Women of the Bible - Abigail
Passage: 1 Samuel 25:1–25:44
Has someone ever stopped you from making a terrible decision? Have you ever wanted to do something that you’d later come to regret only to have someone else prevent you?
Over the summer we have been looking at a number of women found in stories in the Old Testament. This week we are going to talk about a wise and shrewd woman who kept King David from making a terrible decision that could have derailed his rule before it had a chance to get off the ground. But I’m getting super ahead of myself.
Last week we talked about Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Hannah was one of two wives of Elkenah and was unable to conceive for many years. She prayed to God for a child and prayed that if God would give her a child she would in turn give the child back to God. And once she conceives and bears a child she brings the child back to the Temple to be raised as a servant to the priests. While living in the Temple God calls Samuel to be his prophet.
We have also talked for a lot the last couple weeks about how Israel was governed during this time. Israel had no king and was ruled by judges who took ad hoc authority to address specific threats. God was their executive, the law given by God their legislative, so all that was needed was a judiciary branch to mediate disputes in the law. But the situation under the rule of the judges leads to near anarchy at the end of the book of Judges. Then in 1 Samuel 8 the Israelites demand of God that they have a king so they can be like the rest of the nations. Samuel becomes the person charged with finding the person God had chosen to be king of His people.
The first person Samuel finds is Saul. And Saul is everything you’d want in a king. He’s handsome and a foot taller than any other Israelite. And at first he’s an ok ruler. But then he starts taking more power and authority than God has given him. So God decides He is going to choose someone else to be king. So Samuel is sent to find the person who would be king after Saul. And that person is the youngest son of a random dude in Bethlehem, the youngest son of Jesse, the shepherd boy David. So Samuel anoints David to be king and David comes to live in the royal city into the household of Saul.
And everything is ok for a while. Until David starts to gain popularity through military exploits (he kills a giant with a rock, he slaughters an army of Philistines) and Saul gets insanely jealous and having the king and the king to be in the same house becomes only a good idea if you’re filming a reality TV show. After Saul tries to kill David a couple times, David wises up and goes on the run. There are a couple episodes, namely in 1 Samuel 24 and in 1 Samuel 26 when David has the chance to kill Saul and seize the throne for himself but instead spares Saul and trusts that God will be David’s vindication. In between those two episodes we have this story about Abigail.
1 Samuel 25:1-25 Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah.
I’m gonna break in here to say that Samuel’s death is going to hang over the rest of this story in a real way. Samuel was the one who anointed David, Samuel was the one with authority that passed it on to David. David’s claim was mediated by Samuel. So Samuel’s death becomes an existential crisis for David’s power and authority as rightful king of Israel. Continuing with the Bible…
Then David moved down into the Desert of Paran. A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite. While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! “‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’”
Here we are introduced to a local noble named Nabal. Before we are told his name we are told all about his wealth. We are also told that the best part of Nabal is his wife Abigail. David and his men come to Nabal during a festive time, the time of sheep shearing. David’s men form a wall of protection around Nabal’s men and it’s clear that David has come to see this local lord during a festive time in order to curry favor with him. David is an upstart. He is not a son of Saul, he is someone outside the line of succession. And the source of his authority has died. So we can look at this as David beginning a tour to get the regional nobles to support his claim to the throne. He begins with Nabal.
When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited. Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.
If David’s aim was to get Nabal’s support of his claim, Nabal’s response reveals David’s mission will be a failure. Nabal rebukes David not giving him any respect or paying him homage. So if David can’t curry his favor, he will put him to the sword. If David can’t get Nabal’s support, he will dispose of Nabal and prop up a local lord who will support David.
One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.” Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you. “Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”
After half a chapter we finally meet Abigail. And after being told that Abigail is beautiful and intelligent, her actions confirm that description. She sees that David has the backing of God. She sees that David is God’s pick to be king. And she treats him as a king. She makes up for her husband’s failings, pays proper homage to God’s pick as king, and legitimizes David’s claim to the throne. Every place Nabal messed up, Abigail does right.
David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, “Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.”
The result of which is David calls of his soldiers. David calls off the plan to kill Nabal and his men. Now on the one hand this is really good news for Nabal and his men. But it’s also good news for David. Nabal is a Calebite from Judah. David is also from Judah. Nabal’s men would have been innocent of any crime, except that crime of serving a dolt. Had David done as he planned, his reign would have begun by killing his innocent clansmen. His reign would have been tarnished with bloodguilt. Spoiler alert but later David will do violence against innocent people and will be punished by God for it. Because of Abigail’s intervention, David can begins his reign as king of Israel free from guilt, consequence, or punishment.
When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak. Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died. When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.” Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.” She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife. David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim.
This story ends and in order to talk about this story’s ending I need to contrast this story with two other stories that give this one it’s context. The first is the two stories that occur right around this one. I briefly mentioned that in both 1 Samuel 24 right before this story and in 1 Samuel 26 right after this story Saul is delivered into David’s hand. David has the option of killing Saul then, ending Saul’s threat on David’s life, and taking the kingdom and the power that God has already decided will be David’s. The question becomes will David take the throne by force or will he keep going in faith that what God had promised God will deliver.
In this story David has a similar choice. David could have disposed of a local lord who wouldn’t acknowledge his claim through violence and replaced him with someone who would be faithful. That’s certainly how most kings of that time behaved and fans of Game of Thrones will find this strategy sounds familiar. And we discovered that David meant to do just that until Abigail intervened. Abigail comes in and stops David, convincing him to leave Nabal to God. And what happens is God takes care of Nabal. God removes to obstacle to David’s rule. Which colors the stories of David sparing Saul.
I think Abigail taught David that it was ok to put his faith in God. I think Abigail taught David that it’s ok to wait for God to act. I think Abigail taught David that God will be faithful and we can have patience with God instead of taking matters into our own hands.
This second story that stands in contrast to this one is the story we will talk about next week. The story of another woman that becomes David’s wife who, when we meet her, is married to another man. In this story, however, David isn’t spared from bloodguilt. In this story, however, David takes matters into his own hands. The story of Abigail and Nabal becomes the background to the story that we will tell next week. And that my friends is quite a teaser, is it not?
But Abigail has something to teach not only David, but us as well. And this is what Abigail teaches us. Abigail believes something about David, she believes that David is the one to follow, she believes David is the one whom God has chosen to be king. Her husband has made his choice and it would be easy and normal for her to just silently go along with her husband, no matter what she herself thought. And yet she steps out. She follows what she thinks that God is doing. She calls David to her and acts in faith.
Being a person of faith is a counter-cultural thing. Being a Christian is increasingly a weird, strange, unpopular thing. On any given Sunday the vast majority of the American population is someplace other than church. You are in a minority right now. Abigail teaches us that when we make a counter-cultural choice out of faith, when we make a weird choice out of faith, God is faithful to that. Those choices are meaningful. And it’s ok to go against family, to go against friends, to go against cultural norms in order to be faithful to God.
Now I want us to talk about how we are like Abigail, how God has been faithful to us as we have stepped out in faith. With the people next to you, discuss this question:
- When have you made a dramatic step out in faith and how have you experienced God as you stepped out in faith?