Undesigned Coincidences in the Old Testament: Why David Was Betrayed By His Friend
I’m continuing a series on undesigned coincidences in the Old Testament. As a reminder, an undesigned coincidence is a notable connection between two or more accounts or texts that doesn’t seem to have been planned by the person or people giving the accounts. Despite their apparent independence, the items fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. An undesigned coincidence provides reason to believe that all of the statements that contribute to it are truthful.
Often the undesigned coincidence can lay between two different accounts, but sometimes the detail lies within a single book. In such circumstances it’s necessary for the connection between the details to be sufficiently obscure to render the details independent of one another. That’s going to be the case in this example found in 2 Samuel.
I’m going to warn you ahead of time, this story is grim. However, it bears the ring of truth. 2 Samuel 15 details the story of King David’s rebellious son Absalom conspiring against him in an attempt to usurp his father’s throne. In the middle of the chapter, Absalom summons one of David’s trusted allies. It reads:
While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom's following kept on increasing. (2 Samuel 15:12)
We learn about just who exactly Ahitophel was in 2 Samuel 16:23, which says:
"Now in those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel's advice."
So it turns out that Ahithophel was one of King David’s most trusted advisors and friends. So why was Absalom so quick to count on Ahithophel to help him betray King David?
In a totally unrelated part of the text, 2 Samuel 23 gives us an important clue. Verses 24–39 list 37 of King David’s bodyguards. In verse 39, we have a familiar name — Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba. Another guard mentioned is Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite (verse 34). This means that Ahithophel’s son Eliam worked together with Uriah the Hittite. Perhaps they were even friends.
Things really connect when we look over at 2 Samuel 11. This is the famous story where David commits adultery with Bathsheba and has Uriah murdered. Let’s read the passage. It says in verses 2–3:
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, "Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
Whoa. Not only did Eliam work with Uriah, he was Bathsheba’s dad. That would make Bathsheba Ahitophel’s granddaughter. Yikes. Now we can totally understand why Absalom expected Ahithophel to switch teams and join Absalom’s rebellion in 2 Samuel 15. It was payback time for what David did to Bathsheba and Uriah.
But there’s more to this undesigned coincidence. Here’s where things get really rough and rather disturbing. Let’s read 2 Samuel 16:20–22:
Absalom said to Ahithophel, "Give us your advice. What should we do?" Ahithophel answered, "Sleep with your father's concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute." So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel.
Talk about an eye for an eye. Yikes. It was on the roof that David saw Bathsheba bathing. This led to the adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. And so Ahitophel counsels Absalom to pitch a tent on the roof and ravage his father’s concubines.
Notice that nowhere in the books of Samuel, Chronicles or anywhere in the Bible for that matter is it specifically stated that Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather. Rather, one needs to do some serious sleuthing to discover what’s happening here.
This subtle kind of congruity between these three passages that are scattered around in 2 Samuel might easily escape the notice of the reader. The fact that we have to dig around to recognize these details is evidence of it being a genuine coincidence. It would be difficult for an author to fake such a coincidence and then just tuck it away.
And if a writer was clever enough to think up an undesigned coincidence and were able to insert such a thing in the text, it would be of no benefit to them if the coincidence is not discovered for generations. There’d be a great temptation for the writer to draw attention to the coincidence. That kind of attention drawing is what we’d expect from a forger or someone writing fiction.
Also, a fiction writer might shy away from difficult and embarrassing details such as these mentioned about the hero of the story — King David. These are very difficult texts, and yet the author didn’t shy away from reporting even the most grim and ugly details.