Beginning in chapters 21 and 22 we saw that David, in order to escape capture and death at the hands of Saul, was constantly on the move. He went to Nob, where he received help from Ahimelech the priest. Unfortunately, that ultimately cost Ahimelech, 84 other priests, and the other inhabitants of Nob their lives.
Next David attempted to take refuge among the hated Philistines. But servants of the Philistine king immediately recognized David, and he had to pretend he was crazy to escape the situation.
David’s next stop was a place called Adullam, where hundreds of people gathered under his leadership. David went from there to Moab, whose he stayed for a time. But then on the advice of a prophet named Gad, David and his band relocated to the forest of Hereth in Judah.
In the last essay we studied 1 Samuel chapters 23 and 24, which continued the story of David’s adventures while Saul pursued him. In this essay we take up chapter 25 in which we find an exceedingly interesting story. Verse one tells us about the death of Samuel. It apparently was inserted here simply because it happened at this time.
Verses two and three introduce us to the two major characters that we do not already know. They are a husband and wife named Nabal and Abigail. Nabal was rich, but as the NRSV translates it, he also was “surly and mean.” Abigail on the other hand is described as “clever and beautiful.”
Nabal was a descendent of Caleb, though had Caleb been alive, he may not have wanted to claim Nabal. The story indicates that Nabal lived up to the meaning of his name. It means “fool.” The commentators tend to resist the idea that his actual name was “fool.” They question whether any parent would name their child “fool,” so they suggest it may have been a nickname of some sort. In any case, Nabal was his name.
As the narrative unfolds, David heard that Nabal was holding a sheep shearing, which ordinarily meant that a feast would also be held. So David sent some of his men to ask Nabal to provide some food for his men. The expectation was that Nabal would gladly do it, because David’s men had given Nabal’s sheep and shepherds protection while in the fields (vv. 5-8).
But Nabal did not do as expected. On the contrary, he not only refused to give food, he did it in a mean and insulting manner. “Who is David?” he asked. And then in effect he said, there are lots of outlaws out there, and I’m not giving my food to just anyone who comes out of nowhere and asks for it (vv. 9-11).
The men returned to David with the story of how they were treated. And David became sinfully angry. “Every man strap on his sword!” he exclaimed. And he immediately set out with 400 men with the intention to kill every male connected with Nabal and his household (vv. 12-13). It isn’t until verse 22 that we learn of that intention, but such was the case.
Fortunately for Nabal and his men, Nabal’s wife Abigail had better sense than he did. Abigail had not known about Nabal’s conversation with David’s men. But fairly soon after it happened, she heard about it. She also heard about how David’s band had protected Nabal’s interests in the fields (vv. 14-17). Abigail realized immediately the seriousness of Nabal’s refusal. So she set to work to undo his foolish action.
Without telling Nabal, she gathered a huge amount of food: bread, wine, dressed sheep, grain, raisins, and fig cakes. She had all of it loaded on donkeys, and then she set out to take it to David (vv. 18-19).
In the meantime David was moving toward Nabal’s home. And his intention to kill every male associated with Nabal is clearly stated in a kind of literary “flashback” in verses 21 and 22. The expression in verse 20 in the NRSV that Abigail “came down under cover of the mountain” means that her train of donkeys was out of sight, because it was coming down through a valley hidden between two mountains. As she emerged from the ravine, she met David and his men.
At the beginning of the story we were told that Abigail was clever. She proved it here. She alighted from her donkey and talked fast, doing and saying all of the right things to appease David’s wrath. First, she immediately bowed before David, paying him homage. Second, she asked David to lay the guilt of Nabal’s insults on her, hoping that it would soften his anger (vv. 23-24). Third, she attempted to bring David to a friendly state of mind. She begged for the opportunity to be heard (v. 24), and quickly admitted that Nabal was exactly what his name implied, a fool (v. 25). Then without waiting for an answer she gave David three arguments. One, she pointed out that the Lord had stopped David from committing murder by her coming to meet him. Two, she reminded David that the Lord is the avenger, and she wished that David’s enemies would all be fools like Nabal (v. 26). And three, she offered the food she had brought to benefit David’s men (v. 27). And to top it all off, she asked David for forgiveness, even as she flattered David in regard to his goodness and service to the Lord (v. 28).
Then Abigail concluded her discourse by speaking of David’s being “prince over Israel” some day. Scholars debate whether or not she could have heard somewhere that David would one day be king. In any case, as we see in the following verses, Abigail succeeded in changing David’s mind about taking vengeance.
David was completely convinced, so much so that he praised the Lord for sending Abigail to him (v. 32). He agreed with her that she had saved him from wrongly taking blood vengeance (vv. 33-34). He accepted Abigail’s gifts and sent her home in peace (v. 35).
Abigail didn’t tell Nabal immediately about her transaction with David, because he was drunk (v. 36). When she did tell him the next day, “his heart died within him,” which generally is interpreted as meaning he sustained a stroke. Then ten days later he died, apparently from a second stroke (vv. 37-38).
David laid Nabal’s death to an act of the Lord, and then he promptly asked for the widow Abigail’s hand in marriage (v. 39). She quickly accepted (vv. 40-42).
The chapter ends with two further notes on David’s love life. The author mentions that David married another woman in addition to Abigail. Her mane was Ahinoam. The author also informs the reader that Saul had given David’s wife Michal, who was Saul’s daughter, to another man (v. 43).
Turning to application, what we learn from this chapter comes from its three main characters: David, Nabal and Abigail. Beginning with David, he acted in good faith. First, he kept his men under discipline. It would have taken considerable food for David’s 600 men; and they had the collective strength simply to take what they wanted. But notice that Nabal’s shepherds were protected by David’s men rather than plundered by them.
Second, David rendered valuable service to people in the areas where his men lived. For example, they were like a wall around Nabal’s shepherds.
Nabal on the other hand was a prosperous fool. First, Nabal had every advantage. He came from a good family, the family of Caleb. He had an excellent wife, a woman who was beautiful, intelligent and generous. And he was immensely wealthy.
But though Nabal’s advantages were great, second, his character was worthless. He gave no evidence of fearing God. He despised those who were beneath his social position. He was ungrateful for help received. He was insulting to others, specifically to David. He was intemperate in his habits, getting drunk. And he lived only for himself.
And third, Nabal’s end was miserable. He was taken by illness and death suddenly, though he was unprepared for it. And like the rich fool of Jesus’ parable (and the rest of us for that matter), Nabal was unable to take his wealth with him.
Compared to Nabal, Abigail was a woman of good character. She was intelligent. That was demonstrated by her actions. She was decisive. Notice how quickly she made a decision about Nabal’s foolish treatment of David’s men. She was humble in her approach to David. She was generous, providing an enormous amount of food for David’s men. She was faithful to her husband, being willing to take the blame for his folly. And she was pious, pointing David to the Lord’s overarching providence.