Thursday, March 27, 2003

Judas Iscariot

This is the second post of a series that looks at Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. To start at the beginning, click here.

What causes one friend to turn on another? Obviously, there will not be a single answer. Betrayal can be unpremeditated, premeditated, or part of a sting, in which friendship is feigned. Peter's denial was not premeditated. With strong language, Peter denied that he ever knew Jesus. That was a form of betrayal, but Peter was in harm's way and was weaker than he imagined. Judas' betrayal was premeditated. He conceived the project and systematically carried it through. In this lesson, I plan to lay the groundwork for understanding the nature of Judas' betrayal by looking at what, I believe, are two similar circumstances.

David and Ahithophel

Ahithophel was the father of Eliam, one of David's "mighty men." Ahithophel was also David's advisor. And he was good:

In those days Ahithophel’s advice was considered as valuable as a prophetic revelation. Both David and Absalom highly regarded the advice of Ahithophel. (2 Samuel 16:23, The Net Bible)

Ahithophel stayed loyal to David until David's son, Absalom, revolted against his father:

The king replied to him, “Go in peace.” So he got up and went to Hebron. Then Absalom sent spies through all the tribes of Israel who said, “When you hear the sound of the horn, you may assume that Absalom rules in Hebron.” Now two hundred men had gone with Absalom from Jerusalem. Since they were invited, they went naively and were unaware of what Absalom was planning. While he was offering sacrifices, Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s advisor, to come from his city, Giloh. The conspiracy was gaining momentum, and the people were starting to side with Absalom. (2 Samuel 15:9-12)

Absalom had the upper hand so David gathered his family and left Jerusalem. During the exit, David learned that Ahithophel had joined the other side:

As David was going up the Mount of Olives, he was weeping as he went; his head was covered and his feet bare. All the people who were with him also had their heads covered and were weeping as they went up. Now David had been told, “Ahithophel has sided with the conspirators who are with Absalom." So David prayed, “Make the advice of Ahithophel foolish, O Lord!” (2 Samuel 15:30-31)

The Lord did just that. He confounded the advice of Ahithophel, which led to his doom:

When Ahithophel realized that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and returned to his house in his hometown. After setting his household in order, he hanged himself. So he died and was buried in the grave of his father. (2 Samuel 17:23)

Clearly, this man understood the value of his own advice!

Why did Ahithophel betray David?

  • He judged David to be a lost cause. Absalom clearly had the upper hand. Ahithophel did not see a means by which David could escape and regain the throne.
  • He did not want to pay the price of being faithful. He did not immediately know that David would retreat, and did not want to be among the dead when Absalom prevailed.
  • He had a grievance. Ahithophel was the father of Eliam who was the father of Bathsheba. In other words, the woman David messed with was Ahithophel's granddaughter. 
  • He believed he could do better with Absalom. Ahithophel wanted to be on the winning and advancing side.

Many of these same points will emerge as this study looks at Judas.

Haman and Zeresh

This pair comes from the Book of Esther. Haman was the enemy of the Jews. Zeresh was his wife. When Queen Esther invited Haman to a banquet, Zeresh was pleased. Her husband was ascending in the court. She advised him to build gallows on which to hang Mordecai, his political enemy. 

However, the next day, Haman, at the command of the king, was paraded Mordecai around the city in honor. Zeresh concluded  the tide had turned against her husband. Look at these verses:

Before: Haman’s wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a gallows seventy-five feet high built, and in the morning tell the king that Mordecai should be hanged on it. Then go satisfied with the king to the banquet.” It seemed like a good idea to Haman, so he had the gallows built. (Esther 5:14)

After: Haman then related to his wife Zeresh and to all his friends everything that had happened to him. These wise men, along with his wife Zeresh, said to him, “If indeed this Mordecai before whom you have begun to fall is Jewish, you will not be adequate for him. No, you will surely fall before him!” (Esther 6:13)

Throughout every province and throughout every city where the king’s edict and his law came, the Jews experienced happiness and joy, banquets and holidays. Many of the resident peoples pretended to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had overcome them. (Esther 8:17)

It doesn't say, but I connect Esther 6:13 and 8:17 and conclude that Zeresh pretended to be a Jew. How quickly and completely she turned on her husband.

Why did Zeresh betray Haman?

  • She judged Haman to be a lost cause.
  • She was not willing to pay the price of being faithful.

Why a Friend Might Turn

A friendship can be based on a commitment to the person and/or commitment to common goals. Both are likely present, but one will be stronger than the other. When friendship is primarily based on perceived common goals rather than the person, it is at risk of betrayal for these reasons:

  • A change or endangerment to the common goals will test the friendship.
  • The emergence of personal risk will also test the friendship.

The situation between David with Ahithophel and Haman with Zeresh show this. Ahithophel shared David's goal for a united kingdom of Israel's tribes. The emergence of Absalom endangered the goal and created personal risk. Ahithophel failed the test. Haman and Zeresh shared the goal of political advancement. The emergence of Mordecai endangered the goal and created personal risk. Zeresh failed the test.

The other reason a friend might turn is the presence of bitterness that leads to a sudden and catastrophic change of heart and attitude. This may have contributed to Ahithophel's decision.


Clearly, I intend to establish a three-fold reason for Judas' betrayal of Jesus. I believe that he concluded that Jesus was a lost cause, that he was not willing to pay the price of being faithful, and that he had a root of bitterness. In the first lesson, I have presented what betrayal is and feels like. This lesson explored why a friend might betray a friend. Tomorrow, I will look at what the scriptures tell us about Judas. Following that, I will construct a plausible story of Judas, Jesus, and betrayal.

Friday: What we know of Judas.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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