Our Top 5 Posts of February
Sat Mar 08, 2014
Resurgence Roundup, 3/7/14
Fri Mar 07, 2014
How to Replant a Church, Part 5: Rally Your Troops
Thu Mar 06, 2014
by Bubba Jennings
The 4 Pillars of Pastoral Work
Thu Mar 06, 2014
by Dave Bruskas
10 Ideas For Keeping Lent
Wed Mar 05, 2014
by Winfield Bevins
Who Killed Ahithophel?
Ahithophel was an adviser to King David, whose life took a horrific turn.
It’s a tragic story, but that teaches us that, while offering forgiveness in life in general and marriage in particular is not complicated, it is seldom easy for at least three reasons:
- The natural response to protect oneself from further harm is motivated by fear, which may or may not be healthy.
- There is confusion between the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness occurs in a moment, while reconciliation is a process that requires time and method.
- Anger is a visceral response, and being angry is unpleasant. Revenge is intuitive, and offers certain relief from the symptoms of anger. Putting down the gun in a one-man gunfight means forfeiting the solace found in planning retribution.
Since forgiveness is difficult, why not delay it, or forego it altogether? In making the case, one might argue that it’s a private matter between the husband and wife, and that the right to plot revenge should be at the discretion of the offended spouse.
The plight of Ahithophel provides a compelling case against that argument. Though not in typical narrative form, the story can be pieced together from verses scattered throughout the book of 2 Samuel.
Who Was Ahithophel?
Though Ahithophel began as David’s top counselor, he eventually became a part of the conspiracy to overthrow him, a conspiracy that was lead by David’s son Absalom. Samuel writes that his wisdom and counsel were highly regarded (2 Sam. 16:23).
Even so, there is no indication that he was overly ambitious. He was a niche player, who seemed content to serve quietly in the background. Given his talents, he was highly recruited by Absalom, whose political machine was growing daily (2 Sam. 15:12).
For reasons not disclosed, Ahithophel took Absalom’s offer (2 Sam. 15:31). As the conspiracy progressed, Ahithophel’s initial counsel was accepted. But while formulating a plan to pursue David, Absalom favored the advice of a different counselor (2 Sam. 17:14).
Following the rejection of his counsel, Ahithophel quietly and inconspicuously committed suicide:
“When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father” (2 Sam. 17:23).
Who Killed Ahithophel?
To simply answer the original question, it was Ahithophel who killed Ahithophel. But why did he do it? One might conclude that he felt marginalized by Absalom, and couldn’t handle the rejection of his counsel. Maybe it was losing access to the power he enjoyed under David, especially if he felt that by joining Absalom he could retain that power. Maybe he was humiliated by his loss of stature, and unable to cope with it.
The story of Ahithophel shatters a common misconception that the only one hurt by bitterness is the one who harbors it.
But two subtle references offer a better explanation. The first shows that Bathsheba was not an ordinary or random woman, and David knew it before he took her as his own. “And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’” (2 Sam. 11:3).
A Family Betrayed
The second reference is found in chapter 23, which lists David’s 37 “mighty men,” his fiercest warriors and most loyal supporters: “. . . Eliam the son of Ahithophel of Gilo . . . [and] Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all” (2 Sam. 23:34, 39).
There it is. Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam, and Eliam was Ahithophel’s son. Uriah the Hittite, who appears last on the list, was Bathsheba’s husband. In light of these relationships, David’s adultery with Bathsheba becomes more grievous in light of this betrayal of his former counselor. By the power of the throne, he stole from the very man who had put him there, essentially kidnapping and defiling Ahithophel’s beautiful granddaughter and murdering her husband. In all of this, David stole Ahithophel’s life by stealing his family.
There Is No Vindication in Revenge
No one who reads the story needs a commentary to understand Ahithophel’s contempt for the king. His hatred is palpable in the initial counsel he gives Absalom in 2 Samuel 16:20–22:
Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father's concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel.
By making Absalom a stench to his father, Ahithophel could exact his revenge by tearing apart David’s family. But that wasn’t enough to quench his bitterness. He wanted David’s blood, and may have gotten it had Absalom taken his advice. By listening to Hushai’s counsel instead of Ahithophel’s, Absalom allowed David to escape, and eventually regain the throne. For Ahithophel it was a double defeat, one he couldn’t live with. So he died in a one-man gunfight, consumed by his hatred of David, and unwillingness to forgive him.
All Restoration Only in the Cross
This story shatters a common misconception that the only one hurt by bitterness is the one who harbors it. What about those who loved Ahithophel and were forced to watch him as he destroyed himself? Bathsheba lost her grandpa, Eliam lost his father, and the nation lost a wise and trusted counselor. His story serves as a warning to anyone who continues to embrace anger and bitterness toward those who have offended them, even though they’ve been offended in the most horrendous and unthinkable way.
The cross of Christ stands as the definitive symbol of forgiveness for all who claim it. In its shadow lies hope for restoration when, by its power, husbands and wives refuse to embrace bitterness in response to the sin of their spouse.