Here is, I. The transporting of David and his forces over Jordan, pursuant to the advice he had received from his friends at Jerusalem, 2 Sam. 17:22. He, and all that were with him, went over in the night, whether in ferryboats, which probably always plied there, or through the fords, does not appear. But special notice is taken of this, that there lacked not one of them: none deserted him, though his distress was great, none staid behind sick or weary, nor were any lost or cast away in passing the river. Herein some make him a type of the Messiah, who said, in a difficult day, Of all that thou hast given me have I lost none. Having got over Jordan, he marched many miles forward to Mahanaim, a Levites’ city in the tribe of Gad, in the utmost border of that tribe, and not far from Rabbah, the chief city of the Ammonites. This city, which Ishbosheth had made his royal city (2 Sam. 2:8), David now made his head-quarters, 2 Sam. 17:24. And now he had time to raise an army wherewith to oppose the rebels and give them a warm reception.
II. The death of Ahithophel, 2 Sam. 17:23. He died by his own hands, felo de se—a suicide. He hanged himself for vexation that his counsel was not followed; for thereby, 1. He thought himself slighted, and an intolerable slur cast upon his reputation for wisdom. His judgment always used to sway at the counsel-board, but now another’s opinion is thought wiser and better than his. His proud heart cannot bear the affront; it rises and swells, and the more he thinks of it the more violent his resentments grow, till they bring him at last to this desperate resolve not to live to see another preferred before him. All men think him a wise man, but he thinks himself the only wise man; and therefore to be avenged upon mankind for not thinking so too, he will die, that wisdom may die with him. The world is not worthy of such an oracle as he is, and therefore he will make them know the want of him. See what real enemies those are to themselves that think too well of themselves, and what mischiefs those run upon that are impatient of contempt. That will break a proud man’s heart that will not break a humble man’s sleep. 2. He thought himself endangered and his life exposed. He concluded that, because his counsel was not followed, Absalom’s cause would certainly miscarry, and then, whoever would find David’s mercy, he concluded that he, who was the greatest criminal, and had particularly advised him to lie with his father’s concubines, must be sacrificed to justice. To prevent therefore the shame and terror of a public and solemn execution, he does justice upon himself, and, after his reputation for wisdom, by this last act puts a far greater disgrace upon himself than Absalom’s privy-council had put upon him, and answers his name Ahithophel, which signifies, the brother of a fool. Nothing indicates so much folly as self-murder. Observe, How deliberately he did it, and of malice prepense against himself; not in a heat, but he went home to his city, to his house, to do it; and, which is strange, took time to consider of it, and yet did it. And, to prove himself compos mentis—in his senses, when he did it, he first put his household in order, made his will 1c18 as a man of sane memory and understanding, settled his estate, balanced his accounts; yet he that had sense and prudence enough to do this had not consideration enough to revoke the sentence his pride and passion had passed upon his own neck, nor so much as to suspend the execution of it till he saw the event of Absalom’s rebellion. Now herein we may see, (1.) Contempt poured upon the wisdom of man. He that was more renowned for policy than any man played the fool with himself more abundantly. Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, when he sees him that was so great an oracle dying as a fool dies. (2.) Honour done to the justice of God. When the wicked are thus snared in the work of their own hands, and sunk in a pit of their own digging, the Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth, and we must say, Higgaion, Selah; it is a thing to be marked and meditated upon, Ps. 7:15, 16. (3.) Prayer answered, and an honest cause served even by its enemies. Now, as David had prayed, Ahithophel’s counsel was turned into foolishness to himself. Dr. Lightfoot supposes that David penned the Ps. 55:1-23 upon occasion of Ahithophel’s being in the plot against him, and that he is the man complained of (2 Sam. 17:13) that had been his equal, his guide, and his acquaintance; and, if so, this was an immediate answer to his prayer there (2 Sam. 17:15): Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quickly into hell. Ahithophel’s death was an advantage to David’s interest; for had he digested that affront (as those must resolve often to do that will live in this world), and continued his post at Absalom’s elbow, he might have given him counsel afterwards that might have been of pernicious consequence to David. It is well that that breath is stopped and that head laid from which nothing could be expected but mischief. It seems, it was not then usual to disgrace the dead bodies of self-murderers, for Ahithophel was buried, we may suppose honourably buried, in the sepulchre of his father, though he deserved no better than the burial of an ass. See Eccl. 8:10.
III. Absalom’s pursuit of his father. He had now got all the men of Israel with him, as Hushai advised, and he himself, at the head of them, passed over Jordan, 2 Sam. 17:24. Not content that he had driven his good father to the utmost corner of his kingdom, he resolved to chase him out of the world. He pitched in the land of Gilead with all his forces, ready to give David battle, 2 Sam. 17:26. Absalom made one Amasa his general (2 Sam. 17:25), whose father was by birth Jether, an Ishmaelite (1 Chron. 2:17), but by religion Ithra (as he is here called), an Israelite; probably he was not only proselyted, but, having married a near relation of David’s, was, by some act of the state, naturalized, and is therefore called an Israelite. His wife, Amasa’s mother, was Abigail, David’s sister, whose other sister, Zeruiah, was Joab’s mother (1 Chron. 2:16), so that Amasa was in the same relation to David that Joab was. In honour to his family, even while he was in arms against his father, Absalom made him commander-in-chief of all his forces. Jesse is here called Nahash, for many had two names; or perhaps this was his wife’s name.
IV. The friends David met with in this distant country. Even Shobi, a younger brother of the royal family of the Ammonites, was kind to him, 2 Sam. 17:27. It is probable that he had detested the indignity which his brother Hanun had done to David’s ambassadors, and for that had received favours from David, which he now returned. Those that think their prosperity most confirmed know not but, some time or other, they may stand in need of the kindness of those that now lie at their mercy, and may be glad to be beholden to them, which is a reason why we should, as we have opportunity, do good to all men, for he that watereth shall be watered also himself, when there is occasion. Machir, the son of Ammiel, was he that maintained Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9:4), till David eased him of that charge, and is now repaid for it by that generous man, who, it seems, was the common patron of distressed princes. Barzillai we shall hear of again. These, compassionating David and his men, now that they were weary with a long march, brought him furniture for his house, beds and basins, and provision for his table, wheat and barley, etc., 2 Sam. 17:28, 29. He did not put them under contribution, did not compel them to supply him, much less plunder them; but in token of their dutiful affection to him, and their sincere concern for him in his present straits, of their own good will they brought in plenty of all that which he had occasion for. Let us learn hence to be generous and open-handed, according as our ability is, to all in distress, especially great men, to whom it is most grievous, and good men, who deserve better treatment; and see how God sometimes makes up to his people that comfort from strangers which they are disappointed of in their own families.