1 SAMUEL 25:1-22
1Now Samuel died; and all Israel assembled and mourned for him. They buried him at his home in Ramah.
Then David got up and went down to the wilderness of Paran.
2There was a man in Maon, whose property was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. 3Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was clever and beautiful, but the man was surly and mean; he was a Calebite. 4David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. 5So David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. 6Thus you shall salute him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 7I hear that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they were in Carmel. 8Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your sight; for we have come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.‘”
9When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David; and then they waited.10But Nabal answered David”s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters. 11Shall I take my bread and my water and the meat that I have butchered for my shearers, and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” 12So David’s young men turned away, and came back and told him all this. 13David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every one of them strapped on his sword; David also strapped on his sword; and about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.
14But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them. 15Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were with them; 16they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. 17Now therefore know this and consider what you should do; for evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.”
18Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys 19and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20As she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them. 21Now David had said, “Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; but he has returned me evil for good. 22God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of all who belong to him.”
Allow me to start with a humorous aside. Who in the world names their kid "foolish"? As the passage above explains, 'Nabal' means "foolish," or "senseless." Perhaps it's a case of "ironic" prophecy, like naming your dog 'dumb-dumb' with the hope that the dog would actually be smart. Whatever the case, Abigail -- whose name means "my father is joy" -- is married to this foolish, clueless, and belligerent man. How such an unattractive man got married to an attractive woman we don't really know but given the marriage customs of the time, sometimes an ugly man with a lot of money can be offered a beautiful daughter by a desperate father.
Other features of this passage need some cultural and historical background information as well. Nabal, who is obviously wealthy, is loaded with sheep (3K) and goats (1K). As such, Nabal is vulnerable to marauders who have no qualms about killing some of his sheep and goats for a meal or two. Nabal is in fact in such a danger with the Ishmaelites roaming around Nabal's territory. Meanwhile, David is on the run from Saul who is trying to kill him. David is in his "outlaw" years moving from place to place in his attempt to flee from Saul. David has his own men, numbering 600 who are faithful to him. They, too, if they so choose, could have taken advantage of Nabal's livestock and eaten their fill. But David tells his men not to raid Nabal; rather, David tells his men to protect Nabal's territory and livestock. These men protect Nabal so well that the passage says that "they were a wall to us both by night and by day" (v.16).
Now David isn't protecting Nabal out of sheer altruism. David is doing an honorable thing, but he is also thinking about his men and their hungry stomachs (and his own too!). David knows the time of shearing is at hand, meaning that a feast will be in order to celebrate such a time. David is anticipating that he and his men will be invited to this great feast, especially since his men had protected Nabal's sheep and goats. Not to be invited given these facts would have been a gross insult.
But true to his name, Nabal is not only foolish but rude and unappreciative. Nabal turns back the ten young men that David sends as his emissaries. Instead of a warm welcome, they are treated with scorn, with some contempt for David thrown in ("Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse?").
David hears about it and loses his cool. He tells his men to strap on their swords. They are going to kill every male that belongs to Nabal, including the chief offender, Nabal. 400 follow David; 200 stay behind. David is in full rage mode.
The slaughter of males would have been a done deal had someone not intervened.
That someone is Abigail, wife of The Fool.
Unlike her husband, Abigail is wise. She is also brave and resourceful. She knows what's going to become of Nabal and his household, including all that Nabal owns. Only devastation awaits them.
Abigail, in essence, offers a "peace offering" of assorted goodies in abundance. The devastating end is averted.
Abigail, David, Nabal, and others described in this passage lived in a particular time and place, with customs that, from our modern perspective, look decidedly patriarchal and unfair. Some of their behavior are brutish and overly violent. If talking doesn't work, just kill them seems to have been a working motto. All these judgments are true and accurate.
Yet, we can still learn about certain virtues, whether found in a man or in a woman, that can save others. Certain virtues at the right time can save whole families, villages, even a nation.
For example, the following virtues exemplified by Abigail in this passage: wisdom, courage, and resourcefulness. These virtues were in Abigail before this episode and these virtues might have served Abigail in some small ways. But it times of extraordinary stress and challenge, these everyday virtues can become heroic and powerful. There are other virtues of course. Virtues are good character traits we have through good genes and good environment. Virtues can also be given by the Spirit and developed. In the New Testament some of these virtues are called "fruits of the Spirit."
Let's pray: Father God, we thank you for the example of Abigail in this passage. A terrible outcome was turned aside because of her wisdom, courage, and resourcefulness. We thank you that we, too, can make pivotal, life-affirming decisions based on our virtues as we are led by you. May you continue to develop and mature us in character formation. Like Abigail we do not know when we are called to make decisions that will save us and others. Like Abigail we want to develop these virtues in small ways in everyday life before the "big" event or decision comes upon us. We are confident you will help us as we are prayerful and mindful about such things. In Jesus' name, amen.