The Barren Road of Revenge


Nestled away in the historical books of the Bible is a tale of sordid revenge. It’s the story of Ahithophel and his deep hatred for King David.

I can guess what you must be thinking. Who in the world was Ahithophel and why should I care about his quest for vengeance?

Let me begin by answering the first part of your question.

Ahithophel’s Betrayal of King David

For many years, Ahithophel served as David’s closest advisor and more than likely was a close and trusted friend as well (see Psalm 55:12-14). Scripture says this about his impeccable record of providing wise counsel, “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” (2 Sam. 16:23).

However, something caused Ahithophel to turn against King David and later join Absalom’s revolt against his father (2 Sam. 15:12). Scripture does not tell us specifically what led to his drastic change of heart, but does provide a clue.

2 Samuel 11:3 identifies Bathsheba as “the daughter of Eliam.” Later in the book we read that Eliam was “the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite” (2 Sam. 23:34). Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba, and apparently had strong affections for both her and Uriah, her husband.

We know Ahithophel’s attitude toward David changed drastically at some point and the evidence strongly points to his close family ties with Bathsheba and Uriah as the motive for his betrayal of the king.

Ahithophel’s Advice to Absalom

Once he joined Absalom’s rebellion, Ahithophel gave him this advice, “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” (2 Sam. 16:21). That was just step one of his counsel.

With step two of his advise, he volunteered to lead the attack against David (2 Sam. 17:1-4). His deeply personal hatred comes out in his desire to be the one to plunge the sword into David. He wanted to kill the king himself!

The Demise of Ahithophel

Although the plan sounded good to Absalom, he asked to also hear counsel of another close adviser of David, Hushai the Archite. After initially fleeing with the king, Hushai returned to Jerusalem pretending to join the revolt for the purpose of thwarting the counsel of Ahithophel (2 Sam. 15:32-37).

Hushai persuaded Absalom to wait until all Israel had gathered to him and then lead a larger army out to overtake David. If he suffered a defeat too early with too few soldiers, Hushai reasoned, those with him might lose heart at the prospect of again going up against his father (2 Sam. 17:5-13).

When Ahithophel saw his advice was not followed, he traveled back to his home and took his own life. It’s likely no one had ever rejected his counsel. In addition, Ahithophel likely recognized God was still with David and thus knew the revolt would eventually end in disaster.

What Do We Learn from Ahithophel?

We live in an era of political hatred. This animosity divides families, friends, and coworkers. This is why the example of Ahithophel is so relevant for all of us today.

How do we avoid the barren path of revenge that Ahithophel took? How do avoid becoming like those we despise?

Here are the ways that the example of Ahithophel helps us deal with such hatred:

1. His example warns us of the danger of hatred. Did you notice anything peculiar about the counsel Ahithophel gave to Absalom? He advised him to commit adultery and he wanted to murder the king himself. Are these not the very things that caused his initial hatred of David?

Ahithophel warns us that whenever we allow hate for someone or a group to consume us, we eventually imitate the attitudes and behavior of what we despise in others. I see this happening everywhere I look today and even feel it myself at times. This is why it’s so vital to not let let anger linger inside us. It’s not a sin to feel anger, but it is if he harbor it in our hearts and do not deal with it.

2. He did not recognize the gravity of his own sin. Ahithophel did not recognize the weight of his own sins versus those of David against him and his family. He did not see that his sins against God were so much weightier than those committed by David against him.

Jesus illustrated this principle in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Whenever I struggle with unforgiveness, I think of the Lord’s story in this passage. I sometimes assign a dollar value to the sins of others against with the amount I place on my own sins against Jesus being at least a million times more.

Yes David’s sins were significant as are the sins of those against us. However, how can we compare them to the sins of our lifetime committed against a holy and perfect God for which He has completely forgiven us and welcomed us into His family?

3. He did not trust God to deal with David’s sins. Ahithophel believed he needed to help the Lord deal with the sins of the king. He did not trust God to deal adequately with David’s offenses nor was he willing to accept that vengeance belongs to God alone.

We know from the life of David that he suffered much because of his sin.

Do we not also fall into this trap? When I read about the false accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee for the Supreme Court, I want to take action and exert my own justice somehow in the situation although there is nothing I can do to change anything.

It’s then I read Psalm 37 again and again and realize God is the one who will deal with the evil in this world. In the meantime, I show my trust by waiting “patiently for him” not giving into anger over the one who successfully “carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7). I confess my desire for vengeance and rest in His grace and love for me.

4. He learned too late about God’s sovereignty. By the end of the story, Ahithophel learned that God was still in control and He wanted David to remain as king. By that time he had already shown himself as a traitor and believed suicide was the only way out of his mess.

It’s so easy to become “righteously” indignant at the wickedness we see all around us today and overlook the fact that that God is very much still in control; His answer is on the way and it will not be pretty for those who reject His saving grace.

God is sovereign; He places men and women in places of authority and removes them. He has a divine purpose for whoever is President at the time.

Ahithophel warns us of the dangers of hatred and revenge. Once we start down that barren road we not only become what we hate in others, but it never turns out well. It’s indeed a barren and desert road.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV). Good advice if we find ourselves overcome with a desire to get even.