Many of David’s subordinates disappointed him at one time or another and brought much pain to him. Shimei was one of them; Joab was another. The act of treason from his own son, Absalom was even more devastating to the king. But among all these, none seemed to have hurt David more than the disloyalty of Ahithophel. No less than twice, David referred to the treachery of his friends in the Psalms. He lamented:
“Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted,
Who ate my bread, has [a]lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9).
“For it is not an enemy who reproaches me;
Then I could bear it.
Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me;
Then I could hide from him.
13 But it was you, a man my equal,
My companion and my acquaintance.
14 We took sweet counsel together,
And walked to the house of God in the throng” (Psalm 55:12-14).
Even Jesus Christ himself felt the pain of betrayal through the actions of his disciples, particularly Judas who ate with him (Mt. 26:14-16, 21-25, 47-50; John 13:18, 21-30; Acts 1:16-17).
These Psalms capture the utter disappointment David experienced as a leader from his friends, especially the treachery of Ahithophel. Who was Ahithophel and why did David feel so much pained by the betrayal of this man? Ahithophel was David’s counsellor whose advice was always so accurate that it was regarded as the “Oracle of God.” “Now the advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one had inquired at the oracle of God. So was all the advice of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom” (2 Sam.16:23). Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba (2 Sam.11:3; 23:24-39). When David was forced to run out of Jerusalem, Ahithophel did not join him because he probably was seeking a revenge on David. Once David ran out from Jerusalem, Ahithophel switched his loyalty to Absalom and became his counsellor.
When David was forced to leave Jerusalem, he left behind ten concubines who were to take care of the palace (2 Sam.15; 16). Ahithophel’s first advice to Absalom was to go and sleep with those concubines and have a sexual relationship with them on the roof of the palace. This was not only a disrespect to his father, David, but also shows how Ahithophel held David in disdain and a fulfilment of God’s judgment on the house of David (2 Sam.12:11,12).
The second piece of advice that Ahithophel gave to Absalom backfired. He advised Absalom to pursue David and his entourage immediately they fled Jerusalem so that they would not have enough time to settle down and regroup to fight him and his men back. But, providentially, David had advised Hushai to stay back in Jerusalem, to pretend to be loyal to Absalom, so that he would relay all the plans of Absalom to him, and to be able to give a contrary advice to Absalom and the elders. The elders bought into the advice of Hushai that it was risky pursuing David and his men immediately. That gave David enough time to cross the river Jordan and to prepare for battle. Suffice it to say that when Ahithophel’s advice was turned down, he felt slighted and committed suicide.
It is in this light we can understand the prayer David made against Ahithophel, a prayer that God answered instantly. “Then someone told David, saying, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O Lord, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!”