Abigail definitely belongs in this study of great women of the Bible. Of the seven women being reviewed, she is the one most people are less likely to know. Scripture presents her as a beautiful, intelligent woman whose lot in life is one of being married to a rich fool. Abigail reveals how wisdom and determined action need to partner in order to save good people from disaster. Being wise in itself may not be sufficient in some situations. Without taking immediate action, it is possible to simply stand by and watch destruction that could be avoided.
Abigail’s example points to the importance of the words chosen when speaking in tense situations. Harsh, loud words may become the catalyst to an unnecessary explosion. They may drive individuals to actions which will be regretted later. In contrast we see how calm, carefully calculated words can lead to a peaceful parting or solution. This lesson’s golden text deserves careful attention: “A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Today’s lesson revolves around the attitudes and actions of three persons. One doesn’t hesitate to spout inflammatory words without any regard for the potential consequences. Another of the characters hears the words and, in haste, decides to retaliate in a manner with far-reaching implications. Fortunately, standing between them is a woman who immediately grasps the entire setting. Then she races to bring a peaceful end which, in the long run, will bring special benefit to her.
This lesson also provides us with another area for consideration. What should be our attitude when crisis thrusts itself upon us? It’s true we have differing personalities and emotional levels. However, every one of us should strive to be “calm, cool, and collected.” This can be accomplished as we keep a tight rein on ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. “Think twice before speaking once” is wise advice.
I. DETERMINED ACTION (1 Samuel 25:2-6, 9-19)
A. David’s Request (vv. 2-6, 9)
2. And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel.
3. Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb.
The story of Abigail is set in the years when David and his men are fugitives from King Saul. Repeatedly Saul’s forces pursue David, but he successfully eludes them in spite of the spies located in various parts of the country. On one occasion David is in the wilderness of Paran, which was located west of the southern end of the Dead Sea. This vast area proves to be a good area for raising sheep and goats. A wealthy man named Nabal uses it for his very large flocks.
Though Nabal lives in the town of Maon, he owns property at Carmel, a small nearby town. Verse 2 indicates by numbers how wealthy he is. Having this many sheep and goats will necessitate a number of shepherds to provide them with proper care. One can only imagine the effort to shear the sheep and then care for the wool. Besides the work, the shearing time also becomes a time for festivity. Nabal, more than likely, doesn’t spend his time there during most of the year. Since shearing would be similar in importance to harvest for a farmer, he is there for this significant shearing event.
The difference in personality between Nabal and his wife, Abigail, are pronounced. She is both beautiful and intelligent. Her name means “whose father is joy.” Then there is her husband. He is “surly and mean” (v. 3, NIV). You wonder if his parents gave him the name Nabal (“fool”) or if it was conferred on him later in life. How did these two ever get together in marriage? More than likely it came about as the result of an arranged marriage.
Knowing Nabal is personally in the area, David sends 10 men to greet him and request provisions at this time of festivity. This representative group approaches him with wishes of health and long life for both himself and his household. They point to their treatment of his shepherds and that no animals are missing. This means David and his men did not simply take animals for their personal use like some fugitives would have. It also could indicate their protecting the unarmed shepherds from desert raiders. This will be verified later. It is suggested that Nabal should check the accuracy of their statements with his shepherds. Of course, that would be out of the question with such a personality as his.
Notice, David makes no specific request other than what Nabal could spare at this celebration time. This isn’t a “shakedown” or a blackmail attempt.
B. Nabal’s Response (vv. 10-13)
10. And Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.
11. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?
12. So David’s young men turned their way, and went again, and came and told him all those sayings.
13. And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the stuff.
Nabal’s harsh dismissal of David’s request demonstrates his true nature. His question “Who is this David?” provides an immediate insult. Who wouldn’t know of the hero who just a few years before brought victory to Israel by defeating Goliath? How could Nabal even pretend not to know of the one whom the women sang his praises (18:7)? Nabal’s response further suggests David’s being a traitor to the king of Israel, a rebel. What a slap in the face to the messengers and their leader!
In view of this portrayal of David, Nabal indicates there being no reason to take provisions from his shearers and give them to David and his men. He offers no appreciation for the services rendered to his men and property. Nabal chooses to serve only himself.
Nabal’s response infuriates David. He immediately orders two-thirds of his army (400 men) to strap on their swords and prepare for battle. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary suggests, “The largeness of the force showed how terribly David was in earnest, and how bent he was on wiping out the insult of Nabal in blood. In Nabal, the rich sheep-master, the rude refuser of the fairly earned gift, David saw a deadly political advisory who would hunt him down like a wild beast.” If this isn’t the case, we are faced with a great difficulty in attempting to explain David’s desire for such an extreme action.
C. Abigail’s Efforts (vv. 14-19)
14. But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed on them.
15. But the men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we any thing, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields:
16. They were a wall unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.
17. Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.
18. Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses.
19. And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal.
When one of the young men inform Abigail of the events, she understands this is a crisis. Immediately she mounts an effort to avoid an unnecessary catastrophe.
It is interesting how this informant viewed what took place. David’s men brought an appropriate greeting from David to Nabal. He in turn responded with no hint of expected Oriental hospitality and gratitude. Rather, Nabal hurled insults at them. This worker’s description carries added weight due to his having personally seen and experienced the attitude and care of David and his men. In verse 15 he describes the protective care given by David’s men to Nabal’s shepherds. He describes them as being a wall shielding them day and night (v. 16).
Having shared the story, this unnamed man places the future in Abigail’s hands. He knows disaster will come on them. It is possible some had attempted to speak to Nabal about the situation. But if they did, it accomplished nothing. Stubborn, obstinate, egotistical men do not change their minds! Or, if they do, it is under considerable pressure of the more powerful.
Abigail quickly gathers food supplies as a gift for David and his men. The availability of this amount of food indicates a sizeable number of individuals worked for Nabal. Once the donkeys are loaded, she sends them on ahead. Possibly she needed some extra time to be prepared properly for the meeting. All this takes place without Nabal’s knowledge. More than likely he is out supervising or observing the shearing.
II. WISE COUNSEL (1 Samuel 25:20-31)
A. David’s Intent (vv. 20-22)
20. And it was so, as she rode on the ass, that she came down by the covert of the hill, and, behold, David and his men came down against her; and she met them.
21. Now David had said, Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him: and he hath requited me evil for good.
22. So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light.
In these verses David’s thought process becomes very evident. He realizes how worthless all his good deeds to Nabal really are. Caring for Nabal’s property brought nothing more than the railing insults of a wealthy, self-centered person. This evil response deserves the most severe retribution in David’s mind. He decides to attack Nabal’s encampment and kill all the males. Then, David and his men could take all the needed supplies.
In this vengeful environment Abigail meets David. It is interesting how Scripture describes the exact location of their meeting. The mountain ravine provides a narrow place guaranteeing their coming face-to-face.
B. Abigail’s Intercession (vv. 23-25)
23. And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground,
24. And fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid.
25. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send.
Wisdom and determination evidence themselves in Abigail’s actions. This is a make-or-break situation. If she can intercept and persuade David from his intended purpose, there will not be the shedding of much innocent blood. Nabal probably deserves David’s wrath; however, those working for him are simply pawns in this setting.
Recognizing who David is, Abigail immediately dismounts from her donkey and offers the bow of greatest humility. Instead of remaining on her feet and bowing either her head or from the waist, Abigail prostrates herself at David’s feet. Notice her intercession. In an attempt to ward off the bloodshed and save innocent lives, she asks for the blame to be hers. Though having nothing to do with what took place, she willingly offers herself as the culprit. Only after setting the stage does she ask David to disregard the words and actions of her husband. What a contrast between Abigail’s wise humility and Nabal’s foolish pride.
Abigail’s words in verse 25 indicate she knows the true nature of her husband. She understands him to be truly a “man of Belial”—a person who is worthless or without profit. Yes, he amasses riches, but as a person he is a “no account.” Abigail points out how his name fulfills his actions. A fool makes foolish decisions.
Working as the intercessor and mediator, Abigail points to herself as being different than her husband. This is accomplished by stating she did not see the delegation of David’s men when they came. Her insinuation is that things would have been different if she had.
C. Abigail’s Counsel (vv. 26-31)
(1 Samuel 25:26-29 is not included in the printed text.)
30. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel;
31. That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the Lord shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.
A major shift now comes into the conversation. Abigail goes beyond a wife interceding for her husband and household. She suddenly becomes a messenger of the Lord. A much bigger picture comes to light as Abigail shares an understanding of God’s purpose and future status of David. In verse 26 she, in essence, points to her coming as the action of the Lord keeping him from bloodshed. It’s another instance of God’s care and direction in David’s life. For this reason the future king should be thankful.
Abigail follows with a blessing on David, which is a condemnation of all enemies in the future. This does take place during David’s reign. He defeats the enemies on all sides of Israel. When the kingdom passes to his son Solomon, there is an era of peace.
Whom you associate with does make a difference! In this case Abigail wants the blessing for David to spread to the men with him (v. 27). They too have been saved from killing the innocent. She wishes for the future success of David to overflow to them.
In verse 28 Abigail once again identifies herself with the actions of her husband as though they were her own. And then she moves beyond the present situation to assure David he will become Israel’s king. The anointing of at least a decade earlier will be fulfilled. Reference to the establishment of a “sure house” speaks of a dynasty. Several years into David’s reign, God assures him of an everlasting family member being on the throne (2 Samuel 7).
The Lord will partner with David and fight his battles. This doesn’t take away from David’s involvement and efforts. David can be assured of the inability of Saul (“a man . . . risen to pursue thee,” v. 29) to thwart his rise to the throne.
Verse 31 urges David not to engage in vengeful actions which, in the future, would bring considerable grief. David would bear the stain of the blood of innocent victims on his hands. Now, thanks to the intervention of Abigail, he can face the future with a clean heart.
Abigail concludes her words with a request referring to the time when David will have ascended to the throne. What she may have had in mind can only be a matter of speculation. This writer doubts she could have ever imagined her position in the near future.
III. COURAGE REWARDED (1 Samuel 25:32-42)
A. David’s Acceptance (vv. 32-35)
32. And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me:
33. And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.
34. For in very deed, as the Lord God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!
35. So David received of her hand that which she had brought him, and said unto her, Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person.
Abigail’s plea begins an immediate positive response from David. We see instant gratitude, first to God and then to Abigail. David recognizes the hand of God in this situation. He praises this wise woman for taking action which will stop innocent bloodshed. Except for her intervention, the obliteration of Nabal and his household would surely be the result. She stands in the gap protecting both parties. Her decisive action allows life to continue.
In verse 35, David accepts the provisions from Abigail and instructs her to go home in peace. There is nothing to fear. David heeds her words and request.
B. Nabal’s Death (vv. 36-38)
36. And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light.
37. But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.
38. And it came to pass about ten days after, that the Lord smote Nabal, and he died.
Upon arriving home from intercepting David, the situation is not right for Abigail to speak to Nabal concerning her actions and David’s intent. Nabal is in the middle of a feast celebrating as though he were a king. Perhaps he is celebrating another successful sheep-shearing with the resulting profit. Or he may be thinking himself to be some special person for insulting and dismissing David’s messengers. Regardless of the reason, it becomes his last riotous celebration.
The next morning, once Nabal regains his sobriety, Abigail recounts the events of the previous day. Verse 37 indicates her telling him “all these things” (NIV). More than likely, this means she tells the story in detail and possibly recounts the exact words.
Apparently, the stress of his foolishness, which nearly brought death to him at the hand of David, becomes too great. The description of his heart failing and becoming like a stone is probably what we would call a heart attack or stroke. He lingers for 10 days, and then dies.
Verse 38 helps us put Nabal’s death in perspective. God strikes the health of this man and takes his life. The failure of Nabal isn’t just rudeness and hoarding. It’s his insulting and dismissing the servants of David, who is God’s anointed to be the next king of Israel.
C. Abigail’s Future (vv. 39-42)
(1 Samuel 25:40-42 is not included in the printed text.)
39. And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, Blessed be the Lord, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept his servant from evil: for the Lord hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head. And David sent and communed with Abigail, to take her to him to wife.
News of Nabal’s death stimulates David to once again offer praise and thanksgiving for God’s intervention. He recognizes the contempt and insult of Nabal deserved retaliation, but not in the way he was going to accomplish it. Instead, God allowed Nabal’s own surliness to be the cause of his death.
Wasting no time and apparently with no hesitancy, David begins the negotiations for Abigail to become his wife. Following the custom of sending an intermediary, David sends his servants. However, they aren’t really asking; she is expected to accept. She does, with great humility. Her bowing and offering to wash the servants’ feet shows her character (v. 41). It also shows her willingness to become David’s wife.
Abigail doesn’t delay in going to David. There appears to be no lengthy time of putting the household in order or taking care of business. With her five maids, Abigail immediately joins David (v. 42).
We do not know the rest of the story. Becoming David’s wife definitely provides a change. Instead of living in an established home in one location, Abigail now becomes part of a group who move from place to place avoiding the forces of Saul. Plus, she will not be the only wife of David. However, Abigail apparently knows the position of being David’s wife is better than any of the alternatives. The woman who stopped David from making a disastrous decision is now placed under his loving care.
This brief glimpse into the life of Abigail speaks so loudly as to the impact a wise woman can have on the life of a man. She protected both her current husband and the man who later would become her husband. Abigail seized the information given, understood what needed to be done, and then did it.