Absalom is now in peaceable possession of Jerusalem; the palace-royal is his own, as are the thrones of judgment, even the thrones of the house of David. His good father reigned in Hebron, and only over the tribe of Judah, above seven years, and was not hasty to destroy his rival; his government was built upon a divine promise, the performance of which he was sure of in due time, and therefore he waited patiently in the mean time. But the young man, Absalom, not only hastens from Hebron to Jerusalem, but is impatient there till he has destroyed his father, cannot be content with his throne till he has his life; for his government is founded in iniquity, and therefore feels itself tottering and thinks itself obliged to do every thing with violence. That so profligate a wretch as Absalom should aim at the life of so good a father is not so strange (there are here and there monsters in nature); but that the body of the people of Israel, to whom David had been so great a blessing in all respects, should join with him in his attempt, is very amazing. But their fathers often mutinied against Moses. The best of parents, and the best of princes will not think it strange if they be made uneasy by those who should be their support and joy, when they consider what sons and what subjects David himself had.
David and all that adhered to him must be cut off. This was resolved, for aught that appears, nemine contradicente—unanimously. None durst mention his personal merits, and the great services done to his country, in opposition to this resolve, nor so much as ask, “Why, what evil has he done to forfeit his crown, much less his head?” None durst propose that his banishment should suffice, for the present, nor that agents should be sent to treat with him to resign the crown, which, having so tamely quitted the city, they might think he would easily be persuaded to do. It was not long since that Absalom himself fled for a crime, and David contented himself with his being an exile, though he deserved death, nay, he mourned and longed for him; but so perfectly void of all natural affection is this ungrateful Absalom that he eagerly thirsts after his own father’s blood. It is past dispute that David must be destroyed; all the question is how he may be destroyed.
I. Ahithophel advises that he be pursued immediately, this very night, with a flying army (which he himself undertakes the command of), that the king only be smitten and his forces dispersed, and then the people that were now for him would fall in with Absalom of course, and there would not be such a long war as had been between the house of Saul and David: The man whom thou seekest is as if all returned, 2 Sam. 17:1-3. By this it appears that Absalom had declared his design to be upon David’s life, and Ahithophel concurs with him in it. Smite the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and be an easy prey to the wolf. Thus he contrives to include the war in a little compass, by fighting neither with small nor great but the king of Israel only, and to conclude it in a little time, by falling upon him immediately. Nothing could be more fatal to David than the taking of these measures. It was too true that he was weary and weak-handed, that a little thing would make him afraid, else he would not have fled from his house upon the first alarm of Absalom’s rebellion; it was probable enough that upon a fierce attack, especially in the night, the small force he had would be put into confusion and disorder, and it would bean easy thing to smite the king only, and then the business would be done, the whole nation would be reduced, of course, and all the people, says he, shall be in peace. See how a general ruin is called by usurpers a general peace; but thus the devil’s palace is in peace, while he, as a strong man armed, keeps it. Compare with this the plot of Caiaphas (that second Ahithophel) against the Son of David, to crush his interest by destroying him. Let that one man die for the people, John 11:50. Kill the heir, and the inheritance shall be ours, Matt. 21:38. But the counsel of them both was turned into foolishness. Yet the children of light may, in their generation, learn wisdom from the children of this world. What our hand finds to do let us do quickly, and with all our might. It is prudence to be vigorous and expeditious, and not to lose time, particularly in our spiritual warfare. If Satan flee from us, let us follow our blow. Those that have quarrelled with crowned heads have generally observed the decorum of declaring only against their evil counsellors, and calling them to an account (The king himself can do no wrong, it is they that do it); but Absalom’s bare-faced villany strikes at the king directly, nay, at the king only; for (would you think it?) this saying, I will smite the king only, pleased Absalom well (2 Sam. 17:4), nor had he so much sense of humor and virtue left him to pretend to startle at it or even to be reluctant in this barbarous and monstrous resolution. What good can stand before the heat of a furious ambition?
II. Hushai advises that they be not too hasty in pursuing David, but take time to draw up all their force against him, and to overpower him with numbers, as Ahithophel had advised to take him by surprise. Now Hushai, in giving this counsel, really intended to serve David and his interest, that he might have time to send him notice of his proceedings, and that David might gain time to gather an army and to remove into those countries beyond Jordan, in which, lying more remote, Absalom had probably least interest. Nothing would be of greater advantage to David in this juncture than time to turn himself in; that he may have this, Hushai counsels Absalom to do nothing rashly, but to proceed with caution and secure his success by securing his strength. Now,
1. Absalom gave Hushai a fair invitation to advise him. All the elders of Israel approved of Ahithophel’s counsel, yet God overruled the heart of Absalom not to proceed upon it, till he had consulted Hushai (2 Sam. 17:5): Let us hear what he saith. Herein he thought he did wisely (two heads are better than one), but God taketh the wise in their own craftiness. See Mr. Poole’s note on this.
