In 2 Samuel 17:5–10, we read about an an act that would have huge implications for Absalom and his government, however, the new king decided to consult Hushai before proceeding. On the surface Absalom’s request seemed reasonable: Ahithophel and Hushai had both provided David with valuable advice, and now David’s son wished to determine the best possible plan of action. Accordingly, he invited Hushai to critique Ahithophel’s proposal. If Hushai disagreed with Ahithophel, he was to offer an alternative.
Hushai’s words spoken in response to Absalom’s invitation are perhaps the most significant ones uttered by a counselor in the history of united Israel’s monarchy. The speech is masterful in its construction and powerful in its effect: it simultaneously discredits Ahithophel, undermines Absalom’s confidence, magnifies the king’s worst fears, and buys David precious time to escape and regroup. In the end it lays the foundation for David’s return to Jerusalem.
Hushai’s first goal in his reply to the king was to debunk Ahithophel’s counsel. Having given the general opinion that it was “not good” (2 Samuel 17:7), he proceeded to repudiate with conviction the essential presuppositions on which Ahithophel’s plan rested. Hushai implicitly accused Ahithophel of misjudging David and the armed forces accompanying him: these men were not “weary and weak” (2 Samuel 17::2)—they were “fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs” (2 Samuel 17:8).
Hushai also faulted Ahithophel’s belief that the element of surprise could be used against David. Since David was “an experienced fighter,” he practiced battlefield techniques that essentially eliminated the possibility of being caught off guard. For instance, David did “not spend the night with the troops”; instead, he might hide “in a cave” (cf. 1 Sam 22:1; 24:3; 2 Sam 23:13)—and there were many of them around the north end of the Dead Sea (2 Samuel 17:9).
Of course, this also meant that Ahithophel’s suggestion that the military objective be limited to killing only David was flawed. In their vain search for David, Absalom’s forces might easily blunder into a trap David had set for them, thus permitting David’s forces to attack first. If that happened, then the entire psychological advantage Ahithophel’s plan counted on would swing over to David’s side. False reports spread by panicky soldiers would get out, indicating that “there has been a slaughter among the troops who follow Absalom.” When that happened, “even the bravest soldier, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will melt with fear” (2 Samuel 17:10). Absalom would lose control of his military forces, and the coup would fail.
As an alternative to Ahithophel’s proposal, Hushai offered a much more massive plan. Instead of using a relatively small strike force such as Ahithophel’s plan called for, the king should muster “all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba,” creating a force “as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” Instead of trying to kill only David, all David’s forces should be pursued until not “any of his men will be left alive” (2 Samuel 17:12). Furthermore, since the attack would be delayed, the geographic scope must be widened: Absalom’s forces would thus be free to attack David “wherever he may be found.” Instead of a single, swift raid on David such as Ahithophel envisioned, Hushai envisioned a protracted struggle that might even involve besieging a city. In the case of a siege, however—even a protracted one—Absalom’s forces would ultimately prevail.
After hearing Hushai’s ponderous, “Shock and Awe” proposal, “Absalom and all the men of Israel” (2 Samuel 17:15) miraculously concluded that it was superior to Ahithophel’s. Absalom’s decision was indeed the result of divine intervention. Remember? The Lord, “decreed that Ahithophel’s good advice be undermined in order to bring about Absalom’s ruin” (2 Samuel 17:14). The Lord, the judge of all the earth, would enforce his laws, and no human could succeed in deflecting the divine purposes. Even the greatest possible counsel of wisdom, political power, and military might could not derail the performance of God’s will.