Vengeance Is Mine

I. Context – Samuel has died. This has left both a moral and prophetic gap in distressingly culture of the time. A cruel, ego-centric, and irrationally jealous man rules, and the anointed future king has a wilderness wandering (the wilderness of Paran) as did the nation after its rescue from Egypt. David has 600 men with him, seeking for both food and adequate shelter as they scurry to avoid Saul. They can go to no settled area for fear of being reported and trapped. When David finds possibility, therefore, of obtaining substantial provision, he is keen to pursue it.

II. Nabal. – Nabal in all likelihood had a perceptive business mind and knew how to handle his livestock both for sustenance and for substantial profit. He was from Maon and his “business was in Carmel.” But Scriptures says not only that he was very rich but that he was “harsh and badly behaved.” His own wife Abigail testified, “folly is with him.”

A. The Scripture described both his substantial possessions and his activity.

1.The wool from 3000 sheep would cloth not only his own family and servants, but would provided a substantial amount of raw material for trade or sell for cash.

2. Certain of the sheep were slaughtered each year to provided food for Abigail was able to get “five sheep already prepared (18).

3. Nabal was a fool, but not that kind that also was sluggardly (Proverbs 6:6-11 or 24:30-34). He knew well the condition of his flocks (Proverbs 27:23-27).

B. Nabal’s foolishness is like that of the greedy man who “stirs up strife” (Proverbs 28:25) and the rich man who is “stingy” and “hastens after wealth” (Proverbs 28:22).

1. Nabal is like the rich fool in the parable of Jesus who multiplied his possessions and planned merely how he could hoard them (Luke 12:13-21). His life, like Nabal’s, was taken from him.

2.  Worldly riches are deceitful, particularly by giving a false sense of security in the matter of this life.

Paul warned those who were rich in this “present age,” not to be “haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” He was particularly solicitous that they be “generous and ready to share.”

James (5:1-6) shows how the zeal for riches, undisciplined by generosity, corrodes character. The commitment to luxury and self-indulgence leads to fraud and cruelty.

3. Nabal satiated himself to extravagance after having rejected the request of a man in need. He fattened his heart in a “day of slaughter” and paid no attention to the request of a righteous man.

4.Compare Nabal to Job as Job testifies in Job 29:11-17. He used his wealth wisely and compassionately.

III. David’s Request –He was a man in need, not only for himself but for his men who followed him.

A. David took responsibility for the action and made sure that the request was made in his name (5). He had the men sent to make the request refer to him as “your son David.”

B. He let Nabal know that he was aware that the time of shearing, and thus of meat preparation was at hand. While the shepherds kept the flocks, a task for which David had great respect and intimate knowledge, he made sure that Nabal’s men were protected. This was no mere charade, for David, as a shepherd, had been constantly vigilant fighting both bears and lions. The men of David also had taken nothing from Nabal.

C. In light of service provided, David requested consideration of Nabal. It is quite possible that the presence of David’s men meant that many sheep had not been lost that on other occasions would have been killed or lost.

D. The combination of unsolicited protection and the great need led David to hope that the request would be gladly honored.

IV. Nabal’s Answer

A. He minimized the status of David. “Who is David? Etc” If Abigail’s speech indicates what had become increasingly known (verse 30), Nabal probably knew that David had been anointed as king. He despised him, however, for what kind of a king would be on the run, have the disaffected of the land as his followers, and begging from subjects? What kind of a Messiah would have fishermen, zealots, tax collectors as his closest associates and former harlots as his most loyal self-sacrificing  followers?

B. He questioned their integrity. He implied that they were only lawless renegades on the run from their master. In fact, they were acting in loyal submission to the future king of Israel. As the disciples of Jesus, under commission from him to preach the gospel were ridiculed by those to whom they went (Acts 4:1-3), so these servants of David were insulted in their obedience to his commission.

C. Nabal ignored David’s words of blessing, “Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have” (6). Early in the ministry of Jesus he anticipated that his message of reconciliation and peace would be resisted and even insulted. He instructed his disciples how to respond in such cases (Matthew 10:11).

V. David’s Response – David took the insult as an occasion for immediate retaliation.

A. He intended to go far beyond the reciprocity of the lex talionis, an “eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23, 24).

B. David considered his kindness and unsolicited protection as warranting some kind of display of gratitude on the part of Nabal, but when insult came instead, David was enraged (21, 22). The internal response is understandable, but unless regulated by law or an even higher standard of conduct is sure to go out of bounds in the heat of retaliatory anger.

C. He did learn the lesson of submission to the providence of God, even through the wickedness of others, as a means of personal discipline and increased sanctification. We see this powerfully displayed in 2 Samuel 16:9-12 when Shimei cursed David as he was leaving the city, fleeing from his son Absalom.

D. Regulation of anger in personal matters is a major theme of holiness as implied by the gospel as we seek to follow the example of Christ, show that we trust in divine purpose and justice, and recognize that infinite patience shown to us by God in our salvation. Look at Ephesians 4:26-32; Romans 12:17-21.

E. We recognize the need, however (Romans 13:1-7), in an ordered and secure society, for the government to execute its responsibility for just vengeance, to support such a government with taxes, and to obey its laws (unless its law require disobedience to the law of God). We are not, however, permitted to take personal vengeance, but if we obey the laws of the second table, summarized as “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we can hardly run afoul of public laws and we will contribute to a stable and joyful experience in community living.

VI. Abigail’s prompt and wise Intervention. She was aware of who David was, and what her husband was like. Her concern was for the safety of her husband, but not only that, for the integrity of David and his ability judiciously to evaluate difficult and tense situations.

