Abigail: Living With a Difficult Husband

Lesson Focus: By examining how Abigail coped with a difficult husband, this lesson will help you discover ways you can deal with difficult situations between you and your spouse.

A Beauty and a Beast: 1 Samuel 25:2-3.

[2]  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.  [3]  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. [ESV]

[2-8]  Dwelling in the region of Maon was Nabal, a very wealthy member of the Calebite clan, an esteemed family in Judah that was apparently responsible for the founding of David’s hometown of Bethlehem. He was certainly one of David’s kinsmen. However, he was not an honorable man, being harsh and badly behaved in his dealing. Nabal’s wife was Abigail, one who was both discerning and beautiful. The story opens with Nabal moving his animals about a mile north of Maon to Carmel, a site previously mentioned in connection with a monument Saul built to himself [15:12]. There Nabal was shearing his sheep, a process that may be carried out twice annually, in the spring and early fall. From his desert lair David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep in Carmel. During a recently completed stay in the Desert of Maon [23:24-25], David had used his men to act as a security force for this relative’s servants and animals. Now during the present festive time of taking profit from the animals that David and his men had protected, David sent ten young men bearing a treaty-like personal statement to his wealthy kinsman. This statement included the pronouncement of a blessing on Nabal and his servants, a review of the history of the relationship between David’s group and Nabal’s group, and a request for due compensation. First, David instructed his men to extend a blessing to Nabal and his household, wishing the man long life and good health. Ironically, Nabal would be denied both because of his mistreatment of the one who sent the blessing. Second,  David’s men were to remind/inform Nabal that during the time they protected the wealthy man’s servants and flocks, David’s forces did not mistreat them and nothing of theirs was missing. Third, David’s men were to make a request for an unspecified but appropriate gift to be given in return for the protection provided and also as a gesture of support and goodwill during this festive time. David’s reference to himself as Nabal’s son [8] emphasizes the kindred and amicable relationship that David believed to exist between the two Judahites.

Wit, Wisdom, and Discernment: 1 Samuel 25:18-19,23-31.

[18]  Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep already prepared and five seahs of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys.  [19]  And she said to her young men, "Go on before me; behold, I come after you." But she did not tell her husband Nabal.    [23]  When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground.  [24]  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.  [25]  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.  [26]  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.  [27]  And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord.  [28]  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.  [29]  If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.  [30]  And when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel,  [31]  my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord taking vengeance himself. And when the LORD has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant."   [ESV]

[14-19]  While the events of verses 12-14 were still in progress, an unnamed servant went to his master’s wife to report Nabal’s shameful treatment of David’s men. Though the servant’s immediate concern was to convey the implications of Nabal’s actions, fully half of the words in the quotation [14b-17] were used to extol David and his men. This high proportion suggests that the underlying theme-related reason for the author’s inclusion of this quotation was to supply the reader with additional details concerning David’s virtue. From these details David the good shepherd of sheep is shown to be a vigilant shepherd of shepherds also. Even as he had formerly protected his flocks from marauders, so now he protected keepers of flocks from marauders. The image presented here is that of a leader who is demonstrably fit to "shepherd" the Lord’s people. Nabal’s servant urged Abigail to consider carefully the substance of his report and then respond appropriately. The matter was urgent, for disaster is hanging over the entire household because of Nabal’s foolish actions. Losing no time, Abigail immediately set about preparing a generous gift of foodstuffs for David and his men [18]. This amount of food would not have been enough to feed six hundred men plus their families for any length of time, but it did represent a sizable token of appreciation and support for a fellow Judahite. Once the provisions were prepared and assembled, Abigail had them taken to David, and she followed soon after. Abigail’s initiative and independence were certainly rare for a married woman in the ancient Near East. In this case it was downright scandalous, since it entailed a clandestine meeting with one of her husband’s enemies.

