2. Abigail (I Samuel 25:1-44)Related Media
Can you remember the last difficult conversation you had with someone?
One that caused some anxiety or concern? One that you really didn’t want to have but you did? Those kinds of conversations are hard to forget because they are difficult and sometimes risky. Nobody really likes conflict but it is inevitable. It’s in how we handle conflict and how we handle difficult conversations that matters.
Today, our lesson is all about difficult conversations and our woman of influence is Abigail.
A. The Main Characters:
The fact that David was a former shepherd plays critically into this story. But we also know that he is a giant killer. He, with God’s help, killed the huge Goliath. His fame was also well-known as an excellent military leader. Because of this, Saul, the King, hated him, was jealous and envious, wanting David dead. David at this time is a fugitive on the run for his life. Our story is sandwiched between two stories of David escaping Saul’s capture. Imagine the mindset of this man David; a shepherd/warrior who must be quick and sharp and always on guard seeing potential danger and vulnerability around the corner. He’s probably in his early 30’s. Remember Scriptures tell us he was “Ruddy-cheeked, bright-eyed and handsome” (I Samuel 16:12) “handsome features, beautiful eyes” This is a good-looking man.
I Samuel 25:2, 3b A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. 3 His name was Nabal…(he) was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.
He was a wealthy, powerful landowner who also was a Calebite. It’s likely that being in this area, Carmel, that he was a descendant of Caleb, one of the spies that Moses sent to check out the Promised Land. Caleb and Joshua were the only two men that came back with a favorable report. When the people of Israel finally arrived in the promised land, this area was given to Caleb as his inheritance, this area around Hebron. Here is where our story is located. This is Caleb country and Nabal was a powerful Calebite. But he was also a harsh man, mean, obstinate, unyielding, hard to get along with, hard to live with and “his deeds were evil.” His very name in Hebrew means “fool.” Somehow, someway he married Abigail.
I Samuel 25:3a She was an intelligent and beautiful woman
“The Rabbis depict Abigail as a wise and practical woman, capable of acting at the right moment and in the right way…(they) include Abigail among the four most beautiful women who ever lived..she is also mentioned among the seven women prophets of Israel.”1
Jewish history respects this woman. She is smart, wise, gorgeous, sensitive, discerning, quick to take action, generous, bold. This is a woman willing to confront a conflict, willing to have a difficult conversation to protect her husband, her household and herself. She is willing to take a risk to achieve peace.
II. The Story
1. David’s Request And Nabal’s Answer Then David’s Response (v. 2-13)
Our story opens when we are in the midst of sheep shearing in Carmel. It’s a festive time, a party time, when the sheep are gathered, shorn and their wool is sold. Money is made. David hears that Nabal is shearing his sheep. The back story is when Nabal’s sheep and his shepherds were camped near David’s men, David’s men did not take any advantage of the flocks, instead they defended these flocks. They safeguarded them, perhaps from roaming bands of raiding Amalekites or Philistines or natural disasters or wild animals. They had been, as the servant tells Abigail, a “wall” of protection around Nabal’s sheep. So, David sends messengers to Nabal with an equitable, a customary request: can we share in the feast?
I Samuel 25:5-8 So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. 6 Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!7 “‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. 8 Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore, be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’”
Can we share in the celebration too? Can we join? They asked and then waited for an answer.
I Samuel 25:10-11 Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. 11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”
Nabal explodes. Who is David? Who is this son of Jesse? This rude reply shows contempt for David, implying that he is just a runaway servant of Saul, and his men are runaways deserving nothing. 2 Nabal was either simply regarding David as a rebel, fugitive of the law; or more likely he was sincerely unwilling to part with his money, his food or his drink. He refused to acknowledge David’s help in protecting his investments. But the servants tell us more:
I Samuel 25:14 One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them.
Nabal “screamed at them” (NET); “tore into them with insults” (MSG). These 10 men go back to David and tell him exactly what happened. Remember this is a reasonable request that has been denied with insulting language. This is a gross injustice to David. As he listens to the messengers his anger keeps rising.
I Samuel 25:13 David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So, they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.
“Put on your swords.” In Texas, we would say “gets your guns and let’s go”. This is going to be a bloody shoot out. David is out to revenge this insult. But Abigail enters the story, a woman of calm courage, a woman who will be very influential in the outcome. As David and his men are preparing for a confrontation, meanwhile…
2. Abigail’s Preparation
Back at Nabal’s house, the alarmed servants inform Abigail of the situation, begging her to help intervene. We’re given an insightful statement about Nabal
I Samuel 25:17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”
No one can talk to him, no one can tell him when he is wrong. When someone is described that way, I am on alert, aren’t you? That characteristic really scares me, no matter who they are. Everyone, especially leaders, especially CEO’s like Nabal, need someone who can honestly talk to them and correct them when they’re off base. But “fools” don’t listen to others.
Wise Abigail, on the other hand, is listening. She springs into action. Somehow, I imagine this is not her first time covering for her husband. She knows she’s got to run interference. As she is thinking, she is planning and preparing. She knows she has to have a difficult conversation with an angry man who is not her husband. Step back and think of her possible choices.
- She could have run off and left Nabal to whatever David would do to him
- She could have been so paralyzed with fear that she did nothing
- She could have denied the urgency of the situation and said it’s not that bad, let’s just overlook it.
Instead, she puts all of her energies into saving the life of her husband and his household.
I Samuel 25:18-19 Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.
Only a woman could pull this off.
“Can you imagine instantly whipping up an equivalent Thanksgiving meal of, say, sixty smoked turkeys, one hundred dozen yeast rolls, twenty-five pounds of butter, three hundred pounds of mashed potatoes, twenty gallons of gravy, fifty fruitcakes, and two hundred assorted pies, then transporting the entire assemblage miles out of town without your husband’s even knowing about it? Perhaps, if his life depended on it, you can”3
3. Abigail’s Appeal To David (v. 23-31)
Imagine donkeys laden with food slowly traveling through the countryside. Abigail eventually catches up with them. She moves to the front of the caravan. As she descends into the ravine, she meets David descending from the opposite direction to meet her with 400 men, 400 angry men. The first thing she does is quickly get off her donkey and humbly bow before David. What she does is so important but what she says to David turns the whole situation completely around.
I Samuel 25:24-31 “My master, let me take the blame! Let me speak to you. Listen to what I have to say. Don’t dwell on what that brute Nabal did. He acts out the meaning of his name: Nabal, Fool. Foolishness oozes from him. 25-27 “I wasn’t there when the young men my master sent arrived. I didn’t see them. And now, my master, as God lives and as you live, God has kept you from this avenging murder—and may your enemies, all who seek my master’s harm, end up like Nabal! Now take this gift that I, your servant girl, have brought to my master, and give it to the young men who follow in the steps of my master.28-29 “Forgive my presumption! But God is at work in my master, developing a rule solid and dependable. My master fights God’s battles! As long as you live no evil will stick to you. If anyone stands in your way, if anyone tries to get you out of the way, Know this: Your God-honored life is tightly bound in the bundle of God-protected life; But the lives of your enemies will be hurled aside as a stone is thrown from a sling. 30-31 “When God completes all the goodness he has promised my master and sets you up as prince over Israel, my master will not have this dead weight in his heart, the guilt of an avenging murder. And when God has worked things for good for my master, remember me.” (The Message)
She says “Forgive my foolish husband!” “I did not know your men asked for food, or I would have filled their saddlebags. Have mercy on us. You are fighting God’s battles, and evil shall not be found in you. You are the prince of Israel. Because God has treated you well, show the concern for us.”4
It’s interesting that Abigail is looking both at the situation now and she’s also seeing the future for David. She says: Please take the food, please forgive my husband. Don’t do anything rash that might endanger or change God’s plans for you. I know His hand is on you and one day when He has made you leader over all Israel, you don’t want to have this bloodshed on your resume. You don’t want to get revenge this way. That’s not who you are, David. She called forth the best in him. She helped him see a better way
4. David’s Response (v. 32-35)
David, as he listened to Abigail, he heard God speaking to him through her wise words
I Samuel 25:32-33 David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.
God used Abigail to keep David from seeking to avenge himself and he is grateful. She kept him from sinning and in return he backs off. He accepts her gifts and says “I have listened to you, I have heard your words, go home in peace.” And that’s exactly what she does, she goes home.
5. Abigail And Nabal (v. 36-38)
When she gets there, she finds Nabal drunk, oblivious to the danger that has been adverted. It would seem the party is still going on, Nabal “having a good time, very intoxicated” (v. 36) Wisely Abigail knows that he’s in no condition to understand what she might tell him, so she waits until morning after he sobers up. Remember Nabal had met David’s messengers, he knew their request, now Abigail tells him the rest of the story.
I Samuel 25:37 His heart died within him, and he became as stone.
The word “stone” points to some sort of paralysis. “It seems that when Nabal hears what happened and to what terrible danger he was exposed, he suffers a stroke and becomes paralyzed and ten days later he dies”5
I Samuel 25:38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died
God struck him dead. In life, Scripture teaches us there is cause and effect. “We reap what we sow”
Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Nabal was a selfish fool and the Lord struck him, dead.
6. David’s Marriage To Abigail (v. 39-43)
Word gets to David. Again, David praises God seeing his hand of protection in sending Abigail who prevents him from killing Nabal. His stepping aside allowed God to handle the situation his way.
