II Samuel 17

The Word Made Fresh

1Then Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me have twelve thousand men and I will pursue David tonight. 2I’ll engage him while he is tired and discouraged, and he’ll panic and the people who are with him will run away. I will only kill the king, 3and I’ll bring all the others back to you; they will be like a bride coming home to her groom. If you get rid of the one man, the others will acquiesce.”

4His plan satisfied Absalom and the elders of Israel. 5But Absalom said, “Let’s sound out Hushai the Archite as well and hear what he has to say.”

6Hushai was summoned, and Absalom explained the plan outlined by Ahithophel, and said, “Do you think we should do this? What is your counsel?”

7“Ahithophel’s advice is not good this time,” said Hushai. 8“You know your father and his men are experienced soldiers, and they are as mad as a bear robbed of its cubs. You father is an expert tactician as well, and he will not stay with his troops overnight. 9He has likely already hidden in a cave or other hiding place, and when some of our men fall when the battle begins, people will say, ‘Absalom’s troops are being slaughtered.’ 10Then even the brave, lion-hearted men will be afraid because they all know your father’s reputation as a general, and they all know the men who are with him are tested soldiers. 11I say you should gather men from all over Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, until your army is as numerous as the sand on the seashore, and you should lead them in person. 12We will find him, and we will fall on him like dew on the grass and kill him and all who follow him. 13If he takes refuge in a city all Israel will bring ropes and drag it into the valley until not one stone is left on another.”

14Absalom and the elders all said, “Hushai’s advice is better than Ahithophel’s.” The LORD had already decided that Ahithophel’s wise advice would be spurned so that Absalom would be defeated.

15Hushai sent word to the priests, Zadok and Abiathar and told them what advice Ahithophel had given Absalom, and what he, Hushai, had then counseled. 16“Get word to David right away,” he said, “and tell him not to stay at the wilderness crossings but by all means go across immediately. If he doesn’t do that, he and the people with him are doomed.”

17Jonathan and Ahimaaz were waiting at En-rogel. A servant girl would take messages to them there and they would pass it along to king David. They dared not risk going into the city themselves. 18But this time a young lad saw them and reported it to Absalom, so they had to leave quickly. They arrived at a house in Bahurim that belonged to a man who had a well, and they hid themselves in it. 19The man’s wife spread a cover over the mouth of the well and scattered grain on it to hide its location. 20When Absalom’s men came they asked the woman if she had seen Jonathan and Ahimaaz and she told them, “They crossed over the stream.” They searched, but found no trace of them, so they returned to Jerusalem.

21As soon as they left the men came out of the well and went on to give David their message. They said, “Get across the river quickly; this is what Ahithophel plans to do to capture you. 22So, David and the people with him forded the Jordan during the night, and by dawn they were all across.

23When Ahithophel’s counsel was not honored, he saddled his donkey and traveled to his home. He got his affairs in order and hanged himself. He was buried in his father’s tomb.

24David arrived at Mahanaim as Absalom and the army of Israel crossed the Jordan. 25Absalom had promoted Amasa over the army to replace Joab. He was the son of Ithra, an Ishmaelite, who had married Abigail, the daughter of Nahash who was the sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother. 26The Israelites camped in the territory of Gilead with Absalom.

27When David got to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash who was from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barsillai the Gileadite from Rogelim 28brought cots, basins, and clay pottery with wheat, barley, meal, parched grain, beans, and lentils, 29honey and curdled milk and sheep and cheese from their herd, for David and his entourage to eat. They said, “Your troops are hungry, and tired, and thirsty here in the bare country.”


1-4: Ahithophel gives Absalom strategically sound advice. Strike at David before he has time to organize his defenses. Kill the king and the people will fall in line.

5-14: Although Absalom is pleased with the idea of doing away with his old man, he asks Hushai for an opinion as well. Hushai, planted there by David, builds David up until he sounds nearly invincible. Then he gives counter advice; secure the kingdom first, and when the people have rallied to you, then go on the hunt for David yourself. The people will ensure your victory. This advice plays to Absalom’s excessive ego and Ahithophel’s counsel is defeated.

15-20: Hushai passes the word to Zadok and Abiathar to warn David about Absalom’s plans. They in turn pass the word via a servant girl to their sons Jonathan and Ahimaaz waiting at En-rogel just south of the city. However, all this is witnessed by a boy who informs Absalom that something is afoot. Absalom sends a search party, but Jonathan and Ahimaaz are safely hidden in a well, aided and abetted by the owner and his wife. The search party is led astray and return to Jerusalem when their search fails. It seems David still has friends in the countryside.

21-22: Jonathan and Ahimaaz leave their hiding place (you might say they were “well” hidden) and hurry to give David Hushai’s advice. David and his entourage quickly retreat across the Jordan.

23: Ahithophel commits suicide. At first it seems to be an extreme act on his part, but on second reading we see that it is a very deliberate, well-thought-out suicide. Ahithophel knows that Absalom’s decision to accept Hushai’s advice spells doom for the attempted coup and decides that his family will fare better if he is not alive when David returns to power.

24-26: David travels a dozen or so miles north to Mahanaim. Absalom and his troops cross the Jordan to Gilead, east and south of David’s position. Absalom appoints Amasa his general. David’s general is Joab, Amasa’s wife’s first cousin. Amasa will not have a pleasant military career.

27-29: An interesting scene unfolds. Shobi from Rabbah comes, along with two other city rulers (one of whom, Barzillai, will reappear later), and brings David and his entourage ample supplies. Shobi is the son of Nahash. David defeated Nahash in I Samuel 11 in the battle of Jabesh-Gilead. After Nahash died, David besieged his capital city, Rabbah, and deposed his son, Hanun, who had embarrassed David’s envoys. Shobi is apparently Hanun’s brother. It looks like the Ammonites have been thoroughly subjected.


It is hard to read this narrative without thinking that David saw Absalom’s treason coming. He certainly had his plan of escape in place and followed it quickly to avoid being caught in Jerusalem. Absalom’s ego is his downfall, which reminds us of king Saul. David’s ego is certainly no less than his ambitious son’s, but David is older and more experienced — vastly more experienced in making war. This is Absalom’s first attempt at leading an army. He may be smart enough to learn, but it will be too late.