Who exactly was Hushai, according to the Bible?
2 Samuel 15:32 is the first time the name Hushai is mentioned in the Bible. He is mentioned in connection with Absalom’s coup and David’s flight from Jerusalem. David’s son Absalom “stole the hearts of the people of Israel” by starting a rebellion against his father (2 Samuel 15:6). Afraid for their lives, David and his officials in Jerusalem left the city (2 Samuel 15:14). There was “weeping as they walked” as they made their way up the Mount of Olives (verse 30). Hushai the Arkite, “his robe tattered and dust on his head,” was waiting for David “when David arrived at the peak, where people used to worship God” (verse 32).
Tearing one’s garment was a common practice in ancient societies as a sign of grief and mourning. The dust that settled on Hushai’s head accentuated his sad appearance. In the wake of catastrophe, Hushai wept for the loss of his king and country. To quote 1 Chronicles 27:33: “Hushai was the king’s friend” (ESV).
Hushai got an idea after meeting David on Mount Olivet. David ordered Hushai to head back to Jerusalem and take up the fight against Absalom. The words “Your Majesty, I will be your servant; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant” were given to Hushai by David to say to Absalom (2 Samuel 15:34). Hushai may foil Absalom’s schemes if he managed to win Absalom over to his side.
Ahithophel, one of David’s trusted counselors, had betrayed him and joined forces with Absalom, thus David had to use Hushai as a secret agent (2 Samuel 15:31). It was revealed that Ahithophel had betrayed his monarch and was now advising David’s son on how to kill his father. David prayed that God would “transform Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness” after hearing this (verse 31). The request would be answered by God through Hushai.
When David sent for Hushai, he returned to Jerusalem and arrived just as Absalom was taking the city (2 Samuel 15:37). The priests Zadok and Abiathar were in the city to act as spies, and their sons Ahimaaz and Jonathan were there to report back to David on what they had learned (2 Samuel 15:35–36).
Hushai greeted Absalom in the capital city with the words “Long live the king! Long live the king!” The Bible verse citing this is 2 Samuel 16:16. At first Absalom was skeptical, saying, “This is the affection you show your friend [David]?” Why didn’t you go with him if he’s your friend?” he questioned (verse 17). After being praised to the skies, Hushai responded by heaping even more adulation on Absalom, declaring him “the one chosen by the Lord, by these people, and by all the men of Israel” (verse 18). He then said to Absalom, “Just as I served your father, so I shall serve you,” as David had directed him to do (verse 19). It was clear to Absalom that Hushai meant what he said.
Later, while Absalom was plotting his victory against his father, he consulted with Ahithophel and Hushai. The prophet Ahithophel advised, “Pick twelve thousand men and leave tonight in pursuit of David. I’d strike when he’s tired and defenseless. If I were to strike him with fear, he and anybody else around him would immediately run for it. “If I could kill the king and bring everyone back to you, I would” (2 Samuel 17:1–3). Although this was a clever tactic, Hushai was eventually given the opportunity to foil it.
Hushai put forth an other plan to counteract Ahithophel’s insight (see 2 Samuel 15:34). According to Hushai, Absalom required a larger army to take on David and his desperate troops. For another, “Let all Israel… be assembled to you, with you yourself leading them into battle,” Absalom should not want to eliminate David so much as he should seek to destroy David’s entire army. Then we’ll launch an assault on him wherever he is, ensuring that neither he nor any of his troops survive (2 Samuel 17:11–12).
Hushai also pointed out to Absalom that David was familiar with the territory and skilled at evading capture. David would run away if Absalom attacked him, as advised by Ahithophel. If David did that, Absalom’s troops would be disheartened and he could strike first (2 Samuel 17:7–10).
Absalom and his advisors considered both strategies, but ultimately decided that Hushai’s advice was superior than Ahithophel’s (2 Samuel 17:14). Better, at least, for David, was Hushai’s counsel. The purpose of Hushai’s counsel was to convince Absalom to postpone sending forth his army. David would have more time to devise a plan and get ready if the attack was delayed. A divine hand was behind it all. Despite “the Lord’s determination to defy the wise advise of Ahithophel in order to bring tragedy on Absalom,” Absalom ultimately decided to follow Hushai’s counsel (verse 14).
Ahithophel was quite sensitive to criticism. The lack of heed to Ahithophel’s counsel prompted him to return to his homeland and settle down. Once he had everything in place, he hung himself (2 Samuel 17:23). While this was going on, Hushai informed David of the strategy for the upcoming fight by way of the priestly spies. Hushai told David, “Do not spend the night at the fords in the desert; go over without fail” (2 Samuel 17:16).
In the “woodland of Ephraim,” David and Absalom’s armies clashed (2 Samuel 18:6). The conflict “stretched out over the whole countryside,” and Absalom’s men were defeated (verse 8). As for Absalom, he was the one who met his end at the hands of Joab, one of David’s generals (2 Samuel 18:14). This coup attempt failed.
As a result of David’s intercession through Hushai, God protected his throne for his son. Even though Absalom made his own decisions, God remained in control. “Our steps are not predetermined by us, but by the Lord” (Proverbs 16:9, NLT).