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Question of identity

A friend of mine phoned for advice about a relationship. We spoke for a half hour, in which I told her what I thought. Then I passed the phone to my husband. He had a different take on the matter and offered her counsel that was more godly and changed her entire outlook for the better. Weeks later she is still expressing gratitude for his insight.

What does it feel like when you think of yourself as biblically astute and it turns out your counsel is straw and another’s gold? It’s not so bad to have your counsel rejected if you never thought of yourself as a counselor. If you thought of yourself as a plumber or bricklayer, then it is not a profound shaking to have someone reject your views. But if “counselor” is part of your self-identity, then to miss the mark can be devastating: “Who am I, then, if I am not a counselor?”

A man named Ahithophel (B.C. 1055-1023) was known far and wide for his wise counsel:

“Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absolom [David’s son]” (2 Samuel 16:23).

We can just imagine him holding his head high in the courts of the king. We can just imagine the courtiers and gentry, whenever hearing his name, saying, “Ah, yes, Ahithophel the counselor.” What delight to his ears.

One day Absolom organized a mutiny against his father, and Ahithophel took sides with the prince over the king. David then beat a hasty retreat out of town with a few supporters, rather than find himself in a war against his own son. Absolom summoned Ahithophel into his circle of advisors to know what he should do next. Ahithophel rightly judged that the usurper’s only chance was an immediate surprise attack while David was weak and weary. The brass was impressed.

Just for good measure, Absolom then called an old man named Hushai for a second opinion. But Hushai was a plant, a spy busy transmitting updates to the exiled king through the priests Abiathar and Zadok, and sent by David to undermine the treasonous Ahithophel’s counsel. Hushai’s eloquent and plausibly clever advice obtained the delay David and his men needed in order to catch a breather and regroup.

It is at this point that Ahithophel heard the words that utterly destroyed his life:

“And Absolom and all the men of Israel said, ‘The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel ’ …” (2 Samuel 17:14).

Ahithophel left the room, perhaps slinking unnoticed out the back door, put his affairs in order—and hanged himself.

Maybe some of you think it’s no big deal when someone prefers another’s advice to yours. That’s because your identity is not in your counseling. But here is the question for you to probe: Where is your identity? Is it in your gourmet cooking? Your intellect? Your beauty? Your charming personality?

If you are one of the Lord’s, He will use events to strip you down to the basics—your identity as a blood-bought sinner saved by grace. The Apostle Paul found it so and was grateful for the clarity:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord …” (Philippians 3:8).

Of course, we can spare ourselves the painful humbling if we search ourselves to see where we have harbored idols and misplaced identities:

“… if we judged ourselves truly we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31).

Truth is such a relief.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.


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True, Hans. I am glad that when my identity was shattered that the Lord himself took me up, and I didn't have to go out and hang myself. lol


To be fair, I think the reason that Ahithophel hanged himself is not for the theological reason that he had placed his identity in being a counselor, but in the fact that he knew (correctly) that Absolom's failure to heed good counsel meant that the whole rebellion was doomed, which meant that he would be much worse than hanged when David regained the throne. He gambled everything on Absolom, and he lost.Still the larger point stands. When our inadequacies are exposed, it can be rather deflating, if not outright devastating.

Neil Evans

"Truth is such a relief."Only to those who love TRUTH more than self.This is a wonderful testimony of one who indeed demonstrates love of TRUTH above self.