Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
1 Samuel 25
DRASTIC CHANGES IN DAVID'S SITUATION
The changes referred to in our title of this chapter include (1) the death of the prophet Samuel, David's truest friend and ally; (2) the increasing difficulty of providing supplies for his growing band of followers; (3) the renewal of Saul's efforts to hunt him down and kill him; (4) his withdrawal to the wilderness of Paran; and (5) his acquisition of Nabal's estate through marriage to Abigail.
THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF SAMUEL
"Now Samuel died; and all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him in his house at Ramah."
Critical scholars complain that this verse is an insertion by some later hand, but there is no solid evidence whatever to back up such opinions. Keil remarked that, "The death of Samuel is inserted here, because it occurred at that time." Also, present-day scholars of the highest rank confirm that understanding. "Chronologically, Samuel died while David and his men were at Engedi," and this accounts for the fact that, immediately, "David thought that he needed to move farther to the southwest in the fear that Samuel's death might give Saul new stimulus to try to get rid of him."
"They buried him in his house at Ramah." The meaning of this is uncertain because in 2 Chronicles 3:20, it is recorded that Manasseh was buried "in his house"; but the parallel passage in 2 Kings 21:18, states that the burial was "in the garden of his house." Furthermore, the burial of a dead body in Samuel's house would have made the place ceremonially "unclean" in perpetuity. In the light of these reasons, we believe that Samuel was buried in the garden or the courtyard of his residence.
1 Samuel 25:1-2
DAVID WITHDRAWS TO THE WILDERNESS OF PARAN
"Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran. And there was a man in Maon, whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich. He had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel."
"To the wilderness of Paran" (1 Samuel 25:1b). "In a wide sense, the wilderness of Paran extended all the way to the wilderness of Beersheba and eastward to the mountains of Judah." This makes it unnecessary to follow such renditions as those of the Jerusalem Bible and the New International Version which render the passage: "The wilderness of Maon." The wilderness of Maon was on the edge of the much larger wilderness of Paran; and it should be noted that the text does not say that David entered the wilderness of Paran, but that, "he went down to it." This he did when he was in the wilderness of Maon. Since this smaller wilderness adjoined the much larger wilderness of Paran, David was in a position to retreat farther out of Saul's reach if necessary.
Nabal is introduced here, though not by name, as a very rich man whose residence was in Carmel, but whose great flocks of sheep and goats were in the wilderness of Maon. "Carmel is the modern Kermel, between Ziph and Maon." Of course, this is a different Carmel from Mount Carmel on the Mediterranean coast.
NABAL AND ABIGAIL ARE IDENTIFIED
"Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was of good understanding and beautiful, but the man was churlish and he was a Calebite."
"Nabal" means "obstinate fool," and Abigail means, "the joy of her father." It seems most unlikely that any parent would have named a son "Nabal," and the name may therefore be explained as an epithet assigned to him by his contemporaries who so judged his character.
"He was a Calebite" The Calebites were attached to the tribe of Judah; and since Judah would be the tribe most loyal to David, it was extremely important that David should have been rescued in this chapter from his temptation to slaughter Nabal and all his house. If David had indeed done such a thing, it could have alienated the whole tribe of Judah. The big thing in this chapter is the manner in which God saved David from that terrible mistake.
Nabal had evidently inherited the great estate of his ancestor Caleb, but he did not inherit the type of character that belonged to his distinguished ancestor.
DAVID REQUESTS PROVISIONS FROM NABAL
"David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep, So David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, "Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. And thus you shall salute him, `Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. I hear that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes; for we come on a feast day. Pray give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.'"
To some people of our generation, it might appear that David's method of supporting his small army was an illegal "protection racket." But the situation mentioned here was not that at all. David's expectations of supplies from Nabal were fully justified according to the customs and standards of that time and circumstance. "Even Nabal's servants and his own wife felt that David was due some compensation for the protection which he had provided for Nabal's flocks and shepherds."
"This type of `protection money' is regularly levied at the present day by the Bedouins living on the borders of the desert and the cultivated land. In return for gifts they guarantee the protection of life and property in those notoriously insecure districts."
Nabal's vast flocks of sheep and goats would doubtless have been confiscated by roving bands of outlaws had it not been for David's protection. After all, we learned in 1 Samuel 23 that such marauders even attacked walled towns (Keilah); and without David's wall of protection around Nabal's flocks (1 Samuel 25:16), there can be little doubt that Nabal's flocks would have been taken away from him. The man's stupidity in failing to recognize this is amazing. The fact that David sent ten men to bring back the gift indicates that he certainly expected Nabal to come through with a very generous contribution.
