Abigail is a true hero of faith, a woman, full of womanly grace and wisdom, who saved the day as only a woman could.
1 SAMUEL #24
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This is another one of those delightful incidents recorded in 1 Samuel. One of the reasons I love it is because once more, this is not a story that anyone near that time in history would make up. It shows up the champion David as an impulsive hothead, and the real hero of this incident is a woman.
As we know, David and his six hundred men were hiding out in wilderness areas. Saul had been shamed into leaving him alone, since David refused to kill him when he had the chance. Even so, David did not settle in a town or with others. Obviously, things with Saul were not completely resolved, and he did not want to endanger any town or family by living with them. Though David was living in wild areas, he and his men did have some contact with others. Shepherds took flocks into the wilderness to graze, sometimes for months at a time. When David and his men encountered them, they protected them and their flocks from wild animals and robbers.
It takes a lot of food to keep six hundred men on their feet, and it doesn’t seem likely that they could have hunted and gathered enough. It is almost certain that David’s men had to rely upon the generosity and kindness of others to keep them supplied. Even so, they never took what wasn’t theirs, but protected the property of those they encountered.
I like knowing this about David. Here was the man who would become the greatest king known to Israel, and not only is he in hiding, but he is barely holding on, dependent upon donations from kind friends and strangers. David wasn’t just a lucky guy who had everything fall into place for him. He spent a significant portion of time in real need, and he never would have made it without help. This is humbling, but the fact that David lived this way encourages me when I feel humbled by my own needs.
After they had been protecting the shepherds and flocks of a wealthy man named Nabal for some time, David sent messengers, asking if Nabal could help him. The messengers pointed out that not only had David never taken anything from him, but had protected his property from bandits and other dangers. At the time, Nabal was cashing in by selling fleeces from sheep that David had protected, and also slaughtering many sheep and feasting. It was a time of great plenty for Nabal, who had a small empire of flocks, herds and servants.
Now it says that Nabal was a harsh man, evil in his dealings. His response shows that this bad reputation was justified. Not only did he refuse to give anything to David, he deliberately and provocatively insulted him and his men. In short, he was a jerk.
David’s response was understandable. Even so, it was not righteous. He left 200 men to guard their hideout, and took 400 men to destroy all that Nabal owned, and to kill him. Nabal’s behavior was despicable. It’s easy to see why David flew into a rage. But that does not justify David’s intent to destroy the man.
At that point, we meet the heroine, Abigail. She is Nabal’s wife. Some of Nabal’s men come to her, and explain what has happened. She makes some immediate emergency decisions, and goes out to meet David with plenty of food and supplies for his men.
Now, some of you have heard me preach through New Testament passages that teach us about biblical roles for women and for men. I think of Abigail as an amazing example of a woman who was used by God as a woman – not as a man. This is how it might look sometimes as we engage in the gender dance the Lord has designed for us. Abigail is smarter than everyone around her at this point in time. She is wiser. For a while, she is the only one who is truly committed to doing what is righteous, and she had to deal with two men in leadership who both wanted to do wrong. But she approaches the situation with an amazing womanly grace and uniquely feminine strength.
She offers David gifts for himself and his men, which was the right thing to do. She also apologized for her husband. There is a play on words here. His name, Nabal, would have been pronounced “nu-bawl.” A Hebrew word for foolish or worthless is pronounced “nu-bawl-uh.” It’s a little like saying “Stu is just like his name: stupid.” (Deepest apologies to anyone named Stu who might be reading this).
Throughout the narrative it is clear that Abigail places herself in David’s hands, and under his authority. However, while she is clearly submissive, she is not subservient. She does not hold back from exhorting David to do what is right. She reminds him of God’s promises to him. She reminds him that he himself knew it was wrong to take things into his own hands by killing Saul. This is a similar situation. She encourages him to trust the Lord, not his own strength, and to trust the Lord’s promises to him. She points out gently that destroying Nabal is something he will probably regret later, and would be a shameful blemish on his record of trusting the Lord. She does it all with womanly grace and attractiveness.
There is no doubt that Abigail was in the right, while both David and her husband were wrong. Even so, there is no sense in this narrative that Abigail has somehow taken on the role of a man, or acted out of a sense of authority or leadership over either one of them. This is one example of what biblical submission can look like. You can see it is not subservience, or rolling over and accepting whatever men want to say or do. In her submission, her grace and wisdom were powerful and attractive. Abigail is a beautiful example of a woman who plays a significant role in God’s kingdom without violating what the Holy Spirit says elsewhere in scripture about gender roles.
And here is something significant: she really got David’s attention. I suspect that David, being in the foul mood he was in, would have reacted angrily to a man who came and told him he was being stupid and making a mistake. But Abigail, with her womanly grace, completely disarmed him. He repented, and freely confessed that she was right and he was wrong.
32 Then David said to Abigail, “Praise to the LORD God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! 33 Your discernment is blessed, and you are blessed. Today you kept me from participating in bloodshed and avenging myself by my own hand. (1Sam 25:32-33, HCSB)
They parted, but obviously, David never forgot the exchange. Abigail went home. She was in a tough place, because now that she had dealt with one angry man, she had to deal with another. We have to read between the lines, but everything I see here suggests that Abigail was trusting the Lord to work out that conversation also. The next morning she told her husband straight out, what she had done. He had a seizure from which he never recovered. The Lord took care of it for her.
When David heard Nabal was dead, presumably after the period of mourning, he asked Abigail to be his wife, and she consented. I think it is obvious that David was deeply impressed by her grace and wisdom.
Now, since it comes up at the end of this passage, I’ll comment briefly on polygamy (having multiple wives). David was married to Michal, Saul’s daughter, but after David fled, Saul married her off to someone else. So when David married Abigail, he was technically unmarried. However, he also married another woman during this same general period of time, Ahinoam.
The Bible does record many men, some of them heroes of the faith like David, having more than one wife. Sometimes, no comment is made upon whether this is a good thing or bad thing. However, the majority of the time, the Bible records that polygamy generally leads to bad results. Jacob had two wives, and the bible records that as a result, there was a huge amount of family strife. Samuel’s father had two wives, and the bible records that it led to family strife. Solomon had nine-hundred wives, and it destroyed his faith, and led the whole country astray. The result of David’s several wives was also ultimately strife between the half-brothers that were his sons. So it is true that the bible doesn’t specifically condemn polygamy – but it certainly doesn’t endorse it either. It happened, and the bible records things that really happened.
One final thought: Jesus clearly taught that marriage was originally intended by God to be between a single man and a single woman. The rest of the New Testament also affirms that in marriage, two are to become one. That idea doesn’t fit at all with polygamy.
So what do we do with all this? If you are a man considering having more than one wife, forget it. But seriously, what does the Lord say to us here?
I do think Abigail can be a great example for girls and women to aspire to. She had beauty, wisdom and courage and she used them all graciously as only a woman could.
For both men and women, perhaps you find yourself between a rock and a hard place like Abigail was. She didn’t waste time trying to figure it all out. She trusted the Lord, and did the first thing that needed to be done. In the end, the Lord took care of it all.
Maybe like me, you are encouraged by David’s humble life at this point. If God’s chosen instrument had to ask for help, it must be OK for us to also ask for help at times. True, it is humbling, but that isn’t usually a bad thing.
Perhaps like David, you might be tricked into responding to someone or some event with rage and anger and hasty action. Maybe the Lord is telling you to slow down and take a step back and ask him what true wisdom is in this situation.
As him now, what he wants to say to you