The Hand of God.

Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, “Thus and so did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and so have I counseled. Now therefore send quickly and tell David, ‘Do not stay tonight at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over, lest the king and all the people who are with him be swallowed up.’” Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were waiting at En-rogel. A female servant was to go and tell them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they were not to be seen entering the city. But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So both of them went away quickly and came to the house of a man at Bahurim, who had a well in his courtyard. And they went down into it. And the woman took and spread a covering over the well’s mouth and scattered grain on it, and nothing was known of it. When Absalom’s servants came to the woman at the house, they said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” And the woman said to them, “They have gone over the brook of water.” And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.

After they had gone, the men came up out of the well, and went and told King David. They said to David, “Arise, and go quickly over the water, for thus and so has Ahithophel counseled against you.” Then David arose, and all the people who were with him, and they crossed the Jordan. By daybreak not one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.

When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.

Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. Now Absalom had set Amasa over the army instead of Joab. Amasa was the son of a man named Ithra the Ishmaelite, who had married Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother. And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead.

When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.” – 2 Samuel 17:15-29 ESV

The will of God begins to reveal itself as the story unfolds. His divine strategy becomes increasingly clearer as each detail of the narrative takes place. David had sent Hushai, one of his counselors, back to Jerusalem, with instructions to act as his spy in the court of Absalom. Specifically, Hushai was to act as a counselor to Absalom, countering any advice given by Ahithophel, another one of David’s former counselors who had betrayed him. Hushai had done as David asked and had been able to refute the counsel given by Ahithophel. Had Hushai not been there, Absalom would have listened to the advice of Ahithophel and sent 12,000 men to hunt David down. David would have been severely outmanned, exhausted by his quick departure from Jerusalem, and burdened by the presence of many defenseless women and children. Had Hushai not been there to provide alternative counsel to Absalom, things could have turned out very badly for David. But God was in control. He gave Hushai the exact words to speak that would appeal to the ego of Absalom and do the most damage to the heart of Ahithophel.

Part of Hushai’s advice to Absalom was that he assemble a massive army in order to fight one epic battle with David, and that he personally lead this army. Hushai, under the divine inspiration of God, gave counsel that stroked the massive ego of Absalom and caused him to reject the counsel of Ahithophel. And Ahithophel took this rejection very hard. So much so, that he went out and hung himself. There are those who believe that he did not do so until after the battle between David and Absalom actually took place and he knew that his days were numbered. But the text does not indicate that kind of a delay. It would appear that Ahithophel had betrayed David so that he could be the one and only counselor to the new king. He had helped Absalom plan his coup. He had gone out of his way to ingratiate himself to David’s rebellious son, because he craved power and influence. And when Hushai showed up and proved himself capable of winning over Absalom’s favor, Ahithophel couldn’t take it. So, he killed himself. Once again, God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating events in such a way that the outcomes were in David’s favor.

Even when Hushai attempted to send news to David through their network of spies, and Absalom found out, God stepped in and provided protection Jonathan and Ahimaaz. They were able to find sanctuary in the house of someone favorable to David. And, when Absalom’s men could not locate them, they were able to escape and warn David of Absalom’s plans.

David would have time to prepare for the upcoming battle with Absalom, and one of the first things he had to do was to amass enough men to field an army of his own. But God was on his side and before David knew it, the necessary forces began to show up, unannounced and uninvited. The text lists the names of Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai. These three men come alongside David, providing him with food and support. David was not alone. These men brought David physical refreshment in the form of food, but more important than that, they brought him moral support. They offered him their friendship in one of the darkest moments of his life. God was letting David know that all was not lost. This seemingly bleak period of David’s life was going to have a bright outcome. David did not know what fate the next day held, but he was confident that God was with him. Sometimes, God reveals Himself to us in the little “miracles” of life. Hushai’s counsel had been accepted by Absalom. David’s spy network had worked and God had protected Jonathan and Ahimaaz, so that they could bring David news. Food and moral support had shown up unexpectedly, but at just the right time. And, as we will see in the very next chapter, many others would lend their support to David’s cause, allowing him to field an army that numbered in the thousands.

God was at work. He is not mentioned in this section of Scripture, but His presence and power can be felt. He is at work, unseen by human eyes, but clearly evident in the way the events unfold. You can almost sense the tide turning and the momentum shifting. Absalom has been on a role. Up until this point, everything had been going his way. He could do nothing wrong. He had taken the city of Jerusalem without a fight and stolen his father’s kingdom in a bloodless coup. He had the hearts of the people and the future looked bright. But he could not see the hand of God. He was oblivious to what God was doing and what God had in store for him. Little did he know that his co-conspirator and primary counselor had hung himself. And before long, Absalom would find himself hanging by his hair from a tree. Because the hand of God is greater than the armies of man.

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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The Lord Had Ordained.

Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.” And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

Then Absalom said, “Call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say.” And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom said to him, “Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you speak.” Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” Hushai said, “You know that your father and his men are mighty men, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Besides, your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the people. Behold, even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits or in some other place. And as soon as some of the people fall at the first attack, whoever hears it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ Then even the valiant man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and that those who are with him are valiant men. But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, as the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. So we shall come upon him in some place where he is to be found, and we shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground, and of him and all the men with him not one will be left. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there.” And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom. – 2 Samuel 17:1-14 ESV

It is next to impossible to discern the will of God, unless He chooses to reveal it. All we can do is look at the external circumstances and wonder what it is that He is doing or whether He is doing anything at all. Paul to the believers in Rome, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT). Solomon, David’s own son, would speak of the unfathomable ways of God in the book of Ecclesiastes. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). Sometimes it is clear what God is doing. Other times, it is almost impossible for us to even sense His presence. But the Bible paints a picture of God that shows Him intimately involved in His creation and within the lives of men. Because of our limited, earth-bound perspectives and our inability to see beyond the physical dimension in which we live, we fail to see God at work. And even when we sense He might be up to something, we question His ways. But He would have us remember:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

So when David found himself being forced to abandon the city of Jerusalem because of a military coup orchestrated by his own sin, he had no idea what God was up to. He was left to wonder if God was punishing him and had chosen to give his kingdom to another. Or perhaps, God had something else in store. David had no idea just what God was up to, but he was willing to believe that God was behind all that was happening to him and around him. He had even sent Hushai, one of his personal counselors, back to the city of Jerusalem, to act as a spy within the administration of Absalom. And this decision, while apparently David’s idea, would be used by God to accomplish His will concerning Absalom.

Ahithophel, another one of David’s former advisors, had betrayed him, having helped Absalom in his planning of the coup that would displace David as king. He had become a close confidant and advisor to Absalom. It was he who had given Absalom the advice to publicly humiliate David by sexually assaulting David’s ten concubines on the palace roof. But it is important for us to recall that this event had actually been foretold by God Himself. He had warned David that this very thing would happen, in exactly the manner it happened (2 Samuel 12:11-12). So Ahithopel’s advice to Absalom had actually been the will of God. The Almighty had used this unfaithful, wicked man to accomplish His will concerning David. And now, Ahithophel came to Absalom with yet more advice. But this time, God would choose to use another source to accomplish His will. Ahithophel most likely felt like he was on a role. He had the new king’s ear and it was to his advantage to make sure David was eliminated as a possible threat. So he asked Absalom for permission to take 12,000 men and hunt David down while he was weak and weary. He swore to kill only David and promised Absalom, “Then you will be at peace with all the people” (2 Samuel 17:3 NLT).
But God had other plans. So, while Absalom was pleased with the advice of Ahithophel, for some reason he decided to seek other counsel and turned to Hushai. It is important to remember that David had been the one to send Hushai back to Jerusalem, having told him, “Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice” (2 Samuel 16:34 NLT). And now, God orchestrated things in such a way, that David’s plan would actually happen. Hushai was able to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel, but only because God gave him the opportunity. The text makes it perfectly clear that this was all God’s doing.
For the Lord had determined to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, which really was the better plan, so that he could bring disaster on Absalom! – 2 Samuel 17:14 NLT
Where did Hushai get the idea for his plan? God. Where had Ahithophel gotten the idea for Absalom to do what he did to the ten concubines of David? God. The Lord had ordained all that had happened. He was behind the events taking place. Absalom’s takeover of the kingdom could not have happened without God’s permission. Even Ahithophel’s betrayal of David was all part of God’s plan. And yet, these very thoughts cause a great deal of discomfort and confusion to many. They wrestle with the idea of God either causing or allowing evil to happen. They struggle with questions regarding the free will of man and seeming fatalism involved in the sovereign will of God. Did God cause Ahithophel to betray David? Was God behind Absalom’s plans to overthrow his father’s government? There are aspects regarding the will of God and how He brings it about that we will never fully understand. The ways of God are beyond our capacity to understand or figure out. The capacity to comprehend how He accomplishes His will is way beyond what our finite minds can handle. And yet, just because we can’t discern or explain the ways of God does not mean we should refuse to see Him at work. Moses would have us remember this important reality concerning God:
He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT
We may not understand the ways of God. We may not even approve of how He does things. But who are we to question God? What right do we, the creation, have to disagree with or disapprove of the ways in which the Creator works? The apostle Paul warns us, “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20 NLT). The prophet Isaiah had a similar warning:
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT
In our desire for autonomy and self-sufficiency, we have bought into the lie that we are somehow in charge of our own fates. That is what led Absalom to do what he did. He had convinced himself to believe that he was a self-made man and in charge of his own future. But he failed to realize that it is God who directs the affairs of men. God does not cause men to sin, but He uses their sinful dispositions to accomplish His divine will. The prophet Isaiah provides us with yet more helpful insights into understanding how God works.

He boasts, “By my own powerful arm I have done this. With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it. I have broken down the defenses of nations and carried off their treasures. I have knocked down their kings like a bull. I have robbed their nests of riches and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs. No one can even flap a wing against me or utter a peep of protest.”

But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it? Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:13-15 NLT

Our natural tendency is to want to elevate the power of man and to negate the sovereign will of God. Man’s innate desire to be god, is what drives him to reject the power of God. And yet the story of David continues to remind us that our God is in control of all things and at all times. The Lord had ordained the events surrounding David’s life. And He had a perfectly good reason for all that was happening.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson