Click here to join the effort!
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 25:1. “And Samuel died.” Josephus says that “Samuel governed and presided over the people alone, after the death of Eli, twelve years, and eighteen years in conjunction with Saul, the king.” He likewise adds, “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 everyone of themselves concerned. He was a righteous man, and gentle in his nature, and on that account he was very dear to God.” “In his house,” i.e., in a court or garden attached to his house. “Every respectable family in the East still has its own house of the dead, and often this is in a little detached garden, consisting of a small stone building, where there is no rock, resembling a house. It has neither door nor window. (Cf. 1 Kings 2:34; Job 30:23.) (Jamieson.) “David arose,” etc. It might be that David felt himself in more danger now that the restraint which Samuel might have exercised over Saul was removed, or, as Keil suggests, the wilderness of Judah might no longer afford sustenance to him and his large body of six hundred men. The wilderness of Paran seems to have been a somewhat undefined tract of country extending from the southern border of Canaan to the Sinaitic desert on the south, the wilderness of Shur on the west, and the territory of Edom on the east. The examination of the various Scripture references to this region seems to show that the term was sometimes used for the entire wilderness tract of this district. (See Smith’s Biblical Dictionary.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 25:1
THE DEATH OF SAMUEL
I. The death of the righteous often seems unseasonable in relation to the living. It is often so in family and social life. Children especially need a kind and strong hand to guide and train them, and when their father’s or their mother’s hand is such an one, their removal by death seems most inopportune and an unmitigated calamity. We think how much better it would have been for the family if the parent’s life had been prolonged for a little season, until the children’s characters were more established, and they were altogether more fitted to face the world alone. And the same thing often takes place in national life. A great and good man is removed when it seems as if the country in which he has been so great a power for good must suffer irreparable loss by his removal, and that the time of his departure is the time when the nation most needs him. Samuel’s death at this time seemed a most unseasonable event so far as the welfare of Israel was concerned. Although he had retired from public life, he could hardly fail still to exert some power for good over Saul, and the universal lamentation at his death shows that the respect of the people was undiminished, and, therefore, his influence upon them was still great and salutary. Looking from a human stand-point, it seemed especially desirable that his life should be prolonged until David had succeeded to the throne, and peace and order had taken the place of the present misrule and anarchy.
II. But the value of the life of the righteous often becomes more manifest at his death, and so the lessons of his life more influential. The sun rises upon the earth morning by morning, and its coming is so regular and certain that men take its appearance and all the light and heat that it brings as a matter of course, and do not realise how many and how inestimable are the blessings that it bestows, or how indispensable it is to our well-being. But if there came a morning when the sun did not rise, and if it were known that it would shine upon the world no more, how the value of sunlight would come home to every man, and how universal would be the lamentation over its absence. So it is often with a good man’s influence. It is so constant, so unobtrusive, and yet so fraught with blessing, that none realise what he is and what he does until he is gone, and then they know his value by his loss. But the awakening to a sense of his worth gives force to the lessons of his life—both to those of deed and word—and so he being dead still speaks, and often to more attentive and obedient ears than when living. This is doubtless the key to what often seems at first sight so mysterious and dark a providence, the death of the righteous when their life seems so much needed. It is quite possible it was so in Samuel’s case. It is certain that the people who had disregarded his advice were the same who now lamented him, and it may be that their sense of loss brought home more powerfully to their hearts and consciences the truths which he had taught them in the days which were past.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The aged man is laid aside, and sinks out of the popular view; and when, at length, he dies, people are startled as they recall how great a man he was in his prime, how great a work he did. It is something to live so that one’s death will be truly mourned by a whole people. The old, who sadly think themselves forgotten, may find solace, not only in reviewing the past, but also in the persuasion that yet once again they will be vividly remembered, while the younger should strive to anticipate that coming time, and show respect and affection while it can be fully enjoyed.—Translator of Lange’s Commentary.
