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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

2 Samuel 17

Verses 7-23

2 Samuel 17:7-23

And Hushai said unto Absalom.

Hushai’s advice preferred

The wisest man in the world is not wise at all times: though Achitophel commonly gives successful counsel, yet, with his good leave, he hath missed the mark at this time, and in this case.

Hushai’s grand design was first to invalidate the perilous counsel Achitophel had given, before he gave his own opinion he hereupon discovers the danger of Achitophel’s advice from three topics.

1. The first is taken from the valour of David, which he amplifies by a similitude of a bear robbed of her whelps.

2. The second argument m taken from the policy and prudence of David, as the first is from his courage and valour.

3. His third argument or topic is a periculoso from the dangerous consequences of this expedition of Achitophel’s. (2 Samuel 17:9-10.)

When Hushai had thus invalidated Achitophel’s counsel, then he produceth and introduceth his own to Absalom, and partly contrary and partly congruous and consentaneous to that of Achitophel’s. (2 Samuel 17:11-13.)

1. Hushai’s counsel was contrary to that of Achitophel’s in three respects.

(1) In respect of time; not in the night as he hath advised, seeing night-works are not only hazardous, but also no way glorious works, we scorn to steal a victory in the dark, let us fight David in clear-daylight that the sun may behold the valour and victory of our invincible army.

(2) The second respect is, Let not so small an handful as twelve thousand (according to his advice) be employed, but a mighty host made up of all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, &c.

(3) And the third respect is, Thou thyself shalt go general of this numerous army, for thy presence will put life into thy soldiers, to fight lustily in the fight of their King, who bath power to punish or reward them according to their merit or demerit; beside the glory of the victory (which now Achitophel seeks to have to himself) shall be wholly thine by thy going in person to the battle.

2. Mark, it was congruous as to the effect, the same in the end with that Achitophel now had advised, to wit, the destruction of David, and of his despicable company, saying, David shall not be able to defend himself neither.

(1) In the open field, for we will fall upon him there, as the dew falleth upon the field, so largely, so suddenly, and so irresistibly upon all sides, as the drops of dew are innumerable: Nor

(2) Shall he be safe in, a fortified city, for we will bring ropes to it and draw it (and David in it) into the river, &c., so drown him, and all his, &c. Hushai’s whole oration was wholly accommodated to the ambitious humour of a vain-glorious prince, all along stuffed with the bombast of hyperbolical flourishes, both to fill up its own emptiness, and to puff up Absalom’s proud mind with heading and leading a mighty army, &c. Hushai in his thrasonical expressions puts himself into the number of the actors of this tragedy, saying [So shall we come upon him, &c.] as if he had said [I will be one of the first of them,] that he might not seem to come short of Achitophel, who had offered Absalom his service both as a counsellor, and as a commander, and [We will not leave so much as one, &c.] This is opposed to Achitophel’s promise (v. 2.) that in no point he might seem to fall behind him, so is he the sooner believed. Whatever Hushai with all his florid flatteries pretended, yet his main design intended was, that David might gain more time to increase his army, and to prepare for the battle, and that the present paroxism or heat of the people being cooled by such delays (as Absalom’s raising so vast an army did necessarily require) many of David’s subjects might at last bethink themselves of returning to their right allegiance, and thereby upon better consideration join to strengthen the Father’s forces against his unnatural rebellious son. In all these harangues both of Acbitophel and of Hushai, there is not one word of counselling Absalom to ask counsel of God, God was not in all their thoughts. (Psalms 10:4.) Indeed Hushai purposely put Absalom upon trusting in an arm of flesh (a numberless number of soldiers) which he knew would bring a curse upon him (Jeremiah 17:5), and therefore he pusheth him forward to be present in the fight to fetch in his own fall, &c. This counsel of Hushai was better approved of by Absalom and his courtieers than that of Achitophel, because the Lord purposed it should be foiled and defeated (verse 13, 14.)

