Step In

The Point:  Step in to keep a bad situation from getting worse.

David and Nabal:  1 Samuel 25:14-17.

[14]  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. [15]  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. [16]  They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. [17]  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."  [ESV]

[14-17]  The story of David’s dealings with Abigail and Nabal is a further illustration of the use and abuse of power. Nabal which means “foolish” or “stupid one,” is probably a nickname given to reflect his character rather than his actual name. We are told here that Nabal was very wealthy. His wealth was built on his large herds and sheep and goats. And he is depicted as having a strong sense of his own importance. In many ways Nabal and Abigail are presented as absolute opposites. Abigail is introduced as the ideal woman, both intelligent and beautiful, liked and respected by their employees and a politically aware supporter of David. Nabal, on the other hand, was a loud-mouthed brute, surly and mean in his dealings and despised by his employees. For David, finding food for six hundred men in a less than fertile area must have been a constant strain and this episode provides us with an idea of how it was done. It would seem that David’s men acted as unofficial security guards in the area where they were based at the time, protecting the local people from attacks by outsiders and looting by local criminals. They did not act as brigands and took nothing that was not freely given, but they did expect to be rewarded when harvest time came round. Hospitality is taken very seriously within Scripture and Nabal’s refusal to provide supplies for David is seen as unacceptable. On this occasion, David and his men had heard that Nabal was sheep-shearing. On a large estate, the feast celebrating the end of shearing would have been magnificent. Even with Nabal’s reputation for meanness, there would be plenty to go round, enough for David’s large band to be included without causing a problem. Perhaps that was why Nabal’s farm was chosen. David sends a small, unthreatening group to remind Nabal of the way his men have protected the shepherds and to ask politely for some recognition of this, gently reminding Nabal of his neighborly responsibilities. Nabal, in rather less than polite terms, tells them to ‘get lost’. Nabal’s insulting response was not to be allowed to stand. Four hundred trained men, the rest staying behind on guard, would have no trouble in dealing with a group of farmhands, however large. Meanwhile, back in the valley, one of Nabal’s servants went to find Abigail. He clearly felt that Nabal’s response was both foolish and uncalled for, and confirms that David’s band had protected them and presumably prevented Nabal from suffering considerable loss. The worker knows and he knows that Abigail knows, that it is no use talking to Nabal. However, he has no doubts that she will be able to deal with the situation. Abigail, like a number of Old Testament women, is seen as having a lot more sense than her husband. It says much for Abigail that, in spite of her husband’s boorishness, she has such a good relationship with the men. Their confidence in her was repaid. Obviously her arrival with such lavish supplies would have made a big difference and one wonders whether Nabal was too drunk or just too dull to notice what she was doing. Although it may simply indicate that the farm was so exceptionally well-supplied that a loss even this large would not be significant. David’s anger may have been assuaged by the smell of the food, but Abigail’s very skillful and accomplished speech completely won him over. It contains as much diplomatic wisdom and awareness of the listener and his possible response as David’s own speech to Saul in the previous chapter.

Abigail Steps In:  1 Samuel 25:23-28.

[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.  [ESV]

[23-28]  Abigail acknowledges David’s position as my lord and her own as your servant. She accepts full blame for what has happened while at the same time disassociating herself completely from Nabal’s actions and his position. She, perhaps rather disloyally, dismisses Nabal as an irrelevant fool and makes it clear that if she had been present, it would never have happened. She plays on David’s natural sense of justice, and his awareness of God’s sovereignty. She knows enough about him to realize that he will withdraw if he can be brought to see the lack of killing so far as God’s intervention and to view his possible action against Nabal as merely revenge (punishment being unnecessary now the gift has been brought). In her plea for forgiveness she launches into a remarkable political speech that clearly shows her understanding of exactly what is going on in the conflict between Saul and David. She makes clear her own conviction that David is God’s man and will not only be given the throne but will be very successful in dealing with his enemies and will himself be kept safe by God. Abigail believes that it is David not Saul who is the future for Israel and that to take petty revenge against Nabal and his household would demean David and his cause. Her final request that he should remember her when God has brought him to power, parallels Saul’s request in 24:20-21.

David’s Gratitude:  1 Samuel 25:32-35.

[32]  And David said to Abigail, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! [33]  Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from avenging myself with my own hand! [34]  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." [35]  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]

[32-35]  One of David’s most endearing gifts was his ability to listen to critiques of his own behavior. He may yield too easily to unwise impulses, but he is rarely unwilling to recognize, regret and take responsibility for those impulses and the consequences of any action that might have followed. He is very aware that in this instance he might have acted in haste and repented at leisure. He sees Abigail’s arrival as a Godsend, acknowledging her theological astuteness and her understanding of his own character. He would have destroyed Nabal’s farm and it would have been the wrong thing to do. Abigail stands as a challenge and an encouragement to intelligent women and men to use their gifts and to share the insights that God gives them. Abigail did not allow her own difficult home situation to prevent her from developing her gifts. There was no question in David’s mind that Abigail had brought him God’s word. The ability to hear God speaking and to listen to advice, even when it comes from unexpected sources, is a further sign of good leadership potential. In this instance, David readily agreed to Abigail’s request, although his opportunity to remember her came rather sooner than expected. Nabal was a prime candidate for a stroke, given his known temper and intemperate drinking, particularly if the kind of behavior seen on this occasion was habitual. He suffered some kind of major seizure as soon as he heard the news of Abigail’s action. As David had already agreed not to attack, it could not have been fear of that that upset him. Perhaps his rage that David had been given supplies after all proved too much for him. Nabal did not recover and ten days later he died. David understood this as God taking the vengeance that was his prerogative and thus confirming Abigail’s wisdom and validating David’s own actions. The marriage that then took place may have stemmed from a mutual attraction or merely a mutual convenience. However, it gave David an opportunity to fulfill any obligation to protect Abigail from Nabal’s family or from Saul and also gave him constant access to her astute advice. It provided Abigail with the chance to exercise her gifts and express her political convictions.


