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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 17

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



This chapter recounts the maneuvers both of Absalom and his partisans and that of David and his supporters as they got ready for the final resolution of the conflict initiated by Absalom’s attempt to seize the throne of Israel. There was no device by which a conflict of this nature could have been resolved without bloodshed.

Verses 1-4


“Moreover Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will set out 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 the king only, 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 pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel.”

“Let me choose twelve thousand men” This line in all probability gives us the clue to Ahithophel’s defection from David. He simply desired to usurp the kingdom himself. If Absalom had consented to this request, then Ahithophel, with the pick of Absalom’s army, would quickly have destroyed David and then would himself have been the supreme power in Israel.

Furthermore, this is the only possible way in which the lives of Bathsheba and Solomon could have been saved. It should be remembered that they were, respectively, the grand-daughter and the great-grandson of Ahithophel; and if Absalom had indeed succeeded David, nothing on earth could have saved their lives. Therefore, we believe that Ahithophel probably hated Absalom even more than he hated David and that, given the twelve thousand men he requested here, he would quickly have disposed of Absalom also.

Of course, we cannot prove such a theory as this, but it also explains another reason for Ahithophel’s counsel for Absalom to take David’s concubines. This was the “bait” intended by Ahithophel to keep Absalom occupied in the opening days of the mortal confrontation between Absalom and his father. As we shall see, a moment later, there was only one thing that kept Absalom from yielding to that temptation.

“I will set out and pursue David tonight” Scholars generally agree that tonight in this passage was the night of that day when David fled Jerusalem, but it is by no means certain that Ahithophel’s advice regarding Absalom’s violating the king’s ten concubines had as yet been followed by Absalom. This writer’s opinion is the same as that of H. P. Smith who wrote that, “The debate between Ahithophel and Hushai (as in this chapter) was held on the day of Absalom’s arrival in Jerusalem, after the appropriation of the concubines had been decided upon and before it had been consummated.”(F1) This appears to be a key factor in Absalom’s choice of a delay in the attack on David.

“Ahithophel’s advice here shows his political sagacity; if it had been adopted, it would have extinguished the cause of David.”(F2)

“You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace” What this said to Absalom was that, “If we can only kill David, there will be no civil war.”(F3)

“And the advice pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel” “That Absalom was prepared to adopt this advice to kill his father that very night without any qualm of conscience or feeling for his father shows how far he had degenerated into his depravity.”(F4) “That, a moment later, he was so easily convinced to reject this plan indicates the shallowness of his perception and his inability to reach a decision.”(F5)

The heartless ingratitude of the beast Absalom was mentioned by Henry: “It was not long since Absalom himself had fled from Jerusalem because of his murder of Amnon; but David contented himself to allow Absalom to live as an exile, although Absalom surely deserved to be brought home and executed. However, so void of all natural affection is Absalom that now, when his father had fled Jerusalem, not for any crime, but for fear, Absalom eagerly thirsts for his father’s blood.”(F6)

Verses 5-14


“Then Absalom said, “Call Hushai the Archite, and let us hear what he has to say.” And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom said unto him, “Thus hath Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he advises? If not, speak.” Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel which Ahithophel has given is not good.” Hushai said moreover, “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 when 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 evil upon Absalom.”

We cannot agree with the opinion that, “One reason why Absalom adopted the counsel of Hushai may have been his reluctance to kill his father, because clearly the main purpose of Ahithophel was David’s death.”(F7) This cannot be correct, because Hushai’s advice also was designed to kill not only King David, but also “all of the men who were with him; not one will be left” (2 Samuel 17:12).

“This time the counsel which Ahithophel has given is not good” The appearance of the words this time at the head of the sentence means that, “Hushai concurred with Ahithophel’s counsel regarding the concubines, that it was good.”(F8)

All the commentators have been profuse in their praise of Hushai’s speech here. Indeed it was a masterpiece. “It was: (a) eloquent; (b) appealing; and (c) flattering.”(F9) Furthermore, there was much cleverness in it. Ahithophel’s notion, for example, that he might take David by surprise, although apparently true enough in the light of David’s taking a rest at Bahurim, was refuted by Hushai’s claim that, “David was not such a fool as to expose himself unnecessarily to danger and that even at that moment he was probably hiding in some cave or other secret place.”(F10)

“They are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field… Your father is expert in war… He is a mighty man… The men with him are valiant men” No one in Israel would have denied such truth as this, with which Hushai loaded his appeal. “All that Hushai said about the bravery and heroism of David and his men was well founded,”(F11) and universally known in Israel.

