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Deeper Commentary

2Sa 17:1 Moreover Ahithophel said to Absalom, Let me now choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David tonight-
Absalom entered Jerusalem the day David fled (2 Sam. 15:37). The day David fled Jerusalem is recorded in more detail than any day in Biblical history. The tragedy of a good man having to suffer for his sins is thereby underlined to us. Ahithophel's advice to attack David immediately was undoubtedly the best advice. Even if we understand a "thousand" as a military grouping rather than a literal figure, this was a considerable number of men to have available. Truly the support for Absalom was not inconsiderable.

Psalm 3 refers to this time. "Many" in Ps. 3:1,2 is the same word used for how the people "increased" with Absalom (2 Sam. 15:12). "Rise up" in Ps. 3:1 is the word used of Ahithophel wishing to 'rise up" and pursue David (2 Sam. 17:1; 18:31). In response to the rising up of others against him, David asks God to 'rise up' (Ps. 3:7 s.w.). David's prayer in Psalm 3 was answered, and Ahithophel 'rose up' and committed suicide (2 Sam. 17:23).

2Sa 17:2 I will come on him while he is weary and exhausted, and will make him afraid. All the people who are with him shall flee. I will strike the king only-
This was clearly designed to appeal to what Absalom wanted to hear and to happen. He wanted power over the people; he therefore wanted his father dead, believing that this would mean that his father's supporters would give up and come under his power.

2Sa 17:3 and I will bring back all the people to you. The man whom you seek is as if all returned; and so all the people shall be in peace-
The LXX reveals deeper the flattery used here. The idea was that the people with David of course really loved Absalom and had been with him in their hearts, but had just temporarily left him to go with David; and they would very easily return to Absalom without the need for bloodshed, if David alone were to be slain: “And I will cause all the people to return unto thee, as the bride returneth to her husband. Only one man’s life dost thou seek, and unto all the people there shall be peace".

2Sa 17:4 The saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel-
As noted on :3, it was indeed excellently expressed advice. It appealed to Absalom's pride, and the elders would commend it as designed to avoid mass bloodshed. The same mentality is employed as in the argument to kill the Lord Jesus- it were better one man died at the hands of Rome than many, so went the argument.

2Sa 17:5 Then Absalom said, Now call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear likewise what he says-
"Hear likewise" could suggest that Absalom assumed that such excellent advice would surely likewise be agreed by Hushai also.

2Sa 17:6 When Hushai had come to Absalom, Absalom spoke to him saying, Ahithophel has spoken like this. Shall we do what he says? If not, speak up-
The Divine author is as a cameraman zoomed in upon the scene. What might otherwise seem superfluous recording of words is done so that we can enter more fully into the scene, waiting with baited breath, as it were, to see if Ahithophel's smart advice is going to be followed. It was such good advice in the context that it would seem impossible to overturn it.

2Sa 17:7 Hushai said to Absalom, The counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good at this time-
At this time" could imply that the previous counsel, to sleep with David's concubines, was "good" (2 Sam. 16:21). Hushai was willing to go along with that because he knew that this is what Nathan's prophecy had stated would happen. But there had been no Divine word about David being slain by Absalom.

2Sa 17:8 Hushai said moreover, You know your father and his men, that they are mighty men, and they are bitter in their minds, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field-
How to love the unlovely, to live without bitterness, to not be a psychological victim of our past experiences, is absolutely vital for the true child of God. In David and above all the Lord Jesus we see this achieved so supremely. He was at times bitter, as the imprecatory Psalms reveal, and as Hushai commented, David was a man “bitter of soul” (2 Sam. 17:8 RVmg.). But there is also every reason to think that David at this point was not in fact bitter over what he had lost. He accepts he has sinned and is being judged, and throws himself upon God's grace to restore him. But his tendencies to bitterness were well known, and so Hushai's claims about David were absolutely credible to his audience. And he advises therefore not to assume too easily that such a bitter man would give up without there being bloodshed. And avoiding bloodshed was important in order to keep Absalom's demand for loyalty credible.

Your father is a man of war, and will not lodge with the people-
The idea of attacking the entire group and hoping to thereby get David... was unrealistic, Hushai argues. He likely would not lodge with the people. He would be like Jacob in his night of crisis, fleeing from Laban and meeting Esau.

