ABIGAIL, A WOMAN OF WISDOM AND LOYALTY
While David and his men were fleeing from Saul, they came upon a husband (and later his wife) which might appropriately be called an “odd couple.” They are introduced by way of contrast:
The name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. And she was a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance; but the man was harsh and evil in his doings. And he was of the house of Caleb (1 Sam. 25:3).
So why had she married him? It might have been an arranged marriage. Perhaps her first husband died shortly after they wed, and she had to marry his brother who turned out to have a totally different character (al-though there is no evidence such was the case). Or it might be that the prominent features of their personalities were not fully developed at the time of their vows.
What a poor reflection he was upon his heritage. Caleb had proven himself to be a man of faith and courage; this descendant had only proven that he could be obnoxious and selfish. He had a wife of “beautiful appearance,” who possessed “good understanding.” Other men probably envied him, but if he appreciated this wonderful helper, the text gives no indication of it.
David and his men are in this area on a feast day (v. 8). He sends a greeting of peace to the house of Nabal and asks if he might provide them food. This foolish man not only refused, but he did so in an insulting way.
“Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?” (vv. 10-11).
Who is David? Even Nabal cannot be so ignorant as to not literally know that? Who had not heard of the man who defeated Goliath? David had also married into the royal family; no one could be so obtuse as not to know these matters. He also obviously knew of the king’s disfavor toward David, which he referred to as breaking away from his master. David did not break away; he was thrust out, fleeing for his life. David had no plans to capture the kingdom, although he knew that God would give it to him when He was ready. To put the responsibility for the current rift upon David was un-fair, to say the least; David was not the villain in this matter.
The fool speaking in verse 11 rivals the fool in Luke 12:16-20. That rich farmer used personal pronouns referring to himself eleven times. Nabal uses them seven times in just one verse. His message comes across loud and clear to David: “This is all mine, and you can’t have it!”
Perhaps if Nabal
had been wise, he might have taken a more cunning approach. He might have told David, “I am not unmindful
of the service you have rendered to
David did not take the news of rejection very well; he immediately announced: “Every man gird on his sword” (v. 13). What particularly enraged David was that Nabal had repaid David “evil for good” (v. 21). He and his men had protected Nabal’s property; a measure of his generosity was appropriate. Ingratitude is al-ways ugly; it may be our chief deficiency with respect to our Maker. David then vowed: “May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light” (v. 22).
A Time for Wisdom
Only a wise person could stop the slaughter that was about to occur. One of the young men, who had been privy to David’s request and Nabal’s rebuff, apprised Abigail of the situation (v. 14). Afterward, he exhorted, “Now therefore, know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him” (v. 17).
This young man was no fool, either. He knew who the one person was who could change the course of events that now seemed locked in. He also knew that further pleading with his master was futile. He was not disappointed; Abigail quickly took matters into her own hands. She too knew that talking sense to her husband was out of the question.
First, Abigail was decisive. She did not say, “Give me until tomorrow morning to sleep on this problem.” Such an approach, although usually advisable, is impossible at times. Like the Monday morning quarterback, we can all see things more clearly after the dust has cleared, but it is a luxury that can-not be purchased in the midst of a crisis. She “made haste” to have the food prepared and rode out to meet David and his men (vv. 18-20)
Second, Abigail displayed humility: “Now when Abigail saw David, she hastened to dismount from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed to the ground” (v. 23). That strange gurgling sound, audible to some, is from feminists throwing up in the background. One must remember, however, that this action is not about men and women; it is about life and death. It is not her husband’s life she is pleading for; perhaps it is not even her own: she is pleading for the lives of all who belong to Nabal.
Humility has never been known to harm people, but its opposite has. Pride has brought about the deaths of countless souls and brought ruin to the innocent and guilty alike. It precipitated King Nebuchadnezzar’s proclivity to munch grass for seven years, for God humbles the proud but exalts the lowly. Humility, on the other hand, has obtained great, positive results (although it ought not to be used as a manipulative technique—especially with God, who can detect insincerity).
Abigail’s humbling of herself before David reminds us of the SyroPhoenician woman who fell at Jesus’ feet on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter (Mark -26). When He remained silent, she pleaded with His disciples. Then He told her that “it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (V. 27). Still she refused to be put off; “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs” (v. 28). Jesus praised her faith (Matt. ). Abigail does not know how David will respond to her for certain, but this approach is her only hope.
Third, Abigail made efforts to atone for her husband: “On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be!” (v. 24). Years later David’s son Solomon would write, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Pr. 15:1). He could have taken that precept from this very event. Nabal’s harshness had certainly stirred up David’s anger, but Abigail’s soft words were melting his wrath.
Fourth, she acknowledged the truth of the situation. She admitted her husband was a fool but pleaded that she had no knowledge of the request (v. 25). As evidence of that latter fact, she brought the food which David had earlier requested (v. 27). Some ladies might have defended their husbands: “He is ordinarily a very generous man; I just don’t know why he acted so rudely today.” Denial does not help the person who has the problem or the person who lives with that individual. She is a realist rather than an optimist.
Fifth, she brings God into this event (v. 26). (Actually, He already is aware of everything that occurs, but many—even brethren—sometimes behave as though such were not the case). Probably, her praise of God as having kept David from committing bloodshed jolted him back to reality. Had he taken God or His counsel into consideration at all in what he had determined to do? No, his wrath is the response of the natural man rather than the spiritual one who had so often prayed to God for deliverance from Saul. Was he now acting like Saul? No, his rage is not unwarranted, as Saul’s was. He is not motivated by anything so irrational as an un-founded jealousy. But he has rashly responded to the refusal of help and would kill the innocent along with the guilty.