[23-31]  Abigail’s encounter with David is one of the most remarkable female-initiated encounters between a man and a woman in the Bible. The meeting began without words when Abigail quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. This self-abasing expression of deep respect was immediately followed by a nonverbal plea for mercy as she fell at his feet. Only after these acts did she begin to speak. Abigail’s words reinforced the acts that preceded them. In the longest speech by a woman in the Old Testament, Abigail did three remarkable things: (1) she successfully interceded in behalf of her husband, (2) she prophetically revealed David’s destiny as the founder of a dynasty and vanquisher of enemies, and (3) she prevented David from bringing judgment down on himself through an egregious violation of the Torah. Abigail’s intercessory words began with a confession of sin. Without excusing her husband’s acts, she nevertheless accepted the blame for David’s mistreatment by a member of her clan. Nabal was known to be wicked and he lived up to the meaning of his name: fool or folly. Abigail implied to David that since she knew these facts about her husband, she should have been more watchful to protect her husband from himself. Unfortunately, in the present instance she did not see the young men David sent and thus became blameworthy. However, the Lord interceded in the present situation to avoid a catastrophe for everyone: the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt [26], a statement that applies most immediately to Abigail’s intervention but also applies to David’s treatment of Saul in 24:3-22. By withholding due payment for services, Nabal had violated the Torah and wronged David. Nevertheless, the Torah reserved for the Lord alone the right to avenge wrong in this case. In an effort to remove any reason for David to continue his pursuit of Nabal, Abigail brought David and his men a gift designed to supplant the insults that had come from her husband. Having softened David with her gracious words and the generous supply of provisions, she then begged David to forgive her offense. Abigail’s strong words of implicit self-condemnation strike a dissonant chord in the narrative, for she never sinned against David, only her husband Nabal did. By taking responsibility for his actions, she effectively became a martyr in behalf of her rude husband. However, by doing so she hoped to deflect David’s anger before anyone was hurt. To encourage David to choose the path of peace and forgiveness in this matter, Abigail brought before David a prophetic vision of his destiny. David should act magnanimously in the present situation because God has designed a majestic future for him: a sure house. However, the Lord reserved this destiny only for one who fights the Lord’s battles. Abigail encouraged David to put the recent events in perspective; David could tarnish or destroy God’s future plans for him if he acted foolishly in the present. Besides, David had no need to defend himself in such matters because the Lord would watch over him. Not only would the Lord protect David but he also could be trusted to dispose of David’s enemies, hurling them away as from the pocket of a sling. Abigail’s brilliant use of the sling metaphor no doubt brought to David’s mind a sling the Lord once used to dispense with an enemy much more imposing than Nabal. The Lord would not only make an end to David’s enemies, but He would do for him every good thing He promised concerning him [30], including fulfilling the prophetic word spoken by Samuel that David would be prince over Israel. Since David would surely someday be king, he should not sow future trouble for himself by placing on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed [31] or of having avenged himself. One of the most unusual aspects of Abigail’s remarkable speech was her request that David remember your servant. As used here the term remember means to "act favorable in behalf of." It is uncertain, however, what sort of favor David could have bestowed on another man’s wife in that society, except perhaps the granting of special privileges for her children. One of the most noteworthy aspects of Abigail’s speech was her repeated use of the term translated my lord. Her fourteen uses of the term are both ironic and prophetic since the word also means "my husband."

[32-35]  David, simultaneously chided and encouraged by Abigail’s words, responded with a threefold beatitude, each element of which began with the word blessed. First, he declared the Lord, the God of Israel blessed for putting it in Abigail’s heart to come to David. Then he declared Abigail’s perceptiveness, which was so evident within her words, to be blessed. Finally he declared Abigail herself to be blessed since she deterred David from bloodshed and avenging himself with his own hands. Abigail’s outrageous actions, including negating her husband’s intentions in a matter, assuming moral culpability for actions in which she took no part, giving away part of the family fortune as a gift to one of her husband’s enemies, and acting as a prophet and theologian, saved the day for everyone. Had she not been willing to violate the social expectations placed on her, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive at daybreak [34]. This providential intervention sharpened the contrast between David and Saul: David spared the clan of those who offended him, but Saul wiped the clan out that offended him [cf. chapter 21]. Having provided Abigail with a blessing, David accepted what she had brought him. Then he confirmed orally the commitment to turn his armed force back and encouraged her to go home in peace.

Leave the Future with God: 1 Samuel 25:36-38,39b.

[36]  And 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 told him nothing at all until the morning light.  [37]  In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.  [38]  And about ten days later the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.  [39]  When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, "Blessed be the LORD who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The LORD has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head." Then David sent and spoke to Abigail, to take her as his wife.  [ESV]

When Abigail returned to her home in Carmel that evening, Nabal was holding a banquet of the lavish sort traditionally associated with the annual sheep shearing event. Thus, even though she had triumphant news for the clan, she was unable to share it because Nabal was very drunk. Nabal’s descent into judgment began the next morning when he was sober and Abigail told him about the recent events relating to David and his men. When he heard these words, his heart died within him. In more contemporary medical terms, Nabal may have experienced a stroke that resulted in a coma. Whatever the case, ten days later Nabal died. But the writer was careful to note that the ultimate cause of Nabal’s death was not an unfortunate medical problem: the Lord struck Nabal. His death came as the direct result of personally administered divine judgment. News of Nabal’s sudden death reached David in his isolated desert lair. But he did not exult over his enemy’s death. Instead, the surprising reaction was a benediction laden with theological instruction. For the second time in this chapter David declared the Lord to be blessed. Here the Lord is declared blessed because of His actions as judge and pastor. In His role as arbiter of human disputes the Lord had vindicated David and punished Nabal. The Lord also was blessed because of his pastoral watchcare for David’s soul: the Lord has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. So impressed was David with Abigail during his confrontation with her only a few days earlier that he decided to ask Nabal’s widow to become his wife.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Describe the events leading up to the meeting between David and Abigail. What message did David’s statement to Nabal contain? What was Nabal’s response? What does this tell us about Nabal’s character?

2.         How does Abigail respond to the dangerous situation caused by her husband? What was remarkable about her encounter with David? What three things did she focus on in her speech to David? What does her actions tell us about her character?

3.         How does David respond to Abigail’s speech? Describe his threefold beatitude.

4.         How does David respond to the news of Nabal’s death? What theological truth is contained in David’s benediction?


1,2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Inter Varsity Press.

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