2. Hushai gave very plausible reasons for what he said.
(1.) He argued against Ahithophel’s counsel, and undertook to show the danger of following his advice. It is with modesty, and all possible deference to Ahithophel’s settled reputation, that he begs leave to differ from him, 2 Sam. 17:7. He acknowledges that the counsel of Ahithophel is usually the best, and such as may be relied on; but, with submission to that noble peer, he is of opinion that his counsel is not good at this time, and that it is by no means safe to venture so great a cause as that in which they are now engaged upon so small a number, and such a hasty sally, as Ahithophel advises, remembering the defeat of Israel before Ai, Josh. 7:4. It has often proved of bad consequence to despise an enemy. See how plausibly Hushai reasoned. [1.] He insisted much upon it that David was a great soldier, a man of great conduct, courage, and experience; all knew and owned this, even Absalom himself: “Thy father is a man of war (2 Sam. 17:8), a mighty man (2 Sam. 17:10), and not so weary and weak-handed as Ahithophel imagines. His retiring from Jerusalem must be imputed, not to his cowardice, but his prudence.” [2.] His attendants, though few, were mighty men (2 Sam. 17:8), valiant men (2 Sam. 17:10), men of celebrated bravery and versed in all the arts of war. Ahithophel, who perhaps had worn the gown more than the sword, would find himself an unequal match for them. One of them would chase a thousand. [3.] They were all exasperated against Absalom, who was the author of all this mischief, were chafed in their minds, and would fight with the utmost fury; so that, what with their courage, and what with their rage, there would be no standing before them, especially for such raw soldiers as Absalom’s generally were. Thus did he represent them as formidable as Ahithophel had made them despicable. [4.] He suggested that probably David and some of his men would lie in ambush, in some pit, or other close place, and fall upon Absalom’s soldiers before they were aware the terror of which would put them to flight; and the defeat, though but of a small party, would dispirit all the rest, especially their own consciences at the same time accusing them of treason against one that, they were sure, was not only God’s anointed, but a man after his own heart, 2 Sam. 17:9. “It will soon be given out that there is a slaughter among Absalom’s men, and then they will all make the best of their way, and the heart of Ahithophel himself, though now it seems like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt. In short, he will not find it so easy a matter to deal with David and his men as he thinks it is; and, if he be foiled, we shall all be routed.”
(2.) He offered his own advice, and gave his reasons; and, [1.] He counselled that which he knew would gratify Absalom’s proud vain-glorious humour, though it would not be really serviceable to his interest. First, He advised that all Israel should be gathered together, that is, the militia of all the tribes. His taking it for granted that they are all for him, and giving him an opportunity to see them all together under his command, would gratify him as much as any thing. Secondly, He advises that Absalom go to battle in his own person, as if he looked upon him to be a better soldier than Ahithophel, more fit to give command and have the honour of the victory, insinuating that Ahithophel had put a slight upon him in offering to go without him. See how easy it is to betray proud men, by applauding them, and feeding their pride. [2.] He counselled that which seemed to secure the success, at last, infallibly, without running any hazard. For, if they could raise such vast numbers as they promised themselves, wherever they found David they could not fail to crush him. First, If in the field, they should fall upon him, as the dew that covers the face of the ground, and cut off all his men with him, 2 Sam. 17:12. Perhaps Absalom was better pleased with the design of cutting off all the men that were with him, having a particular antipathy to some of David’s friends, than with Ahithophel’s project of smiting the king only. Thus Hushai gained his point by humouring his revenge, as well as his pride. Secondly, If in a city, they need not fear conquering him, for they should have hands enough, if occasion were, to draw the city itself into its river with ropes, 2 Sam. 17:13. This strange suggestion, how impracticable soever, being new, served for an amusement, and recommended itself by pleasing the fancy, for they would all smile at the humour of it.
(3.) By all these arts, Hushai gained not only Absalom’s approbation of his advice, but the unanimous concurrence of this great counsel of war; they all agreed that the counsel of Hushai was better than the counsel of Ahithophel, 2 Sam. 17:14. See here, [1.] How much the policy of man can do; If Hushai had not been there, Ahithophel’s counsel would certainly have prevailed; and, though all had given their opinion, nothing could be really more for Absalom’s interest than that which he advised; yet Hushai, with his management, brings them all over to his side, and none of them are aware that he says all this in favour of David and his interest, but all say as he says. See how the unthinking are imposed upon by the designing part of mankind; what tools, what fools, great men make of one another by their intrigues; and what tricks there are often in courts and councils, which those are happiest that are least conversant with. [2.] See how much more the providence of God can do. Hushai managed the plot with dexterity, yet the success is ascribed to God, and his agency on the minds of those concerned: The Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel. Be it observed, to the comfort of all that fear God, he turns all men’s hearts as the rivers of water, though they know not the thoughts of the Lord. He stands in the congregation of the mighty, has an overruling hand in all counsels and a negative voice in all resolves, and laughs at men’s projects against his anointed.