Dear Abby (1 Samuel 25:1-44)
Not that often, but every once in a while I feel like I have done something right. The worst part is that it seems all too soon thereafter I do something stupid and sinful. The only consolation (not excuse, mind you) I find is that I have a lot of company in my spiritual state. I think first of Peter (who doesn’t?), the first disciple to blurt out the right answer to our Lord’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20). For this our Lord commended Peter, and yet within a few moments, our Lord rebuked Peter with these words, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (verse 23) for attempting to talk Him out of dying on the cross of Calvary. Later on, Peter assures his Lord that even though all the other apostles deny Him, he will be faithful (Luke 22:31-34). Only a few verses and a few hours later Peter denies his Lord, not once, but three times (Luke 22:54-62).
In the Old Testament, we see the same fickle faith and obedience, even in a man as highly esteemed (today) as David. Chapter 24 of 1 Samuel is certainly one of the high water marks of David’s faith. King Saul stops at a cave to use it as a restroom, and unknowingly puts his life in the hands of David and his men hiding at the back of the cave. David refuses to raise a hand against the king and forbids his men to harm him. He even regrets his act of cutting off a portion of Saul’s robe. Finally, he puts himself at great risk by revealing himself to the king to show the king that he is a faithful servant, and not a criminal waiting for the right moment to take the king’s life.
One chapter later, David loses his temper because he is insulted by a foolish man. David is ready not only to kill this rich fool, but every male in his household. It is a wise woman who, at her own risk, acts in a way that spares her husband’s life and keeps David from acting foolishly. I believe the author of 1 Samuel wants us to look upon Abigail, Nabal’s wife, as not only a beautiful and wise woman, but an example of godly submission. Since her submission takes an unusual form, we must pay close attention to the text we are about to study.
David Suffers a Great Loss
1 Then Samuel died; and all Israel gathered together and mourned for him, and buried him at his house in Ramah. And David arose and went down to the wilderness of Paran.119
Samuel has been one of the central personalities in the Book of 1 Samuel, which is named after him. He was the one who designated and anointed Saul and Israel’s first king (chapters 9 and 10). He was also the prophet who informed Saul that his kingship was going to be taken away (chapters 13 and 15). Samuel was the prophet who anointed David as Saul’s replacement (chapter 16). Samuel was a man to whom David could flee when he was being pursued by Saul (19:18-24). And now, Samuel is dead. What a great loss David must sense. Samuel is dead, he has met with his beloved friend Jonathan for the last time (chapter 23), and his wife Michal, who is also Saul’s daughter, has been given to another man for his wife (25:44). On top of all this, David’s parents have been placed in the care of the king of Moab (22:3). True, David does have 600 men with him, but not a one of them seem to share David’s convictions concerning his submission to King Saul. How lonely David must be.
David, along with many other Israelites, goes to Samuel’s home at Ramah where he mourns for this great man of God. After this time of mourning, David once again goes into hiding in the wilderness of Paran. This is the wilderness where Hagar and her son Ishmael lived after being sent away by Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 21:21). It is also the place where the Israelites camped after leaving Mt. Sinai, and from which the 12 spies were sent to spy out the land of Canaan (Numbers 10:12; 13:3). Now, it is the place of David’s hiding.
Sheering Time is Sharing Time
2 Now there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel; and the man was very rich, and he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. And it came about while he was shearing his sheep in Carmel 3 (now the man's name was Nabal, and his wife's name was Abigail. And the woman was intelligent and beautiful in appearance, but the man was harsh and evil in his dealings, and he was a Calebite), 4 that David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. 5 So David sent ten young men, and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, visit Nabal and greet him in my name; 6 and thus you shall say, 'Have a long life, peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 7 'And now I have heard that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us and we have not insulted them, nor have they missed anything all the days they were in Carmel. 8 'Ask your young men and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we have come on a festive day. Please give whatever you find at hand to your servants and to your son David.' “
We are introduced here to two very important characters in our story, a man named Nabal, and his wife, Abigail. Nabal is a very wealthy man (by ancient standards). His home is in Maon, and his livestock are kept in Carmel, a very few miles away. It is here, near Carmel, that David and his men have been hiding for some time. The name Nabal means fool, and so he is. We are told that he is harsh and evil in his doings (verse 3). His wife is a refreshing contrast. Abigail is a wonderful blend of good looks and good thinking.
