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Bible Passage: 2 Samuel 16-17
This is Passion Week – when we remember the final days in the life of Jesus before his death and resurrection. We will celebrate the resurrection next Sunday, and we will be staying in 2 Samuel for Easter and today – because in God’s providence it is a perfect fit.
Today’s text begins in 2 Samuel 16, and we will meet a character named Ahithophel. This man is the Judas Iscariot of the Old Testament. He betrays David just as Judas betrayed Jesus. Both men turned their backs on the Anointed One of God. Both men hung themselves in an effort to end their own shame. And both stories teach us something about control.
Remember from last week, David has planted a handful of men as spies in Jerusalem. One of them is an advisor named Hushai. But Ahithophel was known to be the best advisor to David before his betrayal, so Absalom asks for his counsel first.
20 Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel. What shall we do?” 21 Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.”
22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. 23 Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom.
There’s no doubt about it – politically, this was the right move if Absalom wanted to be king. He was burning every bridge by doing this. Ahithophel says literally you will stink to your father if you sleep with his women.
But there is a deeper meaning here. Where does Absalom setup his bedroom? On the roof. And it’s the exact same roof where David saw Bathsheba bathing. That’s not a coincidence, nor is it a coincidence that the writer tells us Ahithophel’s word was like the word of God. We will come back to this, but first Ahithophel has more advice for Absalom.
17:1 Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. 2 I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee.
I will strike down only the king, 3 and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.” 4 And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.
This is also a brilliant political move. But notice again the deeper meaning. He is advising Absalom to stay in the city and let other men isolate and kill David on the battlefield. Does that sound familiar? It should – because that’s what David did to Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba. This was also not a coincidence. God set this up.
Now, what I want to try to do this morning is convince you from Scripture of an important theological truth. This man is actively betraying David – the rightful king, anointed by God. But his betrayal is also, clearly, the will of God. And I want us to wrestle with that tension. This was betrayal AND it was the will of God.
Let’s start with the prophecy. What did God say to David in 2 Samuel 12?
11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’”
Ahithophel was a betrayer. But he was also an instrument of God to fulfill that prophecy.
The same thing was true of Judas. The Apostle Paul makes this tension very clear for us. Look first at his instructions regarding the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Paul says that Jesus was betrayed or handed over. In Greek, the word is paradidōmi (para-dee’-do-me). Now look at this – also Paul – in Romans 8.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
“Gave him up” in Greek is the past tense of the exact same word. paradidōmi (para-dee’-do-me) But who is the subject here? God! Not Judas.
So, who gave Jesus up? God or Judas? Do you see the tension?
And just to be sure you know that I’m not making this up or twisting something, this is really old theology that permeates the entire Bible. Consider the story of Joseph and his brothers. Remember, they betrayed Joseph and sold him into slavery.
After many years of difficulty, God made Joseph a powerful, wealthy man and Joseph had the opportunity to get revenge on his brothers. But do you remember what Joseph said to them? This is Genesis 50:
Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
The practical lesson for us is clear – but it is not an easy pill to swallow. The evil actions of other people are fulfilling God’s good purposes in our life. How that works in a cosmic sense is a mystery, but it is no less true.
This truth used to frustrate me, but now it brings me comfort. I think it frustrates us to the extent that we want to be in control of our own lives. Solomon captures it well in Proverbs 21:
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
We think we know what is best and we work very hard to try and make that happen, but God is also busy working out His purposes even in the most powerful people on the planet.
Thankfully, we can see God’s purposes working themselves out in 2 Samuel 17. David’s spy is given an opportunity to counsel Absalom. He convinces Absalom to wait and go to battle himself. Hushai’s advice was not practically any better than Ahithophel’s. In fact, it was probably much worse. But Absalom and his generals fall for it. Verse 14 tells us why.
14 And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom.
That’s really clear, isn’t it? It is important to remember, the characters in the story don’t know any of this. They didn’t know at the time what God was up to. They didn’t know God’s secret will for their lives – and neither do we.
God doesn’t share his plans with us. I always get nervous when someone tells me they know what God’s plan for their life is, because the Bible actually warns against that kind of language. It’s called the sin of divination – trying to get knowledge or claim knowledge of the future before it happens. We do this because we want control. In fact, our sin is often about control, and James 4 exposes that tendency.
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
“IF the Lord wills.” In other words, we do not know what God has planned for us. We can let that drive us crazy with anxiety, or we can submit to his unrevealed will. We almost certainly have storms ahead in our lives that we could never imagine. But whatever God brings into the lives of His children will be for His good purposes. Paul says exactly that in Romans 8:28 –
For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
So, what should we do with our fears? What should we do when we feel betrayed or targeted by other people? What should we do when we are facing the consequences of our own sin? We should repeat David’s prayer in Psalm 56:
3 When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
If you are still struggling with these ideas – that God has a hand even in your suffering – remember that you’re in the best of company. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
You can trust this God. You can trust Him. You don’t need to feel in control. You don’t need to know the future. You don’t need to worry about the future. Whatever God ordains for you is right. That’s the main point today.
I would not be surprised if I get some questions about this sermon – and I welcome them. If you’re struggling with something I said, let’s talk about it. Let me know. Reach out to me this week.