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Ahithophel and the Consequences of an Unforgiving Spirit

Psalm 55:12-15; 41:9

Absalom’s Rebellion, II Samuel 15:1-9
Absalom was the third son of King David with Maacah, the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur (II Samuel 3:2-3). He murdered his older brother, Amnon, because he had an affair with his half sister, Tamar (II Samuel 13). Absalom then fled to his father-in-law in Geshur. David mourned for Absalom while he was in Geshur. Joab persuaded David to allow him to return to Jerusalem. Even after Joab brought him back, relations between Absalom and the king were still icy cold and it was a long time before David allowed Absalom to enter into his presence (II Samuel 14).

It was during this time of tension between David and Absalom, that Absalom began a campaign to “steal the hearts” of the people (II Samuel 15). It seems that many modern day politicians model their campaigns after Absalom. When he felt the time was ripe, Absalom called for a revolt.

Ahithophel is Part of the Conspiracy (II Samuel 15:10-12)
I Chronicles 27:33 says that Ahithophel was the king’s counselor. He must have been a very gifted and recognized personality. David and Ahithophel not only worshipped God together; they were the best of friends who shared their hearts. Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9)

For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company. (Psalm 55:12-14)

Ahithophel becomes a traitor! It is apparent from the above verses that many of the people were not aware of what Absalom intended to do, but Ahithophel seems to have been part of the conspiracy. It is possible that Ahithophel even suggested such an act to Absalom. Whatever the case may have been, Ahithophel, who was offering sacrifices in Gilo, didn’t hesitate to join Absalom in his plan to violently dethrone his father (II Samuel 15:12).

David’s Reaction
David was terribly distraught by Absalom’s intentions, but also about Ahithophel’s part in the rebellion.

David was well aware of the pending danger which this situation presented and he prayed that God would somehow intervene. II Samuel 15:31 And one told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom. And David said, O LORD, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.

David was probably well aware that Absalom’s rebellion was part of God’s punishment for his lustful sin with Bathseba.

Consequences of David’s Sin:
• No relationship with God for at least nine months (according to II Sam. 12:14, the baby was already born when he repented of his sin)
• Lack of trust on the part of his wives (at least Bathseba knew what had transpired)
• Corrupted relationship with subordinates (Joab, the messenger and others)
• Disturbed relationships with his spiritual counselors, Nathan and Ahithophel
• Damaged capability to impartially discern between right and wrong (OT does not demand death penalty for stealing sheep)
• Sleepless nights due to a bad conscience (Psalm 32:3 and other passages).
• The death of a faithful soldier and an innocent baby
• Many of David’s family problems were results of his sin - even Solomon’s lust for many wives.
• Thousands of soldiers died in resulting wars: Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men. For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured (II Samuel 18:7-8).

Even when we repent of our sin and receive forgiveness, some consequences of sin may remain long afterwards and are also felt by the innocent. In II Sam. 12:1-25, Nathan told him that…
1) …his child would die (God comforted David, but he didn’t prevent the death)
2) …his marriages would bear scars (although God still blessed them!)
3) …the sword would continually smite him and his family.
4) …perhaps worst of all, the loss of respect among friends and family members including Absalom, Joab and Ahithophel (but God stood with him after he repented!).

What caused Ahithophel to suddenly turn traitor on his best friend?
It seems difficult to understand how this highly beloved and esteemed royal advisor could turn traitor. Further study of God’s Word reveals some enlightening information. The first clue is found in the passage which describes David’s sin:
And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? (II Samuel 11:3).

In II Samuel 23:24-39, we find a list of David’s 37 greatest men of valor. Uria and Eliam are mentioned among these highly decorated and honored military heroes. It is here that we learn something else. Eliam is the son of Ahithophel of Gilo. Bathseba was the wife of Uria, her father was Eliam and her grandfather was none other than Ahithophel!

Let’s pause here to contemplate what this must have meant to Ahithophel. He and David are very close friends who share just about everything with each other. While Bathseba’s husband and father are risking their lives for their nation and king on the battlefield, David is basking in the luxury of his palace. He has several beautiful wives and many concubines at his disposal, but when he sees Bathseba taking a bath, he inquires about her. Even though he is made aware that Bathseba is married to one of his best soldiers and the daughter of another decorated soldier, he calls her into his palace to commit adultery with her.

It doesn’t stop there. David tries to lure Uria into sleeping with his wife in order to cover his sin. The trick didn’t work. Perhaps Uria suspected something. Then David commanded his General Joab to place Uria in a position where he would be killed. Joab belligerently obeyed. I can envision King David standing next to Joab and Ahithophel at Uria’s funeral, listening to great eulogies about his military feats. Shortly thereafter, Joab, Eliam and Ahithophel are attending David and Bathseba’s royal wedding..

