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AHITHOPHEL (a-hĭth'ō-fĕl, Heb. ’ăhîthōphel, brother of folly). David’s counselor who joined the conspiracy of Absalom. His oracular wisdom was proverbial (2Sam.16.23), and it seems clear that he was a mainspring of the rebellion (2Sam.15.12). Some suggest, in looking for motivation for his treachery, that he was the grandfather of Bathsheba, for she was the daughter of Eliam (2Sam.11.3), and an Eliam, the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, is listed as one of David’s valiant men (2Sam.23.34). Thus it is suggested that Ahithophel had a certain bitterness toward David, the murderer of his grandson by marriage and the corrupter of his grandaughter. Others note, however, that the time element seems insufficiently long for Ahithophel to have a married granddaughter at the time of David’s great sin, and that it seems easier to believe that there was more than one man in Israel named Eliam. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that a man such as Ahithophel would conspire against the interests of his grandaughter and her son. His main motivation appears to have been ambition for personal power. His proposal to Absalom that he pursue David immediately with twelve thousand men, smiting the king while he was still weary and underprotected, indicates his wisdom and boldness. David’s prayer turned his counsel into foolishness (2Sam.15.31), for Absalom deferred to Hushai’s advice that they take time to muster all Israel against such a mighty man of war as David. Ahithophel, seeing his counsel rejected, realized that the cause of Absalom was lost; he went to his home and hanged himself (2Sam.17.1-2Sam.17.23).——BP

AHITHOPHEL ə hĭth’ ə fəl (אֲחִיתֹ֑פֶל, brother of foolishness or foolish talk[?]). The name may have been Ahiphelet, but it is purposely distorted by the transposition of consonants and altering the (into a t) and pointing it as bōšet, “shame.” (Cf. the name Eliphelet, 2 Sam 5:16; 23:24, Brother [God] is deliverance.)

David’s private counselor who came from Giloh in the highlands of Judah near Hebron. He participated in the rebellion against David and became Absalom’s counselor only to end his life in suicide when he wisely foresaw what would become of Absalom and himself when the rebel king failed to follow his advice in favor of the eloquent doubts cast upon such plans by David’s infiltrator of the rebel court named Hushai (2 Sam 17:14, 23; 1 Chron 27:33, 34).

The reputation that Ahithophel had for wisdom was “as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God” (2 Sam 16:23) and thereby the Bible clearly teaches (as D. Kidner said [Proverbs (1964), 17] “that a man can still think validly and talk wisely, within a limited field, without special revelation.” David seriously prayed to God that he might “defeat the counsel of Ahithophel” (2 Sam 15:34).

Speculation as to why a loyal Ahithophel should turn so decidedly on David involves building a case for his being the grandfather of Bathsheba. A connection was made between “Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite” (23:34; the parallel text, 1 Chron 11:36, is taken to be corrupt), one of David’s Thirty and the Eliam who is Bathsheba’s father (2 Sam 11:3, perhaps the same “Bath-shua” or Bathsheba and Eliam in a reversed form of “Ammiel” in 1 Chron 3:5). Do we now have the motive for his defection in Ahithophel’s knowledge of David’s sin with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba? Possibly, if one can demonstrate two more things: (1) that Ahithophel was much older than David and had a married granddaughter, and (2) that there was only one Eliam in Israel and not two by the same name in the contemporary records of Israel. Hertzberg, who favors the identification, notices that Ahithophel was apparently no longer at king’s court since he was summoned from his home at Giloh.


H. W. Hertzberg, I and II Samuel, (1964), 337, 338.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The real leader of the Absalom rebellion against David. He is described as "the king’s counselor," in a context connected with events some of which are dated in the fortieth year of David (1Ch 27:33,34; compare 1Ch 26:31). Concerning him and his part in the rebellion we have rather full information (2Sa 15:12 ff).

Some hold that he was the grandfather of Bathsheba, and make much of this in forming their estimates of him. Does the evidence sustain this view? In the latter half of the list of David’s mighty men, not among the older veterans with whom the list begins, appears "Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite" (2Sa 23:34), the corresponding name in the other copy of the list being "Ahijah the Pelonite" (1Ch 11:36). It is assumed that this is the same Eliam who was father to Bath-sheba (2Sa 11:3). Apparently the Chronicler testifies (1Ch 3:5) that the mother of Solomon was "Bath-shua the daughter of Ammiel."

Bathshua may easily be a variant of Bathsheba, and the names Eliam and Ammiel are made up of the same parts, only in reversed order. It is not strange that men have inferred that the son of Ahithophel was the father of Bathsheba. But the inference is really not a probable one. The record does not make the impression that Ahithophel was an older man than David. The recorded events of David’s life after his misconduct with Bathsheba cannot have occupied less than about twenty years; that is, he cannot have been at the time older than about fifty years. That Ahithophel had then a married grand-daughter is less probable than that there were in Israel two Eliams. Further, Ahithophel was not the sort of man to conspire against the interests of his grand-daughter and her son, however he may, earlier, have resented the conduct of David toward her. Ahithophel’s motive in the rebellion was doubtless ambition for personal power, though he very likely shared with many of his countrymen in the conviction that it was unjust to push aside an older son by elevating a younger son to the throne.

Ahithophel has a reputation for marvelous practical sagacity (2Sa 16:23). He did not show this in joining the conspiracy but it is in evidence in his management of the affair. According to the record the hearts of the people, in spite of the much fault they had to find, were all the time with David. Absalom’s only chance of success was by the method of surprise and stampede. There must be a crisis in which everybody would join Absalom because everybody thought that everybody else had done so. Such a state of public sentiment could last only a very few days; but if, in those few days, David could be put out of the way, Absalom might hold the throne in virtue of his personal popularity and in default of a rival. The first part of the program was carried out with wonderful success; when it came to the second part, Ahithophel’s practical wisdom was blocked by Hushai’s adroit appeal to Absalom’s personal vanity. Ahithophel saw with absolute clearness that Absalom had sacrificed his one opportunity, and he committed suicide to avoid participation in the shameful defeat which he saw could not be averted.

Willis J. Beecher