Abigail: Intervening Faith
Week of June 23, 2019
The Point: Honor Christ by stepping in to help resolve conflict.
David and Abigail: 1 Samuel 25:2-3,14-17,23-28,32-35.
 And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel.  Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite.  But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them.  Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them.  They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.  Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.”  When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground.  She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant.  Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.  Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.  And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord.  Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live.  And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!  Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from avenging myself with my own hand!  For as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.”  Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.” [ESV]
“Insult and Injury [1 Sam. 25:1-35]. Now Samuel died . Thus was reported a watershed in the history of God’s ancient people Israel as significant as the death of Moses so many years beforehand. Not only was Samuel the greatest of Israel’s leaders since at least Joshua, Moses’ successor, but his departure also sealed a decisive transition in Israel’s divinely appointed governance, from Spirit-empowered judges to royal dynasties. Samuel was the last of the judges and the founder of the school of the prophets, a line that would culminate in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Lord gave Samuel the task of anointing, protecting, and preparing the great romantic champion of the Old Testament, King David, whose throne was erected for the eternal reign of Jesus, God’s and David’s Son.
David’s Humble Appeal. After David’s personal retreat into the same desert where Israel had sojourned in the exodus, he returned to his small army and its many problems. Most immediate was the problem of logistics, as David relied on the surrounding populace to support his sizable force of six hundred fighters, along with families and camp followers. Not far from Ziph, to which he had fled earlier, were the towns of Maon and Carmel. There David encountered the servants of a man named Nabal. David knew that he was obligated to ensure his army’s good behavior, and there is every evidence that he did his best to live in peace with the surrounding populace [25:15-16]. In short, David was a good neighbor. Instead of allowing his men to take liberties with the available livestock or to use their superior armed strength to intimidate and exploit the nearby people, David’s men protected the innocent who were around them. They respected property. David not only restrained the violence of his army, but made their presence a source of help to those nearby. It was important for David to have a good reputation with his neighbors. As one called to rule as king over Israel, he had to uphold not only the letter but also the spirit of the law, including its requirements for justice and mercy. Here David proved himself to be a good shepherd not only over his own flock but over the flocks of those nearby, demonstrating his fitness to lead God’s people. All this while, however, David himself was in considerable need. His service to the Lord required support from God’s people, and with hundreds of mouths to feed every day, David needed generous supply and aid. Knowing that it was the time for the shearing of Nabal’s vast flocks, David sent ten delegates to seek provision from the wealthy landowner [25:5-8]. Given his treatment of Nabal’s shepherds, the respectfulness of his manner, and the timing of his appeal, David had every expectation of a kind and generous response, a properly neighborly return for the good that David had performed for rich Nabal. After all, he was not dealing with Canaanites but fellow Israelites, even fellow Judahites.
Nabal’s Hard-Hearted Reply. The biblical account of David is a study in contrasts. On this occasion, we meet another man who contrasts sharply with David. Nabal had assets – namely, his riches and the good name of his Calebite family – but he lacked character [25:3]. Nabal was corrupted to such an extent that his very name meant “fool.” Psalm 14 perfectly describes Nabal in his hard-hearted reply to David’s plea for help. He not only refused to share out of his abundance, but also added insult to injury [25:10-11]. Nabal provides a model for a wrong attitude toward wealth and possessions. How little he considered God’s generosity toward himself in his response to David’s humble request. What led Nabal to be so miserly with his money? The answer is found in verse 11, where the words “I” and “my” occur so frequently. Nabal heaped false charges upon David – denouncing him as a no-account scoundrel – because he did not want to admit that he loved money more than his fellow man. Put yourself in David’s shoes as the report came back from Nabal’s feast. For years now, David had been hunted by Saul. Why? Because God had anointed David as the true king over the people. Meanwhile, David was burdened with the