THE GENERAL EFFECT OF SAMUEL’S WHOLE CAREER
Observe what his position was, and how he filled it. He was not a founder of a new state of things, like Moses, nor a champion of the existing order, like Elijah or Jeremiah. He stood, literally, between the two—between the living and the dead, between the past and future, the old and the new, with that sympathy for each which, at such a period, is the best hope for any permanent solution of the questions which torment it. He had been brought up and nurtured in the old system.… His early dedication to the sanctuary belonged to that age of vows of which we saw the excess in the rash vows of Jephthah, of Saul, and the assembly at Mizpeh: in the more regular, but still peculiar and eccentric devotion of Samson to the life of a Nazarite.… He was also the last of the Judges, of that long succession who had been raised up from Othniel downwards to effect special deliverances. (1 Samuel 7:12.) … But he must be regarded as the first representative of the new epoch which was dawning on the country. He is explicitly described as Samuel, the Prophet. (Acts 3:24; Acts 13:20.) … By the ancient name of seer—older than any other designation of the prophetic office—he was known in his own and after times, … and he is the beginning of that prophetical dispensation which ran parallel with the monarchy from the first to the last king.… And, unlike Moses or Deborah, or any previous saint or teacher of the Jewish Church, he grew up for this office from his earliest years.… His work and his life are the counterparts of each other, … and his mission is an example of the special mission which such characters are called upon to fulfil. In proportion as the different stages of life have sprung naturally and spontaneously out of each other, without any abrupt revulsion, each serves as a foundation upon which the other may stand—each makes the foundation of the other more sure and stable. In proportion as our own foundation is thus stable, and as our own minds and hearts have grown up thus gradually and firmly, without any violent disturbance or wrench to one side or to the other; in that proportion is it the more possible to view with calmness and moderation the difficulties and differences of others—to avail ourselves of the new methods and new characters that the advance of time throws in our way, … to preserve and to communicate the childlike faith—changed, doubtless, in form, but the same in spirit—in which we first knelt in humble prayer for ourselves and others, and drank in the first impressions of God and heaven. The call may come to us in many ways; it may tell us of the change of the priesthood, of the fall of the earthly sanctuary, of the rise of strange thoughts, of the beginning of a new epoch. Happy are they who are able to perceive the signs of the times, and to answer without fear or trembling, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.”—Dean Stanley.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 25:2. “Maon.” A city of Judah (Joshua 15:55), situated on a hill now called Tell Main, about seven or eight miles south of Hebron. It is now in ruins. “Carmel.” This word literally means a fertile region, and is applied also to the promontory on the north-east of Palestine, famous in the history of Elijah. The place here so named is the present Kurmul and its neighbourhood, about a mile north-west of Maon. David had before taken shelter near Maon. (See the notes on chapter 1 Samuel 23:24.)
1 Samuel 25:3. “Nabal,” i.e., fool. (See 1 Samuel 25:25.) Keil thinks it could hardly have been this man’s proper name, but was a popular designation on account of his folly. “Of the house of Caleb.” Literally he was a Calebite (Wordsworth), and as the word means “a dog man,” and Josephus, among others, understand it to mean “a doggish, cynical man. But Caleb’s possession lay in this region, and, as Erdmann remarks, the two former statements sufficiently characterise his disposition, and a third would be out of keeping with the simplicity of the description. Moreover, “the statement of his origin accords with this importance, as a man ‘great’ by his riches, and it is introduced as something new by the words ‘and he,’ which would not suit the continuation of his moral portraiture.” We may therefore conclude that Nabal was descended from the ancient hero of Israel, and he was, then, of the same tribe as David.
1 Samuel 25:5. “Go to Nabal and greet him,” etc. “In all these particulars, when we were at Kermul and were in the midst of scenes memorable for the adventures of David, we were deeply struck with the truth and strength of the biblical description of manners and customs, almost identically the same as those that exist at the present day. On such a festive occasion as a sheepshearing near a town or village, an Arab Sheikh of the neighbouring desert would hardly fail to put in a word either in person or by message, and his message would be a transcript of that of David to Nabal.” (Dr. Robinson.)
1 Samuel 25:6. “To him that liveth.” The words in prosperity it will be seen are supplied by our translators. The Hebrew phrase is obscure and has been very variously rendered, but the most satisfactory explanation seems to be that in which the word translated liveth is taken as a substantive, and the whole understood as a salutation. So Keil, Luther, etc.
1 Samuel 25:7. “Neither was there aught missing,” etc. “These words may refer to the protection afforded the herdsmen by David’s people against the predatory desert tribes; for such protection against thieving attacks (which came expressly from the south) is expressly affirmed in 1 Samuel 25:16; 1 Samuel 25:21. (Erdmann.) “Thus, even in his outlawry, David showed himself the protector of his people.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 25:8. A good day, i.e., a festive day. Sheepshearing was conducted as a festival (comp. Genesis 38:12; 2 Samuel 13:23), when strangers and the poor were feasted.
1 Samuel 25:9. “Ceased,” rather, rested or sat down, to await the fulfilment of their request.
1 Samuel 25:11. “My bread and my water,” etc. “The mention of water indicates a country where water was scarce. Compare the earnestness with which Caleb’s daughter in this very country begged of her father the springs of water.” Joshua 15:19. (Biblical Commentary.)