However, there were also some bold, flattering implications and outright lies in Hushai’s appeal.

“My counsel is that all Israel from Dan to Beersheba be gathered to you” “The deception lay in this very assumption.”(F12) There was never the slightest possibility of anything like that ever happening on behalf of Absalom.

The skillful flattery of Hushai is evident in the glorious picture of Absalom riding in majesty at the head of a vast army, and in his boastful description of how “we” (yes, he included himself in Absalom’s service) would destroy any city where David may try to defend himself.

“That you go to battle in person” This word-picture of Absalom riding in his royal clothing at the head of a mighty army most certainly appealed to Absalom, especially, if there had been any suspicion on his part of Ahithophel’s suggestion that he lead twelve thousand, hand-picked soldiers of Absalom’s troops.

The eloquence of Hushai appeared in his simile of the bear robbed of her cubs in the field, and in that of the dew.

“We shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground” This was a glorying picture of Absalom’s triumph, “Like the drops of dew, in vast numbers, as our irresistible host falls in their unavoidable descent upon our enemies.”(F13) One must admit that Hushai was able to talk an overwhelmingly victorious military campaign!

“The Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom” Yes, Ahithophel’s plan was not perfect; and Hushai had expertly pointed out some flaws in it; but, “It was still by far the best option that was open to him.”(F14) R. P. Smith pointed out that, “It was so plain to the sacred author here that Absalom’s success depended absolutely upon his taking Ahithophel’s advice for rapid action, that nothing less than the direct intervention of the Divine Providence itself could account for Absalom and his `elders of all Israel’ rejecting it.(F15)

Why, actually, did Absalom reject the advice that could have given him the victory? Of course, it was the will of God that he should have done so. The flattering counsel of Hushai was one link in the chain of events that caused it, but only one link. David’s prayer (2 Samuel 15:31) was another link. We also believe that the temptation of Absalom regarding his sexual gratification of his lust with those ten concubines of David was another link. As we noted above, that temptation was probably the bait by which Ahithophel would have detained Absalom in Jerusalem while he got control of the army.

However, much as Absalom desired to gratify his lust with the concubines, he also desired to gratify his pride as the royal conqueror riding in front of an immense army gathered all the way from Dan to Beersheba, a conceit conveyed to him in the clever words of Hushai; so naturally, he decided on the option that would gratify both lusts. Ahithophel completely overlooked that possibility. If Ahithophel had not injected that maneuver regarding the concubines, it is not improbable that Absalom would have accepted Ahithophel’s counsel for military action that very night. Thus, Ahithophel’s evil counsel itself, along with the evil nature of Absalom, must be reckoned as other links in the providential chain of events that destroyed Absalom. Thus, as the Lord has said, “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness” (Job 5:13).

It is amazing to us that none of the commentaries we have consulted explored the possibilities we have suggested here. Given the evil nature, both of Ahithophel and of Absalom, there is no logical reason for denying these possibilities.

Verses 15-20


“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 lodge 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 maidservant used to go and tell them, and they would go and tell David; for they must not be seen entering the city. But a lad 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 upon 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.”

“Do not lodge tonight at the fords” This stern warning to David from Hushai indicates that, “Although Hushai had been invited to give his advice to Absalom, he was not a part of the final session in which the decision was made. He did not know which plan would be followed, so he warned David on the assumption that Ahithophel’s counsel might actually be followed.”(F16)

“These verses reveal how the underground worked to keep David informed of events in Jerusalem.”(F17)

“A maidservant used to go and tell them… they would go and tell King David” “The verbs here are frequentative, indicating that this system of communication was used continually. It must have taken Absalom a long time to have mustered the large force Hushai had recommended (and also to exhaust his pleasure with the ten concubines); and all the while David was kept well informed of what was happening in Jerusalem.”(F18)

“En-Rogel” “This place was called the fuller’s well in the neighborhood of Jerusalem below the junction of the valley of Hinnom with that of Jehoshaphat.”(F19) “The woman mentioned in this same verse was either a servant of one of the priests, or possibly one employed in the tabernacle service.”(F20) Her going to that well would have aroused no suspicion, because the carrying of water from wells was normally done by the women in those times.

