God’s answers to prayer don’t always follow our expectations.
David, king of ancient Israel, was reaping the fruit of his sin. God had told him after his adultery with Bathsheba that, although his sins would be forgiven, his household would never be the same. Sure enough rape and murder and strife descended upon his family like a plague.
Now his son Absalom was leading a coo to take over the kingdom. David cast himself on the Lord.
Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.” 2 Samuel 15:25-26
When it was told David that Ahithophel, one of his trusted counselors, had sided with Absalom, he prayed: O Lord, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”
That’s not what happened.
On the contrary, the advice of Ahithophel to Absalom was anything but foolishness. We are told:
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 Absalom. 2 Samuel 16:23
Things were very much in flux at this point. David was fleeing. Absalom was trying to establish his rule. Absalom turned to Ahithophel for what to do next. “Chase them down. Slaughter them while they are weary and disorganized,” he advised.
But Hushai, another counselor David had sent back and an ally of the rightful king, was given opportunity to speak. His counsel ran contrary to Ahithophel’s. “Lay back. Amass more troops. Then pounce.”
Ahithophel’s advice would have won the day, but Absalom chose Hushai’s counsel over his. Why would that be if the counsel of Ahithophel was so highly esteemed? The text gives us the answer:
And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom. 2 Samuel 17:14
God had answered David’s prayer, but not by turning the counsel of Ahithophel to foolishness. His counsel was money. But God so worked to have Absalom and his cohorts reject the counsel of Ahithophel, treating it as foolishness in their eyes.
This serves as a reminder to us that God achieves His ends in ways different from the way we might map it out. But it also reminds us that God acted in answer to prayer. David’s prayer and God’s actions in response to it are conspicuous in the account, part of the discourse of history and dynamic in its unfolding.
Again, as He does so often, our God encourages us to pray. And he protects us from the discouragement that can come when we don’t see things unfolding as we would want or expect.