Before All Israel, Before the Sun (2 Samuel 16:15-17:29) December 6
David's decision to leave 10 concubines, i.e., unofficial wives, at the palace will now be taken advantage of by his enemies. Ahithophel advises Absalom to lie with these women. The Nelson Study Bible notes: "In ancient times, taking over a king's harem was a recognized means of claiming the throne. When Ahithophel advised Absalom to have sexual relations with David's concubines, he knew that this would finalize the breach between Absalom and David. It was an irrevocable action. Up to this point, Absalom would have been able to back away from all that he had done and still be reconciled to his father. But once he violated the harem of David, he was set on a course of sure and final alienation from his father" (note on 16:22). But there is more going on here.
It is clear that these events are bringing to pass the final punishment God had decreed on David through Nathan after David's sin of taking his neighbor Uriah's wife and murdering him. God had said, "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. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun" (12:11-12). Thus the manner in which Ahithophel counseled Absalom to go about his deed: "The tent that Absalom pitched in the sight of all Israel was probably a bridal tent. Absalom made the people of Israel fully aware that he was engaging in sexual relations with his father's concubines. Putting the tent on the roof of the palace was an insolent act that was guaranteed to stir the populace one way or another" (note on 16:22).
Yet why would Ahithophel be the one to advise such a thing? Indeed, why has Ahithophel joined Absalom's rebellion? And why does he now hate David so much to the point of wanting to be the one to lead the attack to actually kill him (17:1-2)? It all makes sense when we remember that Ahithophel is the grandfather of Bathsheba (compare 11:3; 23:34). And his son, her father Eliam or Ammiel, was a close companion of Uriah (compare verses 34, 39; 1 Chronicles 3:5). Author Grant Jeffrey explains, "As David's counselor in the palace, Ahithophel must have burned with rage to know his king had betrayed his granddaughter's honor and killed Uriah, her husband, who was a fellow soldier with his son Eliam, Bathsheba's father. However, there was nothing he could do at the time to exact his revenge. If he had risen in anger against the king he would have lost his life. So he remained silent, keeping his thoughts of revenge secretly to himself all of the years that followed until he saw an opportunity to destroy King David. The Arabs have an expression, 'That a man who seeks his revenge before forty years has past has moved in haste'" (The Signature of God, 1996, pp. 244-245). With this in mind, we can see why Ahithophel would join Absalom's rebellion and offer to kill David personally. And we can understand why it was Ahithophel who instructed Absalom to lie with his father's wives "in the sight of all Israel." He was, no doubt, "attempting to get his revenge by encouraging Absalom to do the same thing to David's wives as the king had done to his granddaughter" (p. 245).
Though Absalom follows Ahithophel's advice concerning David's concubines, he and his lieutenants are persuaded by Hushai to reject Ahithophel's plan of attack. The shrewdness of Hushai's counsel is demonstrated in his carefully worded evaluation that Ahithophel's advice is not good "at this time" (2 Samuel 17:7). In other words, Hushai did not reject Ahithophel's counsel outright. Instead, his criticism of merely the timing of the plan showed respect for Ahithophel's wisdom, which may have served to deter suspicion from himself. Of course, verse 14 explains that Hushai's success is really God's doing. Remarkably, while God has been using circumstances to actually bring about Absalom's rebellion as punishment on Davidin that sense "helping" Absalomwe now see that God is determined to bring Absalom down and ultimately save David.
With his counsel rejected, Ahithophel hangs himself (verse 23). "He apparently realized that Absalom's cause was doomed, and that when David returned he would be put to death as a disloyal subject" (Nelson, note on verse 23).