2Sa 17:9 Behold, he is now hidden in some pit, or in some other place. It will happen, when some of them have fallen at the first, that whoever hears it will say, ‘There is a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom!’-
Hushai imagines that Ahithophel leading a band of men to take David will not be a good idea. For Ahithophel was seen as a prophet, a spiritual man, an advisor- and not a military man. By contrast, David and his men were military men; and had a long track record of winning battles against superior forces. Hushai plays on the deep concerns about not causing bloodshed. The image of David hiding in a "cave" (Heb.) naturally recalls his hiding in a cave and nearly having the mastery over Saul. Hushai wishes to recall these classic images of David and warn against thinking that a quick victory over him was possible.

2Sa 17:10 Even he who is valiant, whose heart is as the heart of a lion, will utterly melt; for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and those who are with him are valiant men-
The military prowess of David and his close circle was legendary. And everyone wanted to avoid bloodshed and find a way of destroying David alone. Playing on that concern, Hushai started to make huge sense to all present.

2Sa 17:11 But I advise that all Israel be gathered together to you, from Dan even to Beersheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude-
We must remember that baptism means that we are now the seed of Abraham, and the blessings of forgiveness, of all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, and God's turning us away from our sins are right now being fulfilled in us (Acts 3:27-29). Israel were multiplied as the sand on the sea shore (2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Kings 4:20), they possessed the gates of their enemies (Dt. 17:2; 18:6)- all in antitype of how Abraham's future seed would also receive the promised blessings in their mortal experience, as well as in the eternal blessedness of the future Kingdom.

And that you go to battle in your own person-
This was an appeal to Absalom's pride. he was not a military man, but being the figurehead of an inevitable victory by sheer force of numbers was going to appeal to him. And the idea was that the force of numbers would mean that only David and his immediate hard core followers would put up a fight; and it was they who needed to be eliminated and not anyone else.

2Sa 17:12 So shall we come on him in some place where he shall be found, and we will light on him as the dew falls on the ground; and of him and of all the men who are with him we will not leave so much as one-
This is inviting Absalom to act as Saul, using spies and intelligence to track down David to some hiding place and then suddenly come upon him. The idea was to kill not only David but his immediate band of warriors. These were the very men to whom the kingdom of Israel owed its existence. To agree to slay them all was really treason of the worst sort. But jealousy means that all true qualifications and history of the other people are ignored, in the mad obsession with their destruction. The same thing goes on in church infighting today. 

2Sa 17:13 Moreover, if he be gone into a city, then shall all Israel bring ropes to that city, and we will draw it into the river, until there isn’t one small stone found there-
This alludes to the tearing down of a leprous house. There was the quasi religious claim that Absalom's putsch was in fact his devoted service of Yahweh (2 Sam. 15:8); and this is now accompanied by the suggestion that any supporting David were an unclean, leprous city which must be pulled down stone by stone.

2Sa 17:14 Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For Yahweh had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that Yahweh might bring evil on Absalom-
When David had prayed for Ahithophel's wisdom to be turned to foolishness (2 Sam. 15:31). In response to this, Yahweh had 'ordained' in the court of Heaven that this was to happen. And He worked upon the psychology of those men and their perceptions, so that Ahithophel's advice was defeated.

Was it really good counsel? Not in God’s eyes. It was only ‘good’ for Absalom from a fleshly viewpoint. And yet the record speaks from Absalom’s perspective; it speaks of something definitely evil as being “good” within the context in which it was given. Thus the record here refers to men’s bad thinking as if it is correct. This explains why there are no footnotes throughout the Bible, pointing this kind of thing out; and why the wrong understandings of demons aren't specifically corrected in the New Testament.

2Sa 17:15 Then Hushai said to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, Ahithophel counselled Absalom and the elders of Israel that way; and I have counselled this way-
Hushai of course was desperately playing for time. He knew that David and his group were not far away, having only left Jerusalem the same day Absalom arrived there. The small group who were loyal to David within the court of Absalom correspond with those within the court of Saul (see on :17). Like all our crises, this one was really intended to allow David to apply all he had learned over the years.

2Sa 17:16 Now therefore send quickly and tell David saying, ‘Don’t lodge this night at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over; lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people who are with him’-
"The plain of the wilderness" (AV) is the plain of Jericho (Josh. 5:10; 2 Kings 25:5; 2 Sam. 2:29; 17:16). "The way of the wilderness" in 2 Sam. 15:23 was therefore the road to Jericho, used by the Lord Jesus in His parable of the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho being beaten [= suffering for his sins, in the parable], and being saved by grace and now law. Surely the Lord had David in mind, and is presenting the long day of his tragic exile as being the experience of everyman.