1 Samuel 25:18. “Bottles,” i.e., goatskins, capable of holding a large quantity. “Clusters of raisins,” rather, raisin cakes. “Fig cakes,” “pressed figs joined together.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 25:20. “By the covert.” “Probably a hollow between two peaks of a mountain. This would explain the use of the word to come down, with reference both to Abigail, who approached on one side, and David, who came on the other.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 25:22. “This oath, in which the punishment of God is not called down upon the swearer himself (God do so to me), as it generally is, but upon the enemies of David, is analogous to that in 1 Samuel 3:17, where punishment is threatened upon the person addressed, who is there made to swear; except that here, as the oath could not be uttered in the ears of the person addressed, upon whom it was to fall, the enemies generally are mentioned instead of to thee. There is no doubt, therefore, as to the correctness of the text.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 25:26. “Let thine enemies,” etc. “That is, thou standest under God’s protection and guidance, so that all who as thine enemies will, like Nabal, do thee evil, shall, like him, become fools and fall under God’s punishment.” (Erdmann.) “She reminds David of the promise of God. Not that she prophesies, but that she has gathered it from the general promises of the word of God. The promise referred to is that whoever does good to his enemies and takes no vengeance upon them, God Himself will avenge him upon his enemies, according to the saying, Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Seb. Schmidt.)
1 Samuel 25:28. “Evil hath not been found,” i.e., misfortune, not wickedness; that thought is not expressed until 1 Samuel 25:31.
1 Samuel 25:29. “Bundle of life,” rather, the bundle of the living. “The metaphor is taken from the custom of binding up valuable things in a bundle to prevent their being injured,” (Keil.) “The middle of the sling,” literally, the cup of the sling, the cavity in which the stone was placed. This figure is adopted in Jeremiah 10:18, “I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this once.” (Wordsworth.)
1 Samuel 25:30. “When the Lord shall have done.” “From these words it appears to follow that Abigail had received certain information of the anointing of David, and his designation to be the future king, probably through Samuel or one of the pupils of the prophets. There is nothing to preclude this assumption, even if it cannot be historically sustained. Abigail manifests such an advance and maturity in the life of faith as could only have been derived from intercourse with the prophets. It is expressly stated with regard to Elijah and Elisha, that at certain times the pious assembled together around the prophets. What prevents us from assuming the same with regard to Samuel? The absence of any distinct testimony to that effect is amply compensated for by the brief, and for the most part casual notices that are given of the influence which Samuel exerted upon all Israel.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 25:31. “That this shall be no grief unto thee.” “Like a wise woman, she reserves her strongest arguments till the last.” (Wordsworth.)
1 Samuel 25:36. “Merry with him,” literally, therewith, i.e., on account of the feast.
1 Samuel 25:37. “A stone.” Anger, or fear, or both combined with the excesses of the debauch, probably brought on a stroke of apoplexy, although his subsequent death is said to have been by the hand of the Lord (1 Samuel 25:38).
1 Samuel 25:39. “Pleaded the cause,” etc. “The figure is of a case in law, which is settled by the judicial decision. The ‘law-cause of my reproach,’ that is, the reproach offered to me, on account of which the Lord had to appear against Nabal as Judge and Avenger. Connect ‘from the hand’ with ‘pleaded,’ not with ‘my reproach,’ and render pregnantly ‘he has conducted my cause to a conclusion out of the hand,’ that is, he has collected the costs from the condemned person, and has settled the matter by the infliction of the proper punishment.” (Erdmann.) “And David sent,” etc. “This unceremonious proceeding was quite in the style of Eastern monarchs, who no sooner take a fancy for a lady than they despatch a messenger to intimate their royal wishes that she should henceforth reside in the palace, and her duty is implicitly to obey. David’s conduct shows that the manner of the Eastern nations were already imitated by the great men in Israel, and that the morality of the times, which God permitted, gave its sanction to the practice of polygamy.… The fact of a woman in her wealthy circumstances so willingly forming a matrimonial alliance with David, shows that the position he occupied, while expatriated in the wilderness, was far more elevated and comfortable than is generally imagined.” (Jamieson)
1 Samuel 25:43. “David took.” rather, had taken. “The expression also points to David’s marriage with Michal, the daughter of Saul.” (Keil.) “Jezreel.” Not Jezreel in the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18), but the one mentioned in Joshua 15:56, not far from Maon.
1 Samuel 25:44. “Phalti.” Called Phaltiel in 2 Samuel 3:15. But Michal returned to David after Saul’s death. “Gallim.” A place between Gibeah of Saul and Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:30).
