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The Folly Of Nabal (‘Fool’) And The Way That YHWH Dealt With Him While Providing For David And His Men Through Nabal’s Wife (1 Samuel 25:1-44 ).
This is the second of three successive examples in which David reveals his obedience to YHWH in not taking his own vengeance on those who have sinned against him, and in consequence of this Abigail declares that he will be appointed ruler over Israel (1 Samuel 25:30). This declaration of David’s ordained kingship is an important aspect of the story.
The incident fits aptly here as it gives a further indication of the way in which David made use of his men without harming Israelites, while at the same time as a result of the incident, events confirmed to him that YHWH would deal with fools (and therefore also with Saul) in His own good time. But it also brings out how easily he could have become like Saul, had YHWH not used Abigail to restrain him, and teach him an important lesson which he would carry into the future. It is a reminder to us that David also could be imperious and merciless, and that while he was certainly more merciful than his contemporaries, he could also at times be quite 1saless, as we shall have cause to discover later. It is a reminder that he was a good man, but still a man of his times, something which the writer does not try to hide from us (compare, for example, 1 Samuel 27:9; 2 Samuel 8:2, although it should be noted that in both cases they were regular occurrences of those violent times and were for reasons of safety).
Indeed the question of good in contrast to evil pervades the whole narrative. The Hebrew words for "good" and "evil" each occur seven times in the chapter, which is surely not a coincidence. It is the number of divine completion. See 1 Samuel 25:3; 1 Samuel 25:8; 1Sa 25:15 ; 1 Samuel 25:21; 1 Samuel 25:30-31; 1 Samuel 25:36, and 1 Samuel 25:3; 1Sa 25:17 ; 1 Samuel 25:21; 1 Samuel 25:26; 1Sa 25:34 ; 1 Samuel 25:39 (twice). And good is seen to triumph. Thus the incident is being used in order to demonstrate that David will in the end come through triumphantly, while Saul will perish.
In order to fully understand the story we need to understand the ceremony of sheep-shearing. Sheep-shearing was not just a time of hard work for the shearers, many of whom would have to be hired in, but also ended in a joyous festival to which the whole neighbourhood would be welcome. Compare how Absalom sought to invite the king, and if not him his own brothers, to the festivities at his sheep-shearing, (although in both cases it was because he was planning mischief during the festivities - 2 Samuel 13:23-26). It was a time when wine flowed freely, generosity abounded, and men got very drunk as they thanked God for the ‘harvest’ of wool. It was because Jacob knew that Laban’s attention would be taken up by the sheep-shearing festivities that he slipped away when he did, and the festivities explain why Laban did not learn of it for three days (Genesis 31:19-20). In some ways we might liken it to secular ideas about Christmas. Presents would often be exchanged, food and drink would be abundantly provided and a good time would be had by all.
But in the case of the shearing of larger flocks there was a clear temptation to wandering tribesmen and outlaws to wait until the shearing was nearly complete and then swoop down in order to claim their spoils. Thus neighbouring tribesmen, who showed their forbearance and friendship by not attacking the flocks or disturbing the activity of sheep-shearing, and by hanging around and ‘warning off’ predators, would quite blatantly send their representatives in order to obtain some of the good things on offer, openly expecting them as an act of hospitality and a kind of return gesture of friendship. It was of advantage to both. A modern historian has written, ‘On such a festive occasion near a town or village, even in our own time, an Arab sheikh 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 the message of David’. Thus David’s action was not as unusual, nor as preposterous, as it might sound to us. It was a regular method of demonstrating mutual friendship in a violent world, through which each party would see himself as benefiting from the other on a friendly basis, in return for the friendliness that the other had also shown.
The whole chapter may be analysed as follows:
a Samuel dies, leaving David bereft of his beloved mentor (1 Samuel 25:1 a).
b David goes into the wilderness of Paran (1 Samuel 25:1 b).
c Introduction to Nabal the churl and Abigail the wise and beautiful (1 Samuel 25:2-3).
d David seeks for Nabal’s hospitality and Nabal declares that in no way will he give David and his men hospitality (1 Samuel 25:4-11).
e David sets out to take vengeance (1 Samuel 25:12-13).
f A servant of Nabal pleads with Abigail to set matters straight (1 Samuel 25:14-17).
g Abigail hurries to prepare some of Nabal’s hospitality for David and his men (1 Samuel 25:18-19).
h Abigail meets David who is coming to take vengeance and abases herself before him (1 Samuel 25:20-23).
g Abigail presents Nabal’s hospitality to David’s men (1 Samuel 25:24-27).
f Abigail sets matters straight with David (1 Samuel 25:28-30).
e David accepts Abigail’s plea and decides to refrain from vengeance on Nabal (1 Samuel 25:32-35).
d Death of Nabal the churl as he and his guests feast on what he has refused to give to David and his men (1 Samuel 25:36-39 a).
c David weds Abigail who has revealed herself to him as wise and beautiful (1 Samuel 25:39-42).
b David finds love in the wilderness (1 Samuel 25:43).
a Saul gives Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti, the son of Laish, leaving David bereft of his beloved wife (1 Samuel 25:44).
The End Of A Prophet and An Introduction To A Fool (1 Samuel 25:1-3 ).
The death of Samuel introduces a period of folly, possibly in order to bring out what the loss of his influence resulted in. This period commences with the story of Nabal the fool, (‘Nabal is his name and folly is with him’ - 1 Samuel 25:25) illustrative of the folly of the wealthy in Israel towards David under Saul, and continues with Saul’s further gross act of folly against David in which he declares, ‘I have played the fool, and erred exceedingly’ (1 Samuel 26:21).
It is probably not accidental that having described Samuel’s death and his being buried ‘in his house’, Nabal is described as ‘of (the house/family) of Caleb’. In the context the second description may be seen as rather ominously pointing to the fact that Nabal too will also shortly be joining his fathers.
A further thing to note is that the description of Samuel’s death and burial which then introduces the folly and end of Nabal (1 Samuel 25:1), parallels similar words about Samuel’s death and burial which commence the passage which introduces the final folly and end of Saul (1 Samuel 28:3). Nabal’s end as ‘a fool’ would thus seem to be intended as a kind of pre-indication of what will happen to Saul the fool. This parallel can be seen as confirmed by a number of further indications that we should relate the two:
1). Nabal’s ‘three thousand sheep’ (1 Samuel 25:2) may be seen as paralleling Saul’s ‘three thousand men’ (1 Samuel 24:2).
2). David is depicted as ‘your son’ to both of them (1 Samuel 24:11; 1 Samuel 24:16; 1 Samuel 25:8).
3). Nabal holds a feast in his house ‘like the feast of a king’ (1 Samuel 25:36).
4). Both would soon suffer premature death because of their opposition to David (1 Samuel 25:38; 1 Samuel 31:6).
In contrast we have the presentation of David, the man who ‘dealt wisely’ (1 Samuel 18:15; 1 Samuel 18:30) and was of ‘a beautiful countenance’ (1 Samuel 16:12), which can be paralleled with the presentation of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, as a woman of ‘good understanding’ and ‘beautiful countenance’. Both of them (David and Abigail) would enjoy ‘life’ together and share a glorious future. Thus the story of Nabal and Abigail is a kind of cameo of the story of the lives of Saul and David, the one foolish and condemned, the other wise and beautiful and destined for life and glory.
a And Samuel died, and all Israel gathered themselves together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah (1 Samuel 25:1 a).
b And David arose, and went down to the wilderness of Paran (1 Samuel 25:1 b).
c And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel, and the man was very prosperous, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats. And he was shearing his sheep in Carmel, and the name of the man was Nabal (1 Samuel 25:2-3 a).
b And the name of his wife Abigail, and the woman was of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance (1 Samuel 25:3 b).
a But the man was churlish and evil in his doings, and he was ‘of (the house of) Caleb’ (1 Samuel 25:3 c).
Note that in ‘a’ Samuel died and all lamented him, and he was buried ‘in his house’ (in his family garden or tomb) and in the parallel we have a man about to die whom no one will lament, who was of good stock, i.e. ‘of Caleb’, and was, unsuspectingly, about to join Caleb ‘in his house’. His death is being depicted as a kind of forerunner to that of Saul, the death of a fool. It is in contrast with the one who lives and who carries on himself the mantle of Samuel. In ‘b’ we have David, the man anointed by Samuel who will live, and in whom the future lay as he carried on and extended Samuel’s work, and whom we know from what we have been told already was of beautiful countenance (1 Samuel 16:12) and wise in his dealings (1 Samuel 18:15; 1 Samuel 18:30), and in the parallel we have the woman Abigail (‘my father is joy’) who will live and will share that future, who was also of good understanding and of beautiful countenance. Centrally in ‘c’ we have a description of a prosperous man, who was celebrating an abundant ‘harvest’ of wool with an outward show of hospitality, but whose name was Nabal (‘fool’, compare Psalms 14:1; Proverbs 30:22). Like Saul he would not include David, and thus he lived and died like a fool.
1 Samuel 25:1
‘ And Samuel died, and all Israel gathered themselves together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah.’
We had almost lost sight of Samuel amidst the follies of Saul and YHWH’s preservation of David, but we are now reminded that he had continued his prophetic work in Israel, and was generally greatly loved. Thus when he died all Israel gathered together to lament him. And he was then buried in his ancestral home, no doubt in a special tomb or mausoleum in the grounds (compare 2 Kings 21:18; with 2 Chronicles 33:20. To literally bury him in the house would be to render it permanently unclean). What a contrast with Nabal whom no one seems to have lamented, (although he no doubt had a rich funeral), and with Saul who was disgraced in his death (1 Samuel 31:10) and was only remembered by a few (1 Samuel 31:11), who buried him away from his ancestral home (31 Samuel 1:13).
In this passage the description of Samuel’s end leads on to the story of a man who behaved like a fool and died like a fool. A parallel description in 1 Samuel 28:3 leads on to the story of how Saul also behaved like a fool, and how, while he appears to have died bravely, he came to a fool’s end. If David had been with him at the battle with the Philistines at which he died things might have gone very differently.
1 Samuel 25:1 b
‘And David arose, and went down to the wilderness of Paran.’
In contrast with the death of Samuel is the fact that his protégé David continued his advancement. He did not die but ‘arose’ and went into the wilderness and pasture land of Paran, where he was to learn an important lesson and gain a good and beautiful wife to replace Michal who had been taken from him (25:44). For him life, and God’s purposes, went on. We must not see ‘wilderness’ simply as representing a desert. In such wildernesses there would be much good pasture land, and when at times such places as the Negev were irrigated they could be very fertile . ‘The wilderness of Paran’ was in the area south and south west of the Dead Sea, It represented a large region bounded by the wilderness of Shur on the west and Edom on the east, with the wilderness of Sinai to the south. In it had wandered both Ishmael (Genesis 21:21) and the wandering Israelites, and from it had gone out the spies into Canaan (Numbers 10:12; Numbers 12:16; Numbers 13:3). It thus reached to the borders of Canaan. Like all such regions it was not closely defined, and the name was clearly seen here as loosely describing a large area extending northwards towards Maon.
1 Samuel 25:2
‘ And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel, and the man was a very important man, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats, and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel.’
Living in the town of Maon, with extensive lands in Carmel (see Joshua 15:55), was a prosperous and important man who had large flocks of sheep and goats. Maon and Carmel (now Khirbet el-Karmil) were in a wilderness area west of the Dead Sea, and 12 kilometres (eight miles) south south east of Hebron. Such areas were regularly open to attack by marauding tribesmen and bandits looking for spoils. (We should note that this was a different Carmel from Mount Carmel on the Mediterranean coast).
“And he was shearing his sheep in Carmel.” As described above, the end of sheep-shearing was a time of great festivity, when the wool harvest was celebrated. Ample food and drink would be made available and visitors would be welcomed. Note how Nabal’s festivities are describes as ‘like the feast of a king’ (1 Samuel 25:36). Indeed to turn people away from the provision made would be looked on as a sign of and favour and enmity. Thus it was quite common for the leaders of local desert tribesmen, who had refrained from molesting the flocks and whose presence had ensured the peaceful conduct of the sheepshearing and had prevented unwanted visitors from interfering with it, to send representatives assuring the sheepshearers of their goodwill and at the same time asking for their share of what was being provided as being ‘friendly neighbours’. To refuse such a request would have been looked on as an act of inhospitality, and therefore of enmity, for it was a time of recognised hospitality.
1 Samuel 25:3 a
‘Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail, and the woman was of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance.’
The man’s name was Nabal, which means ‘fool’ (compare Psalms 14:1). This was possibly a nickname by which he had become popularly known because of the kind of man he was. In contrast his wife was called Abigail which means ‘joy is my father’. She was a sensible and wise woman and very beautiful. It is probable that the writer intends us to see here a contrast between Saul and David for he has previously revealed the folly of Saul (13:13; 26:21 - sacal), and the wisdom and beauty of David ( 1Sa 18:15 ; 1 Samuel 18:30; 1 Samuel 16:12).
1 Samuel 25:3 b
‘But the man was hard (obstinate, churlish) and evil in his doings, and he was of (of the house/family of) Caleb.’
In striking contrast with his wife, Nabal was obstinate and unpleasant in his dealings. The mention of his connection with the house/family of Caleb (literally ‘of Caleb’) indicated that he came from a noble house, and was possibly intended in context as a hint of the fact that he would soon be joining his fathers in the same way as Samuel had.
Caleb was of the ‘royal’ house of Judah. He had settled Hebron and the hill county around (Judges 1:8-15). His brother Othniel had subsequently been Judge and War-leader of Israel (Judges 3:9). Thus, like Saul, Nabal had noble forebears. But he was a fool.
As we have seen the contrast between Nabal and Abigail could not be more striking. He was a fool, she was of ‘good understanding’. He was evil and ungenerous, she was good and generous. He was repulsive in character, she was ‘beautiful’, both in character and appearance. He was arrogant and thoughtless, she was humble and thoughtful. He was ungodly, she was godly. He was an antagoniser, she was a peacemaker. We could equally say the same about Saul as he had become, and David.
David Contacts Nabal In Order To Share In His Hospitality, Is Rebuffed And Insulted, And Decides On Vengeance (1 Samuel 25:4-19 ).
In this next passage we are informed about Nabal’s incredible and foolish response to the messengers of David, and about Abigail’s intention to put matters right. It would seem that Nabal had heard about David as a treacherous outlaw, and probably thought that he only had a rag tag band of outlaws following him. He could only possibly have acted as he did because he thought that David only had a handful of followers who would not be able do anything against his shearers and shepherds combined. It was only later that he would learn that they had nearly been ‘visited’ by four hundred trained warriors seeking vengeance for the insult given (a fact which led to his having a stroke).
a And David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. And David sent ten young men, and David said to the young men, “Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name, and thus shall you say to him who lives in prosperity, ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have” (1 Samuel 25:4-6).
b And now I have heard that you have the shearers in. Your shepherds have now been with us, and we did them no hurt, neither was there aught missing to them all the while they were in Carmel” (1 Samuel 25:7)
c “Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Wherefore let the young men find favour in your eyes; for we come in a good day. Give, I pray you, whatever comes to your hand, to your servants, and to your son David” (1 Samuel 25:8).
d And when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal in accordance with all those words in the name of David, and sat down (1 Samuel 25:9).
e And Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, “Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men of whom I know not from where they are?” (1 Samuel 25:10-11).
f So David’s young men turned on their way, and went back, and came and told him according to all these words (1 Samuel 25:12).
e And David said to his men, “Gird you 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 baggage (1 Samuel 25:13).
d But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, “Look, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master, and he railed at them” (1 Samuel 25:14).
c “But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we anything, as long as we went with them, when we were in the countryside, they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know and consider what you will do, for evil is determined against our master, and against all his house, for he is such a worthless fellow, that one cannot speak to him” (1 Samuel 25:15-17).
b Then Abigail acted hurriedly, 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. (1 Samuel 25:18).
a And she said to her young men, “Go on before me. Look, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal (1 Samuel 25:19).
Note that in ‘a’ David gave his instructions to his young men so that they will go to Nabal, and in the parallel Abigail gives her instructions to her young men so that they will go to David. In ‘b’ David learns about the approach of the sheep-shearing festivities, and in the parallel Abigail sends him the provisions connected with the sheep-shearing festivities. In ‘c’ David tells Nabal to consult his men as to whether they had been treated fairly, and in the parallel the servant confirms that this was so. In ‘d’ David’s young men came to Nabal with David’s message and then sat down awaiting his reply, and in the parallel refers to the arrival of those servants and Nabal’s response to them. In ‘e’ Nabal asks who David the son of Jesse is, and in the parallel David sets out to let him know. Centrally in ‘f’ the men report back the welcome that they had received to David. On this hinges the whole narrative.
1 Samuel 25:4
‘ And David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep.’
Residing in the wilderness with his men, and having kept a friendly eye on the shepherds of Nabal and their sheep, David learned that the sheep-shearing, along with its accompanying celebrations, had begun. In accordance with custom, therefore, he and his men, as a friendly and protective ‘tribe’, would seek to share in the festivities.
David’s Puts In His Request.
1 Samuel 25:5-6
‘ And David sent ten young men, and David said to the young men, “Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet (ask welfare and peace for) him in my name, and thus shall you say to him who lives, ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.”
Accordingly David sent a number of his young men (‘ten’ often means ‘a number of’, compare 1 Samuel 1:8; Genesis 31:41) with a friendly message for Nabal. He asked that he might enjoy welfare and peace, and that he might recognise that the fact that he was still alive and prosperous was partly due to the services of David and his men. He assured him that his desire for him was that both he and his house and all that he had might enjoy peace and welfare. It was a typical Near Eastern greeting.
1 Samuel 25:7
‘ And now I have heard that you have shearers. Your shepherds have now been with us, and we did them no hurt, neither was there anything missing to them all the while they were in Carmel.”
Then he came to the main point that he wanted to convey. It was that he had heard that Nabal was engaged in sheep-shearing, at the end of which, as all knew, festivities would be held, and ample food and drink would be made available to any guests who came, and he reminded him of the services that he and his men had provided to Nabal’s shepherds when they had shared the same area of land. Rather than doing any hurt to them and taking advantage of their unprotected flocks, they had instead protected them so that nothing went missing. So as a friendly ‘neighbour’ he wished to share in the festivities. Such hospitality was a feature of sheep-shearing festivities to which all neighbours would be invited.
1 Samuel 25:8
“ Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Wherefore let the young men find favour in your eyes, for we come in a good day (a festival day). Give, I pray you, whatever comes to your hand, to your servants, and to your son David.”
He suggested that Nabal question his young men on the matter, and pointed out that they would then tell him that what David had said was so. In view of this he requested that his representatives might meet with favour in his eyes, because they came on a festival day, and that they might share in the hospitality. Let Nabal give from the food and drink on offer what he considered reasonable, for the benefit of his young men and himself. As mentioned above, his request was friendly and in accordance with custom and best practise. He and his men had restrained themselves and had sought to be helpful. Now Nabal could reciprocate by sharing with them some of the festive food and drink.
Note David’s deliberate attempt to make his approach friendly and indeed almost a family affair. Let Nabal look on his men as ‘his servants’ who had fulfilled their responsibility to him, and on David himself even as one of his family because he felt only goodwill towards him. He was appealing to custom and the laws of hospitality. We should remember that David and his men, who were outlaws and responsible to no one, could, had they wished, easily have appropriated for themselves whatever they had wanted from the flocks with no one to say them nay. The shepherds would have had no chance against his six hundred experienced warriors. Thus he considered quite justly that they had in actual fact been very neighbourly, generous and considerate, and had performed an important service in ensuring that no other wandering bands interfered with them.
1 Samuel 25:9
‘ And when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal in accordance with all those words in the name of David, and sat down.’
