A Friend’s Revenge
Listen to “A Friend’s Revenge” by Fred Smith
There are a few figures in Scripture who grow on you with age. Perhaps we come to understand their circumstances or have more in common in growing older. We have experiences of our own that explain their behavior. That is the case for me with Ahithophel. My first response to his story many years ago was, “Oh, the traitor who committed suicide.” Yes, he did but he was far more than that and it’s the “far more” that interests me.
When Absalom rebels his first call is to Ahithophel – David’s most devout friend and counselor. Surprisingly, Ahithophel joins the rebellion and while fleeing Jerusalem David hears the news of Athithophel’s betrayal. He is devastated. For him, this is the worst that could happen. Far worse than his own son’s treason. The man he trusted the most has turned on him. But why?
Ahithophel’s advice to Absalom is drastic because he is not sure the young man is fully committed. “Sleep with your father’s concubines.” Shaming his father in public will mean no turning back for either Absalom or Ahithophel. They will succeed or be ruined together. Remember the story of the Spaniard Herman Cortes in fighting the Aztecs? He ordered the ships to be burned so his men would have to conquer or die. There was no Plan B.
One Man Only
Next, pick twelve thousand men and set out to kill only one man – David. Do that and the people will return. Without David, they have no leader and no will to win. There will be no collateral damage or civil war. Take out just that one man and it is over as quickly as it began. Strike him when he is most vulnerable and, of course, Ahithophel knows David better than anyone. He knew young David before his becoming King and moving to Jerusalem. He knew the David so admired by all before being corrupted by power and the privileges of ruling.
Ahithophel knows David but another counselor, Hushai, understands Absalom. So, his advice is just the opposite. “Don’t settle for the death of one man. Do something big and flashy that will show everyone how powerful you are – even at the cost of thousands of your own people.” He appeals to his ego and need to appear dominant. “You will be in front and everyone will see you. You on your chariot and fifty men running in front. Just the way you love it.” Ahithophel knew a better way but Absalom was a self-indulgent fool.
Hushai’s advice only gave David time to get away and reorganize his troops. It gave him the incentive to return to the warrior he was but had set aside for the comforts of being king. The old David is back! The return of the King! What an extraordinary change from the man staying in the palace during the war or being coerced by his general into a cameo role finishing up a battle that had already been won by others.
The end of the story is vivid and ironic. Hatred of one man had consumed Ahithophel’s life and suicide is, for him, the only choice. He sets his house in order and hangs himself.
It seems so neat but there is still the lingering question of why Ahithophel hated David so not only did he turn on him but his advice was to kill only one man – David?
Return Of The King
Ahithophel had no interest in ruling or power. He had no ambition for a battle between armies and a costly civil war. It was personal animosity that had festered in him for years. Ahithophel’s son was one of David’s champions but more than that his granddaughter by that son was Bathsheba – the woman that David took from her husband, Uriah. Now we understand Ahithophel’s hatred for this one man, don’t we? David dishonored his family, shamed his granddaughter, and murdered his granddaughter’s husband.
Underneath the show of friendship and trust was a man waiting for a moment of revenge. It is a tragedy of betrayal, retribution, dishonor and rebellion. The only redemptive feature of the whole story is the return of the king. David finds himself in the worst of circumstances and that brings him to himself after all these years. He recovers his strength, his leadership and his heart for a righteous cause. But at an enormous cost. The destructive effect of a single sin is more than anyone could have imagined.
Art by David Boyd
This is an excerpt from “Where The Light Divides”