NABAL'S OUTRAGEOUS TREATMENT REGARDING DAVID'S REQUEST
"When David's young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David; and then they waited. And Nabal answered David's servants, "Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men who come from I do not know where?" So David's young men turned away, and came back and told him all this. And David said to his men, "Every man gird on his sword"! And every man of them girded on his sword; and David also girded on his own sword; and about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage."
"Shall I take my bread and my water ...and give it ..." (1 Samuel 25:11)? Nabal's mention of water in this verse does not please some critics who insist that the word should be "wine." Based upon the Septuagint (LXX) rendition of the place, which is followed by the Jerusalem Bible and the New International Version, H. P. Smith changed the verse, making it read, "Must I take my bread and my wine ... etc." This is precisely the type of meddling with the text which this writer finds frequently unacceptable. Yes, there's no doubt that Nabal had plenty of wine and that he drank enough of it that it required a whole day and night for him to become sober; and it is a fact that wine was usually used at such feasts instead of water. But none of these things nullifies the message Nabal sent back to David, which, in effect, declared that, he would not even give David and his men a drink of water, much less any other things he mentioned. The text tells us what Nabal said, not what the customary beverage was at such feasts.
"Every man gird on his sword" (1 Samuel 25:13). 1 Samuel 25:22, below, tells us what David had in mind. He planned to murder Nabal and every male member of his whole establishment. This contemplated action on David's part was sinful. Henry pointed out that only a few days ago David had spared Saul's life. Saul was David's bitterest enemy; from him David expected nothing except hatred, or even death; and now, because of a few hard, ugly words, David felt that nothing but the blood of a whole family must be shed to avenge the affront. "Lord, what is man? What is in the best of them when God leaves them to themselves to try them"
ABIGAIL LEARNS OF THE DANGEROUS SITUATION
"But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal's wife, "Behold David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them; they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep. Therefore know this and consider what you should do; for evil is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is so that one cannot speak to him."
This passage reveals that David and his men indeed had guarded Nabal's flocks of sheep for a long while, giving them marvelous protection. "We know of raids on two walled towns in this south country, one by the Philistines (1 Samuel 23:1-5) and one by the Amalekites (1 Samuel 30:1-2). How much more, then, must the shepherds in the open country have been in constant danger from marauders, unless they had someone like David to be a wall of protection to them."
It is also of interest that Nabal's disposition was such that his employees were afraid to talk with him; so they appealed to Abigail.
ABIGAIL MOVES TO APPEASE DAVID'S ANGER
"Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves, and two skins of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched grain, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. And she said to her young men, "Go on before me; behold, I come after you." But she did not tell her husband Nabal. And as she rode on the ass and came down under cover of the mountain, behold, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them. Now David had said, "Surely, in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; and he has returned me evil for good. God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him."
"But she did not tell her husband" (1 Samuel 25:19). Nabal might have been still drunk; and if not, he would have prevented anything that Abigail planned to do.
"She came down ... David and his men came down toward her" (1 Samuel 25:20). This meeting between David and Abigail occurred in a valley, for both came `down' to the meeting place.
(See under 1 Samuel 25:13, above, for discussion of 1 Samuel 25:22.)
ABIGAIL'S MAGNIFICENT APPEAL TO DAVID
"When Abigail saw David, she made haste, and alighted from the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, "Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; pray let your handmaid speak in your ears, and hear the words of your handmaid. Let not my lord regard this fellow Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him; but I your handmaid did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, seeing the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt, and from taking vengeance with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. And now let this present which your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. Pray forgive the trespass of your handmaid; for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord; and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. If men rise up to pursue and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God; and the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for my lord taking vengeance himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your handmaid."
"Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt" (1 Samuel 25:24). Abigail's action in these words took upon herself the guilt of her husband, hoping in this to save his life, and this in spite of Nabal's unworthiness. A more noble act of self-sacrificing love would be hard indeed to find.
"Let not my lord regard this fellow Nabal" (1 Samuel 25:25). This was exactly the same argument that David himself had used in his efforts to dissuade Saul from trying to kill David (1 Samuel 24:14). The argument was that Nabal was not important enough to warrant David's taking vengeance upon him; and besides, as Abigail pointed out, it was contrary to God's law for David so to do. Here again is evidence that the Pentateuch, from cover to cover (or throughout the whole roll), was known to well-informed Israelites centuries prior to the time which some critics erroneously claim as the time when it was written!
"Seeing the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt" (1 Samuel 25:26). These words were an assertion by Abigail that David's projected murder of Nabal and his household was a violation of God's law; and, in context, they were a reproof of David's intentions. Concerning those intentions, our abbreviated account does not tell us how Nabal's young men knew that evil was determined against Nabal and his house (1 Samuel 25:17), nor how Abigail was certainly aware of it here. Abigail's skillful warning here had the desired effect.
"Never was such an admonition better given or better received. Abigail was a wise reprover of David's passion, and he gave an obedient ear to the reproof, according to his own principles, as he wrote, `Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness' (Psalms 141:5, KJV)."
"My lord is fighting the battles of the Lord" (1 Samuel 25:28). There was a recognition here by Abigail that Saul, who should have been fighting the battles of the Lord was not doing so.
"You enemies shall he (God) sling out as from the hollow of a sling" (1 Samuel 25:29). What a diplomatic reference this was! It was a sling, of course, that brought David to the attention of all Israel in his triumph over Goliath.
"When the Lord has appointed you prince over Israel" (1 Samuel 25:30). Abigail, in this, recognized that God was Israel's true king, but that David would indeed rise to the throne of Israel as prince over God's people. The knowledge of God's intentions concerning David were, at this time, apparently known throughout Israel, or at least in Judah where Abigail resided.
"No pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause" (1 Samuel 25:31). Abigail's wisdom here was surely inspired of God, because, David's shedding the blood of this well known Judahite (Nabal), "Would have started a blood feud among the clans of Judah that would involve men that David would need on his way to the kingship. David had only Judah to back him in his claim upon the throne."
DAVID ACCEPTS ABIGAIL'S REPROOF AND THANKS HER
"And David said to Abigail, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from avenging myself with my own hand! For as surely as the Lord the God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had made haste and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male." Then David received from her hand what she had brought him; and he said to her, "Go in peace to your house; see, I have hearkened to your voice, and I have granted your petition."
It is exactly in situations like this that the glorious character of David, in spite of his sins, shines in its true splendor. David humbly received the rebuke of this woman, thanked her and thanked God that she had come to meet him with such a plea. This is very much like the occasion in his later life when he responded to the condemnation of the prophet Nathan, following his murder of Uriah.
THE ACCOUNT OF THE SUDDEN DEATH OF NABAL
"And Abigail came to Nabal, and lo, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she toll him nothing at all until the morning light. And in the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife toll him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And about ten days later the Lord smote Nabal; and he died."
The best explanation of what happened here is perhaps that of Smith who wrote, "A stroke of paralysis is the natural explanation of this." When Abigail informed Nabal of what she had done, it is easy to suppose that he flew into a violent rage and that the initial stroke of paralysis put him into a coma for ten days, at the expiration of which the final stroke ended his life.
The N.T. speaks of certain persons who were "twice dead" (Jude 1:1:12); but it appears here that Nabal was `thrice dead.' He was dead drunk, dead wrong, and dead physically!
DAVID'S MARRIAGE TO ABIGAIL
"And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, "Blessed be the Lord who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from evil; the Lord has returned the evil-doing of Nabal upon his own head." Then David sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife. And when the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, "David sent us to you to take you to him as his wife." And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground, and said, "Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord." And Abigail made haste and rose and mounted an ass, and her five maidens attended her; she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife."
Abigail not only took her five maidens with her to David, but it is likely that all of the vast properties of her husband, or at least a substantial part of them, also became the property of David. The Bible is silent on this question; but as Dr. Dehoff said, "It is quite probable that David came into possession of Nabal's property." Supportive of this supposition is that no son of Nabal is mentioned; and, even if there were other heirs to claim Nabal's estate, David was on the ground and had possession. It could have been that this was God's way of financing David's additional twenty-two years of waiting until the death of Saul. According to Josephus, Samuel's death came eighteen years after the beginning of Saul's reign.
"David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel; and both of them became his wives. Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim."
When David later had the power he took Michal back (2 Samuel 3:14-15). It is not certain exactly who Ahinoam might have been, but one possibility is that she was one of the wives of Saul (2 Samuel 12:8). If so, the mention of her here is that of an event that came twenty-two years later. We reject that view for that reason. It appears that "Ahinoam was a woman from Jezreel whom David married after Saul gave Michal to Palti. She and Abigail appear to have been David's only wives prior to the beginning of his reign in Hebron."
The polygamy of David was one of his sins, of which there were many, but in the customs of the times such marriages were generally accepted.
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