But Absalom said, “Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say as well.” When Hushai came to him, Absalom said, “Ahithophel has given this advice. Should we do what he says? If not, give us your opinion.” Hushai replied to Absalom, “The advice Ahithophel has given is not good this time. You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops. Even now, he is hidden in a cave or some other place. And If he should attack your troops first, whoever hears about it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the troops who follow Absalom.’ Then even the bravest soldier, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a fighter and that those with him are brave. “So I advise you: Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba—as numerous as the sand on the seashore—be gathered to you, with you yourself leading them into battle. Then we will attack him wherever he may be found, and we will fall on him as dew settles on the ground. Neither he nor any of his men will be left alive. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we will drag it down to the valley until not so much as a pebble is left.” Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.
It is all determined. God’s plan all along was to bring disaster on Absalom. In the stories of the Kings of Israel, as written here, more than four centuries later, the Kings are, by definition, blessed by God, and those trying unsuccessfully to depose them are subject to God’s wrath. Absalom never had a chance: all the plotting and deceit, all the advice he heard (good and bad), the arguments, the promises, the proposals might as well never have been offered. He was doomed. He had it coming. His plotting failed. He was history.
Hilary Mantel, writer of many volumes of historical fiction, giving the Reith Lectures on Radio Four in 2017, caused a certain amount of – let’s call it debate – in our household by making a distinction between historical fact (what historians write) and faithful representation which is what novelists and poets aim to produce. Of course we need both, but facts are not always easy to determine and the past is not easily recreated 400 years on.
Human beings don’t change much in essence down the centuries: wheeling and dealing for power still goes on; the powerful still exploit the weak; conflict still destroys the innocent as well as – often instead of – the guilty. And somewhere most days business deals, political plots and weapons sales are completed without much regard for the needs of the poorest.
And in our day the God of love and justice determines, not to bring disaster on us – though we sometimes inflict that on ourselves – but use us to share love and justice throughout the world.
Chaplains have a mantra when they visit a workplace: “Find out what God is doing here, and join in.” It may be a challenge but it won’t be disaster.
God, you do not plan disaster
You do not hide yourself from us
Instead, you invite us
into relationship with you
and you allow us to reflect your love
so that others may be drawn
to worship you.
Ordinary people, followers of Jesus,
may we take on your nature
and be transformed
so that we too can change the world.
The Rev’d Heather Pencavel, retired Minister, Thornbury URC, Gloucestershire