Sixth, she exalts
David by wishing that his “enemies and those who seek harm” for him be as
Nabal—that is, foolish (v. 26). It is
clear that with these words she is honoring and praising the future king while
asking that his enemies be unsuccessful.
Who is his greatest enemy, if not King Saul? Unlike her husband who insinuated that David
was nothing more than a renegade, she is not afraid to commit herself to
Seventh, she asks for forgiveness. Her only fault in this matter was neglecting to watch her husband more closely. She allowed him to make a decision by himself which would have proven disastrous, had she not acted quickly. She adds to her plea:
“For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the Lord, and evil is not found in you throughout your days (v. 28).
The implication is that, since evil has not been found in him all his days, he certainly would not want to ruin such a perfect record now. In fact, when the Lord appoints him king, she observes, he would not want to have this one blemish on his record (v, 30). Somehow she knows that God will preserve him as Saul seeks to destroy him and that he will be ruler (vv. 29-30).
Even though we have summarized her argument, Abigail speaks so well and shows so much wisdom that her words are worth repeating:
“Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord has done for my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. But when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maid-servant” (vv. 29-31).
Her motives in keeping David from vengeance are not totally selfish; she is thinking about David and how he would look back on his rash actions in the future. If he puts everyone to death in Nabal’s house, he will feel good for the moment. Revenge, however, as with so many other sins, can only provide a temporary satisfaction. Despite regrets, it cannot be undone. How would David bring back to life those he would have killed? Apologies are somewhat ineffective. The only way to eradicate the devastating results of sin is to keep it from occurring in the first place (a maxim that David would have done well to heed when he lusted after Bathsheba).
Eighth, Abigail is wise enough to ask David to re-member her when he became ruler, a favor that the thief on the cross would ask of Jesus: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke ).
To his credit David recognizes the truth of Abigail’s words. He credits God with having sent her (v. 32) and her with wisdom. He acknowledges that her actions and words kept him “from coming to bloodshed and from avenging” himself with his own hands (v. 33). David accepted the gift she had brought him and told her: “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person” (v. 35).
Not until the next morning did Abigail tell her husband what she had done. Again we see her honesty; she would not keep secret what she had done, but nothing good would have happened if she had told him while he was drunk. She was wise enough to wait for the appropriate time. Did he thank her and praise her for correcting his foolish and nearly fatal mistake? No, he said nothing: “his heart died within him, and he be-came like a stone” (v. 37). He seems to have had a heart attack. Was it from too much reveling or the news that his possessions had been given away? His soul had not been required that same night (as with the rich farmer), but in less than two weeks he died (v. 38).
How interesting that David would have taken vengeance on a dead man! For that reason the advice really is excellent that calls attention to the fact that “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom. ), which comes from Leviticus and Deuteronomy 32:35). Both David and Abigail appear to know this principle. Upon hearing of Nabal’s death David credited God with the vengeance: “Blessed be the Lord, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept his servant from evil! For the Lord has returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head” (v. 39b).
To show his appreciation, we suppose, David sent and promised to take Abigail as wife (v. 39c). Although this invitation seems less than romantic, she accepts- without hesitation in a humble manner (vv. 41-42). Remarkably verse 43 reads: “David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and so both of them were his wives.” Some- one with as much class as Abigail would not say it, but one wonders if she was thinking, “What embarrassment did Ahinoam save you from that you are marrying her?”
To David’s credit, he did not forget Abigail; neither did he wait until he became ruler to remember her. Proposing marriage was even a thoughtful consideration, but why did he take another wife? He already had Michal, although Saul had given her to another man. He had found a wise woman who might give him a wise son. Why take two wives? The results were not good for David. The son of Ahinoam was Amnon, who would later rape his half-sister Tamar and be killed by David’s third son, Absalom, who also led a rebellion against him. His fourth son, Adonijah, lost his life trying to take away the kingdom from Solomon. The second son of David, Daniel, was the son of Abigail (2 Chron. 3:1-2). We hear nothing of his adult life. If he stayed out of trouble, perhaps it was due to the influence of a wise mother.
Why would we call Abigail a loyal person, since she called her husband a fool and countermanded his orders not to supply David and his men with food? First, she was loyal to her husband; loyalty does not require someone to deny facts. Had she been disloyal, she would have ridden away and let him be killed. Instead, she used wisdom to save his drunken carcass. She did what was best for him, which is the chief characteristic of love, also (1 Thess. ).
She demonstrated loyalty to God, to the kingdom, and to David as the future king. Perhaps the problem is that loyalty is such a low commodity today that we do not recognize it when we see it. Just as Jonathan did not say, “My father—right or wrong,” this marvelous woman did not say, “My husband—right or wrong.” (It is not true patriotism that says, “My country—right or wrong,” either.)
True loyalty follows neither blithely nor blindly along. People like Abigail and Jonathan recognize that there is a hierarchy to be respected. The first priority must always be God. Do our actions cause us to be disloyal to Him in any way? In connection with Him is loyalty to Truth. It is for failing to love the Truth that many will be lost (2 Thess. ). Does standing up for someone demand the acceptance of a lie or the refusal to investigate? Does it require denial of facts? Abigail would not make that sacrifice.
Other priorities include husband/wife, children, parents, friends, etc. Those parents who think they are being loyal to their children when they declare, “My child did not do that and would not lie to me,” are wrong. Genuine loyalty does not prefer to ignore evidence, and it is harmful for all involved when parents do so.
The Scriptures present abundant information for us to meditate upon—principles and examples by which to evaluate ourselves. Let us take advantage of the rich material God has given us, profiting spiritually from it. The church is not yet overflowing with wise and loyal men—and women.