1 Samuel 25:1-44
In passional of St. Macarius we read an interesting story.
Once on his way home St. Macarius was walking through the desert with his disciple – a young novice. The path lay through a forest. Walking faster, the novice left the old man behind. Then he suddenly met a pagan priest.
“Get out of the way, you servant of the devil!” – the young man shouted very passionately. The priest got angry and struck him with his stick. The young man lost consciousness and fell to the ground.
The pagan priest kept on walking and later on he met St. Macarius himself. Because he didn’t expect to be greeted by a pagan priest, the servant of God said: “God be with you, dear brother! Have a pleasant journey!”
The priest was amazed and answered: “Why do you call me a brother when I am a pagan? Besides, I struck your disciple and a little further on you’ll find him lying unconscious on the ground. Are you still going to wish me a pleasant journey ?”
“Now all the more I wish you well!” – replied the Saint, because you are walking on a wrong path – the pathway of malice and revenge. And I call you my brother because we all have the same Heavenly Father. We are all his children and brothers to each other.
The words of the old man touched the priest and he talked for a long time with the man of God. And in the end he wanted to be baptized. That’s how someone’s life could be changed for the Lord by the power of meekness.
Chapter 25 of 1 Samuel is another story that teaches the wisdom of meekness we find in James 3:13:
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
If you are wise, indeed you’ll be humble, gentle, pure and willing to yield – you’ll be a peacemaker. During most of his life David was such a person, but in the incident with Nabal, he could not get over the unjust attitude towards him and become angry and extremely annoyed. If the wise Abigail, Nabal’s wife hadn’t stopped him, he would have done something very wrong. I think this is a lesson that we take from this particular part of the Scriptures – to avoid getting annoyed when people deal with us unjustly and not allowing their unjust reaction to influence our behavior – but rather to respond with “the humility that comes from wisdom”.
Normally our faith is being tested when we are under pressure. David had the same test. Saul had accused him of being a traitor and an outlaw, and he was pursuing him. In addition David was going through an emotional crisis. For one reason and another he was separated from his friends and relatives and was very lonely. The first and the last verse are very important for the whole story in this Chapter. It begins with the news about Samuel’s death (v.1).
1 Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah.
Then David moved down into the Desert of Maon.
David had just returned from Samuel’s funeral. And Samuel was his dear friend. Samuel had been dedicated to God when he was a small child and God’s spirit had been upon him all his life. He had anointed David to be king over Israel (1 Kings 16). Samuel had been David’s adviser and mentor. After David ran away from Saul he went to Samuel’s place. He felt safe there. Samuel had been a moral support and a spiritual father to David. But now Samuel was dead and David had lost his protector and mentor.
As well as Samuel, David had also lost his beloved wife, Michal. The chapter ends with the words (v.44):
44 But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim.
Michal was David’s first wife. They both loved each other (1 Samuel 18:20, 28). When she realized that her father was going to kill David, she warned him and helped him to escape. She helped him escape from Saul through one of the windows of their house (1 Samuel 19:11-12). In addition, she slowed down his persecutors when she lied to them that David was sick. By doing this she showed that she was more faithful to her husband than to her father. Unfortunately, after a short time Saul made her marry another man. He probably did this to make David suffer. In that case, he acted as if David was dead. Imagine how David felt about it?
David could not hide at Samuel’s place anymore, he couldn’t see his wife, and he couldn’t even go to his parents. Fearing revenge from Saul, he had entrusted his parents to the care of the king of Moab (1 Samuel 22:3-5). They had to stay there until the conflict was over.
David could not see his dear friend Jonathan either. Jonathan used to go to see David at his hiding place, but he could not do it anymore (1 Samuel 23:14-18).
This was a time for David when he was enraged and could act rashly because he felt very lonely and this made him tense. His spiritual mentor was dead, his wife had been given to another man, his parents were in exile and his friend couldn’t visit him. Actually, David had 600 men with him but they did not share David’s point of view that Saul was God’s anointed. Although his men loved him they couldn’t understand his faith and were unable to encourage him. Instead of his men helping him, David had to take care of them and this was not easy at all.
Do not we have the same problems so often? We face the same challenges over and over again. And when our responsibilities wear us down, something really trivial can make us burst out in anger. Nevertheless we can deal with it and control our emotions. Regardless of what’s going on in our lives we must always respond in the meekness of wisdom.
