Today’s reading: 2 Samuel 16-18.
Wisdom makes all the difference. In the days before Hurricane Katrina, the people of New Orleans were told to evacuate because of the predicted danger of the storm. Too many people failed to heed the wise counsel, and the result was disastrous. Less than a month later Hurricane Rita stormed ashore in Texas, but the outcome was much better. Almost everyone had evacuated days before it arrived.
King David had an advisor named Ahithophel. He was so wise that people said listening to his advice was as good as hearing from God. Yet when Absalom began his conspiracy to overthrow his father, Ahithophel switched sides and became Absalom’s counselor. It seems a strange choice for such a wise man, but his decision may have been based on vengeance. The Bible suggests that Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather, and he may have been motivated by bitterness over David’s adultery with his granddaughter and the murder of her husband.
Whatever his motivation, Ahithophel counseled Absalom to strike quickly. He told him to attack David’s entourage that very night before he could travel far from Jerusalem. It was shrewd counsel, and would likely have ended David’s life and kingdom, but Absalom chose to listen to the words of Hushai. This friend of King David had remained behind for the purpose of undermining Ahithophel’s advice. He warned Absalom not to attack because of David’s fierceness in battle and Absalom accepted his advice over Ahithophel’s. Then Ahithophel’s life took an even stranger turn:
When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb. 2 Samuel 17:23
Ahithophel understood that once the opportunity to capture David was lost, then Absalom’s hope to overthrow the king was ended. With David’s eventual victory, Ahithophel faced certain death for his treason. He saw the end of the conflict from the beginning. His suicide testified to the depth of his insight, but it also revealed a darker side to his wisdom.
Ahithophel possessed what the Bible calls worldly wisdom. James described it this way:
If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. James 3:14-17
Godly wisdom is based on submission to the LORD and personal character. It seeks the best for each person according to God’s will. Worldly wisdom is based on maximizing the benefit for oneself, even at the expense of others.
- It proceeds out of selfish ambition.
- It doesn’t come from God but from the devil.
- It ignores the reality of the spiritual world and deals only with the material things of life.
- It promotes conflict rather than peace.
- It uses any means to achieve its aims.
Ahithophel’s rebellion against God’s chosen king and his eventual suicide prove that he had fallen into the trap of worldly wisdom. True wisdom begins with acknowledging God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” It takes root in men and women of character who submit themselves to God and then use their wisdom for the benefit of others. As James said, that godly wisdom bears much good fruit.
Image by Frederic Bisson on Flickr, CC by 2.o