2Sa 17:17 Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying by En Rogel; and a female servant used to go and tell them; and they went and told king David. For they didn’t want to be seen to come into the city-
We noted on :15 the similarities with the time when a minority in the court of Saul were loyal to David. Jonathan and David could not be seen together and had to communicate very carefully; and so it was here. The female servant, the lowest of the low in society, as both a woman and a slave, was the vital and crucial link between the two young men and the faithful priests in the city. This is typical of how God works.

2Sa 17:18 But a boy saw them, and told Absalom. Then they both went away quickly, and came to the house of a man in Bahurim, who had a well in his court; and they went down there-
There were clearly a number of faithful supporters. The poor servant woman, the wealthy home owner in Bahurim... and yet they are presented as struggling against the "boy" who noticed and reported things, and Absalom's servants (:20). It was really a repeat of the situation with Saul and David.

2Sa 17:19 The woman took and spread the covering over the well’s mouth, and spread out bruised grain on it; and nothing was known-
"The woman" could refer to the servant girl of :17, or it could be as GNB "The man's wife".

2Sa 17:20 Absalom’s servants came to the woman to the house; and they said, Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan? The woman said to them, They have gone over the brook of water. When they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem-
Literally, 'they are over the water'. And they were over water, because they were hiding in a well just above the water at the bottom of it (:18). Again, as discussed on 2 Sam. 16:16, this raises the question as to whether lying is always wrong, necessarily. Rahab's lies and those of the Hebrew midwives at the exodus are rewarded as acts of faith. But this is of course a slippery slope. But such open questions are left for our reflection, underlining that spiritual life cannot be run by laws but by principles. Indeed the way the woman lies about two men of God by saying they had  gone away over a river is so similar to Rahab's situation. It could be that the woman was inspired by Rahab.

2Sa 17:21 It happened, after they had departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David; and they said to David, Arise and pass quickly over the water; for thus has Ahithophel counselled against you-
The implication was  that Absalom was so vain and unstable that he might still change his mind and follow Ahithophel's advice.

2Sa 17:22 Then David arose, and all the people who were with him, and they passed over the Jordan. By the morning light there lacked not one of them who had not gone over the Jordan-
The crossing of Jordan after the lie of a woman definitely recalls the faithfulness of Rahab in lying about another two men of God; see on :20. All the people passing over Jordan uses the very words of Josh. 3:17, as if this retreat was going to turn into a magnificent defeat through their restoration. It also recalls Jacob passing over Jordan, in the direction David was going, and then finally returning in restoration by God's grace (Gen. 32:10). All this was intended as encouragement to the exiles in Babylon as they read these records.

2Sa 17:23 When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey, and arose, and went home, to his city, and set his house in order, and hanged himself; and he died, and was buried in the tomb of his father-
Ahithophel's suicide was a kind of answer to David's prayer at this time in Ps. 5:10: "Hold them guilty, God. Let them fall by their own advice; thrust them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against You". Whilst his suicide was completely his decision, it was also an answer to David's prayer at this point.

As believers in the representative nature of the Lord’s sacrifice, we are thereby empowered to break out of the routine of our lives. Life becomes valuable; we number our days with wisdom (Ps. 90:12). We no longer fear failure, for firstly we know there is forgiveness in Christ, and secondly, our focus is upon living the real life of ultimate discovery and adventure, able to live with the fears which this presents to us. Failure is no longer a problem to us; for the aim is ever before us. We will not be like Ahithophel, committing suicide because he ran out of political highway and lost his power to others. Our failures are nothing more than temporary setbacks, as the baby who stretches out her hands to the lamp on the ceiling and cries because she can’t reach it. We take them all, even our sins, in the spirit of the cross- the supreme failure which became the supreme triumph of God and the true person.

2Sa 17:24 Then David came to Mahanaim. Absalom passed over the Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him-
Mahanaim had at one time been the capital of the Israelite kingdom under Abner and Ishbosheth, during the seven years when Abner had led the opposition to David's kingdom in Judah. And now David found refuge there. He had shown much grace to the house of Saul at that time, and now, many years later, he was finding grace in the one time capital of his opposition.

2Sa 17:25 Absalom set Amasa over the army instead of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man, whose name was Ithra the Israelite, who went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah, Joab’s mother-
There is much unclarity over "the Israelite", because that seems obvious, unless the point is that he was not of Judah. The texts read "Jezreelite", and 1 Chron. 2:17 has "Jether the Ishmeelite". In this case the idea is that this man was not an Israelite, and had slept with the daughter of the serpent, Nahash. The patriotic, brave and loyal Joab was followed by someone of poorer qualification, even though his relative had slept with this man. 

2Sa 17:26 Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead-
The description of Barzillai as a Gileadite (:27) shows that Absalom did not enjoy universal support from the rest of Israel.

