The Noise Drowning The Voice – 2 Samuel 16 & 17

On his road to his exile, David was met with many familiar faces. People he had helped had seen his sudden downfall as their opportunity to do something in return for their king. Ziba, the loyal servant of Saul also came out with supplies for the king and his men. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine. However, David would have expected Mephibosheth to provide this gesture of kindness as he was the direct beneficiary of his compassion as the king provided Jonathan’s son with a seat at his table, an honour reserved for the king’s closest family members.

The king then asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?”
  Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’”
Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.”

2 Samuel 16:3-4 (NIV)

Even after showing unprecedented kindness to his best friend’s son, David found out that Mephibosheth was just waiting to betray him. According to Ziba, Mephibosheth had stationed himself in Jerusalem, hoping that the infighting between father and son would change the minds of the Israelites in favour of Saul and his descendants. Mehipbeoshet refuted the allegations that his servant had charged him with when he came face to face with the king (2 Samuel 19:6).

People believe the story of the first person who comes to them with the account. David is unsure who to trust and is always wavering over his decisions. In this instance, he believed Ziba and was outraged by Mephibosheth’s intentions to take back the throne that he handed over all of Mephibosheth’s possessions to his servant Ziba. David was quick to believe Ziba’s account of Mephibosheth’s ambitions and even if they were true seems to get swayed easily by Jonathan’s son later on.

David had problems of his own as he was running from his own son who was hell-bent on killing his father and forcibly taking the throne. He is currently not in a clear state of mind and is half expecting everyone around him to betray him. But there is some part of him that wants to believe that someone is still loyal to him, in this case, Ziba. We must remember that at this time David had gone away from God and was not able to judge good from evil and distinguish truth from lie. We get to see the true state of David as the mighty and tactile warrior who was nothing without God by his side.

Curse Be To David

As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The LORD has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!”

2 Samuel 16:5-8 (NIV)

The parade of well-wishers had to be balanced out by those lying in wait to see this day. One such person was Shimei who was from the clan of king Saul. The Benjamites had always held a grudge against David and were the one tribe that David constantly failed to win over regardless of what he tried. They blamed David for the deaths of Saul’s descendants and even the politically smart move of keeping Mephibosheth close to Jerusalem did not seem to win over the Benjamites.

“What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”

2 Samuel 16:10 (NIV)

David knows why all of this is happening. It was a direct consequence of his broken relationship with God. Even Shimei came to him and vented out his frustrations that had built up for a long time because of his own mistake. Somewhere in his mind David also thought that God was testing him and that if he endured the verbal assault God would reward him by restoring his kingdom.

It may be that the LORD will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.

2 Samuel 16:12 (NIV)

David had discerned that nothing can be done without the permission of God but was still led by guilt rather than God’s will. He was basically trying to melt the heart of God by sustaining public humiliation at the hands of Shimei. Also, David did not want to get into more hot water with Saul’s family by granting Abishai’s request to decapitate Shimei.

The Advisors

Back in Jerusalem, Absalom and his men had taken charge and made the fortified city their haven and after a brief interrogation of David’s former right-hand man Hushai (the one that David had sent to be a mole), he had taken him on as his advisor along with David’s former advisor Ahithophel.

Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your advice. What should we do?”
Ahithophel answered, “Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

2 Samuel 16:20-22 (NIV)

Even though Absalom was acting on the advice of Ahithophel, his decision to sleep with his father’s concubines characterised the rage he had inside towards the king and this was his way of burning all the bridges by forgoing any chance of reconciliation with David. It was also just as the Lord had told David that one of his own family members would betray him and sleep with his wives in plain sight of all Israel. So one could write this off as simply a prophecy being fulfilled or take it for it truly is, the intense hatred a son had toward his father that made him take this step just to make himself obnoxious to his father. But why would Ahithophel, the long-time advisor of king David think that this was the right way to sever ties with the former king of Israel?

Ahithophel knew that David’s heart was still for his son but if he had Absalom sleep with the king’s concubine for all to see would surely be a point of no return. It seems like Ahithophel is completely on Absalom’s side and is trying to do everything possible to help Absalom get the throne and get it swiftly. His advice though it may seem absurd was according to the ways of this world where the incoming king would sleep with the wives of his predecessor to establish their dominion over the latter. But his advice could be more than part of the political coop but out of a deeper wound that he had been nursing for a long.