David learns that Nabal is sheering his sheep. When the sheering is done, there is a time of celebration for all the workers, and for anyone else nearby who is not so fortunate. During this festive time, Judah goes up to Timnah, and there manages to get his daughter-in-law Tamar pregnant (Genesis 38:12-26). At this 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 (see Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:10-13; Nehemiah 8:10-12). For David to ask Nabal for a gift is not unusual at all. And since David’s men had contributed to Nabal’s well-being and wealth, David’s request is even more reasonable.
David sends ten of his young men to Nabal, who greet Nabal in David’s name and pronounce a blessing upon him and his household. They call Nabal’s attention to the fact that it is sheering time, reminding him that their presence has not been detrimental to him, but they have performed for Nabal a very beneficial service. David’s men have not harmed any of Nabal’s servants. Indeed, David and his men have protected Nabal’s flocks and shepherds. Nabal is encouraged to ask his servants to verify the truth of these words. And so it is that they very politely ask Nabal for a gift, waiting patiently and expectantly for his response.
Nabal Returns Evil for Good
9 When David's young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in David's name; then they waited. 10 But Nabal answered David's servants, and said, “Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are each breaking away from his master. 11 “Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men whose origin I do not know?” 12 So David's young men retraced their way and went back; and they came and told him according to all these words. 13 And David said to his men, “Each of you gird on his sword.” So each man girded on his sword. And David also girded on his sword, and about four hundred men went up behind David while two hundred stayed with the baggage.
There David’s ten men stand before Nabal waiting for a response, and more specifically, for a gift. Nabal has several options. (1) He can send these men back with a word of thanks and a generous gift. (2) Nabal can send David’s servants back with a less than generous gift, barely living up to his obligation. (3) Nabal can send the ten men back to David with an apology (or a word of thanks), but no gift at all. (4) He can send David’s servants back to him without any gift, and insult them at the same time he declines to give. To his great loss, Nabal chooses the last option.
At first glance, it seems from Nabal’s words that he does not even know who David is. If this were true, Nabal would simply be refusing to give a gift to a stranger. But Nabal does know who David is. From his own words, he informs us that David is “the son of Jesse.” He knows from this that David is one of the descendants of Judah, just as he is. 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 yet Nabal is unmoved by his request for a gift at this time of celebration.
Nabal knows much more than this, however. Not only does he know that David is a “son of Jesse,” he is also well aware of the tension between Saul and David. Nabal speaks of David as a “servant of Saul,” who is “breaking away from his master.” Abigail, Nabal’s wife, knows that David is the one designated to reign in Saul’s place (verses 30-31). Nabal speaks only of David as a servant who has fled from his master, as though he were a mere runaway slave. I do not think 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, along with Goliath’s sword. His message to David is not one of fear of reprisal, but one of pure selfishness and meanness. He will not share with David and his men anything that is his (note the repeated “my” in verse 11).
The final words of refusal Nabal speaks are noteworthy. He says to David’s messengers, “Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men whose origin I do not know?” (verse 11, emphasis mine). If I understand Nabal’s words accurately, he is here revealing his own arrogance and snobbery. Nabal is a “Calebite.” He comes from an outstanding family. David and his men, on the other hand, seem to come from obscure or unknown roots. Why should a man of Nabal’s standing give anything to such riffraff? The irony of this is that David and Nabal come from the same root, Judah. And if Nabal thinks he can boast that Caleb is a part of his family tree, he should wake up and realize that he is nothing like his forefather, Caleb, yet David is just this kind of hero.
David’s men return to him empty-handed. They repeat Nabal’s words to David, and David completely “loses his cool.” “Strap on your swords!” David barks this order to his men as he straps on his own sword and heads out to make Nabal pay in a very different way – with his life, and the life of every male120 in his household. In contemporary terms, David has “lost it.” In verses 21 and 22, David is still fuming, and as his words are disclosed to us, we see why:
21 Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have guarded all that this man has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; and he has returned me evil for good. 22 “May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him.”
David is angry because his actions have not brought about the result he expected. He is not taking the “long view” of this matter at all. From his point of view, he has dealt kindly with Nabal, and now it is time for Nabal to deal kindly with him. But instead of giving a blessing to David and his men, Nabal insults them and sends them away empty-handed. All of his good works are for nothing, David concludes. And if Nabal will return evil for good, David is now justified in returning evil for evil.
