Students of the Bible, and even many who are not, have heard of Judas Iscariot. What they may not understand is that his greatest sin was not his thievery or betrayal, but his rejection of his Savior’s mercy and forgiveness. In his despair, Judas committed suicide by hanging.
Neither do most people know that tragic Judas had a brother—not a twin, but a suicide brother. His name was Ahithophel, and his story can be read in II Samuel 17. Ahithophel was much like Judas. While Judas was a chosen disciple of the Lord and the trusted treasurer, so Ahithophel was chosen by King David and served as a wise and trusted counselor.
But then occurred a defining moment in David’s life: temptation, adultery and murder (II Samuel, chapters 11-12). By God’s grace David repented and was forgiven by God, even though there would be temporal consequences to his sins for the rest of his life.
But this was not good enough for Ahithophel, for the sordid affair stuck in him like a porcupine quill, working itself ever deeper. Ahithophel resigned his post, and retired to his family home at Giloh. There he brooded like a hen hatching a clutch of rotten eggs. When David’s son Absalom rebelled and took up arms against his father, Ahithophel was sought out as Absalom’s counselor.
Do you smell a betrayal?
When David and his loyal supporters fled from Jerusalem, Ahithophel advised Absalom to immediately pursue, search and destroy. But Ahithophel’s prudent counsel was not followed, allowing David to escape and regroup. When Ahithophel learned of the opportunity so squandered, he went back to his home, put his affairs in order and hung himself. But why? In anger that his counsel was not taken? In despair over being a traitor to God’s anointed?
Perhaps, but there appears to be more to consider; the “rest of the story,” as it were. Scripture notes that Ahithophel was the father of Eliam (II Samuel 23:34), and that Eliam had a daughter named Bathsheba. We can surely imagine how Ahithophel doted on his beautiful granddaughter, and was much taken by the valiant captain in David’s army whom she married—Uriah the Hittite. But then temptation raised its head and struck like a cobra.
Bathsheba mourned her dead husband. David sorrowed over his sin. But could tears bring back Uriah from his grave, or remove the stain from Bathsheba’s reputation? God forgave David, but it seems as though Ahithophel could not. Perhaps it was knowing that David would survive and overcome that prompted Ahithophel, in tragic despair, to take his own life.
We hope and pray that there are no Christians who ever follow the path of Judas, who could not believe that the Lord would forgive him. Surely, he rejected the glorious truth that his Master and Friend was delivered up and would die on the cross to earn that very forgiveness for him. In hanging himself, he committed eternal suicide.
Perhaps more common is the sin of Ahithophel—refusing to forgive. Jesus taught us to forgive our enemies, just as He did. But we sometimes have trouble forgiving even our friends. Jesus told us to forgive seventy times seven. But we can barely count to seven, or three. Because of our sinful nature we are weak and love to hold grudges. But St. Paul countered that he (and we) could do all things through Christ who gives strength (Philippians 4:13). We do not earn the Lord’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but we may forfeit it by not.
So beware of the suicide brothers. Run instead to our Brother Jesus who invites and promises, “Come unto Me
all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you
rest . . . rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). In His grace may we always seek His restful forgiveness, and in His strength willingly forgive.
David Fuerstenau is pastor of Holy Truth Lutheran Church in Ketchikan, Alaska.