Click here to get started today!
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Nabal', נָבָל , foolish, as often [comp. 1 Samuel 25:25]; Sept. Ναβάλ ), one of the characters introduced to us in David's wanderings. apparently to give one detailed glimpse of his whole state of life at that time (1 Samuel 25). Nabal himself is remnarkable as one of the few examples given to us of the private life of a Jewish citizen. His history, doubtless, might be paralleled by that of many a well-to-do Oriental of' later times. He was a descendant of Caleb, who dwelt at Maon (probably the modern Maiin, seven miles S.E. of Hebron), when David, already anointed to be king of Israel, was with his adherents on the southern borders of Palestine. B.C. 1060. Some, however, understand that he was simply a resident of that part of the country which bore from its great conqueror the name of Caleb (1 Samuel 25:3; 1 Samuel 30:14; so the Vulgate, A.V., and Ewal(l). He was himself, according to Josephus (Ant. 6:13, 6), a Ziphite, with his residence at Emmaus, a place of that name not otherwise known, on the southern Carmel, in the pasture lands of Maon. (In the Sept. of 25:4 he is called "the Carmelite," and the Sept. reads "Maon" for "Paran" in 25:1.) With a usage of the word which reminds us of the like adaptation of similar words in modern times, he, like Barzillai, is styled "very great," evidently from his wealth. His wealth, as might be expected from his abode, consisted chiefly of sheep and goats, which, as in Palestine at the time of the Christian aera (1 Samuel 25) and at the present day, fed together.
The tradition preserved in this case the exact number of each- 3000 of the former, 1000 of the latter. It was the custom of the shepherds to drive them into the wild downs on the slopes of Carmel, in Judah, which lay in the lowlands to the south, and corresponded very much to the territory of the Jehbaln Arabs. These Arabs have the same sort of possessions which the sacred narrative ascribes to Nabal; that is, numerous flocks of sheep and goats, but few cows (Robinson, Res. 2:176-180; Wilson, Lands of the Bible, 2:710). It was while the shepherds were on one of these pastoral excursions that they met a band of outlaws, ho- showed them unexpeted kindness, protecting them by day and night, and never themselves committing any depredations (1 Samuel 25:7; 1 Samuel 25:15-16). Such protection is generally so highly valued in the East that a suitable present to the protecting party is understood as a matter of course and in most instances the proprietor of the flocks is happy to bestow it cheerfully and liberally. Once a year there was a grand banquet on Carmel, when they brought back theiresheep from the wilderness for shearing — with eating and drinking "like the feast of a king" (1 Samuel 25:2; 1 Samuel 25:4; 1 Samuel 25:36). It was on one of these hilarious occasions — the harvest-seasons of the shepherd — that Nabal came across the path of the man to whom he owes his place in history. Ten youths were seen approaching the hill; in them the shepherds recognized the slaves or attendants of the chief of the freebooters who had defended them in the wilderness. To Nabal they were unknown.
They approached him with a triple salutation — enumerated the services of their master, and ended by claiming, with a mixture of courtesy and defiance characteristic of the East, "whatsoever cometh into thy hand for thy servants (the Sept. omits this — and has only the next words), and for thy son David." 'The great sheepmaster was not disposed to recognise this unexpected parental relation. le was a man notorious for his obstinacy (such seems the meaning of the word translated "churlish") and for his general low conduct (1 Samuel 25:3, "evil in his doings;" 1 Samuel 25:17, "a man of Belial"). Josephus and the Sept., taking the word Caleb not as a proper name, but as a quality (to which the context certainly lends itself), add "of a disposition like a dog" — cynical — κυνικός . On hearing the demand of the ten petitioners, he sprang up (Sept. ἀνεπήδησε), and broke out into fury, "Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse?" — "What runaway slaves are these to interfere with my own domestic arrangements?" (1 Samuel 25:10-11). The moment that the messengers had gone, the shepherds that stood by perceived the danger which their master and themselves would incur. To Nabal himself they dared not speak (1 Samuel 25:17). But the sacred writer, with a tinge of the sentiment which such a contrast always suggests, proceeds to describe that this brutal ruffian was married to a wife as beautiful and as wise as he was the reverse (1 Samuel 25:3). (See ABIGAIL).
To her, as to the good angel of the household, one of the shepherds told the state of affairs. She, with the offerings usual on such occasions (1 Samuel 25:18; comp. 1 Samuel 30:11; 2 Samuel 16:1; 1 Chronicles 12:40), loaded the asses of Nabal's large establishment — herself mounted one of them, and, with her attendants running before her, rode down the hill towards David's encampment. David had already made the fatal vow of extermination, couched in the usual terms, of destroying the household of Nabal, so as not even to leave a dog behind (1 Samuel 25:22). In this, unquestionably, he erred; for whatever David might, on the score of reciprocity of kindness, have naturally thought himself justified in asking, he yet had no right to exact it as a debt, and still less to resent the refusal of it as an injury. (See Hamberger, Jusjuraam. Davidis, Jen. 1723.)
But acting in the heat of passion, David did not allow his determination to slumber; he ordered four hundred of his men to gird on their armor and go with him to smite Nabal and 'his house with the edge of the sword. At this moment, as it would seem, Abigail appeared, threw herself on her face before him, and poured forth her petition in language which both in form and expression almost assumes the tone of poetry — "Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid." Her main argument rests on the description of her husband's character, which she draws with that mixture of playfulness and seriousness which above all things turns away wrath. His name here came in to his rescue. "As his name is, so is he: Nabal [fool] is his name, and folly is with him" (1 Samuel 25:25; see also 1 Samuel 25:26).
Furthermore, by the wise counsel she contrived to introduce into her address respecting the proper way of meeting opposition and bearing hardship in the Lord's cause, and how much better it was to leave the work of retribution to him than to take it prematurely into one's own hand, she convinced David of sin in resolving to avenge himself on Nabal. Better thoughts now prevailed with him, and he said, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me; and blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood." She returned with the news of David's recantation of his vow. Nabal was then at the height of his orgies. Like the revellers of Palestine in the later times of the monarchy, he had drunk to excess, and his wife dared not communicate to him either his danger or his escape (1 Samuel 25:36).
At break of day she told him both. The stupid reveller was suddenly roused to a sense of that which impended over him. "His heart died within him, and [he] became as a stone." It was as if a stroke of apoplexy or paralysis had fallen upon him. This seems, however, to have been only a temporary recoil of feeling, from which he again recovered yet not to any proper sense of his past misconduct or true amendment of life. For, as one still amenable to the just displeasure of Heaven, it is said of him that " about ten days after, the Lord smote Nabal, that he died" (1 Samuel 25:37-38). The shock seems to have been the exciting cause of a malady that carried him off about ten days after. (See Wedel, Exercit. msed. dec. 9:10 sq.)
The suspicions entertained by theologians of the last century that there was a conspiracy between David and Abigail to make afwa with Nabal for their own alliance (see Winer, s.v. Nabal), have entirely given place to the better spirit of modern criticism; and it is one of the many proofs of the reverential as well as truthfil appreciation of the sacred narrative now inaugurated in Germany, that Ewald enters fully into the feeling of the narrator, and closes his summary of Nabal's death with the reflection that "it was not without justice regarded as a divine judgment." According to the (not very probable) Sept. version of 2 Samuel 3:33, the recollection of Nabal's death lived afterwards in David's memory to point the contrast of the death of Abner — Died Abner as Nabal died?" Davlid, not long after, evinced the favorable impression which the good-sense and comeliness of Abigail had made upon him by making her his wife. See Ewald, Isr. Gesch. 2:556; Stackhouse, Bibl. Hist. 4:178 sq.; Niemeyer, Charakt. 4:153 sq.; G.L. Dathe, De famae vindicta Dav. ergo Nlabalem (Leips. 1723); Schottgen, Moralische Gedanken uber D. und N. (F. ad O. 1714). (See DAVID).
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Nabal'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/n/nabal.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.