It would be good to pause here to reflect on David’s attitude and actions. Let me sum up David’s reasoning.
- David does good toward Nabal and all his household.
- David expects Nabal to respond in kind, and instead he receives nothing but an insult.
- David now feels justified in his intention to kill Nabal and every other male in his household.
All too many of us reason the same way David does in our text. But I must tell you that David is wrong, dead wrong. David is wrong to expect that the good we do will be responded to in kind. David has done good to Saul; he has faithfully served him and refused to take his life when given the chance to do so. But Saul responded with evil, rather than with good, which he confessed to David:
18 “You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you. And you have declared today that you have done good to me, that the LORD delivered me into your hand and yet you did not kill me” (1 Samuel 24:17b-18).
David is somehow willing to deal with the treatment Saul hands out, but not with the insults of Nabal. Why? I think we may have a clue. First, Saul is David’s superior, in terms of authority. David is Saul’s servant. He is willing to take unfair treatment from his superior. Second, David has been promised the kingdom, once Saul is out of the picture. David can handle abuse from Saul because he knows that before long he will fill Saul’s vacated throne.
Nabal is not David’s superior, and he does not at all 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. He expects the reward to come from Nabal, now. He is not looking for a heavenly reward, then.
How many of us 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 neighbor gives us evil, like David, we get hot under the collar 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. Let us be careful to do our good works as to the Lord, looking to Him for our reward, and not the recipients of 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.
A Secret Appeal to Abigail
14 But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal's wife, saying, “Behold, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, and he scorned them. 15 “Yet the men were very good to us, and we were not insulted, nor did we miss anything as long as we went about with them, while we were in the fields. 16 “They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the time we were with them tending the sheep. 17 “Now therefore, know and consider what you should do, for evil is plotted against our master and against all his household; and he is such a worthless man that no one can speak to him.”
One of the young men who serve Nabal observes the encounter between David’s servants and Nabal. He knows how much David and his men have benefited his master and how offensive Nabal’s response will be to David. Somehow he knows that David is coming, and that if something dramatic is not done quickly, there will be trouble for all. He also knows that Nabal is a fool, with whom he cannot reason. And so the servant does not speak to Nabal, but quickly appraises Abigail of the situation and the need for decisive action. It seems this servant has a great regard for Abigail and her judgment, which is the reason he seeks her out. He does not suggest to Abigail what she should do, but simply tells her the facts and urges her to act with the wisdom she is known to have.
Abigail Responds While David Reacts
18 Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves of bread and two jugs of wine and five sheep already prepared and five measures of roasted grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 And she said to her young men, “Go on before me; behold, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 And it came about as she was riding on her donkey and coming down by the hidden part of the mountain, that behold, David and his men were coming down toward her; so she met them. 21 Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have guarded all that this man has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; and he has returned me evil for good. 22 “May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him.”
We must take note that Abigail does not ask or inform Nabal about what she is doing. She does not ask because she knows what Nabal’s answer will be. She does not inform him of what she is doing because he will no doubt order the servants not to do as she has instructed. We shall soon see that Abigail’s actions are an example of true submission, even when on the surface they do not appear to be.
Acting quickly, Abigail gathers up generous portions of food which she sends on ahead by her servants. Speed is of the essence. David is on his way, and he is determined to kill every male he encounters at Nabal’s house, including Nabal. It would seem that the supplies reach David and his men before Abigail does, though we are not specifically told so. We are told only that she sends the supplies on ahead of her so as not to delay David’s reception of this gift.
I cannot help but wonder where Abigail got all of those supplies so quickly. I think I know, and if I am right, it is indeed an amusing situation. We know that Abigail sends David 200 loaves of bread, 2 jugs of wine, 5 sheep already prepared, in addition to a generous portion of grain, raisins, and figs. We also know that while Abigail is gone, Nabal is having a feast in his house, a feast fit for a king (verse 36). I believe the supplies Abigail sends to David come from the very supplies Nabal plans to consume at his feast. Can you imagine his face as he walks into the pantry and discovers that a good portion of his banquet is missing? Even so, it is apparent that he does not lack anything.