And so, at a time when David was lonely and distressed, Nabal – a wealthy man whom David had always treated well – insulted him. This happened during a feast when the sheep were being sheared (vv.2-3).
2 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. 3 His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings.
Nabal was a pretty rich man – he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. It takes a lot of people to shear all those sheep. So he made a barbecue for the feast – verse 36 says “he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king.”
David had 600 men and his responsibility was to find them food. Feasts in Israel were time of sharing and David and his men had contributed to Nabal’s prosperity and wealth. David could have taken away all of Nabal’s flocks but he treated his servants very well while he was in the wilderness. The servants themselves appreciated his attitude and in verses 15-16 one of them says to Abigail:
15 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. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them.
David was aware of the local traditions because he used to be a shepherd. So he sent messengers to Nabal to ask for food in a polite manner (vv.4-6).
4 While David was in the desert, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. 5 So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. 6 Say to him: `Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!
David approached Nabal with greetings and blessings. He came to Nabal at the time of the festival of sheep shearing. He asked for food because David’s servants and Nabal’s shepherds had a history of good relationships and the way David requested food was meant to make Nabal give them whatever Nabal had on his heart. He was not demanding, he was asking for a favor (vv.7-8).
7 ” `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. 8 Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my young men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’ “
Note the humble way David appeals to Nabal. He calls his own men Nabal’s servants and himself – his son. What honor and respect!
9 When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited.
David’s request for provisions is neither groundless nor insolent. On the contrary, it is logical and reasonable. Nabal could have answered David in four different ways:
- To send David’s men back with gratitude and a generous gift;
- To give them less food than they needed but anyway to give them something;
- To give nothing but at least to thank David for his kindness toward him;
- Not only to refuse him but also to insult him.
Of all these four Nabal chose the worst. He was “such a wicked man that no one could talk to him.” (v.17). Here is what he did (vv.10-11).
10 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. 11 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?”
Nabal insulted David. He said: “Who are you that I should treat you for the festival? You have run away from your master; you are a rebel and good for nothing. Shall I then take my bread, and water, and meat that I have prepared for my shearers, and give it to men that I don’t know where they come from? Nabal treated them as if they were the dregs of society. Moreover Nabal was exaggerating and was twisting the facts. He accused David of running away on his own initiative, but the situation was entirely different. David had run away from Saul not because he wanted to do it but because of Saul’s intention to kill him, although David was innocent. Besides that, David was not anybody. He had killed Goliath, and he was the commander in Israel. He was also king’s son-in-law. Although Naval knew all these facts very well he treated David like a criminal.
Sure, David was hurt. In this situation Nabal treated David badly. In response to David’s good attitude he answered in offensive language: “Who are you? Get away from here! Mind your own business!”
From David’s perspective he had treated Nabal well and it was appropriate that Nabal should return the favor. But instead of blessing him, Nabal insulted him and sent him away empty-handed. David began thinking that all the favor he had shown to Nabal was in vain. That enraged him. If Nabal had turned against David in spite of his good attitude towards him, David thought it would be justifiable to return evil for evil. So he decided to kill Nabal and his men (vv.12-13; 21-22).
12 David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. 13 David said to his men, “Put on your swords!” So they put on their swords, and David put on his. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.
21 David had just said, “It’s been useless–all my watching over this fellow’s property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. 22 May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”
Would it be justifiable if David shed the blood of Nabal and all his men for an insult? It is not sensible, but the truth is this is the way you act under stress. You do and say things that you are going to be sorry about.
That’s why in the Old Testament it was said: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. That limited revenge, because if someone would gouge your eye out then perhaps you would want to behead him. But the Law says that revenge cannot go beyond the limits of an eye for an eye (Ex.21:24). A carnal man would say: “two eyes for one and a jaw for a tooth”. But Jesus said in Mathew 5:38-39:
38 “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
So which side do we take? Do we stand with the Law or with sin or with the Holy Spirit? In that case, because of his anger David chose to do the wrong thing. Nabal’s sin was an insult to David and as revenge David wanted to kill him and not only him, but also all the men in his household, which meant that he would shed innocent blood. This is an entirely different David from the one we see in the previous chapter 24. Then in a similar situation he had controlled himself and refused to harm Saul although he had the chance to. In the incident with Nabal however David does not leave retribution to God but tries to take revenge himself. It looked as though David was willing to accept injustice from people in a position of higher authority, but he couldn’t accept the same injustice from people that were under his authority. Was that justifiable? No. Neither are we when we decide to take God’s place and pay back. David was wrong because he didn’t wait for his reward from God but looked to Nabal as his source and provider. He expected immediate “return” from the “investments” he had made by keeping Nabal’s flocks. Should we look at people as our source? No, only God is our source!
The problem with acting like a servant is that sometimes people will really treat you as a servant. However, we don’t have to feel hurt but rely on the Lord. In Luke 17:7-10 Jesus said:
7 “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, `Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Would he not rather say, `Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ “
Put yourself in the shoes of this servant. You’ve been working in the field, ploughed, and looked after the sheep all day long. Then you go back home hungry and exhausted. But you can’t rest before serving at your master’s table and before he finishes his dinner. Are you going to be mad at your master about that? You shouldn’t. Because he is the master and you are the servant. The servant’s job is to serve, not to complain. He shouldn’t expect appreciation for what he’s done.
Of course, David wasn’t Nabal’s servant. All he had done was out of his goodwill. But he shouldn’t have thought of destroying Nabal and all his men just because of an insult. God however used Abigail to stop him from doing something stupid and wrong.
While David was riding at full speed to Nabal’s house one of Nabal’s servants told Abigail about the rudeness of his master and the danger they were in. Apparently, he knew her, and unlike Nabal, he expected her to understand him (vv.14-19).
14 One of the servants told Nabal’s wife Abigail: “David sent messengers from the desert to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 15 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. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them. 17 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.”
18 Abigail lost no time. 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. 19 Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.
Abigail and Nabal were complete opposites. She was “wise and beautiful” (quite a rare combination), while he was “surly and mean in his dealings”. The name of Nabal means “reckless” or “stupid” and completely corresponds to his character. Abigail didn’t tell him what she intended to do because she knew what his reaction would be. Nabal would forbid his servants to obey her command. Here is what happened (v.20):
20 As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them.
For me this is the focal verse in the whole chapter. David with all his army is on his way to do something very bad and stupid but one wise and meek woman meets him and stops him. At this moment Abigail starts to intercede for her husband, asking David to refrain from bloodshed. In this case Abigail acts as a peacemaker. She is the embodiment of mildness and wisdom (vv.23-24).
23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said: “My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say.
When Abigail saw David she bowed to the ground. Everything inside her radiates an attitude of complete obedience and respect. In her speech six times she calls herself “handmaid” (NIV “servant”) and fourteen times talks about David as her “lord”. Abigail begs David for forgiveness as if she herself had treated him unjustly. Now this is a real intercession – to identify or to associate yourself with the guilty one and to take his negatives on you. Even though Abigail was not to blame for the stupid act of her husband, her first words were (v.24):
24 “My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say.
She speaks as if her husband’s mistake is her own (v.28):
28 Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the LORD will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the LORD’s battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live.
How does Abigail defend her husband? How are we going to defend such an evil and ill-tempered person? The first argument Abigail spoke in Nabal’s defense was his character, which was the reason he was doing wrong things. If that was a case in the court and Abigail was her husband’s lawyer most probably she would plead that Nabal was innocent on the basis of a mental disorder. “He is just like his name–his name is Fool, and folly goes with him.” No one in the court would condemn a mentally ill person, because they cannot be responsible for their behavior. This is the argument which Abigail hopes will make David spare her husband (v.25).
25 May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name–his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent.
Her second argument is that bloodshed is not appropriate for David’s character. She asks David to act according to his own principles and standards (v.26).
26 “Now since the LORD has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, may your enemies and all who intend to harm my master be like Nabal.
This is the key point in the whole chapter. God is against bloodshed. He is against taking the law into your own hands and revenge. Retribution belongs only to Him. By this moment of David’s life God restrained him from revenge . And if David had relied on God for food and protection and justice so far, would he not rely on God again?
