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David is insulted by the worthless Nabal, but righteous Abigail saves her foolish husband!
The events of chapter 25 occurred only about two years before David was finally crowned king, and can be dated to about 1012 BC, because David lived in the country of the Philistines for a full year and four months, and he would have gone there very shortly after the events of chapters 25 and 26. By now David and his men had become professional soldiers and they had taken on the role of protecting the inhabitants of the land from marauders, who would raid the villages, destroying crops, raping and pillaging, and from the Philistines who occasionally sent war parties into the southern territory. In return for such protection, David and his men expected to receive food and other necessary provisions from the inhabitants of the southern area.
In Chapter 25 we learn of David's encounter with a wealthy man named Nabal and his wife Abigail as a result of this protective "shepherding" which they were specializing in. David had been protecting the southern part of the country near Carmel, which is southeast of Hebron by Ziph. Nabal had flocks made up of three thousand sheep and a thousand goats and it was sheep-shearing day and a time for celebration (25:2). David sent ten of his young men to meet Nabal and ask provisions for the army, partly as a good-will payment for the protection they had afforded his men, but Nabal answered them roughly (v10-111):"Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? There be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?"
It may seem at first that Nabal does not even know who David is and, if this were true, Nabal would simply be refusing to give a gift to a stranger. But this seems unlikely, for Nabal is informed that David is "the son of Jesse." He would surely know from this that David is one of the descendants of Judah, just as he is, for we learn that Nabal is a "Calebite" (verse 3), and we know Caleb is the representative of the tribe of Judah sent into Canaan to spy out the land (Numbers 13:6). In other words, David is a distant relative of Nabal and, more than that, a famous relative who the whole of Judah would surely have been discussing because of his already legendary exploits. Yet Nabal is unmoved by his request for a gift at this time of celebration.
However, Nabal knows much more than this for, not only does he know that David is a "son of Jesse," he is also well aware of the tension between Saul and David for he speaks of David as a "servant of Saul," who is "breaking away from his master." We also have the evidence of Abigail, Nabal's wife, who reveals that she knows that David is the one designated to reign in Saul's place in verses 30-31("And it shall come about when the Lord shall do for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and shall appoint you ruler over Israel, that this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself. When the Lord shall deal well with my lord, then remember your maidservant"). It appears that Nabal deliberately speaks of David as only a servant who has fled from his master, as though he were a mere runaway slave. It does not even appear true that Nabal refuses David's request out of fear of reprisal from Saul, knowing what happened to Ahimelech and the priests when the high priest gave David some of the sacred bread to eat and returned Goliath's sword. His message to David is not couched in any words that would speak of fear of reprisal, but purely of selfishness and meanness. He will not share with David and his men anything that is his and we notice the repeated use of "my" in verse 11. When the young men returned empty-handed and reported his words to David he was enraged and cried, "Gird ye on every man his sword." So, with four hundred of his men, he set out to get revenge.
We need to understand the nature of David's request and the reason for his fury. In Israel's history the completion of sheep shearing resulted in a time of celebration for all the workers, and for anyone else nearby who was not so fortunate. It was during this festive time, in earlier history, that Judah went up to Timnah, and there, due to his own predictable sinfulness, impregnated his daughter-in-law Tamar (Genesis 38:12-26). Later, at this same time of celebration, Absalom persuades David to let his sons come to his home to celebrate, thus enabling Absalom to have his revenge against Amnon by killing him (2 Samuel 13:23-29). We know that at such times the Law of Moses instructed the Israelites to be generous with those who were not so fortunate (cf. Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:10-13; Nehemiah 8:10-12).6 So, for David to ask Nabal for a gift was not unusual at all and, since David's men had contributed to Nabal's well-being and wealth, David's request was more than reasonable.
We need to consider David's apparently excessive reaction to this rejection by Nabal, for David has shown himself willing to deal with the harsh treatment handed out by Saul but not with the insults of Nabal. I believe the answer also lies partly in their stations in life. First, Saul is David's superior in terms of authority, and David accepts that he is Saul's servant and is therefore willing to take unfair treatment from his superior. Second, David has been promised the kingdom, once Saul has been de-throned by God, so David can handle abuse from Saul because he knows that before long he will fill Saul's vacated throne. Conversely, Nabal is not David's superior, and he does not like the treatment he receives from him. Furthermore, David is not thinking or acting as a man of faith when he sets out to kill Nabal and all the males in his household. David expects an immediate "return on his investment" of serving Nabal and he expects the reward to come from Nabal, and now. He is not showing signs of a man with his eyes fixed on heaven at this moment in history!
