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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
1 Samuel 25

 

 

Introduction

EXCURSUS J: ON THE ESPECIAL VALUE OF THE EPISODE OF ABIGAIL AND NABAL (1 Samuel 25).

We perhaps ask, What were the reasons which induced the inspired compiler of these records of the history of Israel, among the materials, no doubt, present in abundance to his hand, to relate the especial episode contained in this chapter in such detail of the life of David when chief of an outlaw band? The incidents seem at first sight trivial, scarcely worthy the important place they occupy in the Book of Samuel, and they certainly were not chosen with a view to exalt David’s character.

In a singularly vivid way, however, they picture the future king’s life during those days of temptation and anxiety, and show how well he used his position to win the affections of the people as chieftain of a powerful and somewhat reckless band. He seems to have acted as the protector and generous helper of all scattered dwellers in the southern part of Canaan. In a former chapter—in his rescue of the men of Keilah—it was the corn growers; in this section it is a great sheep-master whose herds and flocks he is represented as having long protected. The people during the latter years of King Saul’s reign were terribly exposed, not only to the Philistine encroachments, but also to the repeated and destructive forays of the powerful nomadic tribes bordering on the “Land of Promise.” Another reason which seems to have induced the selection of this episode of Nabal and Abigail is supplied by the character of Abigail, who represents evidently a type of the Hebrew woman of the higher classes of that period. The influence of the schools of the prophets instituted by Samuel and of the prophetic order had already begun to be felt, and the result was that a loftier tone of morality and nobler and higher views of life began to be cultivated through the people. Abigail had doubtless learned her beautiful creed, her implicit trust in the Eternal Friend of Israel, her clear perception of truth and honour, from the Ramah schools of Samuel the seer.

But if we read carefully between the lines of the seemingly simple, almost childish, story, there is yet another reason for its having been selected by the Divinely helped compiler as a portion of the book which is to endure for ever. The question of the future life—the life, after death has dissolved the union between soul and body—is but little dwelt on in the earlier of the Divine records. God’s revelation here was gradual. It is true that from the earliest chapters of Genesis the glorious hope of an endless life with God casts its bright light upon the present dark and shadowed existence; but still, comparatively little information seems to have been given even to the patriarchs on this subject. It was there certainly; a glorious hereafter lay in the far background of the present life, but no more seems to have been taught. In the words of Abigail to David there is, however, an indication that already a distinct advance had been made in Divine revelation on this subject. In the Notes on 1 Samuel 25:29 of this chapter, the bearing of Abigail’s words on the future of the human soul and on the question of the eternal life are discussed. It is more than strange how modern Christian commentators have missed the momentous teaching of the words in question. They would have done wisely had they searched a little among the great Hebrew commentators, who, as might be expected, in a passage where their eyes were not blinded by any false national prejudices, have caught the true meaning, and seen something of the extraordinary beauty of the teaching, scarcely veiled by the homeliness of the imagery. The presence of this passage (in 1 Samuel 25:29) especially, I venture to think, influenced the compiler of the Books of Samuel to insert the Nabal and Abigail episode in his history.

EXCURSUS K: ON THE WORK OF SAMUEL (1 Samuel 25).

After the death of Eli, the capture of the Ark, and the sack of Shiloh—the old religious capital of the land, and the residence for many years of the high priest and judge—the fortunes of Israel were at their lowest ebb. There was no Sanctuary, no religious life among the people. The Law of Moses was, save by a few scattered families, almost forgotten. Its precepts, as well as its moral ceremonies, were wholly ignored, and with the religious life the national life was quickly dying altogether out of Israel. It appeared to be the destiny of the people soon to be swallowed up among the Philistines and other native peoples. From this abyss of degradation Samuel raised the tribes. (1) He kept alive and fanned the dying spark of the old love of Israel for their God. (2) Instead of restoring the fallen Sanctuary and the elaborate system of ceremonial religion, he created the Prophetic Schools, whose work was to teach Israel who and what they really were—the chosen people—and for what high ends they had been so strangely favoured and assisted; and so he led the people back to God. (3) As the old religious life was slowly awakened out of its deadly torpor, the old national life seemed at the same time also to awaken. In Israel the latter was necessarily inseparable from the former. Then Samuel gave them a king to consolidate their national life, which had almost ceased to exist. The scattered tribes, as they awoke to the knowledge of that mighty God who loved them so well, were taught by the presence of a king that they were one nation, and that from Dan to Beersheba they had one common interest, one common work. The restoration of the Sanctuary and the ceremonial religion was also necessary, but it must be a later work, and one which could only follow the national and religious restoration of Samuel. This was accomplished by Samuel’s pupil, David.