How great is the power of faithful prayer; David had prayed, Lord, turn Achitophel’s counsel into folly. Achitophel’s counsel is rejected as foolish counsel, David’s prayer of faith and fervency was answered over and over again; for

1. Achitophel’s counsel was folly itself (2 Samuel 16:21.)

2. ‘Tis here refused as such; and

3. he died as a fool (verse 28.)

Achitophel’s counsel was infringed here by a double means,

1. by human help, namely, by Hushai’s prudence and policy, humouring an ambitious bigot to his own destruction, well knowing that his insolent temper would best be flushed up with flourishing flatteries, and

2. by a Divine hand, God giving Absalom up to believe lies, and so hasten his own end. (C. Ness.)

The best counsellors

Alphonsus, King of Anagon, being asked who were the best counsellors, answered, “The dead (meaning books), which cannot flatter, but do without partiality, declare the truth.” Now of all such dead counsellors, God’s testimonies have the preeminence. A poor, godly man, even then when he is deserted of all, and hath nobody to plead for him, he hath his senate, and his Council of State about him, the prophets and apostles, and “other holy men of God, that spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” A man so furnished is never less alone than when alone; for he hath counsellors about him that tell him what is to be believed or done; and they are such counsellors as cannot err, as will not flatter him, nor applaud him in any sin, nor discourage or dissuade him from that which is good, whatever hazard it expose him to. And, truly, if we be wise we should choose such counsellors as these: Thy testimonies are the men of my counsel.” (T. Manton.)

Verse 14

2 Samuel 17:14

The counsel of Hushai the Archite.

Hushai’s Counsel

Hushai saw that it was essential to gain time, “in order,” to quote the words of Tacitus, “to give the disaffected time to repent, and the loyal time to unite: crimes gain by hasty action, better counsels by delay.” His scheme was cleverly devised to appeal to Absalom’s vanity and love of display. It seemed safe and easy: it was a far more attractive idea for Absalom to march in person against, David at the head of an immense army than for him to let Achithophel complete the revolution by a decisive action at once. His vanity proved his ruin. He forgot that s general levy would involve no slight delay: he forgot that the rising was by no means certain to be general, and that when the first surprise of the insurrection was over many would return their allegiance to David. But Absalom and his counsellors were blinded by a divinely-ordered infatuation. (A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)

Verse 23

2 Samuel 17:23

And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed.

God overthrows the evil wisdom of the worldly wise

As in Ahithophel’s ease, the most subtle counsels of evil men are often most unexpectedly overthrown. It was so with the men who plotted against Daniel, Jeremiah, and Mordecai. So the Armada was overthrown in the days of Queen Elizabeth, though it had been planned in the most deliberate and sagacious manner. So the invasion of England by Napoleon the First came to nought, though a most consummate tactician was directing it.

Verses 27-29

2 Samuel 17:27-29

When David was come to Mahanaim.

Mahanaim, or hosts of angels

(with Genesis 32:27; Genesis 32:29):--Let us go even unto Mahanaim and see these great sights. First, let us go with Jacob and see the two camps of angels, and then with- David to observe his troops of friends.

God has a multitude of servants, and all these are on the side of believers. The great army of the Lord of hosts consists largely of unseen agents, of forces that are not discernible except in vision or by the eye of faith. Jacob saw two squadrons of these invisible forces, which are on the side of righteous men.

1. We know that a guard of angels always surrounds every believer. Ministering spirits are abroad, protecting the princes of the blood royal. They cannot be discerned by any of our senses, but they are perceptible by faith, and they have been made perceptible to holy men of old in vision.

2. All these agents work in order, for it is God’s host, and the host is made up of beings which march or fly, according to the order of command. “Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path.”

3. All punctual to the Divine command. Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.

4. All engaged personally to attend upon Jacob.

5. Those forces, though in themselves invisible to the natural senses, are manifest to faith at certain times. Our Mahanaims occur at much the same time as that in which Jacob beheld this great sight. Jacob was entering upon a more separated life. He was leaving Laban and the school of all those tricks of bargaining and bartering which belong to the ungodly world.

