1 Samuel 25
David Encounters Nabal
THE DEATH OF SAMUEL
The author decided to place here the news that Samuel had died. This was just after Saul's complete affirmation that Samuel's prophecy and anointing of his successor would be David. It was also just before we see the first corruption of David's own heart.
The entire nation united to come and bury the old reformer, who lived to be 100+ years. They probably buried him in a garden associated with his home in Ramah.
DAVID AND THE FOOL (1-11)
While Samuel was being buried, David relocated some 100 miles to the south in the wilderness of Paran. While traveling to the south, David encountered a man in Moan, a city in the northernmost edges of Paran. The man David had met in Moan, Nabal, seems to have lived in Carmel and his wealth in business must have allowed him to own a large sheep and goat farm. He owned 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats. Carmel was last mentioned in Samuel when Saul was returning from defeating the Amalakites, and there he erected a monument to himself. No doubt, Nabal may have been forced to contribute something, maybe even property, to its erection. It is likely that Nabal's complaining of Saul may have caused David and Nabal to meet each other and become mild acquaintances.
The story picks up as Nabal is having his sheep sheared in Carmel (2).
Being wealthy, Nabal had a beautiful woman at his arm who was sharp and of good intelligence. An odd couple, no doubt, for Nabal's name meant “fool" and he was a man coarse in conversation, obstinate by nature, and one who made decisions by impulse. Although he was a descendant of Caleb, by the measure of his own parents he was a fool for they named him Nabal, "a fool" (3).
Sheep-shearing time was a season of celebration and festivities, so when David heard Nabal was attending his sheep-shearing, David decided to renew their acquaintance and the friendship. David must have felt the two of them had hit it off, so-to-speak, when they met in Moan. Again, Nabal may have been complaining about Saul and what it had cost him to have the monument erected.
David, for whatever the depth of friendship, sent ten of his men to Nabal and told them to go to Carmel and do the following.
a) Greet Nabal in David's name.
b) Pray peace on Nabal and all he owned, calling out over him long life.
c) Remind Nabal that David, the man he had met in Moan, had been showing him kindness and had made sure his large herd had suffered no loss, especially at the hands of his own men. David's men had not taken anything from Nabal, and they made certain his large herds were not touched by others.
d) They were encouraged to tell Nabal to ask his servants how David's renegade army had treated them.
e) Then David told his men to ask Nabal for any of the leftovers from the large feast that he would have prepared for all his guests and shearers.
f) David asked him to do this kindness, viewing him as his own son, for David would remember the gesture and treat him in the future as a father (4-8).
David was not calling on Nabal to diminish his wealth in any way; he was asking for some leftover donations, as Nabal might deem fit and appropriate.
David's men delivered the message to Nabal and then rested a bit as they waited for a reply (9). After a few moments, Nabal returned with his decision.
a) He questioned everyone who knew or had met David.
b) He mocked David, calling him the son of Jesse or son of a poor, insignificant man.
c) He described David as just one of many rebellious runaway slaves (10).
d) He then announced that all his preparations of food and water were made for his shearers and workers only and wondered why he should share their portion with someone he did not know (11).
DAVID'S RESPONSE TO THE FOOL (12-13)
When the men returned to their camp and told David what Nabal said, David told his men to strap up for a fight. He formed his army into two groups—400 to ride to Carmen and 200 to stay with the belongings. David was in a rage, for Nabal had pretended not to know David and then Nabal had insulted his men instead of just politely denying them food.
DAVID AND THE BEAUTIFUL ABIGAIL (14-22)
While David's men were riding back to David to give him the news of Nabal's disparaging remarks, one of Nabal's servants ran to Abigail, Nabal's wife. The servant was likely in the habit of going to Abigail for the settling of problems, which her husband would create through his foolishness. The servant told Abigail about the insults Nabal had hurled at David's servants, who were respectfully requesting consideration for leftover food from the feast (14).
The servant went on to remind Abigail that David's men had been kind to Nabal's herdsmen by helping them, making sure not one animal went missing, acting around them as a wall of protection, and the men were kind and never harmed them in any way. The servant then told Abigail that Nabal had "railed at them," meaning he had pounced on them with heated insults and sarcasm (15-16).
The servant then pleaded with Abigail to do something, for when her husband was hurling his insults at David's men, none of his servants could talk him down; no one could reason with him. The servant was certain that Nabal's crotchety mouth was going to get them all in deep trouble. The servant pleaded with Abigail to do something (17).
Abigail did not waste a minute. She went and gathered:
200 loaves of bread
two skins of wine
five cooked sheep
two gallons of roasted grain
100 clusters of pressed raisins
200 cakes of pressed figs
She then loaded everything on her donkey (18).
Abigail sent her young man ahead of her; she followed after and kept what she was doing a secret from her husband (19).
Abigail rode her donkey down under the cover of a mountain into a ravine while David and his men came down toward her the opposite way. It is like their meeting was coincidental and surprising due to both groups’ being somewhat concealed (20).
David was in such a rage, and he was still spewing out disgust for Nabal. As they rode, David was reciting to his men how he had protected the possessions of Nabal, whom he had thought to be his friend. David reminded those riding with him that he had made sure nothing went missing, while Nabal thought to return his kindness with insults (21).
Then David sinned by taking an oath. The oath would likely read something like, “May I be avenged by God if I fail to avenge this enemy of mine as the enemy of God.”
David was stepping over a line in declaring that if Nabal scorned David, then Nabal had scorned Yahweh Himself and must be dealt with as an enemy of God. In a sense, David had decided to treat Nabal and his family like the Philistines.
Here one can see the slow step of power corruption. Saul had just recognized David, outside the cave, as the one who would someday be king in his place. David, gripped with a flicker of power corruption, called someone who insulted him an enemy of God. Further, he swore to destroy the entire household of Nabal without any counsel from Yahweh. These are the roots of corrupting character and the seed of the later downfall with Bathsheba (22).
Abigail Intercedes for Nabal (23-35)
Abigail dismounted her donkey when she saw David and paid him excessive courtesy. She quickly, before David's rage had a chance to rise or act, took full responsibility for what had happened to David's men when they had visited her husband Nabal. Abigail noted here that her husband was wicked and without character, not worthy of any attention, for his temperament was foolish, and he was unable to speak anything other than folly.
She took blame for the matter, for she had failed to see the men coming from David. Had she seen them, she would have intercepted the men and attended to the matter herself, knowing her husband to be incapable (23-25).
Then, as if Abigail had heard David’s swearing to kill Nabal, she lodged in David's heart a point of wisdom. She claimed the Lord was alive at that moment, as David was alive, and Yahweh was using her to save David from two grave sins:
First, the murder of a fool.
Second, the avenging himself of an insult by his own hand.
Abigail was calling on David to consider the sin he was about to perform and to choose instead to let Nabal be cursed, like all of David's other enemies, allowing Yahweh to deal with him in His way and time (26).
Abigail then presented the gifts of food she had packed on her donkey (27).
Next, Abigail requested forgiveness if her words of correction had been offensive to David. She defined her main concern as David's reward from Yahweh of a lasting dynasty, since David fought focused only on Yahweh's battles, as he had his entire life.
Abigail was letting David know she was not wanting David's future threatened by a decision to avenge himself, bringing upon himself unanticipated curses (28).
Abigail's wisdom was sound as she reminded David that he had been miraculously protected by Yahweh from those who were chasing him, secure in Yahweh, treated as a bundled-up treasure while his enemies were thrown out of their places like a stone slung from a sling (29).
Abigail recited three blessings David could enjoy:
a) an enduring dynasty
b) Yahweh's protection
c) his enemies thrown away by God
However, Abigail continued, if David, having been appointed by Yahweh as prince over Israel, were to continue on with his design to take vengeance on Nabal and Nabal's house, then his conscience would be grieved. If David were to strive to save himself while thus doing something Yahweh had not led him to do, then David's inner life was destined for turmoil.
Abigail assumed David would make the right choice and asked him to remember her when her enemies had been defeated. In a veiled way, Abigail was saying, “When Yahweh has avenged you of my husband, remember me, for it will surely happen without you, David, taking the matter into your own hand." Abigail knew she would become a widow not because of David, but because her husband had insulted David and had been a man of horrid character (30-31).
David then blessed Yahweh, having realized He had sent Abigail to him with just the right words to keep him from grave sin (32). David blessed Abigail for her grace of speech and conduct in being used by Yahweh to save him from working salvation by his own means (33). Then David confessed his sin—he would have indeed, with bloodthirsty rage, slain every male associated with the house of Nabal (34).
David then received Abigail's gifts, bid her to go without fear, and committed to obeying her petition (35).
Abigail Returns Home (36-38)
By the time Abigail had returned home, Nabal was in full froth of feast, happy and out-of-his-mind drunk. Abigail held her tongue until morning when the spirits had cleared his mind and he had returned to a sober state.
Abigail revealed to Nabal all that happened on the previous day. Nabal immediately was seized with a stroke and paralyzed. Ten days later, Nabal had another stroke and was struck dead; the fool died in his own bed.
David's Blessing (39-40)
When David heard of Nabal's death, he began to bless God for two reasons: first, Yahweh had avenged the insult, but also, Yahweh kept David’s hand back from the sin of avenging his own honor. While David had made good to escape the hand of Saul, he nearly did not escape the power of his own wrathful revenge and the consequences which would have followed.
David, not wanting the woman who had saved him from such catastrophe to be found in the difficult position of widowhood, sent his men to Carmel to offer her his hand in marriage. In those days, a widow was incredibly vulnerable on many fronts (39-40).
David's offer of marriage was received by Abigail the same way she entreated David for the life of her household. She bowed before David's servants and offered to become David's lowest servant. It is clear Abigail did not consider herself worthy to be David's wife and gave David's servants the opportunity to communicate a downgrade in David's offer to the lowest of any of his wives (41). Abigail then hurried to her donkey, giving the men no time to ponder or respond to her words, and with the five women who attended her, followed David's servants.
Abigail would have been a rich and politically powerful ally, and David married her along with Ahinoam, a woman from the region. This temporary truce with Saul gave David enough relief to marry two wives and feel as though the southern part of the kingdom was a safe refuge for him (42-43).
Back home, Saul had given David's wife Michal to Pati in an attempt to sever all appearance of relationship between the two of them (44).