Verse 1

(1) And Samuel died.—At this period—namely, about the time when Saul and David met at En-gedi—died Samuel, full of years and honour—perhaps rather than honours, for a long time the old prophet had lived apart from the court, and alienated from the king he had chosen and anointed. Since Moses, none so great as Samuel had arisen. Briefly to recapitulate his work: his influence had in great measure restored the Law of Moses to the affections of the people. Before his time, the words and traditions which the great lawgiver, amidst the supernatural terrors of Sinai, had with some success impressed upon the great nomadic tribe of the Beni-Israel were almost forgotten; and the people among whom, for a long period, no really great leader had sprung up were becoming rapidly mixed up, and soon would have been hardly distinguished from the warlike tribes of Canaan in the neighbouring countries. But Samuel, aided by his great natural genius, but far more by the Glorious Arm, on which he leaned with a changeless trust from childhood to extreme old age, quickened into life again the dying traditions of the race, and taught them who they—the down-trodden Israelites—really were—the chosen of God. He restored the forgotten laws of Moses, by the keeping of which they once became great and powerful, and by the creation of an earthly monarchy he welded into one the separate interests of the twelve divisions of the race; so that from Dan to Beersheba there was but one chief, one standard. But his greatest work was the foundation of the Prophetic Schools, in which men were trained and educated carefully, with the view of the pupils becoming in their turn the teachers and guides of the people. (These schools, which exercised so great an influence upon the future of Israel, and their especial character have been already discussed.)

And all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him.—“When the hour of his death came, we are told, with a peculiar emphasis of expression, that all the Israelites—not one portion or fragment only, as might have been expected in that time of division and confusion—were gathered together round him who had been the father of all alike, and lamented him, and buried him, not in any sacred spot or secluded sepulchre, but in the midst of the home which he had consecrated only by his own long, unblemished career in his house at Ramah.”—Stanley, Jewish Church, Lect. 18 Josephus makes especial mention of the public funeral honours paid to the great prophet. “They wept for him a very great number of days, not looking on it as a sorrow for the death of another man, but as that in which they were all concerned. He was a righteous man, and gentle in his nature, and on that account he was very dear to God.”—Antt. vi. 13, § 5. F. W. Krummacher beautifully writes on this public lamentation. “It was as if from the noble star, as long as it shone in the heaven of the Holy Land, though veiled by clouds, there streamed a mild, beneficial light over all Israel; now the light was extinguished in Israel.” It is probable by “in his house,” the court or garden attached to the prophet’s house is signified. To have buried him literally in his house would have occasioned perpetual ceremonial defilement. We read also of Manasseh the king being “buried in his own house” (2 Chronicles 33:20), which is explained in 2 Kings 21:18 by the words, “in the garden of his own house.” In modern times Samuel’s grave is pointed out in a cave underneath the floor of the Mahommedan Mosque on Nebi Samuel, a lofty peak above Gibeon, which still bears his honoured name. There is, however, a tradition that his remains—or what purported to be his remains—were removed with royal pomp from Ramah to Constantinople by the Emperor Arcadius, at the beginning of the fifth century.

The wilderness of Paran.—The LXX. (Vatican) read “Maon” instead of “Paran,” not conceiving it probable that the scene of David’s camp would be so far removed from Maon and Carmel, the localities where the following events took place. “Paran” is properly the south of the Arabian peninsula, west of Sinai; “but it seems to have given its name to the vast extent of pasture and barren land now known as the Desert of El Tih. Of this the wilderness of Judah and Beersheba would virtually form part, without the borders being strictly defined. The LXX. emendation, therefore, is quite unnecessary.—Dean Payne Smith.


Verse 2

(2) Maon.—Maon mentioned above was in the hill country of Judah. The Carmel here mentioned is not the famous Mount Carmel in the north, but the small town, the modern Kurmeel, near Maon, of which we read in 1 Samuel 15:12, when Saul set up a place or monument after the war with Amalek.

And the man was very great.—The wealthy chief—the subject of the story—was a descendant of Caleb, the friend and comrade of Joshua, who at the time of the conquest of Canaan obtained vast possessions in the valley of Hebron and in the south of Judah. The tradition even has preserved to us the exact number of his flocks, probably to enhance the churlishness of his reply to David when he asked him for some return for the protection his armed bands had afforded to these vast flocks in their pasturage on the edge of the desert. The occasion of David’s mission to Nabal was the annual sheep-shearing of the rich sheep-master—always a great occasion, and accompanied usually on large estates by festivities.


Verse 3

(3) Nabal.—The word “Nabal” means “fool,” connected with naval, to fade away. The name was probably a nickname given him on account of his well-known stubborn folly.

Abigail.—The famous beautiful woman who afterwards became David’s wife seems to have been, as Stanley calls her, “the good angel of the household” of the ill-starred, boorish southern chieftain. Her name, too, which signifies “whose father is joy,” was most likely given her by the villagers on her husband’s estate, as expressive of her sunny, gladness-bringing presence. Her early training, and the question respecting the sources whence she derived her wisdom and deep, far-sighted piety—apparently far in advance of her age—is discussed further on in the chapter.

The house of Caleb.—In the original Kalibi, i.e., of the house or family of Caleb. Thus the word is read in the Hebrew Bible. There is, however, an alternative reading—K’libi—with different vowel-points in the written text, which would be read “according to his heart.” Josephus, the LXX., and the Arabic and Syriac Versions understand it as derived from kelev, a dog, and render—“and he was a cynical man” (that is, “one of a dog-like character”—anthrôpos keunikos). The Chaldee “e domo Caleb,” and Vulgate “de genero Caleb,” follow the text which is read in the Hebrew Bible, and translated in our version, “of the house of Caleb,” which seems, on the whole, the preferable and most likely meaning.


Verse 4

(4) And David heard in the wilderness.—The question of the support of the large band of devoted followers who obeyed David must have been usually a very anxious one. No doubt, contributions from the farmers and sheep-masters materially aided the supplies David and his men derived from their raids across the Philistine borders. It is likely enough that some of these contributions were not always willingly made; still, there is no doubt that the presence of the armed band of David during the latter years of Saul afforded considerable protection to the border land. His position resembled that of a modern Arab sheik of a friendly Bedaween tribe, and it is clear that on the whole his career as head of an army of free lances tended to popularise him among the southern tribes of Israel. Nabal’s conduct appears to have been more than churlish and foolish, for David, according to the showing of Nabal’s own shepherds, had on many occasions been of substantial service to them as they tended their flocks in exposed and dangerous localities. The testimony of these shepherd folk may be accepted generally as the popular estimate of David and his acts during this rough and sorely tried period of his life.


Verse 6

(6) And thus shall ye say.—On such a festive occasion near a town or village, an Arab sheik of the neighbouring desert would hardly fail to put in a word, either in person or by message; and his message, both in form and substance, would be only the transcript of that of David.—Robinson, Palestine, p. 201.

To him that liveth in prosperity.—Considerable diversity of opinion exists as to the meaning of the Hebrew original here, lechai. The Vulg. alters the text slightly, and renders “to my brother.” The LXX. have an impossible translation—“eis horas,” for times, or for seasons. It is better, however, to take it as a popular expression of congratulation, not found, as Lange well puts it, in the literary language. So Luther, “glück auf,” “may it turn out well,” “may you be prosperous.” The famous Hebrew commentator Raschi, and also the Babylonian Talmud, apparently understand it in this sense.


Verse 7

(7) Neither was there ought missing unto them.—These words doubtless refer to the protection which David’s armed band had afforded to the herdsmen against the frequent raids of the neighbouring people—the Philistines and other more savage and unscrupulous tribes who dwelt on the borders of Palestine. The request was certainly a fair one, for, as Lange and Ewald remark, “apart from the Eastern custom of giving largely at such great merry-makings, according to which such a request would seem in no way strange, David had a certain right to ask a gift from Nabal’s wealth. He had indirectly no small share in the festal joy of Nabal and his house. Without some part of the superfluity of the inhabitants whom he protected, he could not have maintained himself and his army.”


Verse 9

(9) And ceased.—Better rendered, and they sat down. The Hebrew word here has been variously translated. Bunsen suggests, “and they waited modestly for an answer;” the Vulg., followed by some scholars, has “and they were silent.”


Verse 10

(10) There be many servants now a days that break away.—This evident insult indicates that Nabal was of the faction of Saul at this time—was reckoned among those who hated David. It was the report of these words, doubtless, which so furiously excited David. In Nabal, the rich sheep-master, the churlish refuser of the fairly earned gift, he saw a deadly political adversary—one who, with men like Doeg and Cush, would hunt him down like a wild beast. Without this explanation, David’s wrath and determination to take such speedy and bloody vengeance on a mere selfish churl is inexplicable. With the light, however, which such an open declaration of deadly hostility on the part of Nabal throws on the transaction, the subsequent passionate conduct of David, although deeply blameable, is not difficult to understand.


Verse 11

(11) Unto men, whom I know not.—In other words, “Shall I give largesse to the enemies of my king—to a band of rebel freebooters?”