Note.—Delany draws an analogy between the character and history of David at this time and the legend of Orpheus in Thrace. He says: “I beg only to premise and to submit to the reader’s consideration whether, if he saw two historical pictures (the only two of the kind extant in the world), all whose outlines, parts, proportions, principal figures, actions, and attitudes, were exactly the same, but the colouring and other circumstantials different, and one of these confessedly ancient and a true original, and the other demonstrably later, but the date and the author uncertain—whether he would not conclude the later to be in truth no other than a copy of the original.” He quotes ancient writers to prove that Orpheus was not a Thracian, and instances his traditional beauty, his skill in music and song, his success in softening the infernal king, etc., as so many points of agreement between the two. Referring Psalms 120:0 to David’s sojourn at this time in or near the country of the Edomites, he quotes the Arab tradition that stones and birds were obedient to him, though he could not reclaim the wild men of the desert (Psalms 120:0.), and the legend concerning Orpheus, which pictures the rocks, beasts, and birds as obedient to him, although he could not civilise the Thracians. For the full argument in favour of this view see Delany’s “Life of David”.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 25:2-43
NABAL, DAVID, AND ABIGAIL
In this narrative we have—
I. Selfishness refusing to acknowledge the rights of others. As in the human body no member or organ exists for itself but each for the good of the other and to contribute its part to the wellbeing of the whole, so in the Divine ideal of the human family each member is intended to live, not to minister to his personal gratification, but to do his or her part in promoting the welfare of the entire race. And as the health and consequent comfort of each bodily member is the reward of this rightful discharge of relative functions, so every man and woman who recognises and strives to discharge his or her relative duties will reap the recompense in individual comfort and peace of soul. Differences and inequalities of gifts and varieties of providential dealings make such a mutual ministry absolutely necessary, and doubtless have this end in view among others, to bind men more closely to each other by compelling a mutual dependence and obligation. But Nabal here stands before us as the impersonation of that large majority of mankind who deny such obligations, and refuse to recognise their position as that of stewards of the gifts with which God has entrusted them. Nabal here looks upon his abundance as his own peculiar and rightful possession; “he says,” remarks Wordsworth, “my bread, my meat, my water, my shearers, as if anything were really his own and not lent him by God;” and men generally forget that each human creature has some right to the produce of that earth which was given by God to the children of men (Psalms 115:16) for their sustenance and enjoyment. This churlish sheepmaster was really indebted to David and his men for services actually rendered; if they had not been “a wall” unto Nabal’s men “night and day, while they were keeping the sheep,” (1 Samuel 25:16) he would have had a smaller flock to shear and perhaps the loss of useful servants to deplore, but he was not at a loss for an excuse for refusing to consider these services. He makes the very condition of need which strengthened David’s claim an excuse for refusing to satisfy it, and insinuating that David’s present untoward circumstances are the fruit of misconduct, disclaims all knowledge of him, and implies that this in itself is a sufficient reason for letting him and his followers suffer. These hare always been favourite arguments in the mouth of selfishness against helping those in need. If a man is poor, it is convenient to assume that it is the consequence of crime, and even if that fact cannot be proved, ignorance of who he is or whence he came is held to be sufficient to absolve from all obligations in relation to him. But God will not admit such pleas. He has both in word and deed declared them null and void. In the laws given for the government of the Hebrew commonwealth, special arrangements were made to ensure to each and all a due proportion of material good. The enactments connected with the year of jubilee were doubtless intended to secure this end and to prevent families from sinking into a condition of permanent and hopeless poverty. And although misfortune and trials are inseparable from the conditions of the present life, and were the lot of some of God’s chosen people as well as of others, he who had waxen poor was still to be regarded as a brother and treated as such (Leviticus 25:25), and the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow were to be provided for at the penalty of forfeiting the Divine blessing (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). In the instance before us, God, by a special visitation of judgment, made it manifest that His commands cannot be set at nought with impunity.