Having sent the food gift on ahead, Abigail works her way down the mountain, out of sight to David and his men. David likewise comes down from higher ground, only he is still grumbling about Nabal’s insults and rehearsing what he will do when he gets his hands on this ungrateful despot. Without either party recognizing what is happening, David and Abigail are both converging on each other, and suddenly are face to face with each other.
Wise Words Cool Off a Hothead
23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and dismounted from her donkey, and fell on her face before David, and bowed herself to the ground. 24 And she fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the blame. And please let your maidservant speak to you, and listen to the words of your maidservant. 25 “Please do not let my lord pay attention to this worthless man, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name and folly is with him; but I your maidservant did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. 26 “Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, since the LORD has restrained you from shedding blood, and from avenging yourself by your own hand, now then let your enemies, and those who seek evil against my lord, be as Nabal. 27 “And now let this gift which your maidservant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who accompany my lord. 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.”
Suddenly the paths of Abigail and David intersect, and Abigail promptly dismounts, falling on her face before David (just as David did before Saul in the last chapter). Everything Abigail does and says conveys her attitude of submission. 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.
In addition to offering herself as a scapegoat for David’s wrath, Abigail petitions David to listen to the words she wants to speak to him. In this regard, David is very different from Nabal, who does not listen to anyone (verse 17). To his credit and his gain, David does listen. She begins by pleading with him not to take her husband Nabal seriously. She informs David that she has had no part of Nabal’s decision to insult him and send his servants away empty-handed. The donkeys standing nearby, laden down with supplies, certainly add credence to her statement. She tells David that her husband’s character is aptly depicted by his name, Nabal, which means “fool.”
How can this woman call her husband a “fool” and be looked upon so favorably, as she obviously is in our text? The answer is not that difficult. Her husband is a fool. There is no disputing this. The servant knows it (verse 17) and so does anyone else who knows him. There is good reason for Abigail to call her husband a fool in our text. It may be the thing which keeps him alive. Do you remember when David sought to hide out from Saul in Gath, the home town of Goliath? When he realized his life was in danger there, David pretended to be a lunatic. The king would very easily have killed David, if he thought he was sane. But when he became convinced that David was crazy, he did not kill him, but simply drove him out of town. There is no honor, no status in killing fools. Pretending to be a fool saved David’s life. Calling Nabal a fool may well have saved Nabal’s life.
If Abigail has succeeded in convincing David that killing Nabal will not be worth the effort, she now presses on to show David how taking vengeance will be detrimental to him. She begins by pointing out that the Lord has restrained David from shedding blood and from avenging himself by his own hand (verse 26). Is she referring to this very moment, or is she speaking of the way God kept David from avenging himself against Saul, one chapter earlier? I am not certain on this. But with these words she does indicate 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.
Abigail pleads with David to accept the gift she brings and to share it with his men. She begs David to forgive her transgression against him, as though all the guilt is hers. Then she comes to her finest moment. Does her husband Nabal reject David as a nobody, a mere trouble-maker? Abigail knows better. She assures David that he will become Israel’s king and that his kingdom will last.121 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. God will sling them out as from the hollow of a sling.122
For Abigail, there is no doubt about it, David is Israel’s next king. God’s promise to David about this matter will be fulfilled, and God will appoint him ruler over Israel (verse 30). 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 (see Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; see also Matthew 5:38). Nabal has insulted David. That is his crime. 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.
Abigail assures David that God will bring about all the good He has spoken concerning him. If God’s plans are for good, why is David so intent on doing evil? David’s present attitude and actions must not conform to God’s will and words. David is a man after God’s own heart, so he will eventually regret the very things he is now so intent on doing. David will grieve and have a troubled heart over what he is now setting out to do. As his conscience smites him in the cave in chapter 24, so it will smite him again. Why not end it all here and now by giving up this reckless anger?
One has to wonder whether Abigail has heard any reports about David’s encounter with Saul in that nearby cave, as described in the previous chapter. If she has , she uses what she learned here. If not, then God has put words in her mouth which have to cause David to think back to that incident. Abigail is simply urging David to act according to his own standards, his own principles, as he expressed them in chapter 24. Abigail encourages David to deal with Nabal in the same way he dealt with Saul. Leave vengeance to God, and do not shed innocent blood.
When David looks back on this incident and recognizes that Abigail has dealt wisely with him, let him remember her. I do not believe that Abigail realizes all that she is saying here, or how God will soon bless her by doing away with Nabal and making her the wife of David. Her words sound much like those of Joseph, spoken to Pharaoh’s cupbearer in Genesis 40:14-15.