My water.—The LXX., instead of “water,” read “wine.” This is one of the countless alterations this version arbitrarily makes in the original sacred text. The Greek translators were puzzled at Nabal’s enumeration of “water” as one of the demands of David. Its mention, however, is a mark of the accuracy of the record. Water in many parts of the East is exceedingly precious. The words of Joshua 15:19 clearly indicate the especial want of this district of Palestine, when Caleb’s daughter Achsah specially prayed her father for springs of water. Its mention, however, can scarcely, as Dean Payne Smith observes, “mark the abstemious habits of the people,” considering in the same chapter we find the owner of all these flocks prostrate through intoxication.


Verse 13

(13) Gird ye on every man his sword.—The formal preparation and the largeness of the force told off for the work showed how terribly David was in earnest, and how bent he was on wiping out the insult of Nabal in blood. From the view we have taken of the transaction above, David’s anger is quite to be accounted for, though not to be excused.


Verse 14

(14) But one of the young men told Abigail.—The servant of Nabal—accustomed, no doubt, to his master’s wild and ungovernable displays of temper had heard the insulting words which Nabal spoke to the armed messenger of the famous outlaw captain; and probably gathering from the angry demeanour of these warlike followers of David how deadly was the insult—aware, too, how great was the power of the man thus insulted—came at once, and recounted to his mistress what had taken place. Abigail had, no doubt, often acted as peace-maker between her intemperate husband and his neighbours, and on hearing the story and how imprudently her husband had behaved, saw that no time must be lost, for with a clever woman’s wit she saw that grave consequences would surely follow the churlish refusal and the rash words, which betrayed at once the jealous adherent of Saul and the bitter enemy of the powerful outlaw.


Verse 15

(15) But the men were very good unto us.—The “young man” in question who spoke thus to his mistress, Abigail, was evidently one in high authority in the sheep farms of Nabal. His testimony in 1 Samuel 25:15-16, respecting David is clear and decisive, and occurring as it does in the heart of an episode most discreditable to David, it bears weighty testimony to the admirable discipline and the kind forethought of the son of Jesse in times when lawlessness and pillage would have been, if not excusable, certainly to be expected. The great powers of the future king were admirably displayed in this difficult period of his life. Few men could have so moulded a wild company of free lances into a force which, according to the rather unwilling testimony of these shepherds of Nabal’s, was positively a blessing to the country, instead of being, as these bands of free lances usually have been, a terrible curse.


Verse 17

(17) A son of Belial.—Belial was not a proper name, though it subsequently came to be considered one. It signifies simply worthlessness; here a “son of Belial” is an expression for a bad, worthless fellow.


Verse 18

(18) Five measures.—The LXX. alter the measure into five ephahs, thinking the quantity in the text ridiculously small for such an host as followed David. Ewald too, would change 5 into 500; but the truth is that Abigail in her haste, thinking rightly that no time must be lost, as the danger was pressing, simply pro-provided a liberal present for David’s own immediate followers, not for the whole force.

An hundred clusters of raisins.—That is, an hundred cakes of dried grapes—what in Italy is called “simmuki.”


Verse 20

(20) The covert of the hill.—Keil explains the words sether hahar—literally, a hidden part of the mountain—as probably signifying a hollow between two peaks of the mountain; thus each of the advancing parties would “come down”—Abigail, who approached on one side, and David, who came on the other—and would meet in the hollow between.


Verse 21

(21) Now David had said.—This verse and the following (22nd) must be understood as a kind of parenthesis in the narrative. They express what David felt, and, as it were, his justification in his own mind for the violent and vengeful act he was about to carry out. The argument was, Nabal had returned indeed evil for good. For a long time David’s band had guarded faithfully his vast scattered flocks, and had preserved them safely, and now, when he asked a small favour in return, the churl repaid him by throwing in his teeth the taunt that he was a rebel and a runaway slave.


Verse 22

(22) So and more also.—This is an unusual variation of the common form of imprecation, “God do so to me and more also, if, &c, &c.” The Syriac and Arabic Versions, followed by some commentators, instead of “enemies of David,” read “his servant David.” The LXX., as usual, boldly cuts the knot by leaving out the word of difficulty, and reads “David” simply, omitting “enemies.” But there is no doubt that the Hebrew text here is correct. The words signify David himself. If God’s anger for the broken vow visited even David’s enemies, as distantly connected with him, how much more the guilty oath breaker himself? (This was Raschi’s explanation for a similar expression in Jonathan’s oath, 1 Samuel 20:16.) “A superstitious feeling probably lay at the root of this substitution of David’s enemies for himself, when thus invoking a curse” (Dean Payne Smith, in the Pulpit Commentary). Bishop Wordsworth here draws a good lesson on the non-obligation to keep a solemn oath, taken perhaps in a moment of undue excitement, and instances the evil example of Herod Antipas, who considered himself bound to carry out to the bitter end his rash oath to the daughter of Herodias, though it involved the death of John the Baptist, his former friend.