II. Righteous indignation at wrong degenerating into an unrighteous spirit of retaliation. It has been well said that there are no errors so mischievous as those which are the perversions of truth, and it is also true that no sinful emotions are so dangerous as those which have their origin in feelings which are natural and right. Affection, for instance, is a God-implanted instinct of the soul, but it may run into idolatry of the beloved object. And careful provision for one’s own house is enjoined by Paul (1 Timothy 5:8), but it may degenerate into worldliness and covetousness, and it is often difficult for erring human creatures to hold the balance between the right and the wrong in these and other cases. David found it so at this time. Indignation at Nabal’s injustice was lawful, but he did not stop there. No doubt the suddenness of the provocation had something to do with his hasty and sinful resolve. The vessel that is struck in a sudden squall is in greater danger than one in which the captain has foreseen the storm and has therefore prepared for it. After all, Nabal had not wronged David so much as Saul had, and yet there is more of vindictive feeling in this utterance against the foolish sheepmaster than he ever manifested against his royal father-in-law. But then he knew what to expect from Saul, whereas he probably expected quite different treatment from Nabal. Apart from the fact that sheepshearing was the customary season of large and generous entertainment of all comers, it is plain that Nabal was indebted to David and his men, and it seems impossible, too, seeing that his wife was evidently well acquainted with David’s history and character, that he could have been so ignorant of them as he pretended to be. Therefore David had good reason to look for a different reception of his message, and was fully justified in feeling himself wronged. But he was not justified in giving way to a spirit of revenge and still less in purposing to make many innocent people suffer for the guilt of one person. In this, as in other seasons of trial, the man after God’s own heart shows himself to be of “like passions as we are” (James 5:17), and apt to allow lawful desire and virtuous emotion to drift into very positive and even great transgression.
III. Godly prudence averting the consequences of selfishness. Prudence has been defined as “right knowledge in special cases—the practical realisation of the higher principle of knowledge found in wisdom.” When wisdom decrees that a certain things is to be done, or a certain word spoken, prudence decides upon the best time and place and manner of doing the deed or speaking the word. If we apply this definition to Abigail’s action at this time we shall find it is characterised by a rare prudence as to choice of time and place. Many a one can see what ought to have been done when the time is past for doing it. Many can act wisely and well after time for mature deliberation, but there are emergencies which admit of no delay for maturing plans. Abigail was in such an emergency now. There could be no delay if her household were to be saved from slaughter, and David from the commission of a great crime. She had to “make haste” in all her preparations, and to decide upon her line of argument with David while on her way to meet him, and she doubtless desired to encounter him on ground where he was in possession rather than on her own domain. She would thus come before him in the character of a suppliant, throwing herself more entirely on his generosity than if she had awaited his arrival nearer home, and it would be less humiliating to him and to his men to yield to her demands in such circumstances than if they had turned back when already at her gate. Many a good intention has failed of success, and many a wise word has fallen unheeded to the ground, because there has not been a due regard to the place as well as the time of executing the one or uttering the other. But Abigail did not err in this respect. Her prudence was most conspicuous, however, in the arguments she used to turn David from his purpose. There is no surer way of winning over an enemy than to recognise and acknowledge that he has good ground of displeasure. When he sees that we can to some extent excuse, and even justify him, he feels that he has a fair foe to deal with, and a great part of the gulf that separated us is bridged over at once. Abigail begins her address to David by freely admitting that he had been very badly treated by her husband, and that he had just cause of displeasure. This must have had a powerful influence upon him, and he must have quickly discerned that she was of a spirit quite different from that of her foolish husband. She then appeals to the deepest emotions and strongest motives of her adversary. She was happy in having to contend with a man who, although liable to err in word and action, was, like herself, a true servant of Jehovah, who would not deliberately be guilty of transgressing the Divine law. When a godly person has such a one to deal with, they know from their own experience what arguments will be of most weight. They know that such a man or woman is in the habit of committing his or her cause to God, and that in their inmost soul they are assured that it is safe with Him. They know how bitter to such are the upbraidings of conscience after wrong done, and how one such act of a good man, although repented of and forgiven, will sometimes sadden all his future life. Abigail, by reminding David of all these things, recalled his better self, and enabled his reason and conscience and faith to re-assume their mastery over him. He would have been a hardened man who could have resisted such an appeal—with a man of David’s devout spirit it was impossible. His words of gratitude to this good woman and to the God whose messenger she was, shows how complete was the conquest.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 25:3. Even the line of faithful Caleb will afford an ill-conditioned Nabal. Virtue is not, like unto lands, inheritable.—Bp. Hall.
1 Samuel 25:11. Our Lord describing the Nabal (or fool) of the gospel; who had said “I have no room where to bestow my fruits; I will pull down my barns, etc., adds that God said unto him, “Thou fool (thou second Nabal), this night shall thy soul be required of thee, and then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided” (Luke 12:17-20.—Wordsworth.
1 Samuel 25:12. Some understand this verse, that all the righteous are bound together as in a bundle, being of the same faith, religion, affection; whereas the wicked do fall off from one another, are never soundly conjoined and coupled together.
2. Some refer it unto the next life, that David should be bound up with the Lord among His saints.
3. Some, that he should have a sure house to him and his posterity, who should be as fast bound to continue as a bundle surely tied together.