How many times do we minister to others with a measuring stick in our hands? We are willing to love and serve others sacrificially, but with a certain set of expectations. We expect that sacrificial love and service should be reciprocated. When in return for our doing good, our neighbour returns evil for good, as David experiences here, we get upset and look for some way to retaliate. We forget that, like Christ, our words and deeds may bring about persecution and suffering, rather than approval and gratitude. Our reward in heaven will be great, but there may be no such rewards on earth. We need to be careful to do our good works as to the Lord, looking to Him for our reward, and not expecting to be the recipients of rewards for our sacrificial service. David may have learned here that the problem with acting like a servant is that people begin to treat you like a servant! It is one thing to serve in order to be promoted; it is something quite different to serve to be demoted - even if it is only in the eyes of the un-godly in this world! We need to remember that all too many of us reason the same way David does in our text.
However, one of Nabal's servants reported the incident to Abigail, Nabal's wife, testifying to the protection David had offered them. As a result of Nabal's discourteous behaviour, he concluded (v171), "evil is determined against our master, and against all his house-hold, for he is such a son of belial, that a man cannot speak to him." Abigail was afraid for her household, but she was a spiritual woman and quickly collected generous provisions, including two hundred loaves of bread, two jugs of wine, and five dressed sheep. Some may ask where Abigail "immediately" obtained all of these supplies from - particularly five dressed sheep, in addition to a generous portion of grain, raisins, and figs. We know that while Abigail is gone, Nabal is having a feast fit for a king in his house (v36), so it would appear likely that the supplies Abigail sends to David come from Nabal's planned feast. Even so, it is apparent that he does not lack anything and this makes his sin all the more heinous. So Abigail started out to meet David, sending some of her servants ahead, without telling her foolish husband, Nabal. When she met David she fell on her face before him and began to plead (v24-251), "Upon me, my lord, upon me let the iniquity be: . . . Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him." Everything Abigail does and says conveys her attitude of submission, for six times in this paragraph Abigail speaks of herself as David's maidservant, and fourteen times she refers to David as "my lord." She begins by pleading with David to place all the blame on her, on her alone. Does David plan to avenge himself by killing Nabal and all the males in his household? Abigail pleads with David to take out his anger on her, if he must. In this, Abigail not only attempts to save the life of her husband, but the lives of her household as well. Clearly Abigail holds her husband in contempt, for she readily makes use of the meaning of his name, for Nabal meant "fool," yet who could deny that he has lived up to his name. She informs David that she has had no part of Nabal's decision to insult him and send his servants away empty-handed and, clearly, the donkeys standing nearby laden down with supplies add credence to her statement. There is good reason for Abigail to call her husband a fool in our text, for it may be the very thing which keeps him alive when we remember that David sought to save his life by pretending to be a lunatic. The king became convinced that David was crazy and did not kill him, but simply drove him out of town, for there is no honour or status in killing fools. Pretending to be a fool saved David's life. Calling Nabal a fool may well have saved Nabal's life. Abigail has succeeded in convincing David that killing Nabal will not be worth the effort, and she now presses on to show David how taking vengeance will be detrimental to him and with these words she indicates that the hand of God is in all of this, that God is restraining David from shedding innocent blood and from avenging himself. She expresses her certainty that if David leaves vengeance to God, God will deal appropriately with Nabal, as with all others who seek evil against David. In verse 28-313, Abigail makes a marvellous prophecy:
28 "Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant; for the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you all your days. 29 "And should anyone rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, then the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies He will sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 "And it shall come about when the Lord shall do for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and shall appoint you ruler over Israel, 31 that this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself. When the Lord shall deal well with my lord, then remember your maidservant."
Does her husband Nabal reject David as a nobody, a mere trouble-maker? Abigail knows better and assures David that he will become Israel's king and that his kingdom will last. The amazing thing about Abigail's words is that God does not directly reveal this to David until 2 Samuel 7. Abigail's words go beyond the revelations given to David up to this point. David fights "the Lord's battles," she says, and for this reason, evil shall not be found in him all of his days. If anyone does rise up against David to seek his life, David should know that his life is precious to God. On the other hand, the lives of his enemies are worthless and she prophesies that God will sling them out as from the hollow of a sling. Abigail's choice of words is very significant for, of all the images she could draw upon, she chooses to employ the imagery of a sling, the very weapon David used to kill Goliath.7 For Abigail, there is no doubt about it, David is Israel's next king and we know that God's promise to David about this matter will be fulfilled, and God will appoint him ruler over Israel (v30). How tragic it would be for David to have a dark cloud over that kingdom, a cloud brought about by his own impetuous acts of seeking vengeance and shedding innocent blood. The Old Testament Law of Moses sets down the principle of justice: "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (cf. Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38). Although Nabal has insulted David it is his crime and the males of his household have done no wrong to David or his men, so far as we are told. To kill Nabal and the males of his household for being selfish and insulting is to shed innocent blood, because the punishment is worse than the crime. We cannot help but notice this lovely example given by Abigail, for she is not only a beautiful and wise woman, but an excellent and unusual example of godly submission. As a result of her intercession, David's heart was made tender toward her and he replied to her (v32-343):
32 Then David said to Abigail, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, 33 and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed, and from avenging myself by my own hand. 34 "Nevertheless, as the Lord God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from harming you, unless you had come quickly to meet me, surely there would not have been left to Nabal until the morning light as much as one male."
The seriousness of what he had been about to do is put into perspective when we remember that just a short time before David had said to Saul (I Samuel 24:121), "May the Lord avenge me of thee, but mine hand shall not be upon thee". In the heat of anger, David had temporarily forgotten that the Lord is the avenger and he was about to avenge himself but, thanks to Abigail, his temper calmed down, he abandoned his intention, and received from her hand the provisions she had brought in return for the safety he and his men had provided. Abigail's words ring true to David. What she says squares with all that God has taught David. He knows she is right, and he now admits it by praising her before all of his men. David recognizes that Abigail is literally a Godsend, and that by means of her words and deeds, God has kept him from wrong doing by taking vengeance against Nabal, and thus shedding innocent blood. Had she not acted quickly, as she did, David would have carried out his plan. She has saved David from folly and guilt, and at the same time spared the life of her husband and every male in her household. Granting her request, David accepts the gift from Abigail and sends her home in peace.
Abigail returned home to find Nabal in the midst of a feast, drunken, and so she waited until "the wine was gone out of Nabal" and then told him what she had done. When he heard of his narrow escape (v373), "his heart died within him, and he became as a stone." Apparently he had a stroke and, as a result, (v383) "about ten days later, it happened that the Lord struck Nabal, and he died." When David heard of the fate of Nabal, he exclaimed, "Blessed be the Lord, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept his servant from evil" (v391). God had avenged Himself and David - which we find to be a constant and recurring theme through the Psalms. David responds with wonder and gratitude and praises God for pleading his cause and removing the reproach of Nabal. He declares that God has indeed kept him from evil and recognises how much better it is to have left vengeance with God. The Lord removed Nabal, not David, and that is the way it is supposed to be, and it is all due to the wisdom of this lovely woman, Abigail. David sends messengers to the door of Abigail's home with a simple, but powerful, proposal of marriage (v403): "David has sent us to you to take you as his wife." This decisive woman does not have to be asked twice. Quickly she bows to the ground, humbly accepting the offer. She does not look upon herself as David's queen, but as his maidservant, who will happily wash the feet of his servants (v41). She gets up, and accompanied by her five maidens, follows David's men to his place of hiding, where she becomes his wife. Since Nabal was dead, David took Abigail to be his third wife, for we learn from verse 43 that he had also taken Ahinoam of Jezreel. However, he had lost his first wife Michal, the daughter of Saul, for her father had given her to Palti, the son of Laish from Gallim, after David had fled from the presence of Saul.
We can see that, through the sequence of events described in chapter 25, God provides David with a very wise helpmeet, who compensates for the loss of Samuel and Michal. Abigail's words to David virtually echo the prophecies of Samuel concerning David. Abigail's wisdom enables her to be an intimate companion and counsellor to her husband and her beauty must have gone a long way to soothe the loss of Michal. How marvellous are the Lord's provisions, for it is He who deals with Nabal, far better than David and it is He who now gives the widow of Nabal to David, as a woman David can respect and love. This is a clear lesson to us that God faithfully provides for our needs, at the time He knows we need it.
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