anxiety of feeding his large band of followers, and their need must have been pressing. David had labored to restrain his men and respect the local landowners. Now, having patiently endured threats from the great of the world, such as King Saul, he was forced to endure insults from the low of the world – Nabal. In the previous chapter, when Saul stumbled into the cave and placed himself at David’s mercy, the young hero had responded with grace and faith, even bowing to Saul and pleading his cause once the king had departed from the cave. How will David handle this new and different challenge, not from the Lord’s anointed but from a man who was so lowly as even to be named Fool? The answer is that David did not respond to this frustration very well at all [25:13]. David’s violent reaction offers us a number of significant lessons. First, David fell so easily into sin because he was not on his guard against it. Surely this explains much of the difference between his self-control in the presence of Saul versus his furious passion at the insult from foolish Nabal. We are likewise easily led into sin when we are not expecting a challenge to our character and grace. Moreover, it is worth noting that David’s ungodly response to Nabal came on the heels of his notable success in sparing King Saul. We tend to respond to spiritual success by relying on ourselves and loosening our dependence on God’s grace through prayer and God’s Word. Once his flesh was unrestrained by reliance on God, David was transformed into just another Saul. Finally, David’s reaction makes it clear that he had grown to expect a certain amount of respect to be paid to his person and name. It is especially easy for God’s choice servants to develop a prideful concern for their reputation, so that they are easily vexed by the kind of insult that Nabal cast against David. How different was the attitude of Jesus, having humbled Himself to the obedience of the cross, when He was mocked by the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers [1 Peter 2:21-23]. With this in mind, a good test of our Christlikeness is our response to those who speak ill of us or misrepresent our actions. If we have humbled ourselves at the cross, we will realize that the worst that others can say of us hardly compares to the true depth of our sin. Especially when we are reviled for our Christian confession, the Bible urges us to embrace the privilege of suffering verbal abuse together with Christ.
Abigail’s Judicious Embassy. So far, Samuel’s legacy has not been honored very well, either by David or by Nabal. This explosive situation brings forth a woman, however, who embodies the very opposite of what her husband exhibits. Abigail was introduced in verse 3 as the wife of Nabal, a woman both discerning and beautiful. This godly woman’s wisdom and shining character were sorely tried by what had transpired and reported to her by one of the servants [25:14-17]. It tells us much about the affairs in this house that the servant came to Nabal’s wife when a life-and-death matter arose. Whereas the master was so vile that his men could not reason with him, Abigail was approachable and reliable. Abigail wasted no time in acting to save her husband and family. Immediately, she directed that supplies be gathered for an offering to David [25:18-19]. This offering, sent straight to David, would have alleviated neither his material need nor the offense to his pride. It would, however, signal the good intentions and respect of the one who sent it. As Abigail drew near to David’s advancing party, the terrain permitted her to hear what David was saying before she was seen. What she heard revealed that things were as bad as they could be, since in his violent passion David now went so far as to vow destruction on Nabal’s house [25:22]. These were fearful words for Abigail to hear from a man of David’s military reputation, backed by so formidable an armed force. Abigail wasted no time in hastening to David with an embassy of peace, her actions and speech displaying the full depth of her discernment and inner beauty. We can track Abigail’s appeal to David for restraint in five steps that should be followed by Christians when seeking to turn an aggrieved fellow believer from anger. First, Abigail humbled herself in David’s presence [25:23]. Our culture despises one who will abase himself or herself before a foe, but in God’s kingdom this is a mark of special grace. Second, Abigail confessed the guilt of her sin [25:24]. We might object that it was Nabal, not Abigail, who had wronged David. But as his wife, she owned the sin of her husband and acknowledged it before David. Abigail was sorry not that David was angered but that her husband had offended. Here we see her sterling wisdom, for in this stroke she confronted David not with the guilt of her worthless husband, but with the penitence of a beautiful and servant-hearted woman. Third, Abigail offered restitution for the wrong done to David. David had been denied rightful provision, so Abigail brought the food supplies to give him [25:27]. Equally important, whereas David had been publicly reviled by Nabal, Abigail made amends by publicly praising his greatness [25:28]. Here, Abigail restores David’s honor by making the first pronouncement, apparently as led by the Holy Spirit, of David’s eternal dynasty: the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house. Fourth, Abigail pleaded for forgiveness on David’s part [25:28]. It was only after she had humbly approached David, confessed the sin of her house, made a sincere effort to redress the sin, and pleaded for forgiveness that Abigail, fifth, appealed to David’s sense of godliness. When we have wronged others, we should appeal to them to respond in godly ways, but only after we have confessed any sins committed and have acted to make up for harm we have done. Abigail’s appeal to David was forceful not only by her actions, but also by the persuasive power of her words. Abigail first appealed to David not to respond in kind to the foolish behavior of Nabal [25:25-26]. In effect, she was warning David not to respond to Nabal by becoming like him, but rather to be grateful for her own restraining ministry, through which the Lord Himself had kept David from evil. Her second appeal picks up on this theme. Instead of acting like godless Nabal, David should act like the servant of the Lord that he was, and especially to exhibit the gracious characteristics of one marked and favored by the Lord [25:29]. Furthermore, she continues, David will be grateful in years to come that he took Abigail’s advice and forswore his bloody vengeance [25:30-31]. With these skillful words, Abigail turned David’s heart from his murderous rage, so that he accepted her gift and replied with words of peace. God’s grace was with David to make him willing not only to grant forgiveness but also to repent of his own foolish and unbelieving plans. God shows us that ungodly vows should be humbly repented of rather than stubbornly kept. If we, like David, are willing to receive godly appeals from wise and faithful voices like Abigail’s, we will avoid the ill effects of much folly and will be spared many regrets that would plague us in later life.
Leaving Vengeance to God. Prominent among the Bible’s doctrines in dispute today is the idea of Gods’ retributive justice. This concept of divine judgment was summarized by the apostle Paul when he asserted, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord [Rom. 12:19]. A number of scholars today object to this doctrine. Against this denial stands the witness of both Testaments, where God’s justice is clearly retributive. Few chapters of the Bible demonstrate this principle in such living color as 1 Samuel 25, where the outcome of events rests on the great truth that the Lord will always repay. Abigail not only brought the supplies that David had asked for, but also brought words of warning regarding God’s justice that David needed to hear. Abigail explained that she had come to restrain David from bloodguilt, by taking vengeance with your own hand [25:26]. She further argued that in later times, when God’s promise to make David king had been fulfilled, he would be glad for not having shed blood without cause or for my lord taking vengeance himself [25:31]. In Abigail’s biblical reasoning, David must refrain from taking vengeance precisely because God would not so refrain. Abigail was repeating a principle expressed clearly in the Holy Scriptures: when humans are sinned against, they are not to take vengeance into their own hands but to leave vengeance to the Lord. David had therefore been on the brink of committing gross sins in his anger against Nabal. Just before the arrival of Nabal’s wife, he had boasted to his men that by the morning he would not have left a single male alive in all of Nabal’s house. Now remembering the Lord, David praised both God and Abigail for delivering him from his violent passion [25:32-34]. Abigail’s embassy reminds us that the best counsel is that which turns us to the Lord and declares His commands. Likewise, David’s response shows that the best decision is always the one that yields to Holy Scripture. David realized what John Murray would later summarize: “The essence of ungodliness is that we presume to take the place of God, to take everything into our own hands. It is faith to commit ourselves to God, to cast all our care on him and to vest all our interests in him” (The Epistle to the Romans, p. 141). David’s responsive heart to biblical correction was one of the chief factors that account for his greatness as a man of God. Such humility before God’s Word is a recurrent feature among the exemplary figures of the Bible.” [Phillips, pp. 422-439].
Questions for Discussion:
- There are three main characters in this passage: David, Nabal, and Abigail. What do we learn from this passage concerning their character? How does God use each of them? What positive and negative things can we learn from each of these characters?
- What lessons can we learn from David’s violent reaction to Nabal’s refusal to help David and his men? How does Abigail persuade David to change his plan for revenge? How do you respond to those who speak ill of you or misrepresent your words or actions?
- Can you think of incidents in your own life when God’s providential intervention has saved you from a wrong course of action? Do such interventions frequently figure in your thankful worship?
1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, B & H Publishers.
1 Samuel, Dale Ralph Davis, Christian Focus.
1 Samuel, Richard Phillips, REC, P&R Publishing.