company". David depended upon Ahithophels wise counsel (2 Sam 16.23). Ahithophel first comes to our attention just prior to Absaloms rebellion when he (Ahithophel) left Jerusalem and the palace to return to his home in Giloh (2 Sam 15.12).
It had been the long desire of Absalom to replace his father David on the throne of Israel. (2 Sam 15). He harboured anger in his heart that turned to bitterness and hatred against his father after his sister Tamar was raped by their half brother Amnon. David was angry but failed to deal with the matter. After two years, Absalom took matters into his own hands and murdered Amnon at Baal-hazor (2 Sam 13.28-29). Absalom fled to Geshur (home of his mothers family) where he remained for three years. David was tricked into receiving him back; but it was a further two years before he would meet with Absalom (2 Samuel 14).
Absalom was handsome, gifted, and charismatic. His appearance was enhanced by the luxurious growth of his hair. He made full use of his position as prince (2 Sam 15.1) to charm and win the hearts of the people. When Absalom thought he had adequate support, he declared himself king in Hebron (2 Sam 15.10) forcing David to flee from Jerusalem.
Absalom summoned Ahithophel to him from Giloh, and from 2 Samuel 15.12 we learn that Ahithophel gave support to the cause of Absalom. Ahithophel advised the immediate pursuit of David which may well have resulted in Davids defeat but Absalom followed the counsel of Hushai the Archite (left by David as his spy in Jerusalem) and waited. Ahithophel was aware of the impending disaster and we read: "And 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" (2 Sam 17.23).
The disaster feared by Ahithophel then occurred. The delay enabled David to plan his strategy and muster his army, and when the two armies met in battle on Mount Ephraim, David was victorious. Absalom, when riding through the forest, was caught by his head in an oak tree and was slain by Joab, one of Davids generals, who was indifferent to Davids plea to "Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom" (2 Sam 18.5).
The Scriptural record of Ahithophel raises some difficult questions. What kind of man was he? Why did he break off his association with David and return to his home? Why did he support Absalom? Was he a traitor who just got what he deserved?
Answers are found in Davids conduct during the latter part of his reign. God granted him unique blessing and success, but this caused him to think that nothing should be denied him. One sad day he saw and seduced the wife of one of his bravest, most faithful generals and later murdered him in an attempt to hide his sin (2 Sam 11 & 12). Soon after, Nathan the prophet confronted David and rehearsed before him the parable of the poor mans "one little ewe lamb". God knew Davids secret and the rebuke that followed is amongst the most pointed contained in Scripture: "Thou art the man".
We know that the man in question was David, but the complete picture is only seen when we learn the true identity of Bathsheba. She was Ahithophels darling granddaughter, the "one little ewe lamb" of whom Nathan had spoken. Ahithophel, understandably, could not remain in Davids court to be constantly reminded of Bathshebas shame. He returned to his home village, saw his advice to Absalom ignored, and in his inconsolable grief took his own life.
The matter that arises from this picture of Ahithophel is the way in which Davids sin irreversibly affected the life of Ahithophel. This, in turn, raises the fundamental issue of the walk of the believer and its relationship to sin and sins.
Scripture distinguishes between "sin" and "sins" (Rom 5.12). The former is the root cause or principle and the latter the consequence and outworking of these in all humanity. Sin is never passive nor dormant. It has active, on-going consequences for all individuals, for society, and for creation itself; it affects relationship with God in that it makes all persons guilty and defiled before Him. Christs death dealt with sin in its totality on the basis of righteousness. In death Christ defeated Satan and overcame death. He made it possible for sin to be finally removed and the sins of the believer, in their guilt as well as their defilement, to be dealt with. True repentance and the acceptance of Gods provision for sin results in forgiveness.
David acknowledged and repented of his sin (Ps 51). So did Bathsheba, and Jewish tradition asserts that she is the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31.10-31. This suggests true repentance. What, however, could not be removed was the result of their sin as it affected their testimony. It was this that Ahithophel could not escape. Our testimony as believers is etched deep in time and memory upon the earth. Footprints on the path we walk are irreversibly set and affect others. The lesson we learn as believers from Davids sin with Bathsheba is that the manner of our walk has indelible consequences.
The manner of walk is inseparable from the direction of that walk. The conduct of Ahithophel raises this important matter. This is where his weakness and failure are seen. He walked the way of human reasoning and followed Absalom against Gods anointed king! It was true that Absalom was the eldest remaining son and, in human terms, the legal heir to the throne, but this reasoning knew nothing of Gods mercy and forgiveness and ended in disaster. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (Prov 14.12).
David also fell into this trap when he despaired of escaping the constant pursuit of Saul and reasoned, intellectually, that his only safe refuge was amongst the Philistines. He allied himself to the king of Gath (1 Sam 27) and lived amongst the Philistines for almost a year and a half. It was only the hand of God that saved him from joining the Philistines in the battle against Israel on Mount Gilboa in which Saul and Jonathan were killed. Abraham similarly thought, in his wisdom, that he could forward the purposes of God by producing an heir through Hagar (Gen 16) with disastrous consequences.
As believers in our day we do well to be guided by the careful Scriptural record of Ahithophel and remember that whilst our sins can be forgiven, our testimony on earth in its manner and direction, is written indelibly. David was later guided by the Holy Spirit to write words from his God that he had only come to understand through bitter experience: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye" (Ps 32.8).