Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hushai: First Friend (I Chronicles 27:33)

In David’s time, what was Hushai the Archite called? The king’s friend (I Chronicles 27:33)

I Chronicles 27 catalogs the leading Israelites of David’s era (I Chronicles 27:1-34). The chapter inventories military officers (I Chronicles 27:1-14), tribal leaders (I Chronicles 27:16-24) and the king’s court (I Chronicles 27:25-34). The final list offers a retrospective glimpse into David’s royal cabinet (I Chronicles 27:25-34).

The names at the end of the index are familiar to readers of II Samuel ( I Chronicles 27:33-34). Two officials who figured prominently in Absalom’s revolt are listed side by side in David’s court (II Samuel 15:1-18:15). Athithophel, the royal counselor who sided with David’s son in his failed coup d’état, is listed with Hushai, an advisor who remained loyal to David. Traitorous Athithophel is described as a “counselor” while Hushai is remembered simply as “the king’s friend” (I Chronicles 27:33).
Ahithophel was counselor to the king; and Hushai the Archite was the king’s friend. (I Chronicles 27:33 NASB)
The term “Archite” connects Hushai with a clan that settled near Ataroth, on the border between Ephraim and Benjamin (Joshua 16:2-3). It is presumed that “Hushai” is a diminutive form of Ahishai (also Ahushai).

Hushai’s designation is conspicuous amidst the compendium of official titles. He is labeled by the Hebrew word rea`. The word is common but this marks the only time it is used in I Chronicles. It means “friend, companion, fellow, another person” and as such is translated “friend” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NLT, NRSV, RSV), “companion” (KJV, NKJV), “advisor” (CEV) and “confidant” (NIV). There are certainly worse descriptors.

The epithet, however, is not merely descriptive. Sara Japhet (b. 1934) relays, “Athithophel and Hushai are mentioned together, the first as counsellor and the second as ‘friend’. The last term for some time has been interpreted as a title, rather than a simple noun (Japhet, I & II Chronicles: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 479).”

Simon John De Vries (b. 1921) relays the position as “a kind of chief executive (De Vries, 1 and 2 Chronicles (Forms of the Old Testament Literature, Volume XI), 214).”

Andrew E. Hill (b. 1952) concurs:
Hushai remained loyal to David as a political adviser, and he is here called “the king’s friend” (I Chronicles 27:33; cf. II Samuel 15:37, 16:16). This expression is probably a formal title for a trusted sage; the position has parallels in the Egyptian royal court. (Hill, 1 & 2 Chronicles (The NIV Application Commentary), 321)
It is fitting that Hushai is juxtaposed with Athithophel. The two were on opposite sides of the most significant threat to David’s monarchy, the revolt from the king’s son, Absalom (II Samuel 15:1-18:15). Athithophel joined Absalom but Hushai remained loyal to David. The Archite attempted to join the deposed king in exile but at David’s request, Hushai remained in Jerusalem and offered himself to Abasalom as an advisor (II Samuel 15:32-37). Though both Athtithophel and Hushai appeared to be aiding Absalom’s uprising, Hushai was actually working as a double agent. In addition to relaying information to David, Hushai countered Athtithophel’s counsel with intentionally bad advice (II Samuel 17:5-29). The dueling counselors functioned in much the way a competing angel and devil do in cartoon bubbles. Fortunately for David, Absalom listened to the wrong voice. When Ahithophel proposed an attack, Hushai convinced Abasalom to delay, buying David time to escape (II Samuel 17:1-16, 22).

Steven Shawn Tuell (b. 1956) analyzes:
The revolt fails in large measure because Hushai...pretending to go over to Absalom’s side, counters Athithophel’s wise counsel with bad advice (II Samuel 15:32-37, 17:5-14). Athithophel, seeing his counsel rejected and knowing Absalom’s case is doomed, commits suicide (II Samuel 17:23). (Tuell, First and Second Chronicles (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), 106)

Despite being a notorious traitor, Chronicles makes no mention of Athithophel’s disloyalty. Paul K. Hooker (b. 1953) writes:
Because he omits all discussion of the revolt of David’s son Absalom, the Chronicler masks the roles played by these two characters in those events (II Samuel 15:32-37, 17:5-14). In the present list, Athithophel and Hushai are listed alongside one another, as if none of the events of Absalom’s revolt had occurred and both had rendered valuable service to David. (Hooker, First and Second Chronicles (Westminster Bible Companion), 106)
John Mark Hicks (b. 1957) counters:
The Chronicler assumes a knowledge of political intrigues without commenting on them. His only hint is that Athithophel was succeeded by Jehoiada son of Benaiah and by Abiathar. He does not say why Athithophel was replaced, but he assumes his readers know the story. (Hicks, 1 & 2 Chronicles (The College Press NIV Commentary), 237-38)
Were you offered any position in the royal court, what would you choose? What is the worst advice someone has ever given you? When two equally credible advisors offer conflicting guidance, how do you decide which you will follow? Why does the chronicler omit Athithophel’s betrayal? Who has betrayed you? Did his loyalty during David’s time of need merit Hushai the moniker “the king’s friend”?

Hushai is known as “David’s friend” prior to Absalom’s revolt (II Samuel 15:37, 16:17) but his relationship with the king likely deepened during the crisis (II Samuel 15:1-18:15). Although Hushai is never mentioned again in Scripture, one of the Solomon’s prefects, Baana son of Hushai, is likely his son (I Kings 4:16).

Hushai was not only a royal advisor but also a friend of the monarch himself. In addition to their formal Cabinets, many United States presidents have had friends who served as informal advisors. Most famously, Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) listened to his crew of cronies and newspaper men so frequently that his opponents dubbed them his “kitchen cabinet”. Their importance was elevated when Jackson dismissed five of his eight Cabinet officials in the middle of his first term.

In contrast, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) filled some of his Cabinet positions with “enemies”. This revolutionary strategy is chronicled in Doris Kearns Goodwin (b. 1943)’s New York Times Best Seller Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Who has remained loyal to you through the worst times of your life? Were you a monarch, who would you designate to be your “friend”? Would you prefer to be advised by your friends or a team of rivals? Why?

“The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.” - Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

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