18 2Samuel 17 Hushai’s Warning Saves David

by | Jan 4, 2017 | 01 Podcasts, Samuel

As we’ve studied the rebellion of Absalom, we’ve been asking what we can learn about responding when we sin, understanding the discipline of our heavenly father, and how to respond when suffering unjustly.  With 2 Samuel 17 we focus on these questions from God’s perspective.


David’s son Absalom has declared himself king and lured one of David’s top advisors, Athithophel, to his side.  David has fled Jerusalem with a small band of servants and foreigners. To secure his claim to the throne, Absalom sleeps with David’s concubines on the roof of David’s house.  This abominable actionremoves any possible diplomatic or peaceful resolution.  As we resume up the story in 2 Samuel 17, Absalom considers his options for eliminating the last obstacle between him and the throne of Israel: his father David.

Ahithophel’s plan

23Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom. 17:1Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight.  2I 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,  3and 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.”  4And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.  – 2 Samuel 16:23-17:4

  • Athithophel knows David is traveling with women and children and cannot move quickly.
  • Athithophel  proposes a 4-step plan: 1) Ahithophel will select an army large enough to ensure victory, but also large enough to implicate all of Israel in the coup, and with these men he will purse David immediately; 2) He will strike David and his followers before they have a chance to organize, throwing them into panic; 3) He will execute only David, minimizing the casualties; and 4) With David eliminated, his supporters will have no reason to continue the war.
  • Absalom then calls David’s friend Hushai for a second opinion.

Hushai’s advice

5Then Absalom said, “Call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say.”   6And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom said to him, “Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you speak.”  7Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.”  8Hushai 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.  9Behold, 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.’  10Then 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. 11But 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.  12So 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.  13If 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.”  14And 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 17:5-14

  • Hushai invokes an arsenal of metaphors designed to remind them of David’s many military victories and make the young upstart — who has never been in battle — question whether his ability to tackle mighty men who are experts in war (2Samuel 17:5-10).
  • Appleaing to Absalom’s vanity (2Samuel 17:11-13),  Hushai gives Absalom the lead role. (Ahithopehl’s had the lead role in his plan.)
  • Hushai appeals to Absalom’s vengeance: Why not wipe out all of David’s followers?
  • 2Samuel 17:14 is the literary center of the text.
  • Though God is active and furthering His kingdom plans, His actions are hidden from our heroes.

The Servants of the Lord at work

15Then 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.  16Now 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.'”  17Now 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.  18But 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.  19And the woman took and spread a covering over the well’s mouth and scattered grain on it, and nothing was known of it.  20When 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.  21After 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.”  22Then 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. – 2 Samuel 17:15-22

  • Hushai must warn David not knowing which plan Absalom intends to follow.
  • An intricate spy network is set in motion to inform David.
  • Word passes from Hushai to the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and from them to an unnamed female servant, and from her to Jonanthan and Ahimaaz, the priests’ sons.

23When 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. 24Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. 25Now 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. 26And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead. 27When 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, 28brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, 29honey 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 17:23-29

  • Recognizing that Absalom’s chances for victory are slim, and when Absalom is defeated, Ahithophel will be executed as a traitor, Ahithophel hangs himself, foreshadowing Judas who will betray Jesus Christ and then take his own life.
  • David is protected by a variety of faithful servants — both named and not named — who risk their lives for their king.
  • Yet, neither David nor Hushai nor Absalom know what God is doing.

This story illustrates Paul’s point in Romans 8:28-29:  because of the activity of the Spirit, we can have confidence that everything that happens to us is in our own best interests.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – Romans 8:28-29


  • God is NOT absent, even if His plan is NOT obvious.
  • Sometimes we underestimate the many and variety of ways God can and does work.
  • Sometimes we are the hero and sometimes we are the unnamed servant on the Lord. We may miss our own contribution to the kingdom.

Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.

Next: 19 2Samuel 18 The Death of Absalom

Previous: 17 2Samuel 16 David flees Jerusalem

Series: The Rebellion of Absalom

Also: 2Samuel: David as King

Scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.

Photo used here under Flickr Creative Commons.