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We don’t pay nearly as much attention to name history and meanings as they did in Biblical times, but it makes me smile to think how many friends I have named Abigail (ummm it may or may not even be our puppy’s name). Whether or not the Abigails in our lives are so-named because of the amazing woman we learn about this week in 1 Samuel 25, she is definitely one to emulate.
This chapter opens by telling us Samuel died and after all of Israel mourned his death, David and his men went down into the Desert of Maon. An extremely wealthy man by the name of Nabal lived there in Maon, also owning property in the nearby town of Carmel.
Nabal’s name literally means fool and the Bible describes him as surly and mean. Looking up these Hebrew words, they also translate to say: bad, evil, ethically wicked, hard-hearted, and cruel. Sounds like he’s living into the very essence of his name.
But he’s not the only one to bear a name perfectly set for his character. This horrible sounding man was married to an amazing woman of integrity. Abigail, whose name means “my father is joy” is described as being intelligent and beautiful. Because I love digging in deeper, I see in the Blue Letter Bible app (see Week 1) that the Hebrew word towb also means discerning, cheerful, kind, loving, and gracious. The adjective for beautiful that’s used here in verse three is yapheh, means both literally and figuratively beautiful.
Sounds like she’s definitely the better half.
The household has made their way to Carmel for the time of shearing. Aside from the massive undertaking of shearing three thousand sheep and caring for his one thousand goats, this is also a time of festivity. Shearing is similar in importance to harvest, so this is a significant time of celebration and jubilee.
With this large number of livestock, it would be easy for sheep to wander unnoticed, be snatched by wild animals, or even by a dishonest person seeing an opportunity. Living off the land and seeing all the activity within the household of Nabal, David and his men saw a need and filled it.
Sending ten of his men, David asked them to greet the wealthy Nabal saying:
“Live long. Peace be to you, your entire household, and all you possess. I hear that it is time to shear the sheep. I want you to know that your shepherds have been among us in the wilderness, and not only did we not harm them, but not an animal was taken during their time among us in Carmel.
Ask your young men; they will tell you this is true. Please return our kindness and look on my young men with favor since we come on this feast day. Please give whatever you can spare to them and to your son David.” (1 Samuel 25:6-8)
Now notice that David makes no specific request. He doesn’t ask for a percentage of his income or livestock. He doesn’t strong-arm Nabal or blackmail him. He’s basically just asking for something similar to a gift or tip for services rendered at this time of celebration.
Nabal responded asking,
Who is David? Who is this son of Jesse? I’ve never heard of him, so he must be nothing more than a slave who abandoned his master. (1 Samuel 25:10)
Although obviously rude and infuriating, his response is a bit funny. If I were standing before this grump of a rich man, I’d probably have interrupted him and said, “We never said he was the son of Jesse. You don’t know him, huh…then how do you know to whose family he belongs?!”
All the commentaries I’ve studied from this week said the same thing: There’s no way Nabal didn’t know who David was. The whole nation celebrated him when they sang about him
“Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7)
They may not have cell phones and social media, but they certainly had ways of making news spread…and David was such a well-known warrior (he killed Goliath, after all!) that the report of him being on the run from Saul would be known throughout the country. David and his men had been serving Nabal with honor, but Nabal behaved as if David was a fugitive running from the law. Nabal’s response would have been a purposeful insult who’s aim was to deeply offend.
The ancient world placed a large emphasis on integrity, especially amongst warriors. So because their personal reputation and good character was highly valued, this insult and disrespect was a major affront to these men. After receiving the message of what Nabal had said, David told 400 of his men to grab their swords and be ready to fight for their honor.
Meanwhile, knowing Abigail was a good and level-headed woman, a servant in the House of Nabal who witnessed the conversation, shared all that had transpired between David’s men and his master. Sharing the truth of how the warriors were a wall of protection night and day (verse 16), the servant told Abigail:
You should know this and think about what to do next. Evil is coming to my master and his entire household if you don’t do something. Nabal is so worthless that no one can talk to him. (1 Samuel 25:17)
I’m sure her heart sank as she looked wide-eyed at her trustworthy servant. Working quickly, she gathered up two hundred loaves of bread, five dressed sheep, a hundred cakes of raisins, two hundred cakes of pressed figs, wine, grain, and so on…loading it all up onto donkeys and set out for David.
I’ve read this story for years and it always make me stop and wonder just how long it took for David to round up his men and set out toward Nabal’s property. I mean, two hundred loaves of bread and several hundred cakes takes more than a little while to bake!
As I’m studying this time however, it occurs to me that the availability of this much food shows just how many people worked for Nabal. I can just see her running to the kitchen, the cooks (yes…probably plural) asking why she’s yanking everything off the pantry shelves.
My thoughts drift toward Downton Abbey, remembering how much baking and cooking is done prior to their parties and celebrations. Food, upon food, upon food. Perhaps it’s the same here. Stripping the kitchen of what was being prepared for the festivities surrounding the shearing, Abigail sets off behind the food and wine, ready to plead mercy for her husband’s foolhardiness.
Meeting David in a mountain ravine, she slides off her donkey and bows prostrate before David. Acting as both intercessor and mediator for Nabal, she asks that all blame be placed on her alone, pleading for his forgiveness.
Verse 26 shifts gears a touch as Abigail stops beseeching David’s compassion and instead speaks as a messenger from the Lord. She points to herself as the instrument God was using to keep David from bloodshed and avenging himself and continues on (verse 27), bestowing the blessing to flow over to David’s men as well. After all, they too have been saved from the sin of killing innocent men and wishes future victory and triumph to also overflow onto them.
Breathing in her words, David agrees to not engage in vengeful actions and heaps blessing on Abigail for her good judgement, knowing he can face the future with a clean heart.
Let's stop here for a second. I seriously doubt this is normal "female behavior" in these days. Sadly, women in this point in history are considered to be possessions rather than partners. I see Abigail's bravery similar to that of Queen Esther as she went before her (non-Jew) husband the king, in attempt to save her (Jewish) people.
Rather than being seen and not heard, these women stood up for what they knew was right. She may not have loved...or even liked her husband. Yet, she did not play the victim.
Abigail did not fall to David's feet pleading for simply her own life to be spared. When she admitted how worthless her husband was (verse 25), she didn't give David the green light to at least kill him for his foolishness. No. She respectfully reminded David that God is the great judge and was not his place to seek revenge. She rebuked him while spoke truth and life back into his soul.
I'm wondering if I'd have the courage and integrity to do that. Would you?
Parting ways, Abigail comes home to find her drunk husband holding a party like that of royalty. Wise woman that she was, she waited until the morning to tell Nabal all that transpired between herself and David. Suddenly his heart failed him and verse 37 tells us it became like a stone. About ten days later, God struck Nabal and he died.
Hearing of Nabal’s death, David sends a servant asking for Abigail to become his wife. Quickly hopping on a donkey, off she rode with five maids in tow. Though far less comfortable to a the life she was used to (remember, they're currently on the run from Saul), she would no longer be wife to a man who partied like a king...and instead be married to a soon-to-be king.
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I can't wait to continue on next week!