2Sa 17:27 It happened, when David had come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim-
As happens in a crisis, all manner of people came out of the woodwork and showed their respects. David had been friends with Nahash but had fought against his son Hanun, Shobi's brother (2 Sam. 10:2). But a theme of this time of crisis is that Gentiles who had once been David's enemies, and whose families and relatives David had slain in war such as Ittai (see on 2 Sam. 15:19-21), now come out on David's side. They could only have done so because they had been converted to the God of Israel by David, their one time national enemy. Rogelim in Gilead likewise may well have been Gentile territory, and his descendants were unable to prove their genealogies (Ezra 2:61-63), although they wished to serve as priests and support the restored Kingdom, just as their ancestor supported David's restoration. Machir was the man who had allowed Mephibosheth to stay with him (2 Sam. 9:4,5), and would have been deeply impressed by David's huge grace to Mephibosheth and the house of Saul. He thereby realized that David was a man of God despite out of character failings.

2Sa 17:28 brought beds, basins, earthen vessels, wheat, barley, meal, parched grain, beans, lentils, roasted grain-
"Beds" suggests that they stayed there for some time and were fed by their hosts. This would have been a considerable commitment. David "lay" at Mahanaim (2 Sam. 19:32), suggesting he was sick.

2Sa 17:29 honey, butter, sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David, and for the people who were with him, to eat: for they said, The people are hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness
Psalm 23:5 "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies" refers to this time. Shimei and other "enemies" were aware of his path. The reference is to the feasts prepared for him in the desert by Ziba (2 Sam. 16:2) and Barzillai (2 Sam. 17:27-29). But the phrase "prepare a table" is that used of the preparation of the table of shewbread (Ex. 40:4), and it is used in a religious sense in Is. 65:11; Ez. 23:41. Perhaps David held some kind of religious ceremony whilst on the run, the equivalent to our breaking of bread meeting; perhaps Barzillai's feast was turned into a religious experience. And his experience of the Lord's table strengthened him with great encouragement, as we also can experience.

Psalm 42 clearly has reference to David's time at Mahanaim, which could have been months (2 Sam. 17:24; 19:32), whilst fleeing Absalom. David "lay" there for some time (2 Sam. 19:32), as if he was ill at this time. This was the original context of the Psalm, but David sitting by the waters in exile was obviously relevant to the captives sitting by the rivers of Babylon. Hence the title in the Syriac: "A Psalm which David sung when he was an exile and desired to return to Jerusalem"; the Arabic "A Psalm for the backsliding Jews". Psalm 42 is all relevant to this time in David's life:

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after You, God-
The theme of water in this Psalm (:7 too) is appropriate to David being by the waters of the Kidron and then the Jordan as he fled from Absalom. David sitting by the waters in exile was obviously relevant to the captives sitting by the rivers of Babylon.


Psalm 42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?- This reveals David's special longing for the sanctuary in Zion, where he 'appeared before God' to keep the Mosaic feasts (Ex. 23:17). But the application to the Lord Jesus is very clear- His was the ultimate, actual appearance before God in Heaven.

Psalm 42:3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually ask me, Where is your God?-
This would imply that David's enemies had access to him whilst he lay at Mahanaim in exile from Absalom; we recall how Shimei followed David on the route, cursing him as he went. Or perhaps his own supporters were saying this. The exiles were likewise mocked in Babylon; and the Lord Jesus likewise on the cross. 

Psalm 42:4 These things I remember and pour out my soul within me, how I used to go with the crowd, and led them to God’s house, with the voice of joy and praise, a multitude keeping a holy day-
This is David recalling how he used to lead the people towards the sanctuary on Zion on feast days. "God's house" however suggests the temple, and this was not built in David's time. So this may well have been added under inspiration when the Psalm was used by the sons of Korah in the Babylonian exile; see on :1.

Psalm 42:5 Why are you in despair, my soul? Why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God!-
This kind of self-talk should characterize all of God's true people. For this is the very essence of spiritual mindedness. Psalm 42 has many echoes of the cross, although primarily it refers to David's longing for the tabernacle whilst exiled by Absalom.  "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" (:5 AV) is the same in the Septuagint as Mt. 26:38 "Now is my soul troubled".


For I shall still praise Him for the saving help of His presence- Perhaps applicable to a vision of glory appearing to the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane, transferring some of the glory of His countenance to Jesus as He did to Moses, so that the Lord's arresters initially fell down when they saw Him. David spoke of praising God for the health of His face; and then talks of how God is the source of the health of his face (Ps. 42:5,11 RV). It’s as if the glory of the invisible God rubbed off upon David, as it did literally for Moses, whose faced became radiant with the glory of the Angel who spoke to him.  

Psalm 42:6 Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon, from the hill Mizar-
This may have been the area of Mahanaim, where it seems David remained whilst in exile from Absalom (2 Sam. 17:24). "The heights of Hermon" is literally 'the Hermons', LXX "the Hermonites", perhaps referring to the mountain range which began at Mount Hermon and continued to the Mahanaim area. "Mizar" is unknown, but could be read as "the little hill" (LXX). However, this interpretation of the geography could appear forced, especially with the reference to "cataracts" in :7. Hence Ray Stedman suggested that David was recalling "an experience that he had when he was in the northern part of Israel near Mount Hermon, at the head of the Jordan River, on a little peak of the range where Mount Hermon is located, called Mount Mizar (which, incidentally, means "little mountain"). On that occasion he could hear the waterfalls of that mountainous region, the thundering cataracts. He became aware of how they seemed to be calling to one another, "deep calling unto deep," and it reminded him that the deeps in God call out to the deeps in man".


Psalm 42:7 Deep calls to deep at the noise of Your waterfalls. All Your waves and Your billows have swept over me-
Waterfalls" is better "cataracts", perhaps referring to the spot on the Jordan River where he was sitting as he composed this Psalm. See on :6. David like Jonah feels he has drowned and is in a living death.

Psalm 42:8 Yahweh will command His grace in the daytime. In the night His song shall be with me: a prayer to the God of my life-
Yahweh's song connects with how the exiles also by the waters (of Babylon) were asked to sing Yahweh's song, the Psalms used in temple worship. David says that he will sing Yahweh's song, the temple liturgy, even though in exile from the temple. For he realizes that God's presence is not limited to the sanctuary. GNB may be correct in suggesting: "May the LORD show his constant love during the day, so that I may have a song at night". "The God of my life" could mean the God who alone could preserve David's life; or the God who was the focus of David's life.

Psalm 42:9 I will ask God, my rock, Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?-
The prototype of Christ feeling forsaken was in David feeling forsaken by God when he fled from Absalom (Ps. 42:9; 43:2; 88:14); but clearly he was not actually forsaken. Despite these feelings, David was spiritually mature enough to still consider God as his "rock", even though he felt God wasn't coming through for him as he expected. He expresses the same in Ps. 43:2. "Oppression" was what God's later people were to suffer at the hands of their enemies (s.w. Is. 30:20; Dt. 26:7); David's suffering was seen as that of God's later people, and so his Psalms were reused in this context.

Psalm 42:10 As with a sword in my bones, my adversaries reproach me, while they continually ask me, Where is your God?-
David was sensitive to words; whilst in exile from Absalom, his enemies clearly had access to him and were communicating with him "continually". And he felt those words as swords. The sword that pierced Christ's soul on the cross was the sword of the abuse which was shouted at Him then (Ps. 42:10); and the piercing of Christ's soul, Simeon had said, was the piercing of Mary's soul too. In other words, they were both really cut, pierced, by this mocking of the virgin birth. Neither of them were hard and indifferent to it. And the fact they both stood together at the cross and faced it together must have drawn them closer, and made their parting all the harder. She alone knew beyond doubt that God was Christ's father, even though the Lord had needed to rebuke her for being so carried away with the humdrum of life that she once referred to Joseph as His father (Lk. 2:33). For everyone else, there must always have been that tendency to doubt.

Psalm 42:11 Why are you in despair, my soul? Why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God! For I shall still praise Him, the saving help of my countenance, and my God
- "Despair" is the word used of David's feelings after the sin with Bathsheba (s.w. Ps. 38:6). It is the word for bowing down, for humility. But nobody likes being bowed down in humility, and David likewise wriggles against it. But we see here the kind of self-talk which is characteristic of all those who are truly spiritually minded. This 'bowing down' was to characterize the sufferings of Judah for their sins (s.w. Is. 2:11; 5:15; 26:5). David was possibly asking himself a rhetorical question- Why was he bowed down? Because God wanted to humble him so that He might restore him. But "help" is the usual word for 'salvation', and "countenance" is the usual word for 'face'. 'Save my face' would be a fair translation. And here again we encounter our concerns as to whether David's repentance was as thorough as it might have been. He did indeed confess his sin and seek forgiveness. But so much of his praying at this time is for God to save him from shame, and to judge and destroy and eternally condemn those at whose hands he was receiving judgment for his sins. And this was the problem with the exiles whom he later came to represent.