In 2 Samuel 16:20–23 we read about Absalom succeeding in gaining control of both the throne and the royal palacein an impressive bloodless coup. Now strengthening his grip on both became the central issue for his fledgling administration to deal with. For guidance in this all-important task Absalom sought the advice of Ahithophel.
Ahithophel’s plan was brazen, simple, and almost sure to succeed. The plan would accomplish at least two things. First of all, by exercising privileges reserved only for Israel’s king, Absalom would unambiguously demonstrate his claim to Israel’s throne. At the same time, his outrageous act would energize those participating in the coup: by modeling a flamboyant rejection of King David, others would be emboldened to become “a stench in” David’s “nostrils” as well.
For Ahithophel personally, the scheme must have seemed like a particularly satisfying. David had had unlawful sexual relations with Ahithophel’s granddaughter at the royal palace in Jerusalem, though she was married to another; so now, unlawful sexual relations with David’s harem would take place at the same palace—only in this case the retributive act would be ten times greater than the original offense, and in public!
The plan seemed good to Absalom. Accordingly, his attendants “pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof” (2 Samuel 16:22) of the royal residence—the very location in which David had committed adultery in his heart with Ahithophel’s granddaughter (2 Samuel 11:2)—and there Absalom “lay with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.”
Absalom followed Ahithophel’s advice because of Ahithophel’s reputation for wisdom. For all its apparent advantages, however, there was a flaw in Ahithophel’s proposal to Absalom that insured its ultimate failure: the plan required the performance of a deed strictly forbidden in the Torah. When Absalom had sexual relations with the members of his father’s harem, he committed a crime so heinous that the Torah mandated the death penalty for the man who did it (Leviticus 20:11). Absalom might escape David’s hand of judgment, but he could never escape the Lord’s: divine justice would ultimately prevail, and the Lord would bring Absalom’s aspirations crashing down to an inglorious end.
The fact that Ahithophel seriously proposed such a foolhardy plan can be taken as evidence that the Lord had indeed responded to David’s plea to turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness (2 Samuel 15:31). It stands as one more piece of evidence that the Lord was with David during his hour of crisis. It is also a fulfillment, however, of the Lord’s judgment on David in 2 Samuel 12:11–12.