On arrival at the sheep-shearing site where the festivities were in progress, and food and drink would be flowing like water, David’s young men passed on David’s words exactly as he had given them. Then they sat down and awaited Nabal’s response. They were probably quite confident of a positive reply in the light of custom.
Abigail Informs Nabal of What Has Happened and Nabal Has A Heart Attack And Dies (1 Samuel 25:6-39 b).
On receiving news from Abigail about how close they had come to disaster Nabal had a stroke and died, causing David, when he heard of it, to thank YHWH for taking up his cause while keeping him from evil.
a 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 drunk, for which reason she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light (1 Samuel 25:36).
b And it came about in the morning, that when the wine was gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone (1 Samuel 25:37).
c And it came about approximately ten days after, that YHWH smote Nabal, so that he died (1 Samuel 25:38).
b And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be YHWH, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from evil” (1 Samuel 25:39 a).
a “And the evildoing of Nabal has YHWH returned on his own head” (1 Samuel 25:39 b).
Note that in ‘a’ Nabal, having refused David and his men any provision, indulges himself to excess, and in the parallel his evil is said by David to have been returned by YHWH onto his own head. In ‘b’ Nabal had a stroke which is described as his heart dying within him, and in the parallel David learns that Nabal is dead and he blesses YHWH for Himself judging Nabal and preventing David from evil behaviour. Centrally in ‘c’ Nabal died.
1 Samuel 25:36
‘ 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 drunk, for which reason she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light.’
On returning home Abigail found the festivities in full progress with the result that Nabal was in no condition to listen to what she had to say because he was very drunk. So she told him nothing that night and decided to wait until he had sobered up in the morning.
The feast is said to be one which was the equivalent of that of a king, a reminder that we are to see in this incident a precursor of what would shortly happen to the real king. This extravagant language also emphasises the meanness of Nabal in refusing hospitality to David and his men. It had not been due to a shortage of provisions, but simply to nastiness.
1 Samuel 25:37
‘ And it came about in the morning, that when the wine was gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.’
Once he had recovered from his excesses in the morning Abigail explained to him all that she had done, and how, as a result, she had been able to turn back an army of armed men who had been coming to destroy them. He found the news so disturbing that it resulted in him having a stroke. His body ceased to function. (Some consider that it was his anger at Abigail’s disobedience that caused his stroke, but no one would have ever known which it was)
1 Samuel 25:38
‘ And it came about approximately ten days after, that YHWH smote Nabal, so that he died.’
And the result was that around ten days afterwards he died, ‘smitten by YHWH’. (Anyone who had a stroke was in fact, in those days, seen as smitten by YHWH).
1 Samuel 25:39 a/b
‘And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be YHWH, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from evil. And the evildoing of Nabal has YHWH returned on his own head.”
When David heard the news of the stroke, and Nabal’s consequent death, he blessed God both for avenging him the insult that he had suffered, and for punishing Nabal for his evildoing, while at the same time having prevented it occurring at David’s hands. It demonstrated to him that YHWH was with him, confirmed that in the same way he could also wait for YHWH Himself to deal with Saul, and in addition had given him a lesson in mercy.
The fact that David ‘heard’ so quickly suggests that he had by now an efficient system of spies and informers.
Nabal’s Foolish Reply.
Given the strength of David’s band Nabal’s reply was foolish in the extreme. Indeed we can only assume that he was not aware of how powerful David’s fighting strength was, for it is difficult otherwise to imagine why he acted so foolishly, however cranky he might have felt. He probably in fact thought that he was simply dealing with a disreputable bunch of rather cheeky outlaws who could easily be kept in their place. He had after all a good number of experienced fighting men to call on himself (all shepherds in such an area had to be fighting men).
His act was in fact a gross breach of oriental hospitality. It went against recognised custom, and was deliberately insulting withal. Indeed it was an act of the utmost foolishness, and was inviting repercussions, as his own servants recognised. No doubt he thought that he had enough shearers to keep these audacious outlaws at bay. It was presumably only when the fullscale nature of the size of David’s band was brought home to him, and he realised what his wife had saved them from, that he had his heart attack.
1 Samuel 25:10
‘ And Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, “Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away every man from his master.”
His reply was contemptuous in the extreme. It was not only a rejection, but a deliberate and calculated insult. Who did this man ‘David’ think he was? Why should he listen to ‘the son of Jesse’? He was nothing special. He was just a renegade servant who had slipped his master’s leash, and there were many of them around. Why then should he cater for them? He did not want people like that enjoying his hospitality.
1 Samuel 25:11
“ Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men of whom I know not from where they are?”
Indeed, why should he take the food and drink which he had provided for his shearers and neighbours, and give it to unknown strangers of whose background he was unaware? (It is clear from what follows that his servants, who did know the strength of David’s force, were appalled to learn of his words. To them it was quite clear what the consequences would be. You just did not treat leaders of powerful outlaw bands in this way).
1 Samuel 25:12
‘ So David’s young men turned on their way, and went back, and came and told him according to all these words.’
David’s young men were also no doubt quite surprised. They had come with friendly overtures and had expected to share in Nabal’s generosity. It was the custom. But now they were going away empty. And it was as empty that they returned to David and told him what Nabal had said.
Humanly speaking David’s reaction was inevitable. What Nabal had said was deliberately insulting, contrary to custom and an act of open hostility. It was a refusal to accept the norms of hospitality because of his contempt for David. It was to declare war. Had they partaken of his food and drink David and his men would, according to the laws of hospitality, have been bound to treat him and his servants in a friendly way. But by refusing to treat David and his men as ‘friendly’, he was actually stating that he saw them as nondescript enemies. That too resulted from the laws of hospitality.
1 Samuel 25:13
‘ And David said to his men, “Gird you 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 baggage.’
So when he received Nabal’s reply David commanded his men to gird themselves with their swords, and taking four hundred men set off to gain his vengeance. This was precisely what everyone would have expected, as we see from the reaction of Abigail’s servant who would be unwittingly caught up in the consequences. Note the threefold repetition of ‘sword’. The repetition is in order to emphasise that they were going to be used. David did not, of course, stop to think that he was behaving exactly like Saul would have behaved. He was furious. To him custom had been violated, hospitality had been refused, insults had been offered, personal hostility had been demonstrated and repercussions had been invited. Well, he would give them what they asked for. They would soon learn who David, the son of Jesse, was when they were drowning in their own blood.
We see here another side of David. It is a reminder that his compassion for Saul was not the result of his general moral stance, but was simply because Saul was the anointed of YHWH. It was his loyalty to YHWH that had prevented him from killing Saul, not a general moral dislike of killing. Indeed like many of his day he spent his life killing. This would thus be just one more example of it. However, the remainder of the story indicates that God was not pleased with his attitude, and that he himself, when he had cooled down and thought about it, recognised that he had gone somewhat over the top. He was still learning the need for compassion that would be required by a godly king.
1 Samuel 25:14-16
‘ But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, “Look, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master, and he railed at them But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we anything, as long as we went with them, when we were in the countryside, they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.”
Fortunately for all involved one of the shepherds, who must have been a trusted servant, had learned of what Nabal had said to David’s messengers and was appalled. He knew the strength of David’s band, and he could not believe that Nabal had behaved so foolishly. He was quite well aware that what he had done and said had invited repercussions of a terrible kind. It went against all custom and all common sense.
So he sought out Abigail, his master’s wife, whom he knew to be a woman of sense. And he told her what had happened, and how David’s messengers had come in order to receive the customary hospitality, and had been turned away with insults. He then pointed out how good David’s men had been to them, and how they had not only not hurt them, or stolen anything from them, but that they had also protected them so that no wandering bands of outlaws and brigands had dared to approach them, and had continued to do so all the time that they were there. According to custom they had therefore earned Nabal’s hospitality.
1 Samuel 25:17
“ Now therefore know and consider what you will do, for evil is determined against our master, and against all his house, for he is such a worthless fellow, that one cannot speak to him.”
And he pointed out that there could really be no doubt about what David’s response would be. You just did not treat people like David and his men like that. Thus it was quite clear that there would soon be severe repercussions, not only on Nabal but on all of them, for all would be seen as involved in the insult offered. It could only be a matter of time before David arrived to wreak his vengeance. Nabal had asked for it. (Note that the servant had no gripe about this. He actually appears to have felt that David would be in the right, and that it was his own master who was in the wrong).
The servant must have been one who was ‘privileged’, for he then indicated that he had not talked with Nabal about it because he knew that he was such an awkward man that there was no way in which he would listen. This was a very daring thing for a servant to say against his master, but he clearly expected Abigail to recognise the truth of what he had said, and to sympathise. It also demonstrates his own fears about what the repercussions were going to be..
1 Samuel 25:18
‘ Then Abigail acted hurriedly, 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.’
The astute Abigail recognised at once the truth of what he had said. No doubt she had been informed of the size of David’s band. So she hurriedly ‘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.’ This was more than David would necessarily have originally expected, but she knew that the extra would be needed if there was to be any hope of appeasing him. The fact that the sheep were ready dressed demonstrates that the feast was still going on.
1 Samuel 25:19
‘ And she said to her young men, “Go on before me. Look, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.’
Then, recognising the necessity for urgency, she told her young men to go on in front of her in order to let David know that provisions were on the way, and that she, Nabal’s wife, was bringing them. She knew that with the provisions that she was taking she would not be able to travel very quickly and that it was urgent that David knew what she was doing before he carried out the expected vengeance.
“But she did not tell her husband Nabal.” She recognised that the servant was perfectly correct about his obstinacy and hardness, and that if she had said anything he might have tried to stop her from going. But apart from Nabal everyone realised what the consequences must be of what he had done, so she knew that she must act secretly and on her own.
Abigail Averts Disaster (1 Samuel 25:20-36 ).
Abigail rides to meet David, takes all the guilt on herself, and begs him to show mercy, not only for her sake but for his own, so that he will not be guilty before YHWH of shedding innocent blood, thereby revealing that she has a more tender conscience than he. David then acknowledges that she is right and assures her that he will not harm Nabal’s household for her sake. We have a reminder here of the One Who Himself bore our guilt on Himself in order that we too may escape destruction.
We also have a reminder of how even the greatest saints of God like David can so easily allow their pride and passion to persuade them into gross sin and error. It make clear that always we have to maintain a close watch over our hearts and our desires, lest we allow ourselves to slide into doing what is evil.
But we also once again have a reference to the certainty of David’s future kingship. It had begun with Samuel’s anointing (1 Samuel 16:1), had been acknowledged by Jonathan (1 Samuel 23:17), and then by Saul (1 Samuel 24:20), and is now confirmed by Abigail. Thus following his anointing we have now had a threefold recognition of David’s future kingship.
a And it was so, as she rode on her ass, and came down by the covert of the mountain, that, behold, David and his men came down toward her, and she met them (1 Samuel 25:20).
b Now David had said, “Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained to him, and he has returned me evil for good. God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if I leave of all that pertains to him by the morning light so much as one man-child” (1 Samuel 25:21-22).
c And when Abigail saw David, she hurriedly alighted from her ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground. And she fell at his feet, and said, “On me, my lord, on me be the iniquity, and let your handmaid, I pray you, speak in your ears, and hear you the words of your handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray you, regard this worthless fellow, even 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 therefore, my lord, as YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, seeing YHWH has withheld you from bloodguiltiness, and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now therefore let your enemies, and those who seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal” (1 Samuel 25:23-26).
d “And now this present which your servant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Forgive, I pray you, the trespass of your handmaid, for YHWH will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord fights the battles of YHWH, and evil shall not be found in you all your days” (1 Samuel 25:27-28).
e “And though men be risen up to pursue you, and to seek your life, yet the life of my lord will be bound in the bundle of life with YHWH your God, and the lives of your enemies, them will he sling out, as from the hollow of a sling” (1 Samuel 25:29).
d “And it will come about that when YHWH shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and shall have appointed you prince over Israel, that this shall be no grief to you, nor offence of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. And when YHWH shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember your handmaid” (1 Samuel 25:30-31).
c And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be YHWH, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who has kept me this day from bloodguiltiness, and from avenging myself with my own hand” (1 Samuel 25:32-33).
b “For in very deed, as YHWH, the God of Israel, lives, who has withheld me from hurting you, except you had hurried and come to meet me, surely there had not been left to Nabal by the morning light so much as one man-child” (1 Samuel 25:34).
a So David received of her hand what she had brought him, and he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house, see, I have listened to your voice, and have accepted your person” (1 Samuel 25:35).
Note that in ‘a’ Abigail comes and meets David, and in the parallel he indicates that he has accepted her plea and her person. In ‘b’ David swears that he will leave not a single male alive, and in the parallel he says that if Abigail had not come to him that is what he would have done. In ‘c’ Abigail rejoices that YHWH has kept David from blood-guiltiness, and in the parallel David rejoices in that Abigail’s intervention has kept him from blood-guiltiness. In ‘d’ Abigail declares that David fights the battles of YHWH and that evil will not be found in him all his days, and in the parallel she declares that YHWH will appoint him as war-leader (nagid) over Israel, and rejoices that he will have no grief, nor offence of heart, nor have shed blood without cause. Centrally in ‘e’ she declares that his life will be bound in the bundle of life with YHWH his God, while his enemies will be slung away like stones from a sling.
1 Samuel 25:20
‘ And it was so, as she rode on her ass, and came down by the covert of the mountain, that, behold, David and his men came down toward her, and she met them.’
Moving as quickly as she could with all the good things that she was taking to David, and herself riding on her own ass, the normal beast of travel for wealthy people in Canaan, Abigail came into an isolated pass which was hidden from outside view. There she was suddenly faced with a large band of warriors coming in the other direction. It was David and his men. And they had vengeance in their hearts.
1 Samuel 25:21
‘ Now David had said, “Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained to him, and he has returned me evil for good.”
For David’s response to Nabal’s churlishness and inhospitableness had been instantaneous. He was angry that after all the generosity they had shown in not attacking the shepherds and stealing some of the sheep (which would have been a normal and regular experience for the shepherds to experience), all that he had received in return was insults, snubs and a refusal to show even basic hospitality.
While we may feel that David and his men had no right to expect to receive anything when they had not been actually contracted to provide a service, that would not have been the view of those days. Showing hospitality was considered to be of prime importance, especially at a time of feasting, and while it is true that there had been no specific contract, what David and his men had done was something regularly performed, without being asked, by tribal chieftains, and in the end they also expected reciprocation by sharing in the sheep-shearing festivities.
We must remember that they lived at a time when invading other territories for booty was looked on almost as a sport (see 2 Samuel 11:1). People would actually have expected that a group like David and his men would travel around seizing spoil, and therefore to refrain from doing so was an act of unlooked for generosity. It was therefore incumbent on the beneficiary to show hospitality towards them as ‘good neighbours’. Nabal would, in fact, only have refused it because he did actually have enmity towards ‘those outlaws’. It was because he considered that they were reprobates. And he also no doubt considered that they were not powerful enough to attack him and his sheep-shearers and other servants, for these in themselves would make up a formidable band. Thus it must have been when he discovered how strong David’s band was, and how close they had come to disaster, he was so shocked that he had a stroke.
1 Samuel 25:22
“ God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if I leave of all that pertains to him by the morning light so much as one man-child (literally ‘anyone who relieves himself against the wall’).”
David’s vengeance was to be swift and sure. Not one male who could stand on his own feet (expressed in terms of those who relieve themselves against a wall) would be left alive. This was because they would all have been seen as participating in the insult, and they would therefore all be dead before morning. The description is probably meant to exclude unweaned male children who would not yet have matured to an age when they relieved themselves against walls.
His oath was no doubt a regular form of oath which basically indicated that they would suffer in the same way as his enemies did, with the extra severity, which would not have normally been shown, being shown to his enemies if he failed to fulfil his oath. It was not, however, a serious oath in that it had to be fulfilled once made. It was rather David’s way of expressing how strongly he felt.
It is unquestionable that David’s response was impulsive and in the light of the teaching of Jesus Christ quite wrong. He should certainly have taken time to consider his action which would not only affect Nabal and those who greed with him, but also many innocent people. It would, however, at the time have appeared to most people to be quite reasonable considering the provocation, (although not to a godly person like Abigail), and we must remember that David was already under pressure through being continually hunted by Saul, through having lost his wife Michal whom Saul had given to another (1 Samuel 25:44), and through having received the terrible news that Samuel, his beloved mentor, probably the only man in Israel who could openly stand against Saul and survive, was dead (1 Samuel 25:1). What is to David’s credit is that when Abigail drew his attention to what he was about to do he recognised his error and regretted it.
It is probably difficult for us to perceive how pivotal Abigail’s action was for David. Up to this point, as far as we know, David and his men had only ever proved themselves to be friendly and protective towards Israelites. We are left to imagine then what might have been the effect of the spreading of a story of how he and his men had descended on a group of innocent Judean sheepshearers enjoying their festivities (the full facts would not necessarily be known) and had slaughtered them in cold blood, with the result that he had wiped out a prominent and noble family from Judah, and all for the sake of a few provisions. No one would have known who would be next.
1 Samuel 25:23
‘ And when Abigail saw David, she hurriedly alighted from her ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground.’
When Abigail saw David and his men she did not hesitate. As quickly as she could she alighted from her ass and fell down and paid homage at a distance. She then followed this up by a further abasing of herself and by touching the ground with her head. Then finally she approached David and prostrated herself again before him. She was emphasising to David the deep respect that she had for him.
1 Samuel 25:24
‘ And she fell at his feet, and said, “On me, my lord, on me be the iniquity, and let your handmaid, I pray you, speak in your ears, and hear you the words of your handmaid.”
Note the final stress that she fell at his feet before him. It was an act of total submission. Notice also the threefold, ‘fell before David --- bowed herself to the ground --- fell at his feet’ emphasising the completeness of her submission. It was typical of the way in which an important ruler would be approached. She was trying to appease him. Then she begged that he would listen to her. It was not normal for a woman to approach a man like David, especially when he was on a warlike enterprise. So she firstly asked that her iniquity in daring to speak to him and delay him might be on her alone (he would not yet know who she was). No fault was to lie at his door, or at anyone else’s. And then she begged that he would continue to listen to her. Again notice the threefoldness, ‘on me be the iniquity --- let me speak in your ears --- hear you my words’. It is typical of the flowery language and behaviour that was used by someone engaged in an urgent mission to a powerful ruler who had been offended.
Alternately she may be asking that the blame for her husband’s unrighteous behaviour might fall on her, which is certainly something she does later. But in context the words are related to her appeal for him to listen to her which would suggest that she is seeking forgiveness that she as a woman has dared to approach him as a man so as to speak to him before others.
1 Samuel 25:25
“ Let not my lord, I pray you, regard this worthless fellow, even 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.”
She pleaded with him to recognise Nabal for what he was, a worthless and useless fellow, as his nickname indicated, and one therefore to be dismissed as such. He had been rightly characterised. His name meant ‘folly’ and that is what he was, a fool. And the pathway for a fool led him to his own destruction. It did not need David to help it along. (The writer no doubt intends his readers to recognise that in this he is like Saul). But let David not lay Nabal’s folly at anyone else’s door. She, for example, had not seen the young men whom David had sent. Note her constant use of ‘my lord’. This was how a respectful woman addressed an important man in those days (even her husband).
1 Samuel 25:26
“ Now therefore, my lord, as YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, seeing YHWH has withheld you from bloodguiltiness, and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now therefore let your enemies, and those who seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal.”
Abigail now advanced three arguments to advance her call for compassion:
Firstly in that YHWH by His providence had caused them to meet so as to prevent him becoming blood guilty. This was a clear sign that the living God was at work and was wanting David to walk in the way of full life (see Deuteronomy 30:19) and not in the way of blood-guiltiness and in the way of obtaining his own vengeance by his own actions rather than awaiting YHWH’s vengeance (thus his actions towards Nabal are being seen as the opposite of his actions towards Saul).
Secondly in that her desire was that all David’s enemies be like Nabal (fools doomed to destruction at YHWH’s hand).
And thirdly (in 1 Samuel 25:27) in that that she herself has brought hospitality for his young men, demonstrating that not all Nabal’s household look on David with contempt and as an enemy.
“As YHWH lives.” David is to remember that YHWH is the living God Who requires all men to walk righteously, and Who is able to avenge all who are righteous.
“And as your soul (inner life) lives,” in other words ‘as you yourself live righteously within your inner man (soul).’ Her point was that while free from blood-guilt and pointless vengeance he would live a free, untrammelled life of righteousness and purity. She is thus calling on him maintain the truly righteous life which he enjoys before YHWH, a life which brings fullness of blessing (Deuteronomy 30:19).
“Seeing YHWH has withheld you from bloodguiltiness.” She wanted him to see that this meeting between them was YHWH’s doing with the very purpose of preventing him from becoming blood guilty as a result of slaying the innocent with the guilty.
“And from avenging yourself with your own hand.” Right from the beginning Scripture taught that vengeance was not to be in men’s hands but in YHWH’s hand. Thus one mark of Cain lay in his determination to obtain his own vengeance (Genesis 4:8), something that came to full fruit in the similar behaviour of Lamech who demanded even greater vengeance just for being slighted (Genesis 4:23-24), something which clearly therefore characterised the line of Cain. In contrast Abel’s vengeance came from YHWH. (Genesis 4:8-10), and Adam’s family were therefore not to seek vengeance on Cain (Genesis 4:15) but to leave it in YHWH’s hands. Compare Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 32:35; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalms 94:1; This was later enunciated in the words, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says YHWH’ (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). Thus Abigail was calling on David to follow in the way of revealed righteousness.
1 Samuel 25:27
“ And now this present which your servant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord.”
Finally she gave practical proof of her own genuineness by drawing his attention to the gifts that she had brought for his young men, which demonstrated on behalf of her and her servants the welcoming hospitality, that previously had been refused. Let them now enjoy hospitality and friendship and not vengeance. Note the subtle implication that David himself was, of course, above requiring such evidence and compensation.
1 Samuel 25:28
“ Forgive, I pray you, the trespass of your handmaid, for YHWH will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord fights the battles of YHWH, and evil shall not be found in you all your days.”
Abigail then asked for forgiveness for her trespass. This may signify that she was acknowledging that she shared in the guilt that fell on the whole household as a result of Nabal’s behaviour, or it may be that she is still aware of how unseemly her intervention as a woman in men’s affairs might seem. Possibly, in fact, both are included. Her plea was that David might forgive whatever trespass he was concerned about.
And her plea was on the basis of her assurance that YHWH would establish David’s house for ever (it would be a sure house), because David was one who fought YHWH’s battles and would thus be preserved from all evil all his days, both external evils from without and internal evils arising from within. Such a man must therefore surely be willing to forgive a weak woman. (It is a reminder that what we are determines what people expect from us).
1 Samuel 25:29
“ And though men be risen up to pursue you, and to seek your life, yet the life of my lord will be bound in the bundle of life with YHWH your God, and the lives of your enemies, them will he sling out, as from the hollow of a sling.”
Indeed, while David may have to face many enemies, and be pursued by many who will seek his life (a fate likely at some time or other for any war-leader in those days), yet he will not have to fear because his life will be bound up in YHWH’s bundle of life. It will be safely tied up with YHWH. The thought is that his being bound up in a bundle made up of God’s life, and of the lives of His chosen ones, makes him invulnerable. Death cannot penetrate it. His life is safe in God’s hands. Today we would say, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3).
The picture is a vivid one. Those who are true to God are tied up with Him in His bundle of life safe and secure in His hands. Those who are not are slung far and wide and are outside of His care and protection.
She may, of course, have specifically had in mind the fact that he had been pursued by Saul. That would not have been a secret to anyone. Considering the number of men that Saul had had with him such facts would inevitably have spread and become common knowledge. All Israel would know of Saul’s pursuit of David, and the reasons for it, as they would undoubtedly by now have learned of David’s anointing by Samuel, for all such ‘secrets’, where a number of people are involved, inevitably get out. They were in fact probably one of the on-dits of Israelite life, as all learned about them and wondered what would come next.
In contrast to the lives of those who were wrapped up in YHWH’s bundle of life were the lives of his enemies which would be put in the pouch of YHWH’s sling to be slung out far and wide away from YHWH’s protection. This would include both Nabal and Saul. And to be far from YHWH could only result in death in contrast with life. It was to live in the shadows and then finally be destroyed.
1 Samuel 25:30
“ And it will come about that when YHWH shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and shall have appointed you prince over Israel, that this shall be no grief to you, nor offence of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. And when YHWH shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember your handmaid.”
And in the day when the life that YHWH had given David came to fruition in his receiving the kingship of Israel, the promise of which was common knowledge, he would be only too glad that he was free from blood-guiltiness in regard to this sordid affair. Note the stress on the fact that all this would be given to him by YHWH because YHWH had said so. How sad it would then be to have innocent blood on his hands simply because he had responded to the behaviour of a fool. And how sad if he was then seen as someone who thought of nothing but vengeance, instead of being known as someone who was magnanimous. Such attitudes were not those of a great king.
We must not forget the popularity that David had had as a successful commander, such that his reputation in Israel was even famed among the Philistines (1 Samuel 21:11; 1 Samuel 30:5). Thus all Israel were interested in his welfare, and any news about him would spread rapidly, especially among the womenfolk to whom he was an heroic figure. Indeed one thing that no doubt spurred on Saul in his pursuit of David was what he learned about what people were saying about him. By this Abigail was making plain that she and many others in Israel viewed David’s prospects with favour.
The writer is making clear by this, and by David’s response, what were seen as being the qualities by which a good king of Israel (and any good person) should be judged. They were indeed the qualities displayed by David towards Saul in chapter 24 and 26. He is also making clear again that to be king of Israel was David’s destiny as God’s purposes moved on.
In his response David acknowledged that she was in the right, and that she had kept him from unnecessary blood-guiltiness. It was one thing to have to slay men in warfare and in order to preserve peace for all. It was a different matter when it came down to personal vendettas, and he was basically admitting that his temper had got the better of him. So he thanked YHWH, and Abigail’s discretion, and Abigail herself for keeping him from folly.
1 Samuel 25:32
‘ And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be YHWH, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me,”
David first praised YHWH, Who was the God of Israel, for sending Abigail to meet him and prevent him from committing folly in Israel. Both acknowledged that it was first and foremost YHWH’s doing (compare 1 Samuel 25:26).
1 Samuel 25:33
“ And blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who has kept me this day from bloodguiltiness, and from avenging myself with my own hand.”
Then he thanked her for her discretion. He was admitting that, had she not approached him in the way that she had done, he was in such a temper that he might well not have listened. And finally he praised her for being the human instrument whom God had used, and for having such concern both for her own people and for him. For it was these things which had kept him from what he now admitted would have made him blood-guilty and a usurper of YHWH’s prerogative of vengeance. He would have committed the very same sin as he had avoided in the case of Saul.
1 Samuel 25:34
“ For in very deed, as YHWH, the God of Israel, lives, who has withheld me from hurting you, except you had hurried and come to meet me, surely there had not been left to Nabal by the morning light so much as one man-child.”
For he admitted that had YHWH not intervened through her, and had she not come in such haste to meet him, he would have hurt her and all her household by slaying without distinction, before morning, all males capable of standing up and relieving themselves against a wall. The slaying would have been indiscriminate. It would probably have included all who were seen as involved with Nabal because of their presence at the feast.
It would not, of course, have happened without a battle. Those who knew of what had happened when David messengers came would undoubtedly have armed themselves, and probably not a few visiting celebrants would have quietly moved off, not wanting to get involved. If the hired shearers had not yet been paid (they may have been expecting payment at the end of the feast) and knew about what had happened (the word would soon get around) they would have been in a real predicament as to whether to flee or stay and fight. But all would have acknowledged that Nabal had probably brought disaster on them all, a disaster earned by his churlish behaviour which had flouted the accepted rules of hospitality and had courted such disaster. It had been basically a declaration of war because of his contempt for ‘runaways’.
“Left to Nabal.” Which means left to Nabal’s household. He hardly intended to leave Nabal alive.
1 Samuel 25:35
‘ So David received of her hand what she had brought him, and he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house, see, I have listened to your voice, and have accepted your person.”
It must have been a huge relief to Abigail when David accepted her gift, for the acceptance of the gift was the guarantee of friendship. Custom was such that it would have been inconceivable that he accept a gift from Nabal and then do him harm. Thus the acceptance of the gift was the guarantee that there would be no further action against Nabal.
This was then confirmed by David’s words as he affirmed that she could go in peace as he had listened to her plea and had accepted her for what she was, an acceptable messenger of peace and goodwill. Her mission had been successful.
David, Having Lost His Wife Through Saul’s Conniving, Receives Two Wives in Her Place (25:39c-44).
Once David had fled from Saul he became an outlaw. Thus Saul considered that his marriage to Michal was consequently at an end, and gave Michal to someone else. But we learn that YHWH then adequately compensated him by giving him instead two wives, first Ahinoam, a Jezreelite, and now Abigail the Wise and Beautiful.
a And David sent and spoke concerning Abigail, to take her to him to wife (1 Samuel 25:39).
b And when the servants of David were come to Abigail to Carmel, they spoke to her, saying, “David has sent us to you, to take you to him to wife” (1 Samuel 25:40).
c And she arose, and bowed herself with her face to the earth, and said, “Look, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord” (1 Samuel 25:41).
b And Abigail hurried herself, and arose, and rode on an ass, with five damsels of hers who followed her, and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife (1 Samuel 25:42).
a David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they became both of them his wives. And Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim’ (1 Samuel 25:43-44).
Note that in ‘a’ David decided to take Abigail to be his wife, and in the parallel took Ahinoam to be his wife, having lost Michal. In ‘b’ David sent his servants for Abigail, and in the parallel Abigail hastened to go with them to be his wife. Centrally in ‘c’ Abigail accepted David’s proposal.
1 Samuel 25:39 c ( e-Sword Note: For commentary on "a" and "b" of verse 39, read the end of the commentary on 1 Samuel 25:38.)
‘And David sent and spoke concerning Abigail, to take her to him to wife.
David had clearly been impressed by Abigail, and once he had learned that she was now free he decided to take her as his wife, in addition to Ahinoam from Jezreel whom he had previously married. By this means he would probably gain control of great wealth and provision through Abigail which would provide resources for his men, unless of course Nabal had an adult son. But in that case the lands would probably be confiscated by Saul once he learned of the situation.
There must, however, have been a decent interval between Nabal’s death and this final incident for custom would have demanded that Abigail mourn for Nabal for a reasonable period (compare Genesis 50:1; Numbers 20:29, and those were just the periods of official mourning. A further discreet period would also probably be expected).
1 Samuel 25:40
‘ And when the servants of David were come to Abigail to Carmel, they spoke to her, saying, “David has sent us to you, to take you to him to wife.”
So he sent his servants to Abigail to explain that David wanted her as his wife.
1 Samuel 25:41
‘ And she arose, and bowed herself with her face to the earth, and said, “Look, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.”
Abigail received them with courtesy and discreetly accepted what, once David had made his choice, must have been seen as inevitable. She was in no position to refuse him. On the other hand the fact that she hurried to respond may suggest great willingness. After all, she knew that he was the heir apparent to the throne of Israel.
Her response should not be taken too literally. To wash the feet of someone’s servants was the job of the meanest slave. It was merely an exaggerated way of accepting David’s offer and expressing her willingness to obey him in all things.
1 Samuel 25:42
‘ And Abigail hurried herself, and arose, and rode on an ass, with five damsels of hers who followed her, and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife.’
In the same way as Abigail had hurried to set out in order to appease David in 1 Samuel 25:18, so now she hurried to go to meet him as her future husband, taking with her five maidens for company, and travelling in the company of David’s men. And once she had arrived at his camp she became his wife, no doubt through the ministry of Abiathar.
1 Samuel 25:43
‘ David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they became both of them his wives.’
We should probably translate as ‘had taken’ for 2 Samuel 3:2 suggests that Ahinoam was David’s first wife after Michal. She came from Jezreel which was also in the hill country of Judah (Joshua 15:55-56). Whether consciously or unconsciously David was by this preparing the way for the future, for by these marriages he was establishing his identity among the southern tribes and their allies and gaining family rights over large areas of land. It would do him no harm once the throne of Israel/Judah became vacant.
1 Samuel 25:44
‘ And Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim.’
We are then informed why David needed further wives. It was because Michal had been taken from him by Saul and had been married to another. Having made David an outlaw, and having determined on his death, he wanted his daughter removed from such a parlous situation. Saul also probably had the aim of scotching any idea that David could claim the throne as Saul’s son-in-law. So many of Saul’s wrong actions were the result of his passion to ensure the establishment of his own dynasty. Samuel’s twofold rejection of him had bitten deeply into his life. We know nothing of Palti other than the fact that he came from Gallim (compare Isaiah 10:30) and was the son of Laish, and that he truly loved Michal and was heartbroken when after Saul’s death David demanded that she be restored to him (2 Samuel 3:13-16).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 25". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany