Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 16:15-17:29 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/8/2016 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 16:15-17:29
“For the LORD Had Purposed”
Wisdom. That’s a word in English that we tend to only use in a positive way. But we’ve been seeing recently in this part of 2 Samuel that this is not always the case. There’s been a critique going on in regards to certain kinds of wisdom. There is wisdom used for godly purposes; that is good. But there is wisdom used for wicked purposes; that is evil. And so today’s passage continues this subtle attack on the wisdom of the world. It’s been something we’ve been seeing in this subsection of 2 Samuel. It started off when Amnon listened to Jonadab’s wisdom which helped him commit a great evil against his half-sister Tamar back in chapter 13. It continued when Joab got that that so-called wise woman of Tekoa to go to speak to David in chapter 14. We’ve seen David himself struggle with wisdom, for example earlier in chapter 16 in how he dealt with Mephibosheth. And now this big section deals with the subject of wisdom again. Here, the topic of wisdom is raised with regard to Ahithophel. But we will see that his wisdom is not used in a godly way.
So, what about you? Would you consider yourself wise? Would others consider you wise? And what do you use that wisdom for? Is it being used to the glory of God? Or is it being used for less than righteous purposes? It might seem strange to ask that question as I address God’s people, but then again the people mentioned in these passages were also people at least outwardly among God’s people. This can be a temptation for Christians. We can get puffed up in our own wisdom, wisdom that we might be tempted to use in wrong ways. One of the challenges of being wise in your own eyes, is that you can begin to think too highly of yourself and of your wisdom. You can then begin to convince yourself that you are right in all your actions, even when they are things that go against God’s commandments. We can then begin to craftily engineer our sins thinking we will outwit everyone else and even get away with it. Let’s see then how this passage confronts such wisdom of the world with the power and greatness of God.
We begin then today by considering Ahithophel’s wisdom. Remember, Ahithophel used to be a counselor for King David. But now he has betrayed King David by giving his loyalties to Absalom, David’s son, who has temporarily taken the throne from his father. Ahithophel has now become Absalom’s counselor. Of course the whole point of a king having counselors was to get wise advice. And that is exactly what Ahithophel is known for. Look at chapter 16, verse 23, “Now the advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one had inquired at the oracle of God. So was all the advice of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.” What a remarkable thing to say about Ahithophel. It’s basically saying that when he gave his advice, the wisdom of it was so great, it was like as if God himself had spoken it. What high praise for his wisdom!
Unfortunately, we see how he tries to use his wisdom in this passage. He tries to use it for the cause of evil. He goes in league with that antichrist figure of Abasalom. And we see two examples of his wise counsel in this passage. The first one is in verses 21-22. Absalom asks Ahithophel for counsel. The idea here is that Absalom has succeeded in the initial phase of his coup. But now Absalom wants to know what the next thing he should do is. As it is, though he’s currently on the throne in Jerusalem, it is still tenuous times. Not only is David still on the loose with his loyal mighty men, but surely there is a question of how committed the people are to Absalom and this new regime. So Absalom goes to Ahithophel for advice on what to do next. And Ahithophel has an idea, an awful idea. His advice in verse 21 is for Absalom to “take” those 10 concubines of David that had stayed behind to care for the house. And he is to take them in a way that everyone in Israel knows he is taking them. This act is to be public knowledge.
Now here’s the apparent “wisdom” of this. First off, evidently in the ancient near east at that time, if a king conquered another king, it would be a relatively common practice for him to take the conquered king’s royal harem as his own. It would have been one way to visible demonstrate your victory. That all being true, verse 21 gives another reason. Ahithophel’s logic is that this action will show to the people how Absalom has made himself completely abhorred by David. This is one of those actions that there’s no turning back from. In other words, if Absalom does this, it’s a way to show confidence to the people. Absalom would only make himself this abhorrent to his Dad if he was completely confident that his Father had lost and could never hold him accountable. Absalom’s display of confidence should then bring a similar confidence to the people. If the people were uncertain of the future, and thus uncertain of if they should support Absalom, this act was meant to bring certainty and confidence to the people.
But there was a problem with this idea. It was morally wrong. It was morally wrong on so many levels, but maybe the clearest is simply to point to Leviticus 20:11. There the death-penalty is declared for taking your father’s wife. And so this is how evil wisdom works. It uses wisdom to do something wrong. It uses wisdom in service to your evil actions or pursuits.
Well, Ahithophel’s wisdom doesn’t stop there. The second example of his wisdom in this passage is in chapter 17, verses 1-3. Here Ahithophel still is trying to figure out how to secure the kingdom for Absalom. He recognizes that as long as David is out there and alive with his forces, that Absalom’s position is not secure. So, here Ahithophel comes up with a strategy to solve that problem. His plan is indeed wise. He thinks that they should gather up a sizable unit and immediately go and strike King David right away while he is weak and weary from recently fleeing the city. In Ahithophel’s plan, speed and precision are of the essence. Not only are they to go after David right away, that very night, but it’s to be a surgical strike. They will attempt to just take out King David. Then all the men loyal to David will have no reason to keep fighting, and they can be ushered back in friendship to Israel. They can be brought back in peace and the whole country can be at peace. That’s Ahithophel’s plan. Again, there is a lot of wisdom to this plan. If it had been allowed to happen, then it very well could have succeeded in taking out David and securing the throne for Absalom. But of course the problem again here with this wisdom is that it was morally wrong. Doing this would have been morally wrong in so many levels, but maybe the clearest is simply to point to Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Absalom will not have many more days left in the land.
So I keep giving away the ending in my comments, but as we finish this first point, we see Ahithophel’s great wisdom only to be used for great evil. Will Ahithophel’s wisdom succeed? Will Absalom, using this wisdom, succeed in his evil sins which are now manifold? The answer is a clear “no.” We can trace this passage and see Ahithophel’s wisdom as we just did. But we can also work through this passage and see God’s response to it. Ahithophel and Absalom conspire together against the LORD and against his Anointed one. But is God concerned or overwhelmed? No, surely the LORD who sits in the heavens laughs; surely he holds Ahithophel and Absalom in derision. Surely he will speak to them in his wrath that he has set his King on his holy hill of Zion, and it’s not Absalom!
So we see how God works against the wisdom of Ahithophel and the evil of Absalom. God’s work particularly uses Hushai. Remember we saw two weeks ago that David sent Hushai back to the city to be a spy for David. David had prayed that God would thwart the counsel of Ahithophel. So, then Hushai showed up and David recognized that God was answering his prayer with Hushai. So, in the first part of today’s passage, we see God beginning to use Hushai in this way. It’s in verses 16-19. There Hushai presents himself to Absalom who understandably questions why he would leave David to serve him. Hushai uses language that is largely loaded with double meaning which we can see but Absalom can’t. The bottom line is that God’s first victory here is in allowing Hushai to endear himself to Absalom. Absalom in his pride evidently takes Hushai’s words as great compliments to himself, and accepts Hushai into his service.
But we further see God’s actions to stop Ahithophel and Absalom in how Hushai speaks against Ahithophel’s counsel concerning David. This is starting in verse 5 of chapter 17. After Ahithophel gave that great military advice about how to rather quickly and peacefully take out David, Hushai is given opportunity to review this advice. It’s there that we hear some amazing rhetoric by Hushai. Hushai makes an amazing speech that convincingly shows why Ahithophel’s plan is doomed to fail. Hushai then presents an alternative plan that he colors with vivid imagery and basically guarantees its success. It’s a great speech. But of course it has the ulterior motive to serve David not Absalom. There’s two key elements in Hushai’s advice that will serve David. His plan will buy David much needed time to regroup and strengthen his forces. And his plan will get Absalom to come into the battle, where essentially David’s men would then be able to try to surgically take Absalom out and thus end the rebellion.
And by the grace of God, Absalom and all his men decide to take Hushai’s advice over Ahithophel’s advice. And so then Hushai has to send word quickly to David, which again is a way in which God works to fight against Ahithophel and Absalom. This is what we see starting in verse 15 of chapter 17. Remember that the two priests had stayed back in Jerusalem also as spies. Their sons are used to bring Hushai’s intelligence and also his wise counsel to David. There is this suspense that arises where they are almost found out and captured. But God in his providence provided a way of escape for them, and they were able to bring the information to David in time. David then wisely follows the advice, and gets safely across the Jordan that very night. They end up in of all places Mahanaim, the old capital for Ishbosheth, Saul’s son. But there they find help and refreshment that was well needed.
And so do you see how God worked in all of this? The climactic statement in all of this is chapter 17, verse 14. “For the LORD had purposed to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring disaster on Absalom.” This is why all of this worked for Hushai and ultimately David. It’s because God stood opposed to Ahithophel and ultimately Absalom. They thought they had the wisdom needed, a wisdom that looked almost divine, but it proved to be not of God. God stood against them and thwarted their plans. In a final act of a sort of wordly wisdom, Ahithophel sees the handwriting on the wall, and prudently orders his affairs, and then kills himself. We mentioned before how similar that looked to Judas Iscariot. But in both cases, even the act of suicide is only worldly wisdom. To take one’s life might be the way to avoid some trouble in this life because of your actions. For Ahithophel he could avoid punishment from David when he inevitably wins in this conflict, even as Ahithophel knew was now inevitable. For Judas he thought he could avoid the sorrows of his regret and guilt for betraying Jesus. But in both cases, this was not wisdom from above, because it was and is morally wrong to take your life. Plus, it steals from yourself the opportunity to own up to your sin and seek atonement and mercy from God for your sins.
And so in our third and final point I want to simply declare again today that God’s wisdom is greater than man’s wisdom. 1 Corinthians 3:19-20, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness’; and again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” We’ve seen it today. God in his wisdom uses Hushai to thwart the supposedly great wisdom of Ahithophel.
And so think further about this wisdom of God that we in all of this. God in his wisdom is able to chastise David here while thwarting and punishing Absalom. Remember, this whole thing with Absalom has two things going on. On the one hand, all this is because of Absalom’s sin and wickedness, and God will hold him accountable for this. But we also remember, that God predicted this to David that this would happen as a way to chastise David for his sin with Bathsheba. Remember these words from God to David back in 2 Samuel 12:11-13
Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.”
This prediction of God very literally comes to pass in this passage. One from his own house takes David’s wives from him before all Israel. David is supposed to learn from this chastening about the egregiousness of his sin. It is supposed to grow David in his repentance. It is to teach David how evil sin is, and how good righteousness is. And surely that is what God was doing in David’s heart through all of this. And yet it is in the commentary of verse 14 that tells us that God in his wisdom could use Absalom’s sin to chasten David while still acknowledging Absalom’s sin as sin. And that means God would still deal with Absalom’s sin as sin. This is God’s great wisdom in all of this. He is able to work his various purposes and plans all at once. I guess you could say God’s wisdom can multitask!
Another facet of God’s wisdom is seen in how he is able to judge Ahithophel with his own “wisdom.” It was Ahithophel’s human wisdom that led him to take his life. But remember, that death is ultimately God’s punishment to man. And so in Ahithophel’s worldly “wisdom” of taking his life, he ends up essentially applying God’s judgment to himself. The take home point is that such worldly wisdom has its end in death. Next week we will see something similar with Absalom. We’ll see that worldly morality also has its end in death; what I mean is that the Absalom has repeatedly chosen to decide for himself what was morally right. He has not kept the morality commanded in God’s law. And so we’ll see that such worldly morality also ends in death for him at the judgment of God. And so again, I believe this highlights the wisdom of God over the wisdom of men like Ahithophel and Absalom.
And lastly, I would say this about God’s wisdom. It is a wisdom that is able to take the betrayal of King Jesus by Judas Iscariot and use it to accomplish his will and a great salvation for God’s people. I remember that Isaiah 53 speaks about the cross of Jesus’ as God’s will to crush him. Of course it was God’s will to crush Jesus on the cross so that he could be a sacrifice for sin. Jesus died on the cross, paying for all the guilt of God’s people for their many sins. The point is that people like Judas betrayed Jesus, thinking that was his wisdom to get rich. But God thwarted his plans, in this case not by stopping them, but by using them for his own greater purposes. In this all, God’s wisdom of bringing salvation to the world through the cross of Jesus Christ is seen as foolishness to the world even today. But for us who believe, it is the wisdom and power of God!
Trinity Presbyterian Church, wisdom is a great gift from God. And not everyone has even been gifted equally in this way. Yet we are called to pursue wisdom; to run after it; to see its tremendous value. Yet we are reminded again today that wisdom for it to be truly wise must be submit to the will of God. And it must be used to serve the cause of righteousness and for the glory of God.
May none of us ever fall into the futile thinking that we can outthink God. In our wisdom, we might think we can trick others. Maybe we even trick ourselves. But God knows and sees all things. Human wisdom cannot thwart the will of God. If you are someone here today who has bought into the lie of such worldly wisdom, you are confronted with truth today. Repent from such thinking. Be wise and see that Jesus Christ is your only hope. Come to God through Jesus, and know his wisdom which defies all worldly wisdom. Use whatever wisdom God has given you to instead trust in Christ and serve him.
And dear children of God, you may have known the effects of worldly wisdom that has tried to afflict the people of God. Learn what there is to learn from these circumstances. But in it all, look to God for hope and help. We are reminded again today that God is not unaware of the sufferings of his saints. He will have the final word. If not here and now in every circumstance, then ultimately on the day of Christ. Let us press on in anticipation for that great day. And may we seek the wisdom from above for the time until then. Amen!
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.