4. But it is rather to be understood of David’s preservation, even in this life, as the words show both going before and following; for before Abigail spake of Saul’s rising against David, and after she saith that God shall cast out his enemies.… Yet the words have also a fit relation unto eternal life.—Willet.
1 Samuel 25:31. There was no need that Abigail should add to her words the prayer, “Remember thine handmaid.” The impression which her address produced in the soul of David was powerful and decisive. Like one walking in a dream, who wakens up at the sound of his name, and suddenly, with horror, sees himself on the brink of a giddy precipice, and overflowing with thanks towards his deliverer, retraces his steps,—such was now the state of David’s mind. Besides, he had learned to his humiliation, as well as also to his safety, to know one side of his temperament, which till now he had not been so clearly conscious of. As long as life lasts he will not forget this march towards Carmel. And we, perhaps, do not err if we suppose that what he once experienced at Carmel hovered before his soul, as often as in his psalms, particularly in the seventeenth, the eighteenth, the thirty-seventh, and the sixty-sixth, he raised his cry to the Lord as a God who “holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved.”—Krummacher.
1 Samuel 25:38. Let us note the suggestive contrast which is here presented in the deaths of Samuel and Nabal. On the one hand, we have a good man, taken to his reward after a long life spent in the service of his God, and a whole nation gathers to weep around his tomb. On the other, we have a surly, selfish, sottish man called to his account, and no tear is shed over his grave; but instead, a feeling of relief is experienced by all who were connected with him, for they are all conscious that they will be the happier for his absence. In the one case, the life on earth was but the prelude to a higher, holier, and more useful existence in the heavenly world; in the other, the earthly character was but the germ out of which would spring, in the state beyond, a deeper, darker, and more repulsive wickedness even than that which he had manifested here. I do not think that David wrote the 37th Psalm at this particular date, since, from one expression which it contains, he seems to have penned that ode in his old age; but, whensoever it was written, it is hard for me to believe that he had not before his mind at the time the contrast between Nabal and Samuel which this history so vividly presents. What could be more appropriate to Nabal than these words: “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.” And surely David thought of Samuel when he wrote this verse: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.”
Now, the practical question for us is, To which of these two classes do we belong? Alas, there are many in these days whose lives are inflicting a constant martyrdom on all who have the misfortune to be nearly related to them, and whose deaths, while full of sadness to themselves, would yet be a blessing and a relief to their friends as ridding them of a constant and fearful misery. “A living cross is heavier than a dead one; “and there are few who have to carry a weightier or sharper cross than the wives and families of these Nabals, whose intemperance has brutified them into harsh, unfeeling cruelty.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.
1 Samuel 25:32. A good heart is easily stayed from sinning, and is glad when it finds occasion to be crossed in ill purposes. Those secret checks, which are raised within itself, do readily conspire with all outward retentives: it never yielded to a wicked motion without much reluctation; and when it is overcome it is but with half a consent: whereas perverse and obdurate sinners, by reason they take full delight in evil, and have already in their conceit swallowed the pleasure of sin, abide not to be resisted, running on headily in those wicked courses they have propounded, in spite of opposition; and, if they be forcibly stopped in their way, they grow sullen and mutinous. David had not only vowed, but deeply sworn, the death of Nabal, and all his family, to the very dog that lay at his door; yet now he praiseth God, that hath given the occasion and grace to violate it. Wicked vows are ill made, but worse kept. Our tongue cannot tie us to commit sin. Good men think themselves happy, that since they had not the grace to deny sin, yet they had not the opportunity to accomplish it.—Bp. Hall.
Observe the contrast between David and Herod. David is deterred by the expostulations of Abigail, a prudent and fair woman, from keeping his oath and putting to death an evil man, Nabal, and he blesses God for it, Herod is urged by Herodias and her mother, two fair women in countenance but foul in heart, to keep his rash oath, and to put to death a holy man, John the Baptist; and he suffered remorse for doing so, and afterwards fell into a greater sin, and mocked the Divine David (Luke 23:11), and came to a miserable end.—Wordsworth.
1 Samuel 25:2-40. The history of David’s collision with Nabal—not a very flattering chapter in the history of his life—is inserted between the history of his two great victories over the spirit of revenge and impatience; and by the guidance of the Divine Spirit the historian seems so to have arranged the narrative, for the purpose of showing us how the servant of God may conquer in a great fight and yet be overcome in a small. The history of all warfare is full of such cases. In the presence of a great enemy the utmost vigilance is maintained; every effort is strained, every stimulus is applied. In the presence of a small foe the spirit of confidence and security leaves every position unguarded, and often paves the way for signal defeat. In the spiritual warfare nothing can be more common.—Blaikie.