6. Again, the reason why the angels met Jacob at that time was, doubtless, because he was surrounded with great cares.

7. Again, the Lord’s host appeared when Jacob felt a great dread. His brother Esau was coming to meet him armed to the teeth, and, as he feared, thirsty for his blood. In times when our danger is greatest, if we are real believers, we shall be specially under the Divine protection, and we shall know that it, is so.

8. And, once again, when you and I, like Jacob, shall be near Jordan, when we shall just be passing into the better land then is the time when we may expect to come to Mahanaim.

9. There is no doubt whatever that they are sent for a purpose.

10. Mahanaim was granted to Jacob, not only to refresh his memory, but to lift him out of the ordinary low level of his life.

If such a special vision be granted to us let us keep it in memory. Jacob called the name of that place Mahanaim.

This brings me to my second text; for angels did not meet David, but living creatures of another nature met him, who answered the purpose of David quite as well as angels would have done.

1. Who is yonder prominent friend? He speaks like a foreigner. He is an Ammonite. What is his name? Shobi the son of Nahash, of Rabbah, of the children of Ammon. I have heard of those people: they were enemies, were they not--cruel enemies to Israel? That man Nahash, you recollect his name; this is one of his sons. Yes! God can turn enemies into friends when His servants require succour. Those that belong to a race that is opposed to Israel can, if God will it, turn to be their helpers. The Lord found an advocate for his Son Jesus in Pilate’s house--the governor’s wife suffered many things in a dream because of him. He can find a friend for his servants in their persecutor’s own family, even as he raised up Obadiah to hide the prophets and feed them in a cave: the chamberlain to Ahab himself was the protector of the saints, and with meat from Ahab’s table were they fed.

2. Here comes another person we have heard of before, Machir of Lodebar. That is the large farmer who took care of Mephibosheth. He seems to have been a truly loyal man, who stuck to royal families, even when their fortunes were adverse. As he had been faithful to the house of Saul so was he to David.

3. Here comes Barzillai, an old man of fourscore, and as the historian tells us, “a very great man.” His enormous wealth was all at the disposal of David and his followers, and “he provided the king of sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim.” This old nobleman was certainly as useful to David as the angels were to Jacob, and he and his coadjutors were truly a part of God’s forces. The armies of God are varied: he has not one troop alone, but many. On this occasion Mahanaim well deserved its name, because the help that came to David from these different persons came in a most noble way, as though it came by angels. I infer from this that if at any time a servant of God is marching onward in his Master’s work, and he needs assistance of any sort, he need not trouble about it, but rest in the Lord, for succour and help will surely come, if not from the angels above, yet from the church below. Conclusion: While I have shown you God’s invisible agents, and God’s visible agents, I want to call to your mind that in either case, and in both cases, the host is the host of God: that is to say, the true strength and safety of the believer is his God. The presence of God with believers is more certain and constant than the presence of angels or holy men. God hath said it--“Certainly I will be with thee.” He hath said again, “I will not leave thee, nor forsake thee.” When you are engaged in Christ’s service you have a special promise to back you up--“Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. If, then, God is pleased to grant us help by secondary causes, as we know He does--for to many of us He sends many and many a friend to help in his good work--then we must take care to see God in these friends and helpers. When you have no helpers, see all helpers in God: when you have many helpers, then you must see God in all your helpers. Herein is wisdom. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The service of love

Robert Louis Stevenson had a remarkable power of attaching hearts to himself by the very magnetism of his personality, as well as by the kindliness of his behaviour. A recent book of reminiscences of his life in Samoa tells that one day when the cook was away, Stevenson told another servant, Sosimo, lust to bring him a little bread and cheese for lunch to his writing-room. But to his surprise he was served with an excellent meal--an omelette, a good salad, and perfect coffee. “Who cooked this?” asked Stevenson, in Samoan. “I did,” said Sosimo. “Well, then, great is your wisdom.” Sosimo bowed and humbly corrected him: “Great is my love!” It was love that gave skill and deftness to his hand, mad added welcome to the repast. So with the provision which David’s timely helpers supply.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 17". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.