The Instruction of the Lord’s Providence. Chapter 25 must be seen in its larger context, alongside chapter 24. Anyone reading the narrative straight through should note the contrast. In chapter 24 David is the restrainer; he will not harm Saul himself or permit his men to do so. But in chapter 25 David must be restrained; he is bent on spilling Nabal’s blood and that of his men because of Nabal’s affront. He refused to harm the anointed king but is most willing to liquidate a private Israelite. He sees clearly that he must not take personal vengeance against the Lord’s anointed [24:6] but does not make the same connection when it comes to Abigail’s husband [25:13, 21-22]. Abigail must instruct David here: to slaughter Nabal and his household would be shedding blood without cause [31]. In fact, Abigail’s words in verses 30-31 suggest that David’s vendetta would be both wrong and foolish, against both precept and policy. The Lord, she assures him, will certainly bring David into the kingship [28,30], but he must leave that matter in the Lord’s hands; he must not allow either a murderous Saul or an obnoxious Nabal to throw him off course. He must not mar God’s work with his own folly. David must extend the restraint he showed to Saul to Nabal as well. In chapter 24, therefore, David saw clearly what he must, or rather, must not, do; in chapter 25 he does not see it at all. He does not make the connection between the situations with Saul and Nabal. He does not see the wideness of God’s wisdom. Such failure is not unique to David among all the Lord’s servants. Have we not been caught in the same net? Can we not recall times in which we saw God’s way quite clearly in some dilemma but missed it completely in a fresh situation when the same principles applied? There was no “wisdom transfer.” We often have our blinders on. We see clearly how we must be obedient in some dilemma but change the time, the actors, the circumstances, the background, and we simply do not see the connection. We do not see how the wisdom of the former situation applies to the latter one. How multifaceted Christian wisdom must be. How often our gracious God must stoop down to show us our inconsistency. How we need the instruction of His providence.

The Servants of the Lord’s Providence. Yahweh frequently orders His providential care through human instruments, and 1 Samuel 25 is a textbook rather than an exceptional case of this. There is no doubt that Abigail is the primary servant in arresting David from an impetuous disaster. David acknowledge as much: the Lord had sent Abigail to meet him [32] and she, thankfully, talked sense [33]. Throughout the story Abigail vindicates the narrator’s judgment of her [3]: she is decisive and resourceful in action [18-19], perceptive in circumstances [19, 36-37], courageous in anger [20], engaging in demeanor [23-24], theological, rational, and convincing in argument [26-31], and shrewd in suggestion [31]. Clearly, Abigail is the Lord’s stop sign, mercifully placed in David’s path. Another key human instrument of Yahweh’s providence in this story is the unnamed servant of verses 14-17. In retrospect everything depends on the young man speaking to Abigail. He is a minor character of major significance to the story. Abigail would not have known what was happening without the servant’s information.

The Surplus in Yahweh’s Providence. David receives more than the merciful restraint of God’s providence in this episode, for in the process he hears fresh assurance of the Lord’s promise [28-29]. Abigail is both a rein upon David’s folly and a goad to his faith. Abigail speaks as a quasi-prophetess, knowing about the Lord’s promise to David and affirming that David will certainly enjoy its fulfillment. There is no doubt: For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house [28]. And He will preserve David through all dangers [29]. Saul’s traps will never touch one in the Lord’s custody. Hence Abigail confidently speaks of the time when the Lord will have fulfilled what He had promised David [30-31]. Abigail joins those who know and attest that David will be king as the Lord promised. She stands then with Jonathan [23:17] and Saul [24:20]. And her confident word was likely needed. The Lord not only intercepted but encouraged David. And typically He did so with a word of promise. Anyone who stands back and looks at 1 Samuel 25 as a whole should sense the necessity of God’s providence. First Samuel is depicting how the Lord is establishing His kingdom on earth and is showing us why that can only be the Lord’s work. The task can never be fully entrusted to human instruments, for one will honor his sons above the Lord (Eli) and another will not be ruled by the Lord’s word (Saul). The kingdom is not even safe in the hands of godly servants, for Samuel would have chosen another Saul as king [1 Sam. 16] and David, for his part, would have greased the kingdom path with Nabal’s blood [chap. 25]. There was only one Servant who could be trusted with the kingdom – He understood that kingdom glory came from enduring the hostility of Nabals against Him [Heb. 12:3].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         From this passage what do we learn about Nabal? About Abigail? About David? What positive character traits do you see that you would like to adopt as your own?

2.         How was David able to discern that Abigail was truly sent from the Lord and not someone just trying to protect their husband and land?

3.         Can you think of incidents in your own life when God’s providential intervention has saved you from a wrong course of action? Has God ever used you as the means of His providential intervention as He did Abigail?


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

1 Samuel, Dale Davis, Christian Focus.

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

The First Book of Samuel, David Tsumura, Eerdmans.

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