1 Samuel 25:32-33. Prevention of sin is one of the greatest mercies that God can vouchsafe a man in this world.
1. From the deplorable condition of the sinner, before that mercy prevents him. He is in the direct way of death and destruction, and wholly unable to help himself.… A man under the drift of any passion will still follow the impulse of it until something interpose, and by a stronger impulse turn him another way; but in this case we can find no principle within him strong enough … for if it be any, it must be either
(1) the judgment of his reason, or
(2) the free choice of his will, and while a man is engaged in any sinful purpose, through the prevalence of passion, he fully approves of whatsoever he is carried on to do in the full strength of it. While David’s heart was full of his revengeful design, it had blinded and perverted his reason so far that it told him that the bloody purpose he was going to execute was just and becoming.…
2. It is perfectly free grace … for if things concur, and providence cuts not off the opportunity, the act of sin must needs follow.… Because every commission of sin introduces into the soul a certain degree of hardness, and an aptness to continue in it. It is much more difficult to throw out than not to let in.… Sin taken into the soul is like liquor poured into a vessel; so much of it as it fills, it also seasons. The touch and tincture go together. So that although the body of the liquor should be poured out again, yet still it leaves that tang behind it which makes the vessel fitter for that, than for any other.… And every commission imprints upon the soul a further proneness to sin as drinking both quenches the present thirst and provokes it for the future.
3. The only thing that can entitle to pardon—repentance—is not in the sinner’s power … for this is the sinner’s hard lot, that the same thing that makes him need repentance makes him also in danger of not obtaining it.
4. The greatness of this preventing mercy is eminently proved from those advantages accruing to the soul from the prevention of sin above what can be had from the bare pardon of it. First: Of the clearing of a man’s condition; and secondly: Of the satisfaction of his mind.… So much of prevention, so much of innocence.… Sometimes God may suffer the soul but just to begin the sinful production by reflecting upon a sin suggested with some complacency; which is to conceive sin, and then He may extinguish it.… Or He may permit it to pass into purpose and then make it prove abortive by stifling it.… Or He may let it come even to the birth, by strong endeavour to commit it, and yet then deny it strength to bring forth. Or God may suffer it to be born, and pass from endeavour into commission; and this is the last step but one, and that is, the frequent repetition which settles into a habit of sin.… But wherever God may turn the fatal stream it is a vast mercy.… Now, when grace keeps a man from sin he certainly knows that it is so … but grace may seal the sinner’s pardon and yet have left no transcript of that pardon in his breast. The handwriting may be cancelled in the court of heaven, and yet the indictment run on in the court of conscience … so that though the pardoned and the innocent may be equally safe, they cannot, without rare privilege, be equally cheerful Here is an unfailing criterion by which every man may discover the disposition of his own heart.… David overlooks the rich and seasonable present of Abigail, though pressed with hunger and travel; but her advice, which disarmed his rage and calmed his revenge, draws forth his high gratulations.—South.
This is one of the earliest cases recorded in the Bible in which the interests of the employer and the employed—the man of wealth and the man of work—stood, or seemed to stand, in antagonism to each other. It was a period in which an old system of things was breaking up; and the new one was not yet established, but a kind of right had grown up, irregular enough, but sufficient to establish a claim on Nabal for remuneration—a new claim, not admitted by him, reckoned by him an exaction, which could be enforced by no law, only by that law which is above all statute law, deciding according to emergencies, an undefinable instinctive sense of fairness and justice. In modern language the rights of labour were in conflict with the rights of property. Observe the fearful hopeless character of the struggle. The question had come to this: Whether David, with his ferocious six hundred mountaineers, united by the sense of wrong, or Nabal with his well fed and trained hirelings, bound by interest, not love, to his cause, were stronger? Which was the more powerful, want whetted by insult, or selfishness pampered by indulgence: they who wished to keep by force or they who wished to take? An awful and uncertain spectacle, but the spectacle which is exhibited in every country where rights are keenly felt and duties lightly.
I. The causes of this false social state.
1. False basis upon which social superiority was supposed to rest. Throughout Nabal’s conduct was built upon an assumption of his own superiority. He was a man of wealth. David was dependent upon his own daily efforts. Was not this enough to settle the question of inferiority and superiority? The evils of poverty are comparative—they depend on climate—they depend on contrast. Where all suffer equally, men bear hardship with cheerfulness; but where the luxury of enjoyment is out of all proportion monopolised by the few, when wealth or rank assumes an insulting domineering character, then the falsehood of superiority can be tolerated no longer. It was this which here brought matters to a crisis.