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.” 35 So David received from her hand what she had brought him, and he said to her, “Go up to your house in peace. See, I have listened to you and granted your request.”
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.
Nabal in the Hands of God
36 Then Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she did not tell him anything at all until the morning light. 37 But it came about in the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, that his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him so that he became as a stone. 38 And about ten days later, it happened that the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.
Completely oblivious to the stupidity of his actions, and how close he has come to death, Nabal is feasting like a king in his house when Abigail returns. He is merry at heart, which probably only happens when he is drunk, as he is now. Wisely, Abigail says nothing to her husband about the day’s events at this time. As morning breaks, Nabal awakens with a clearer head, and so Abigail informs him of all that happened the previous day. The color drains from Nabal’s face as he begins to comprehend the magnitude of his folly. He is paralyzed with fear. Our text tells us that “his heart died within him, so that he became as a stone.” This may mean that he had a heart attack. Ten days later, the Lord strikes Nabal dead. How much better that this fool died at God’s hand than at the hand of David.
David and Abigail’s Reward
39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept back His servant from evil. The LORD has also returned the evildoing of Nabal on his own head.” Then David sent a proposal to Abigail, to take her as his wife. 40 When the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they spoke to her, saying, “David has sent us to you, to take you as his wife.” 41 And she arose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your maidservant is a maid to wash the feet of my lord's servants.” 42 Then Abigail quickly arose, and rode on a donkey, with her five maidens who attended her; and she followed the messengers of David, and became his wife. 43 David had also taken Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both became his wives. 44 Now Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was from Gallim.
Word reaches David that Nabal is dead. David responds with wonder and gratitude. He praises God for pleading his cause and removing the reproach of Nabal. He declares that God has indeed kept him from evil. He sees how much better it is to have left vengeance with God. The Lord removed Nabal, not David. That is the way it is supposed to be, and it is all due to the wisdom of a woman, Abigail.
David’s messengers arrive at the door of Abigail’s home. They have a simple message. It is not quite a proposal of marriage, but more like a summons: “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. She gets up, and accompanied by five of her maidens, follows David’s men to his place of hiding, where she becomes his wife.
The final verses of this chapter inform us that Abigail is David’s second wife. He has already taken Ahinoam of Jezreel as his wife. Michal was also his wife, but in the time of his hiding from Saul, the king gave her to Palti, the son of Laish as his wife.
Each of the main characters in this chapter has something to teach us. Let us conclude by looking at the lessons we can learn from Abigail, from Nabal, and from David.
Chapter 25 of 1 Samuel 25 seems to begin and end with unrelated incidental editorial comments. In verse 1, we are told that Samuel has died. In verses 43 and 44, we are informed that while David has gained a second wife, he has lost another (Michal). I do not think these are incidental remarks. I believe they are included for a specific purpose. David has suffered the loss of two significant people in his life. Samuel was the prophet of God who anointed him and the one to whom he could flee when pursued by Saul (see 19:18-24). We do not really know that much about Ahinoam, David’s first wife. We do know that she was a Jezreelite, and that she was the mother of Amnon (2 Samuel 3:2), the son who raped his sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Michal, however, was the second daughter Saul offered to David as a wife (1 Samuel 18), and there seems to have been a special love between the two, at least at first (18:20-29). To have her given to another man for a wife must have been a hard blow to David.
It is my conclusion 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 counselor to her husband. Her beauty must have gone a long way to soothe the loss of Michal. To alter a biblical expression, “the Lord takes away, and the Lord gives” (see Job 1:21). How marvelous are the Lord’s provisions. It is He who deals with Nabal, far better than David. It is He who now gives the widow of Nabal to David, as a woman David can respect and love. God faithfully provides for our needs, at the time He knows we need it.
Abigail is an illustration (if you prefer, a type) of God’s provision for man’s salvation. Due to the folly of Nabal, Abigail’s entire household is in danger. Every male is condemned to death. Unless she does something, they will be killed by David. In wisdom and humility, Abigail steps forward, taking the guilt of all the condemned upon herself, offering herself in their place (see verse 24). Is this not a picture, a prototype of our Lord Jesus Christ? Due to Adam’s sin and our own, we have all been condemned to death. The day of our doom hastens, but the Lord Jesus Christ (who was completely innocent and without fault) stepped forward, taking our sin and guilt upon Himself. He offered Himself in our place on the cross of Calvary. He bore the penalty for our sins. And through faith in Him, we can enter into eternal life. And, in Him, we become Christ’s bride.
Furthermore, Abigail illustrates the essence of all true submission. No doubt this statement will take you by surprise. How can a woman who refuses to consult with her husband, who acts contrary to his will and his word, and who calls him a fool, possibly be considered a submissive wife? I would suggest that it is only in the externals that Abigail appears to be unsubmissive. She certainly acts independently of her husband. What he refuses to do is exactly what Abigail does. And yet, in heart she is truly submissive. To think that submission is mere blind obedience, or giving in to the will and the wishes of a higher authority falls short of the essence of true submission. True submission is the active pursuit of the best interests of another, by the subordination of our own personal interests. True submission is defined in Philippians 2:
1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-8).
Abigail does not act in a way that seems to promote her own interests. She would be far better off to act like the perfect wife by doing exactly what Nabal wants. Had she simply stayed at home, serving Nabal another drink, she would be “liberated” by David. Her worthless husband would be put to death, and she would be free from his tyranny. Abigail is truly submissive in that she seeks to save her husband (and all the other males in her household). In seeking to save them, she puts her own life on the line. She goes out, alone, to encounter a man who is willing and able to kill her entire household. When she encounters David, she asks that his full anger be spent on her, on her alone. She is submissive in that she acts in a way that will benefit her husband, yet at her expense. Doing nothing (and thus appearing to be submissive) will further her interests at her husband’s expense.
I want to be very careful in what I am saying, and in what you think I am saying. Most of the time, submission is evidenced by our obedience to the one in higher authority. Most of the time, our submission is evidenced as we seek to bring honor to the one to whom we are subject. But there are times when submission will look like something else. There are times when we must act contrary to the wishes of the one to whom we are in submission. This can only be in matters where God’s will is clearly contradictory to the will and wishes of our superior. This can only be when we act in a way that is costly to us, but is truly beneficial to the other.
I am trying to say that this kind of submission – Abigail’s kind of submission – is the exception, not the rule. Nevertheless, there are times when we seek to console ourselves for “caving in” to what is wrong by calling it submission. Godly submission always submits first to God, and secondarily to men in conformity with submission to God. Godly submission always seeks the best interests of the other above our own interests. And sometimes Godly submission even requires us to act contrary to the will and wishes of the one to whom we are in submission. I have said these things not so that you will throw out your definition of submission, but to expand it. Let us be careful not to turn this into a pretext for our own sin.
Finally, let us learn from Abigail that submission is perhaps the best posture from which to admonish and correct a fellow-believer. Do you notice that Abigail never attempts to correct Nabal in this situation? I would understand that this is because she has sought to reason with him before and has learned that it is unwise to attempt to correct a fool. The servant knew this as well, as his words indicate. But I wish to point out Abigail is not only in submission to her husband, she is also submissive to her future king. How can Abigail submit to God without also submitting to David as the next king? It is ever so clear in our text that Abigail, in a most humble and submissive way, seeks to rebuke and admonish David. At the moment, David is hot-headed and foolish. Her actions and words turn him around. And this takes place through her submission.
Being subject to a person (especially another believer) is no excuse for us to look the other way when we see them acting contrary to the will and the Word of God. All too often I hear people excuse themselves from their brotherly duty to admonish and rebuke another because they are a subordinate to that person. I would suggest that from our text a subordinate attitude and demeanor is the best posture from which to seek to correct another. When we seek to correct “from the top down,” it is much more difficult to display humility and godly fear. Let us face up to our responsibility to pursue the best interests of our superiors by rebuking them when required, in a way that continues to demonstrate our humility and submission.
1 Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load (Galatians 6:1-5).
I have already pointed out that David errs by looking for his reward for sacrificial ministry in this present age, rather than in eternity. David is willing to minister to Nabal, but only if he feels it is worth it. When he realizes that Nabal has no intention of showing his gratitude, David is ready to seek revenge. Once again, he wants to seek his revenge in this life rather than to leave this matter with God. At this moment in time, David lives for the moment, and not for eternity. The New Testament apostles call upon us to live now in the light of eternity:
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12).
