2 Samuel 17:23
And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey, and arose, and got him home to his house, to his city…
Displeased with the decision of the council (ver. 14), Ahithophel left the city and returned to his own house, whence he had been summoned the day before (2 Samuel 15:12). While Ahimaaz and Jonathan hurried eastward toward the Jordan with their message (the decision of the council being as yet unknown publicly, or its reversal feared), the renowned counsellor rode southward toward Giloh, brooding over what might have been (ver. 2) and what would be; the shadows of night thickening around him (1 Samuel 28:1-10); and the same night (or soon afterwards) "his lamp was put out in darkness" (Proverbs 13:9). "With the deliberate cynicism of a man who had lost all faith, he committed that rare crime in Israel, suicide" (Edersheim). "He was probably not the first man who hanged himself, but he bears the unenviable distinction of being the first whose hanging himself is recorded; and society would have little reason to complain if all who have since sentenced themselves to this doom were as worthy of it as this father of self-suspenders." (Kitto). "So perished the great Machiavelli of that age, the very wisest of the very wise men of this world!" (Delany). We have here -
I. A DISAPPOINTED POLITICIAN. Like many other eminent politicians, he was destitute of religious principles; set his heart upon the world, and had "his portion in this life" (Psalm 17:14); was proud of his own wisdom, ambitious of wealth, fame, honour, and power, and hostile to godliness and godly men; the leading mind of the ungodly party in Israel. "He had no regard either to the ways of God or the laws of God. Providence made no part of his plan. He considered with great sagacity how he was to act; but he never considered how God would act; and therefore all his wise designs must have been very defective. The rich man said, 'I shall want room for my stores,' etc. But the Gospel calls him a fool, for not considering that God might call him out of the world that night, and that then all his schemes of happiness and prosperity would die with him. Such is he who is wise without God; and such was this Ahithophel" (Jones of Nayland). We now see him under the influence of:
1. Wounded pride, frustrated ambition, and, probably, ungratified malice (ver. 1). The rejection of his counsel was regarded by him as a personal affront, and a fatal blow to his position and prospects; for "he had been impelled by nothing else than a mad ambition, so that life itself became insupportable when the attainment of the position he had hankered after proved insufficient to satisfy his desires" (Ewald). He would be revenged on Absalom himself, by leaving him to pursue his own course.
2. Unavoidable fear of the disgrace, infamy, and punishment that awaited him. For, by the adoption of Hushai's counsel, he foresaw that all was lost, and that David would live and reign. Although he had the "Roman" courage (or rather, cowardice and impatience) to face death, he had not courage enough to face disaster.
"He's not valiant that dares die;
But he that boldly bears calamity."
3. Bitter remorse, desperation, and despair. "Perhaps he now began to see for the first time that, as he had been against God, God was against him, and, according to the prayer of David, was turning his counsel into foolishness. Under this calamity, what had he to support him? Nothing but that policy of a wicked man which never supported anybody long. In the trouble of a righteous man there is hope; but in the trouble of the wicked there is none. And, for a man like him, there is no refuge but in despair" (Psalm 7:15, 16).
II. A DELIBERATE CRIME. "And put his household in order," etc.; i.e. "he settled his affairs, he made his will, as a person of sound mind and memory; as he would have done if death had been coming upon him in a natural way." He did not commit the deed in an outburst of passion, but with deliberation and forethought. Suicide is often due to insanity, and without blame (except in so far as it is induced by previous misconduct); but in his case there is no indication of it; nor was there the same justification or the same extenuation of guilt as in other cases (Judges 16:30; 1 Samuel 31:4, 5). Whatever may have been the measure of his culpability, suicide is a crime:
1. Against a man himself; a violation of the law of self-preservation written upon his nature.
2. Against society. "Nor can any case be put which is not concluded under sin by the peculiar injury or general mischief" (Paley, 'Sermons').
3. Against God, who has "fixed his canon 'gainst self-slaughter" (Exodus 20:13); who has committed life to men as a trust; and whose will in relation to it is intimated in various ways. "In every society where the Christian and old Pythagorean idea of life, as a talent and a trust, is unknown or forgotten, and where its value is measured by enjoyment, suicide will be likely to become common" (Thirlwall, 'Letters to a Friend'). It is "a complication of ingratitude, contempt of the Lord's gift of life, defiance, impatience, pride, rebellion, and infidelity" (Scott; Wardlaw, 'Sys. Theol.'). "What a mixture do we find here of wisdom and madness!" (Hall). "Thus he displayed the miserable infatuation of worldly policy" (Wordsworth). Under the light which the gospel sheds upon the present and the future, the act of the self-destroyer is rendered peculiarly criminal and awful.
III. A DREADFUL RETRIBUTION. (2 Samuel 12:10-12.) The course of sin on which he had entered was attended (as it ever is in others) by most baneful effects on himself, and ended in destruction; the culmination at once of his sin and of his punishment. He became:
1. His own tormentor; rushing against impassable barriers, and bringing upon himself irreparable misery.
2. His own tempter; being urged onward by inward impulses to further transgression.
3. His own executioner; inflicting with his own hand the extreme penalty of the law; a retribution more dreadful than when inflicted. by the direct stroke of Heaven (2 Samuel 6:6-8) or the hands of other men (2 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 18:7, 14). "The wages of sin is death" (Proverbs 14:32). "Thus it falleth out that wicked counsel doth chiefly redound to the hurt of the author thereof" (Wilier). Like Judas, Ahithophel went to "his own place" (Acts 1:25).
IV. AN ADMONITORY END; the consideration of which should lead to:
1. The conviction of the enormous evil of suicide; which may exert a preserving influence in an hour of temptation.
2. The abhorrence of the principles which induce its commission, and the avoiding of every sinful way. The sinner is a self-destroyer (Hosea 13:9).
3. The cherishing, with renewed earnestness, of the opposite principles of humility, faith, patience, godliness, uprightness, charity, etc. "If the affections are violently set upon anything in this world, whether fame, wealth, or pleasure, and are disappointed, then life becomes insupportable. Therefore, the moral is this: 'Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.'" - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.
WEB: When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey, and arose, and went home, to his city, and set his house in order, and hanged himself; and he died, and was buried in the tomb of his father.