I want to stop and remind us that David is a young handsome man and Abigail is a beautiful young widow. David sends messengers to ask Abigail to be his wife; to “propose marriage.” He did not take her by force. Her response, her willing response, indicates she had a choice and she chose to go to him “quickly” (v. 42). She went to David and became his wife. She’s actually his third wife; Michal, Ahinoam and then Abigail. Eventually, Abigail and David have a son named Chileab.
III. The Lessons
Truth: Conflicts are inevitable, and can be opportunities to honor God.
We know that the Scriptures are full of conflicts: in families, in marriages, in governments, in synagogues and churches. I have a book entitled: “When two or more are gathered together, someone spills the milk.” Knowing that we have conflicts, Jesus gave several instructions on how to resolve our conflicts in ways that are honor God in the process. Let’s look at what Abigail did through the lenses of biblical peacemaking. Much of this material was gained through Peacemaking Ministries.
When you’re facing conflicts, what do you do first?
Working with women and men through Bible Study Fellowship or on a church staff, I have often sat across the table with someone who wants to talk about a conflict in their life. I carry a little card that is quite helpful. The front is entitled “The Slippery Slope, Staying on Top of Conflict” It diagrams the ways we handle conflicts. Our responses to conflicts often determine whether we “fake peace” or we “break peace” or we “make peace”. Scriptures are clear, we are called to try to make peace, always remembering what Paul wrote.
Romans 12:18 If it’s possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
In this story, what does she do first?
She is not running away, not denying the danger, not planning to murder David when he comes. Instead she decides to go and try to make peace. Going, for most of us, is the hardest step, the barrier we don’t want to overcome. Wouldn’t it be easier just to let it go and isn’t it better to just overlook an offense? But sometimes you cannot. So how do you know when you must go?
A. If You Have Offended Someone.
Matthew 5:23 If you are offering your gifts at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, Go and be reconciled.
B. If Someone Has Offended You And You Can’t Overlook It
Matthew 18:15 If your brother sins against you, GO and show him his fault, just between the two of you
When we face conflicts, most likely we will have to go and face it personally. I’m often asked, can’t I just write a letter? Email, text? You can, it may be necessary that you do, but know this: When we communicate with others, 60-80% of what is conveyed is through body language; the rest is communicated with our words. I have a personal policy of not talking about anything really serious, or emotional, or complex through email. I pick up the phone if I think I’m going to be misunderstood and going in person is usually the best, though often the hardest. Abigail went to David. Abigail decided to GO and confront David. She also decided to:
We’ve seen how she prepared and then sent the gifts of food. The withholding of food was the very thing that initiated the conflict. Yet, Abigail prepares to make this right by loading the donkeys full of food. As she was quickly assembling these provisions, I’m sure she was preparing her words. What she would say when she met David; how she would say it, must have played out in her mind, in her thoughts as she got ready to go.
As we prepare to Go and talk with someone, we start with PRAYER, asking God to help us first see the conflict from His point of view, praying for honesty, wisdom, courage.
I can remember a conflict that I had caused with a neighbor, I knew I had to GO and try to resolve it. It made me sick. Do you know that feeling? I wanted to avoid her at all costs but how do you do that when you live on the same block? And God wouldn’t let me go until I would GO. I remember writing out what I needed to say because I knew I’d probably stumble and leave out/add to my words. So, part of my preparation was to think out the words, jot them down, and put them in my heart.
Abigail decided to GO and confront the conflict, she PREPARED the gifts and what she was going to say so when they met she was ready.
She SPEAKS with humility not only in her words but also in posture. “She is polite far beyond what is required.”6 She addresses him with great respect as if he were already the king, using words like “my lord, my master”. She knew, as we do too, that how you say something is as important as what you say. Just as her words explained the situation and sought to resolve the conflict, we too need to have that goal in our difficult conversations: explaining, understanding, affirming, when appropriate asking forgiveness, offering solutions, seeking to restore relationships, making peace.
What life lesson do we learn from Abigail? A practical and often needed lesson is:
When its necessary we need to be willing to confront a difficult conversation, seeking peace with discernment and grace.
Have you been thinking of a conflict in your life? A difficult conversation you need to have soon? Are you willing? Abigail saved her household and the reputation of a future king by being willing to confront a difficult conversation. She was a peacemaker for Israel. We too can be a woman of influence for good, like Abigail. Are you willing?
1 Tamar Kadari, “Abigail: Midrash and Aggadah” jwa.org
2 The Jewish Study Bible, 608.
3 Debra Evans, Women of Character (Grand Rapids, Zondervan 1996) 112.
4 Lindsay Hardin Freeman, Bible Women (Forward Movement, 2014) 192.
5 The Jewish Study Bible, 610. jwa.org
6 Adele Berlin, “Abigail: Bible”
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