This is what I want to call your attention to – if God has stopped us from taking revenge and has given us so many spiritual victories, would we allow something small and insignificant to make us burst out in anger? Will we now commit a sin just because “we have been annoyed”?
27 And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my master, be given to the men who follow you.
Proverbs 21:14 says:
14 A gift given in secret soothes anger,
and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath.
Abigail applied that truth and gave David a gift without the knowledge of Nabal in order to calm his anger. When the smell of the five lambs and 200 loaves of bread came to them, probably David’s hungry men wanted first to eat and then go and do whatever they had started.
Unlike her husband, who considered David as a runaway and a criminal, Abigail was sure that he was God’s anointed. For her there was no doubt that David would be the next king of Israel (v.28).
28 Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the LORD will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the LORD’s battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live.
Here Abigail’s words are almost prophetic because God hasn’t yet revealed to David clearly His will to make him the founder of an eternal dynasty but it seems that to Abigail this is very clear (v.29).
29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master 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.
Presumably, Abigail’s words “as from the pocket of a sling” about the killing of David’s enemies weren’t spoken by chance because that was the way David had killed Goliath. Then he had relied on God and had not been disappointed. Now it would be better if he leaves everything in God’s hands instead of taking the law into his own hands and being ashamed after that.
Abigail saw the sign of God’s favor towards David in the way He protected him from Saul. She saw the nobility of a king in the way David reacted to Saul’s pursuit. And now she wanted to preserve him from doing something which could become an ugly spot in his otherwise clean biography (v.30-31).
30 When the LORD has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, 31 my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the LORD has brought my master success, remember your servant.
The idea of not avenging is totally in accordance with New Testament teaching. It was as if Abigail knew how sensitive David’s conscience was, and that if he had committed what he wanted to, he would feel really sorry and he would be bitterly stung with remorse for the innocent bloodshed.
David as a man of God understood that Abigail was right, and accepted her as a sign from God. His main merit was that he took advice even from a woman, and others inferior to him (vv.32-35).
32 David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 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.”
35 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.”
Because he listened to the wisdom of Abigail and held back from taking revenge, David was rewarded by God. In exchange for his proper acts, he saw Nabal’s death, and Abigail became his wife. However, all this didn’t come from him but from God.
36 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 until daybreak. 37 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. 38 About ten days later, the LORD struck Nabal and he died.
When Nabal became sober and heard of David’s intentions to kill him his face turned pale. He became so worried that he was struck with apoplexy and became paralyzed. As a result of his disease in ten days he died. How much better it was that Nabal’s death came from God and not from David!
When David heard of Nabal’s death he realized that God had stopped him from taking a fatal step. It is the evil man who harms himself (v.39).
39 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.
Remember Abigail’s last words to David: “when the LORD has brought my master success, remember your servant”. And David remembered that his spiritual victory was due to Abigail. With the meekness of wisdom she managed to stop him from taking the law into his own hands and committing premature murder. David could hardly find such a wise woman as Abigail!
David sent his people to take her for his wife (v.40).
40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”
This wasn’t a proposal. It sounded like a summons for the army. Anyway this strong-minded woman didn’t need a second invitation (v.41).
41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “Here is your maidservant, ready to serve you and wash the feet of my master’s servants.”
Note, that Abigail didn’t think of herself as a queen but as a king’s servant, who was humble enough to wash his servants’ feet (v.42).
42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five maids, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.
Remember the beginning of our meditation on this chapter. David had lost two of his precious people – Samuel and Michal. Now God gave him a good, humble, and beautiful woman, who understood him and to some extent could compensate for his loss. How wonderful is God’s providence! God dealt with Nabal much better than David could have. He gave David Abigail – a wonderful woman to love and respect him. And this wouldn’t have happened if David had not listened to the meekness of wisdom Abigail had, and if he had not eased his anger. For David that incident was a lesson from God and a preparation for him to keep on defeating evil by doing good as we see in the next chapter, 26.
This story is also a preparation for us – not to allow injustice and insult towards us to drive us mad. Let us not take revenge on our own but let God pay back those who deserve it (Rom. 12:19). “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good!” (Rom.12:21)
If we completely trust God and we give our cause to Him, we will never be disappointed because He is just, He is merciful, and He is full of blessings. And don’t ever forget God’s words to Cain (Gen.4:7):
“Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”