Verse 23

(23) Fell before David.—This act of obeisance, and, in fact, the whole tone of the wise wife of Nabal in her address to David, seems to betoken her consciousness that she was addressing the anointed of Jehovah, the future king—at no distant date—of Israel. Her worst fears she found realised when she met David, probably at no great distance from the principal residence of Nabal, accompanied by so large an armed force, evidently bent on some deed of violence. She deprecated his wrath by representing her husband not merely as a bad man, but as one scarcely responsible for his actions. Had she only known of the mission of David’s followers to Nabal, she implies, very different indeed had been their reception; they would not, at least, have returned to David empty-handed.


Verse 26

(26) Seeing the Lord hath withholden.—This passage, as the Speaker’s Commentary rightly observes, “since the oath affirmed nothing, should be rendered, ‘And now my lord, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, it is the Lord that hath withholden thee.’ Literally, As true as that the Lord liveth, so true is it that the Lord hath withholden thee, &c., from coming into blood-guiltiness.” So confident is this pious and wise woman that she is doing the Lord’s work, and that He is standing by her, that, in presence of the armed band and their angry leader, she speaks as though the danger to her husband’s house was a thing of the past, and that David had real cause for thankfulness in that he had been prevented from doing a wanton, wicked act.

Now let thine enemies . . . be as Nabal.—Nabal, the insulter of David, she dismisses as too insignificant to be considered; she regards him as utterly powerless to harm one like David; and her prayer is that his other enemies may only be like him—equally harmless.


Verse 27

(27) This blessing.—That is to say, gift. Of this Abigail makes little account—it was simply an expression of her homage and good will. It was not intended, of course, for David, but for his company; but she brought it, as is the custom in the East where an inferior approaches a superior, whether as a visitor or as a suppliant, to bring in the hand gifts. Let it be given, she added, to his companions.


Verse 28

(28) The trespass of thine handmaid.—Abigail again takes upon herself the wrong; the gracious act of forgiveness, of which she feels assured beforehand, she reminds David, will be shown to her. Thus all the chivalry of David’s character—if we may use a term which belongs to another age—was brought out by this wise and beautiful woman.

For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house.—Unconsciously, perhaps, without any very definite conception of their far reaching and magnificent meaning, the Israelitish lady repeats the words which she had heard perhaps in Samuel’s “Naioth” by Ramah—possibly from some trained or inspired disciple of the prophet’s school. She was thinking, perhaps, of the young captain then standing before her in all the pride of his early reputation, as the future hero-king of Israel, sitting on the throne of the insane and gloomy man—her evil husband’s friend—King Saul, and it may be of his son reigning after him; but the unconscious prophetess, we may be sure, never dreamed of that glorious and holy One in whose person, far down the stream of ages, the Eternal would make good her words, and indeed found for that outlawed chieftain, before whom she was then kneeling, a sure house.

The battles of the Lord.—Abigail, in common with the pious Israelites of her time, looked on the wars waged by the armies of Israel against the idolatrous tribes and nations around them as the wars of Jehovah. We frequently in these early records meet with the expressions, “fighting the battle of the Lord,” “the ranks of the living God,” “the battle is the Lord’s.” We hear, too, of an ancient collection of songs—ballads, perhaps, would be a more accurate designation—now lost, entitled “The Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21:14). For several years now since his famous combat with the great champion of idolatry, Goliath, David had been the popular hero and the favourite subject of those folk-songs which ever loved to sing of these “Wars of Jehovah.”

Evil hath not been found in thee.—Rauh, “evil,” here signifies not “wickedness,” but “misfortune.” The wife of Nabal means to say that all through that stormy, restless life of David’s, the Lord had ever held him up. It had given him victory and crowned his efforts with splendid success; and in the later days of bitter persecution, the same invisible One had shielded him, and had turned what seemed to be the certain ruin of his prospects into a still more certain career of usefulness and popularity.


Verse 29

(29) A man is risen.—She here refers, of course, to Saul, but with exquisite courtesy and true loyalty refrains from mentioning in connection with evil the name of her king, the “Anointed of Jehovah.”

