In 2 Samuel 17:21–22, we read how Jonathan and Ahimaaz finally arrived at David’s camp. Their advice was designed to prepare David and his group for the worst-case scenario, that of an imminent predawn lightning raid of the type suggested by Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:1–3).
David and his group had spent the entire day making a headlong twenty-mile journey from Jerusalem to the Jordan River. They were exhausted and would have relished a peaceful night’s rest. But on this night, “David and all the people with him” (2 Samuel 17:22) denied themselves sleep in order to attempt a dangerous trek through rushing waters of the Jordan in almost total darkness. In spite of the inherent perils, “by daybreak no one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.” The Lord’s hand of protection and blessing had once again wrapped itself around David.
As night fell on Jerusalem and the troops were still with the king in the city, Ahithophel realized that his military counsel had been snubbed and that Absalom had lost the only good opportunity he would ever have to destroy David. Along with this, he realized that his own hope of retaining the preeminent position of influence and honor among the counselors in the royal court had also disappeared.
More than that, Ahithophel knew that when David returned to Jerusalem—and return he surely would—he himself would be executed as a traitor. Therefore after careful thought Israel’s wisest man made the decision to end his own life.
Ahithophel’s decision to control the circumstances of his own death was a calculated one. The writer makes no explicit judgments concerning its moral rightness or wrongness. This text was not written as a teaching on the ethics of suicide.