Ahithophel could possibly have been the grandfather of Bathsheba, the woman who David raped and then had her husband killed on the battlefield. Even though David had taken on him as his advisor, Ahithophel still could have harboured a grudge against the king and saw this as an opportunity to avenge the honour of his family. But both Absalom and David would have known about the true intentions of Ahithophel and foolishly believed that the advice he gave was similar to Samuel or Moses enquiring of God and leading the people. So Absalom consulted him as to what should be his next step to eradicate every trace of his father from the hearts of the people.

Ahithophel said to Absalom, “I would choose twelve thousand men and set out tonight in pursuit of David. I would attack him while he is weary and weak. I would strike him with terror, and then all the people with him will flee. I would strike down only the king and bring all the people back to you. The death of the man you seek will mean the return of all; all the people will be unharmed.” This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel.

2 Samuel 17:1-4 (NIV)

However, after hearing the strategy that Ahithophel wanted to embark on, Absalom called in Hushai for a second opinion. As expected Hushai was against the idea of striking the iron when it’s hot as he remained Absalom of the barbaric nature of David and his men and how they had lasted the onslaught from Saul and his army all those years ago.

“So I advise you: Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba —as numerous as the sand on the seashore—be gathered to you, with you yourself leading them into battle. Then we will attack him wherever he may be found, and we will fall on him as dew settles on the ground. Neither he nor any of his men will be left alive. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we will drag it down to the valley until not so much as a pebble is left.”

2 Samuel 17:11-13 (NIV)

Hushai’s advice seemed apt to Absalom as he would much rather have himself kill his father than let Ahithophel do his dirty work. Also, he did not want to lose the very first war of his reign and lose the favour of the people who were supporting him. If David and Joab were to strike down his army, the embarrassment that followed from it will be too great an obstacle to overcome for Absalom as Israel would have been reminded of their favourite giant slayer’s triumphs.

However, by listening to Hushai’s advice, Absalom was unknowingly falling prey to David’s plan as his planted moles were informing of Absaolam’s every move. The longer Absaloam waited to attack his father, the more options were opening up for David and his men. It is strange that Absaolaom would trade in the advice of his trusted advisor Ahithophel for that of Hushai as he knew that he and his father were close friends. It could have been because Ahithophel’s earlier advice of sleeping with his father’s concubine would have backfired by making Israel abhor the actions of their new king. Absalom could have seen Ahithophel’s previous advice as him taking out his personal revenge for what happened to his granddaughter rather than him looking out for what’s best for Absalom. Or perhaps it was God answering David’s prayer making Ahithophel’s shrewd advice seem like inanity.

When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb.

2 Samuel 17:23 (NIV)

Ahithophel would have been upset at Absalom for not taking his advice but to the extent of killing himself is strange. There have not been many people who have ended their own lives and that too for something as silly as their advice being not taken. In ancient Hebrew culture, a long life was a blessing from God and suicide was not common. But still, Ahithophel chose this drastic step when he found out that Absalom was not following his plan. He perhaps thought that Absalom would have no use for him and would kill the grandfather of David’s wife to further inflict hurt on his father. Perhaps he knew the consequence of Absalom figuring out his bad advice and his true intentions to bring down David’s family and feared for his life. He had already burned the bridge of reconciliation between himself and David and felt he had no other option but to take his own life.

Both David and Absalom looked at Ahithophel’s advice as that sent by God. That type of blind belief in a human being can be very dangerous. Some people do have the grace of God to relay his message to those He chooses but the people should have the capacity to at least discern if the advice is from God or from their own human desires. The outcome of the advice will show us whether it is from God or the evil one but by that time it can be too late for us. Both David and Absalom were not connected with God and were driven by their own human instincts. Like Absalom’s advisors, David was also misguided by those around him. Let us not let the noise around us drown out the voice of God that leads on the straight and narrow path toward Him.

Discussion Questions

  • 16:4 – Why is David revoking the privileges that he gave to Mephibosheth? Is it a good way to govern, the way he is doing?
  • 16:10 – Why is David not allowing Abishai to kill Shimei for cursing him, given that David has killed other people before?
  • 16:21 – Why is Ahithophel giving such advice? Why does he want to make Absalom obnoxious to his father?
  • 17:23 – What made Absalom take Hushai’s advice over Ahithophel’s and why did Ahithophel commit suicide?

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