Shall be bound in the bundle of life.—This is one of the earliest and most definite expressions of a sure belief in an eternal future in the presence of God, and Hebrew tradition from the very earliest times down to our day has so regarded it. It is now a favourite and common inscription on Jewish gravestones. Keil beautifully paraphrases the words of the original. “The words,” he writes, “do not refer primarily to eternal life with God in heaven, but only to the safe preservation of the righteous on this earth in the grace and fellowship of the Lord. But whoever is so hidden in the gracious fellowship of the Lord in this life, that no enemy can harm him or injure his life, the Lord will not allow to perish, even though temporal death should come, but will then receive him into eternal life”—Keil.

The image, as so often in Eastern teaching, is taken from common every-day life—from the habit, as Dean Payne Smith remarks, of packing up in a bundle articles of great value or of indispensable use, so that the owner may carry them about his person. In India the phrase is common. Thus, a just judge is said to be bound up in the bundle of righteousness; a lover in the bundle of love. Among the striking references in the Babylonian Talmud to this loved and cherished saying of the wife of Nabal, we find how, in one of the Treatises of Seder Moed, “Rabbi Ezra says, The souls of the righteous are hidden beneath God’s glorious throne: as it is said, The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God.”—Treatise Shabbath, fol. 152, col. 2.

What student of this verse of the Book of Samuel, and the beautiful Talmud comments on the far-reaching words, can fail to see in them the original of St. John’s well-known picture of the “souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held?” (Revelation 6:9)—these souls of the righteous hidden beneath the glorious throne of God.

The thought is embodied in the following extract. “The angel of death came and stood before Moses. Give me thy soul, said he; but Moses rebuked him, and said, thou hast no permission to come where he (Moses) was; and he departed crest-fallen. Then the Holy One—blessed be He !—took the soul of Moses, and hid it under His throne of glory: as it is said (1 Samuel 25:29): ‘And the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life.’ But when He took it He took it by means of a kiss.”—Avoth. of Rabbi Nathan, 1 Samuel 12.

In the Seder Moed, again, in the same Treatise Shabbath, there is a remarkable parable, founded on this saying of Abigail: a parable that reminds us of the framework of one of the well-known pictures of the Redeemer. A king once distributed royal robes among his servants; those that were wise folded them up and laid them by in a coffer, and those that were foolish wore them on their working days. When the king demanded back his robes, those given to the wise were returned free from stains, whilst those of the foolish were soiled. The king, pleased with the wise servants, ordered their robes to be deposited in his treasury, and then that they should depart in peace. But he manifested his displeasure at the foolish servants; he sent their robes to be washed, and dispatched them to prison. So the bodies of the righteous “enter into peace, and rest in their beds” (Isaiah 57:2), and their souls are bound up in the bundle of life; but with reference to the bodies of the foolish there is no peace, saith the Lord, and the wicked (Isaiah 57:21) and their souls (quoting the next paragraph of this chapter of Samuel) are slung out, as out of the middle of a sling (1 Samuel 25:29).—Treatise Shabbath, fol. 152, col. 2.

And the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling.—The simile was one Abigail had with all probability heard from one or other of the prophets or their pupils. It was not unlikely originally suggested by the ever memorable encounter between David and Goliath: as in the case of the souls of the righteous, in the passage just discussed, the reference in the first instance was to the fate of the enemies of God in this life; but Hebrew theologians in all times have understood it in a deeper and more solemn sense, as a reference to the doom after death reserved for all unrighteous. (See, for instance, above in the passage quoted from the Talmud, Treatise Shabbath.) In the same most ancient writing–which, most probably, contains the teaching of the great Jewish schools before the Christian era—we read: “The souls of the wicked are incessantly thrown by angels, as with a sling, from one end of the world to the other, as it is said: ‘The souls of thine enemies shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling;’ and what, asks Ravah of Rav. Nachman (this is a later comment), is the lot of those who are neither righteous nor wicked? They, as well as the wicked, are handed over to ‘Dumah’—silence (see Psalms 115:17)—an angel who has charge of disembodied spirits. The former, the neither righteous nor wicked, have rest; the latter, the wicked, have none.”—Treatise Shabbath, fol. 152, col. 2.

The strange wild statement, as it seems to us, is no doubt a cryptograph; and the great rabbis of old days in their famous schools would now and again unrol its meaning. With that, for the present, we have not to concern ourselves. But the bare text, as we copy it from the Talmud, conveys to us this important fact,—that men and women in the Canaan of Samuel and Saul—people who lived remote, as it would seem, from any famous centre of civilisation, in the midst of shepherds and herdsmen in the lone sheep farms of Judah and Benjamin—believed in the glories of the life eternal with God, and looked on to a future state of rewards and punishments, instead of limiting their hopes and fears to the sitting in quiet peace under the vine and the fig tree of their own loved land of promise.