How did Ahithophel know?
The servant who David sent to "enquire after the woman" knew and told David. Joab of course knew. Bathseba knew. The messenger whom Joab sent to David also knew. Nathan eventually discovered what had transpired. It is obvious that Ahithophel found out about the king’s affair with his granddaughter and circumstances surrounding the untimely death of her husband. Most importantly, GOD KNEW! Luke 12:2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. Numbers 2:23 says, …behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out.

Ahithophel’s advice to Absalom
II Samuel 16:20-23: Then said Absalom to Ahithophel, Give counsel among you what we shall do. And Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Go in unto thy father's concubines, which he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel shall hear that thou art abhorred of thy father: then shall the hands of all that are with thee be strong. So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel. And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.

II Samuel 17:1-3: Moreover Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night: And I will come upon him while he is weary and weak handed, and will make him afraid: and all the people that are with him shall flee; and I will smite the king only: And I will bring back all the people unto thee: the man whom thou seekest is as if all returned: so all the people shall be in peace.

Knowing all this, we can certainly understand and may even feel some sympathy for Ahithophel. From these passages, it becomes clear that Ahithophel’s rebellion against King David was motivated by hatred and feelings of revenge. It is possible that David asked for Ahithophel’s forgiveness. God had forgiven David, but Ahithophel had an unforgiving spirit. It is generally believed that Psalm 55:12-15 refer to Ahithophel.


There is much talk today about Islamic terrorists. Not all Muslims are terrorists or dangerous, but unfortunately, it is the “good” Muslims who are most dangerous. Those Muslims who don’t really care much about their religion are the ones we can get along with. They are Islamic in name only.

In Christianity, the opposite is true. Many are Christian in name only and it is their lifestyles which give strict Muslims reason to criticize us. True Bible-believing Christians are loving and caring, and they abhor all the immorality and wickedness that so characterizes our so-called “Christian” western society.

President George Bush spoke of the terrorists “hijacking Islam” and using it to further their evil ends. Anyone who knows and understands Islam must come to the conclusion that the terrorists are faithful to teachings of the Koran. Islam is a mixture of religion and politics and it is based on violence. According to Islamic teaching, non-Muslims have no right to exist; either they become Muslims or they must be annihilated. There is no such thing as forgiveness in Islam. Every “sin” must be punished and "good" deeds are rewarded, including killing non-Muslims.

The Greatest Work
The greatest work that was ever performed in the history of mankind is the work of atonement, but the crucifiction was not the physical work of Christ. Evil men built the cross, nailed his body to it, and dug the hole to place the cross in the ground. Man's evil works could not prevent God's work of redemtion and we cannot gain our salvation through good works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:9).

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus gave his life that we might live with him eternally.

The Greatest Sin
Jesus prayed while hanging on the cross, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do! Did he ask in faith, believing? Did he ask amiss, motivated by his own lust? Was there any sin whatsoever in our Savior when he prayed that prayer? Can you think of any reason at all why the Heavenly Father would not have granted his Son’s dying request? Christ died not only for those who participated in that heinous crime on Mount Golgatha, but for all sinners of all times (Romans 5:12). I don't believe that anyone will be judged for crucifying Jesus Christ, but all will be judged who reject his offer of forgiveness and salvation.

Some sins may be committed unknowingly, carelessly, in anger or under extenuating circumstances, but they are nonetheless sin. Many sins are NOT deeds, but neglecting to do right (James 4:17). The greatest sin, however, is rejecting God’s forgiveness. Millions will spend eternity in hell, but none because of their sins. They are eternally damned for rejecting God’s mercy and grace.

Jesus exposed the self-righteous Pharisees as sinners of the worst sort, for they committed the unpardonable sin (Hebrews 10:26), the sin unto death (I John 5:16) and the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32), whose job it is to convict of sin and lead us in the whole truth.

Ahithophel also committed this sin. He harbored an unforgiving spirit, the greatest sin of all. Jesus died a horrible death in order to pay for our sins.

In the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6), we are taught to pray, “Forgive us our sins just as we forgive each other” (my paraphrase). In fact, Jesus mentioned forgiveness no less than 9 times in this passage! Many who repeat this prayer over and over, harbor an unforgiving spirit and are thus unwittingly asking God NOT to forgive their own sins! Forgiveness of sin was the very reason Jesus came into this world and the reason he suffered and died. If someone has wronged you and you cannot forgive them, you too are committing a very serious sin and unless you repent, your own sins can not be forgiven.

Ahithophel’s Tragic End
We can only speculate on what might have transpired if Ahithophel had forgiven David. David would certainly have shown him even greater respect and Ahithophel’s advice would have been more valuable to him than ever before. He could have become a loving great-grandfather to the heir of the throne and forefather of our Savior.

But we know the end. Even though God forgave David's horrible sins, Ahithophel could not forgive him. The consequences for David were dire, but the end of Ahithophel was much worse.

And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father. II Samuel 17:23

We can learn from Ahithophel’s error. Is there someone you cannot forgive?

Ralph V. Harvey