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
The hall of faith in Hebrews 11 is filled with men and women who lived their earthly lives in the light of God’s promises, and thus, the certainty of eternal rewards.
Abraham’s life is an example of our fickleness as Christians, of our vacillating faith and obedience. One would think that after the painful consequences of passing off his wife Sarai as his sister in Egypt, he would never do this again. And yet when we read in Genesis 20, we see that Abraham had this deception concerning his wife as a matter of foreign policy, which he did wherever he and Sarai went (20:13). The triumphs of the past are no guarantee of victory in the future. We must be ever mindful of our fallibility, and ever dependent upon God, through His Word and His Spirit.
David, like all of us, is guilty of failure in the area of “connectivity.” David could see the “connection” between his faith, God’s promises, and his actions toward Saul in that cave (chapter 24). But somehow the same principles that guided David in chapter 24 are completely overlooked in chapter 25. It took the wise words of Abigail to remind David of the “connection” of these truths to Nabal’s insults and folly. I think of the apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem, as described in Acts 10 and 11. They called Peter on the carpet for going to the house of a Gentile and for preaching the gospel to those who gathered there. And then they came to the conclusion that God was actually saving Gentiles, as well as Jews (Acts 11:18). But when they went out, they continued to preach the gospel to Jews only (Acts 11:19). They did not see the “connection” between the lesson God was teaching them and their lives. So it is with each of us.
David is a reminder to us of the marvelous grace God bestows upon us, especially (in this chapter) by His divine interventions which keep us from folly. We know that we are saved by God’s grace alone, apart from any works on our part. We know further that the good things which are evident in our lives are the result of God’s grace. As one little old lady once put it enthusiastically, “It’s all of grace.” It is, and among those things which are of grace is the divine intervention which keeps us from sin and our own folly. I am not saying that God keeps us out of every sin; I am saying that apart from God’s intervention in our daily affairs, there would be a whole lot more sin than there is. If left to himself, David would have really made a mess of things when he attacked Nabal and his household. I wonder how many stupid things we would do if God did not block our path, not unlike the way the angel of God blocked the way of Balaam. Thank God for His interventions!
Finally, we can learn from David’s willingness to learn from a subordinate. David is the man designated to be Israel’s next king. He has with him 600 men, including Abiathar the priest, and even the “ephod,” by which God’s will could be discerned. In spite of all these means of divine guidance, David is willing to listen to the words of this woman, Abigail. David may be acting foolishly, but he is at least willing to recognize the wisdom with which Abigail speaks. He listens to her and learns. David seems to understand that truth does not always follow the chain of command. Some will only listen to people in authority over them. They think they cannot learn from a subordinate. Too many husbands fail to listen to the wisdom God may be giving them through their wives, and even through their children. Let us recognize that wisdom and spiritual gifts do not necessarily correspond with one’s office or place in the chain of command. Let us learn to recognize wisdom and to receive it from whatever source God uses.
Nabal represents much of what is worst in men. Nabal is arrogant and self-sufficient. He does not recognize that his prosperity comes from God. He judges men by external standards, such as their ancestry and popularity. He does not esteem wisdom and will not listen to those who could spare him much trouble, and even save his life. He does not appreciate his wife and the wisdom God has given to her. He thinks his wealth is the measure of a man, and thus he feels he needs no one beyond himself. He is the man who is completely oblivious to the destruction which lies ahead. Nabal is man at his worst. Nabal is a man desperately in need of grace, but completely confident that he can make it on his own. Nabal cannot and will not recognize God’s king when he sees him, and when he is told who he is. Nabal is a man destined for death.
Nabal is the worst of the bunch, and David does not look that good either, except for the ministry of Abigail. Let us all esteem this woman for her wisdom, and give her the honor she deserves:
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31:30-31).
119 This note concerning Samuel’s death is repeated in 28:3, which suggests that the author is not merely reporting a historical event in its proper chronological sequence, but that the death of Samuel plays a part in the drama which follows.
120 The term “male” is the translation of the Hebrew expression, which we could render, “he who urinates on the wall.” I am not really sure why David uses this expression in referring to the “males” in Nabal’s household. It is found elsewhere in 1 Samuel 25:34; 1 Kings 14:10; 16:11; 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8.
121 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. Her words are prophetic, or virtually so.