The knowledge of a future state of existence was ever the blessed heritage of the chosen race—but the spread of that knowledge and the re-awakening of that belief we ascribe to the beneficial influence of one man. The Divine record, if we read between its lines, and the mighty wealth of Hebrew tradition, if we take sufficient pains to make it our own, tell us one story—how Samuel, whom, when he was a child, the God of Israel loved: with whom, during his long and blameless life, He used to speak face to face—now by a vision, now by the echo of a voice—tell us how Samuel was the founder of those great Prophetic Schools where the lamp of the knowledge of God was re-lit, and then kept burning with a steady flame through his time and for centuries after: the one bright light during the long, sad record of Israel.

Hero-kings like David, prophets like Gad and Nathan, the great psalm writers and musicians of the Temple of Solomon, were the more prominent results of the peculiar teaching and spirit of these “schools;” but their noblest work, after all, was the high and beneficial influence they exercised over the people of the land—an influence exemplified in such characters as that of Abigail, the sheep-master of Carmel’s wife, a page of whose life story we have just been considering.


Verse 30

(30) And shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel.—The wife of Nabal here speaks of the outlaw captain’s future rule over Israel as king as a matter of absolute certainty. This she, in common with other religious persons of the people, had doubtless heard through the Prophetic Schools. We may fairly suppose that not a few of the pupils of Samuel and his associates had been, when the first meeting of David with Abigail took place, for a considerable time working as teachers and preachers throughout the land. It is most likely that the synagogue, or something out of which the synagogue sprang—some kind of assembly for prayer to the God of Israel for instruction and exhortation—had already taken root among the people. The “sons of the prophets,” we may still with fair probability assume, were the first Teachers—the first rabbis in Israel. It must be remembered that at this time, and even before the murder of the priests at Nob, the central Sanctuary exercised comparatively small influence over the religious life of the people; even the Ark of the Covenant never seems to nave been kept there. The religious life, when Samuel had grown up to manhood, had well-nigh died out of the people.


Verse 31

(31) Then remember thine handmaid.—With exquisite grace Abigail wound up her earnest simple words to the king of the future with a reference to the period when those happy days, to which she looked forward with such certainty, should have arrived—then David must have no deeds of violence, of furious passion, and of shed blood to look back upon. When that golden time should have come—as come it surely would—he must remember then that Abigail, who was now speaking to him, had saved him from the commission of a wild and sinful act, and, in grateful memory for the good service, must then look kindly on her from his throne.


Verse 33

(33) And blessed be thy advice.—David, with his usual frank generosity, allows he has been in the wrong in giving way to wild, ungovernable passion, and openly confesses that if Abigail had not met him and reasoned with him, he would have carried out his purpose, and stained his fair fame for ever with a terrible crime. His dark purpose was to cut off, root and branch, the whole house of Nabal, amongst others the woman standing before him there. It is noticeable how, in this age of deeper religion and of higher culture, the old superstitious reverence for vows, taken in moments of frenzy or of extreme excitement, had given place to a calmer and more reasonable spirit. Never had a more solemn vow been taken than David’s that morning, when he took a solemn oath that he would murder the whole house of Nabal; and yet, before the sun set he is convinced of the wickedness of his purpose, and sooner than carry it out he deliberately breaks the oath. Some years before, Saul—had he not been forcibly hindered by the people—would, by the murder of his son, the hero-prince Jonathan, have fulfilled the rash oath which he swore at the battle of Michmash (1 Samuel 14:24; 1 Samuel 14:45); and Jephthah, the judge of Israel, we know, in the person of his loved daughter, ruthlessly carried out his wild, useless oath (Judges 11:34; Judges 11:40).


Verse 36

(36) He held a feast in his house.—This completes the picture of the wealthy sheep-master. The contrast between him and his wife, the high-minded and wise Abigail, is very striking. The husband, churlish, obstinate, a friend of Saul and the old disorderly state of things, haughty, unyielding, selfish, and indulging to excess in the coarse pleasures of the table, falling a victim in the end to his own untamed passions; the wife—“the good angel of the household,” as Stanley phrases it—thoughtful, prudent, far-seeing, a patient listener, and an apt pupil evidently of the new masters of learning and culture in Israel, a beautiful example of the highest type of the devout Hebrew woman who during the long chequered story of the chosen race exercised so often a holy influence on the life of the people. Nabal may be taken as an extreme, though not an uncommon, example of the leading Israelites of the days before Samuel; Abigail as the representative of the nobler spirit among the higher classes after the spirit of Samuel had influenced the inhabitants of the land.


Verse 37

(37) When the wine was gone out.—Simply, when the brutish, selfish reveller had become sober by lapse of time.