From this it is clear that the event described in 2 Samuel 17:18-20 occurred on the first day that David’s communications system was put in use, as indicated in 2 Samuel 17:21. However, the messengers lost little time; because David got the message in plenty of time to move his whole party across the Jordan before daylight. Apparently, the system worked perfectly after that.

“The woman… scattered grain upon it” Keil tells us that the Vulgate explains this, “As if drying peeled barley.”(F21)

“They have gone over the water brook” This is not a reference to the Jordan River, which would never have been referred to as a mere brook, but to a small stream of water near Bahurim.

Verses 21-22


“And after the men had gone, the men came up out of the well, and went and told King 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.”

Moving twelve thousand men with their supplies and equipment across the Jordan would have required a great deal of time, and with this maneuver David bought the time that he needed to rally his forces for the final showdown. Matthew Henry and others have supposed that upon that occasion after David crossed the Jordan, “He penned Psalms 42 and Psalms 43, `Looking back upon Jerusalem from the land of the Jordan’ (Psalms 42:6).”(F22)


Not only had Absalom’s acceptance of Hushai’s counsel assured the failure of Absalom’s rebellion, it also spelled the end of Ahithophel’s hope of getting control of the army, and, as far as he was concerned, that ended any reason he might have had for continuing to live. If Absalom lost his bid for the throne, Ahithophel would surely have been executed by David, and even if he had won, Ahithophel could never have prevented the execution of all David’s sons, including his own beloved great-grandson Solomon. He simply decided to end it all by committing suicide.

Verse 23

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

Along with Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:5), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and King Saul (1 Samuel 31:5). Ahithophel is one of only four suicides mentioned in the Bible. The fact that he was buried in the family tomb is supposed by some to indicate that the Jews of that period accepted suicide much as any other death was accepted. We do not know if that is true or not. Many have pointed out that Ahithophel was somewhat a type of Judas Iscariot.

Verses 24-26


“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.”

“David came to Mahanaim” This city was well located for a temporary capital, being situated in the midst of a very productive and fruitful area. Besides that, Abner had chosen it as the capital for Mephibosheth, indicating that it could easily be defended from attack and that it was strategically located. The same reasons commended it to David as his choice of a temporary location.

“Amasa… the son of a man named Ithra the Ishmaelite who had married Abigal the daughter of Nahash, the sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother” “Both Abigal and Zeruriah were David’s sisters, daughters of Jesse; and the only probable way of reconciling this with 1 Chronicles 2:16-17 is to suppose that Nahash was Jesse’s wife. If Zeruiah and Abigal were David’s sisters only by the mother, then Nahash might be the name of her first husband.”(F23) There are many problems of this nature in the O.T. that defy any dogmatic solution because of the limited nature of the information provided.

As Payne noted, “These last two paragraphs show how everything was going David’s way. He had plenty of time to organize and received ample provisions from the people; whereas, Absalom lost his most competent advisor and had to put up with an incompetent as his general.”(F24)

Due to the foolish decision of Absalom, a bloody civil war was now inevitable, involving all the people.


Absalom’s popularity was not nearly as universal as he probably supposed, as indicated by the following:

Verses 27-29

“When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, And Machir the son of Amiel from Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, meal, 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.’“

All of the men mentioned here were powerful princes of Israel who had the grace and the ability to supply David’s company with much-needed provisions. “This reaction of David’s friends to his misfortunes bears strong testimony to the remarkable power he had for winning the affections of men. If a man is to be judged by the opinion of his friends, David must stand high in the judgment of history.”(F25)

“Shobi… of the Ammonites” “Shobi’s father may have been the king of the Ammonites; and David may have appointed him as a vassal king or governor of Ammon after he took Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:29).”(F26) In any event, “He was one of the men of Rabbah to whom David had shown kindness after his capture of that city.”(F27)

“Amiel of Lo-debar” This man was a son of Ahithophel and the father of Bathsheba. Thus, Machir was Bathsheba’s brother.

“Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim” “This man was an ancestor through a daughter of a family of priests, who were called after him, `Sons of Barzillai.’ They returned from the Babylonian captivity with Ezra (Ezra 2:61-63).”(F28)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 17". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-17.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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