2 Samuel 17 – “Hushai Saves David’s Life”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Hushai delays Ahitophel’s attack on David. David escapes and Ahitophel commits suicide. David and Absalom’s forces prepare for battle.

II. Photo
Hushai describes David’s mettle: “’You know,’ Hushai continued, ‘that your father and his men are courageous fighters, and they are as desperate as a bear in the wild robbed of her whelps.’” (v. 8 )

III. Important Verses
7-12: Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the advice that Ahithophel has given is not good. You know,” Hushai continued, “that your father and his men are courageous fighters, and they are as desperate as a bear in the wild robbed of her whelps. Your father is an experienced soldier, and he will not spend the night with the troops; even now he must be hiding in one of the pits or in some other place. And if any of them fall at the first attack, whoever hears of it will say, ‘A disaster has struck the troops that follow Absalom’; and even if he is a brave man with the heart of a lion, he will be shaken — for all Israel knows that your father and the soldiers with him are courageous fighters. So I advise that all Israel from Dan to Beersheba — as numerous as the sands of the sea — be called up to join you, and that you yourself march into battle. When we come upon him in whatever place he may be, we’ll descend on him [as thick] as dew falling on the ground; and no one will survive, neither he nor any of the men with him.
23: When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his ass and went home to his native town. He set his affairs in order, and then he hanged himself. He was buried in his ancestral tomb.

IV. Outline
1-3. Ahitophel plans to attack David
4-13. Hushai urges Absalom to join the battle
14. Hushai’s advice is accepted
15-20. Jonathan and Ahimaaz are almost caught
21-22. David escapes
23. Ahitophel’s suicide
24-26. Absalom’s camp
27-29. David is given support in Mahanaim

V. Comment
Chapter 17 relates how Hushai saves David’s life. Ahitophel, the man who had betrayed David by joining Absalom’s forces, commits suicide in v. 23 when he realizes that his plan has been foiled. The verse reads as follows: “When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his ass and went home to his native town. He set his affairs in order, and then he hanged himself. He was buried in his ancestral tomb.”

Suicide occurs at least four other times in the Hebrew Bible. Judges 9:53-54 records Abimelech’s suicide: “But a woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and cracked his skull. He immediately cried out to his attendant, his arms-bearer, ‘Draw your dagger and finish me off, that they may not say of me, ‘A woman killed him!’ So his attendant stabbed him, and he died.” Saul and his arms-bearer also committ suicide: “Saul said to his arms-bearer, ‘Draw your sword and run me through, so that the uncircumcised may not run me through and make sport of me.’ But his arms-bearer, in his great awe, refused; whereupon Saul grasped the sword and fell upon it. When his arms-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him ended his life early.” (1 Sam 31:4-5) The final case is Zimri in  1 Kings 16:18: “When Zimri saw that the town was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and burned down the royal palace over himself. And so he died.” (Another possible case is Samson in Judges 16.)

Arthur Droge makes an important point about the tacit acceptance of suicide in the Hebrew Bible: “The important point is that none of these biblical figures receives censure; indeed, their suicides are scarcely commented on, leading one to conclude that in ancient Israel the act of suicide was regarded as something natural and perhaps heroic (Daube 1962: 83–87). The only instance in the Hebrew Bible where an individual considered death and perhaps wished to kill himself, but did not, is Job (7:15; 13:15).” (Arthur J. Droge, “Suicide” in the ABD)

Before Ahitophel takes his life he “commands his house” (wayatzev et beito). What does this mean? The apparent meaning is to organize a will, an act which is alluded to in Deuteronomy 21:16: “When he wills his property to his sons, he may not treat as first-born the son of the loved one in disregard of the son of the unloved one who is older.” The phrase “commanding his house” also appears in 2 Kings 20:1 (= Isa 38:1): “In those days Hezekiah fell dangerously ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, ‘Thus said the LORD: Set your affairs in order (tzav lebeitekha), for you are going to die; you will not get well.’”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Anderson, A. A. “2 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Waco Texas: Wordbooks, 1989).
Campbell, Antony F. “2 Samuel” The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, vol 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eedrdmans, 2005).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).

Droge, Arthur J. “Suicide” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary

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