His heart died within him.—These words are generally understood as signifying that an attack of apoplexy had seized the intemperate man. Commentators are a little divided as to the immediate cause of the stroke. (a) It was brought on by fear, hearing to what a terrible danger he had been, through his reckless, unguarded language and churlish conduct, exposed. In that drunken sleep, out of which he was then scarcely awakened, he and all his family would have perished miserably had it not been for his wife’s forethought. In his enfeebled state, feverish and excited still with the strong drink, terror and horror seized him, and the “stroke” followed. (b) A furious burst of anger at his wife’s intelligence swept over him: that she should have humiliated herself before one whom he evidently hated, like David, was to him unbearable; and the wild burst of anger acting on the ruined, drink-shattered frame completed the mischief, and the result was the stroke of apoplexy. The first is, however, the more probable.


Verse 38

(38) The Lord smote Nabal.—That is to say, that after ten days had passed the Lord put an end to the base life by a second apoplectic stroke. Although the death was a sequel to the selfishness, the passion, and the intemperance, it does not appear that anything more than the operation of natural causes occasioned the end here. In the language of these old divinely inspired writers, disease and sickness are often spoken of as the special “shafts” aimed by the Most High, as in fact they are.


Verse 40

(40) When the servants of David were come to Abigail.—The time that had elapsed between the death of Nabal and this mission of David to Abigail is not specified. The legal time of mourning was fixed at only seven days, but a very considerable period may have elapsed in this case. S. Ambrose allegorises here, as is usual in Patristic expositions, and compares the espousals of Abigail to David after Nabar’s death to the union of the Church (i.e., the Gentile world) to Christ after the cessation of its connection with heathenism.—S. Ambrose, Ep. 31 (quoted in Words worth).


Verse 43

(43) David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel.—Jezreel is not the city in Issachar (Joshua 19:18), but a town in the southern part of Canaan, situate in the hill country of Judah, near Maon. The fatal results of this disastrous and unhappy Oriental custom of polygamy, as time went on, showed themselves in King David’s household—a plentiful crop of intrigues, crimes, and murders in the royal palace were the sad fruits of his yielding to the miserable practice, which has ever been one of the curses of the East.


Verse 44

(44) Michal his daughter.—The marriage of the Princess Michal to Phalti (Michal, we read, “loved David,” 1 Samuel 18:20) had taken place probably some time before. This high-handed act showed on the part of Saul a fixed determination to break utterly and for ever with David. Phalti was presumably a chieftain whom Saul was desirous of attracting to his fortunes. But the story of Miehal does not end here. After King Saul’s death, Abner, the uncle (or perhaps the cousin) of the late king, the well-known captain of his host, made overtures to David. David, however, only consented to a friendship with Abner if his young kins woman, the Princess Miehal, Saul’s daughter, was taken away from Phalti, and restored to him as his wife. Abner, we read, complied with the condition, and Miehal was taken from Phaltiel—as he is called in the account of this transaction, contained in 2 Samuel 3:13; 2 Samuel 3:16—and restored to David. An interesting and curious tradition respecting this man Phalti, or Phaltiel, is contained in the Talmud. In 1 Samuel 25:44 the second husband of David’s wife is called Phalti, and in 2 Samuel 3:15 he is called Phaltiel. Rabbi Jochanan said his name received that extension (el=God) to indicate that God had saved him from transgression. (The name Phalti being derived from the root palat—to cause to escape, Michal and Phalti never having lived together as man and wife.)—Treatise Sanhedrin, fol. 19, Colossians 2.

Once more the daughter of Saul appears in the sacred history. (See 2 Samuel 6:20-23.) It was the greatest day in David’s life—the Ark of the Covenant was being brought up with solemn pomp from its place of long exile in Kirjath-jearim to the new sacred capital of the loved king. One sad incident alone, we are told, marred the glories of the day. Michal, his wife, as Stanley thinks, in the proud, almost conservative, spirit of the older dynasty, not without a thought of her father’s fallen house, looked on contemptuously as King David danced before the Ark with the priests, his royal robes thrown aside; and later in the day seems to have poured out before the king her scornful feelings.

“Preceding the blest vessel, onward came,

With light dance leaping, girt in humble guise,

Israel’s sweet harper; in that hap he seemed

Less and yet more kingly. Opposite,

At a great palace, from the lattice forth

Looked Miehal, like a lady full of scorn

And sorrow.”—DANTE: Purgatory, 10

The sacred story goes on to say that Michal, as a childless wife in the royal palace of David, had time to mourn her fatal exhibition of pride. (See 2 Samuel 6:12-23.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 25:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/1-samuel-25.html. 1905.

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Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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