A. She admitted the worthless character of Nabal ( also well-known by his own servants [17]). She did not want David to lower himself to the level of this man by pursing  actions as if they were equals involved in a contest for control of a worthy prize. Nabal was worthless in his character and would come to an end commensurate with his manner of life. David should not soil his hands with such blood.

B. Her speech is rich with insight as to the nature of kingly rule with integrity.

1. She wants the blame to be imputed to her. She stands as Nabal’s representative both to appeal for forgiveness and to make restoration for to David in light of his request (24).

2. She points out that Nabal will come to a fool’s end without David’s having to take vengeance. Moreover, had she learned of the request earlier, it would have been met gladly so that Nabal’s offense would be a moot point. (25)

3. Thus far David has been restrained by the Lord from bloodguilt, that is, in his restraint with Saul. He has not sought to save himself by his own hand, but has relied on the Lord. He will have to do this again with Saul (Chapter 26), and he should so conduct himself with Nabal.

4. She invokes the hope that all of David’s enemies will be as worthless as Nabal. If one’s enemies are selfish, sensual, in love with this present world, uncaring for truth, opposed to good then we have a testimony to the positive and godward nature of our witness. If those who oppose us our positions are good and committed to the cause of God and truth, then the points at which we disagree and find reason to oppose one another must be evaluated carefully and with punctilious biblical insight with a hope of reaching common ground (Philippians 3:15, 16).

5. She asked that the gift she brought be accepted as a fulfillment of the original request so that no offense remains and the trespass may be forgiven. We are forgiven because our Lord Jesus has paid the debt of vengeance owed. We receive the warrant to eternal life because our Lord Jesus merited it by his perfect obedience and was raised for our justification. Abigail serves as a type of Christ in this event.

6. She saw the character of the future reign of David and did not want this unfortunate conflict to stain the character of the king before he ever reached his throne (28-31)

She sees that God will establish the house of David {cf. 2 Samuel 7:11-13)

God would protect David against all the enemies that rise up against him, and the enemies he will “sling out as from the hollow of a sling,” obviously referencing the manner of David’s victory over Goliath.

When the Lord finally raises David to his position as king, he will have no cause to remember this event with regret, as the product of an uncontrolled temper that caused him to shed blood in a useless and ignoble manner. He may learn from this event to trust God to establish him and, in accord with his own providence, secure David from his enemies.

She indicates that when God has dealt with Nabal, she wanted to be remembered by David (see verse 39).

VII. David’s Receptivity to a well-reasoned, godly appeal

A. David recognized that Abigail had been sent by the Lord to reason with him in a godly manner to keep him from an act of sinful vengeance (32). It is a mark of grace at work when one is intent on an act that he interprets as the protection of personal integrity can be convinced to see it as one that would destroy his integrity and involve him in sin. May God grant that all our attempts to rationalize our sin be so confronted with godly reasons that we relent and see the way of God more clearly.

B. He confirmed that a terrible act of bloodshed was in his plans that probably would have involved the death of Abigail herself (34a). He recognized that only her clear perceptive and quick action saved so many lives that were innocent of any wrong-doing. Those around Nabal knew his temperament and did not approve it and would have been killed without complicity in his folly. When we see a wrong being done, or on the verge of creating ruin for someone, we should not be hesitant to take action for the sake of truth and holiness even if it puts our own reputation  in jeopardy as we walk into the very teeth of the avenger.

C. Her offering to David was satisfactory. She brought not only words, but the very material things that David required for the sake of his followers. She and her whole house were now reconciled. He received her words along with her gifts, and did as she asked for he saw that it was right. When we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who pleads our case in light of the gifts that he has brought (1 John 2:1, 2; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25; 9:11, 12, 24-26). God is satisfied and has granted the petition of his Son for us. We go in peace.

VIII. The rest of the story. Nabal became so drunk that he could not understand conversation. The next morning, however, when Abigail told him of her successful mission, fear so gripped him that he had a stroke and died within ten days. David, remembering the words of Abigail, sent for her to make her his wife.

IX. The study of David fills the Christian with great ambivalence—admiration for the grace and providence of God, for the courage and exalted sense of worship that flooded the soul of David, and perplexity at the unthinkable style of life that was accepted for kings in general and not resisted by David in particular (2 Samuel 5:13-15). Also the radical violations of divine law in his personal life shock us (2 Samuel 11:3-5, 14, 26, 27). We must not forget, however, how great a darkness descended on humanity after the fall, and how rebellious virtually all of Israel was throughout their existence prior to and even immediately following their exile. The new covenant promised the law written on the heart, with special effusions of the Holy Spirit giving power to love and pursue it. This was profiled by the perfect sinlessness of the Messiah, his inauguration of a renewed understanding of the deep holiness established in the moral law (Matthew 5-7), and the exemplary status of his obedience and suffering for righteousness sake (1 Peter 2:20-23). Though Old Testament saints were indwelt by the Spirit, they did not have the Scripture in a complete form by which they would be sanctified in a greater fullness of truth (John 17:15-19), they did not have the covenant community of redeemed people (the church) together with whom we corporately pursue true holiness (Titus 2:11-14); and the character of eternal life, though hoped for as an objective reality, was not as pervasively unveiled (2 Peter 3:11-13).  But the level of experience of divine protection and the power, holiness, and goodness of Yahweh is expressed nowhere more greatly than in the Psalms and in the prophets. The sense of worship established in David’s heart, and his ongoing willingness to repent, to take personal blame for his sins and seek restitution while trusting only in the mercies of God have parallels in no other Christian literature. In this way, he was a man after God’s own heart.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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