2. A false conception concerning rights. It would be unjust to Nabal to represent this as an act of wilful oppression. David’s demand appeared an invasion of his rights—a dictation with respect to that which was his own. There was something to be said for him. It was the view of his class, had descended to him from his parents, and it is hard to see through the falsehood of any system by which we profit and which is upheld by general consent, especially when good men, too, uphold it. On the other hand, David and his men were not slow to perceive that they had their rights over that property of Nabal’s. The harvest was in part David’s harvest, for without David it never could have been reaped. The sheep were in part David’s sheep, for without David not a sheep would have been spared by the marauders of the hill. The right which the soldier has by law to his pay was the right which David had by unwritten law, a right resting on the fact that his services were indispensable. Now when it comes to this, rights against rights, there is no determination of the question but by overwhelming numbers, or blood, and it is difficult to say to which side in such a quarrel we should wish well. If the rich man succeeds he will bind the chain more severely and surely upon the crushed serf, and the victory of the lawless with the memory of past wrongs to avenge is almost more sanguinary than the victory of those who have had power long and whose power has been defied.
II. The message of the Church to the man of wealth. It contains those principles which, carried out, realise the Divine Order of Society—not creating the facts of our humanity—simply making them known. And because these principles are externally true we find in Abigail’s conduct towards David the very principles which the Church of Christ has given to the world.
1. The spiritual dignity of man as man. David was the poor man, but the highborn lady admits his worth. Here is a truth revealed. Worth does not mean what a man is worth—you must find some better definition. This is the very truth revealed in the Incarnation. Christ, the King of humanity, is the poor woman’s Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. The law of sacrifice. Abigail did not heal the grievance with smooth words. You might have said half of her provision would have been enough. But liberality is a most real economy. We wrong Abigail, however, if we call this economy or calculation; it would have failed on this principle. Ten times this sum from Nabal would not have arrested the revenge, but David felt that these were not the gifts of a sordid calculation, but of a generous heart. This is the attractive power of that great law whose highest expression is the cross.
3. The matter of rightful influence. Very remarkable is David’s demeanour towards Nabal as contrasted with his demeanour towards Abigail. It was not, therefore, against the wealthy class, but against individuals of the class, that the wrath of these men burned. There is reverence for superiors, if only it can be shown that they are superiors. It is deeply rooted in the heart of humanity—you cannot tear it out. Civilisation, science, progress, only change its direction: they do not weaken its force. Emancipation from false lords only sets the heart free to honour true ones. The free-born David will not do honour to Nabal. But behold, he has found a something nobler than himself, and in gratitude and profound respect he bows to that. To conclude. Doubtless David was wrong, and yet for one text in the Bible which requires submission and patience from the poor, you will find a hundred which denounce the vices of the rich, and woe to us if we have forgotten that David’s, not Nabal’s, is the cause of God.—Abridged from F. W. Robertson’s Sermons, Vol. I.
1 Samuel 25:40-44. Abigail’s meeting with David under the covert of the hill; … and David’s chivalrous answer to her chivalrous appeal—all the scene, which painters have so often delighted to draw, is a forefeeling, a prophecy, as it were, of the Christian chivalry of after ages. The scene is most human and most divine; and we are not shocked to hear that after Nabal’s death the fair and rich lady joins her fortune to that of the wild outlaw, and becomes his wife, to wander by wood and wold. But, amid all the simple and sacred beauty of that scene, we cannot forget, we must not forget, that Abigail is but one wife of many, that there is an element of pure, single, all-absorbing love absent, at least in David’s heart, which was present in the hearts of our forefathers in many a like case, and which they have handed down to us as a heirloom, as precious as that of our laws and liberties. And all this was sin unto David, and, like all sin, brought with it its own punishment. I do not mean to assign his exact amount of moral responsibility. Our Lord forbids us to do that, and least of all, to a man who only acted according to his light, and the fashion of his race and age. But we must fix it very clearly in our minds, that sins may be punished in this life, even though he who commits them is not aware that they are sins. If you are ignorant that fire burns, your ignorance will not prevent your hand from suffering if you put it into the fire … Sin, άμάρτια, means first, it seems to me, a missing of the mark, end, or aim of our existence; a falling short of the law, the ideal, the good works which God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in, and every such sin, conscious or unconscious, must avenge itself by the Divine laws of the universe.… No miracle is needed.… God’s laws are far too well made for Him to need to break them a second time because a sinner has broken them already. They avenge themselves. And so does polygamy. It did in the case of David. Look at what he might have been … living together with a helpmate worthy of him in godly love to his life’s end … and what was the fact? The indulgence of his passions—seemingly harmless at first—becomes most harmful and he commits a complication of crimes.—Kingsley.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 25". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany