1 Samuel 25 – David, Nabal, and Abigail
A. David’s anger at Nabal.
1. (1) Samuel, the great prophet and judge over Israel, dies.
Then Samuel died; and the Israelites gathered together and lamented for him, and buried him at his home in Ramah. And David arose and went down to the Wilderness of Paran.
a. Then Samuel died: This great man dedicated unto the LORD and serving Him from his youngest days, now dies. As godly as he was, it did not save him from an earthly death because he was still a descendant of Adam. But God’s work in Israel did not end when Samuel died. God’s work never is dependent on only one man.
i. If it is written “then Samuel died,” it is also written “and David arose.” God’s work may begin with a man, but it never ends with one man. God continues and sustains His work as He pleases.
b. The Israelites gathered together and lamented for him: Samuel seemed to be unappreciated by Israel during his life (1 Samuel 8:1-7) but at least he was honored in his death.
i. Samuel’s heritage lived on in a remarkable way. 1 Chronicles 9:22 suggests he organized the Levites in the service of the sanctuary which was completed by David and Solomon. 1 Chronicles 26:27-28 says Samuel began collecting treasures for building the temple in Solomon’s day. 2 Chronicles 35:18 reports that Samuel remembered the Passover and kept Israel in remembrance of God’s great deliverance. Psalm 99:6 and Jeremiah 15:1 commemorate Samuel as a man of great intercession. Hebrews 11:33 puts Samuel among God’s “Heroes of Faith.”
2. (2-3) A man named Nabal, his wife and his character.
Now there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel, and the man was very rich. He had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. And he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. The name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. And she was a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance; but the man was harsh and evil in his doings. And he was of the house of Caleb.
a. And the man was very rich: The first thing we learn about this man is where he lived (Maon, with his business in Carmel), and that he was a very rich man (three thousand sheep and a thousand goats).
i. There are four kinds of riches. There are riches in what you have, riches in what you do, riches in what you know, and riches in what you are – riches of character. Nabal was a very rich man, but only rich in what he had. He had the lowest kind of riches.
b. And he was shearing his sheep in Carmel: This was the “harvest time” for a sheep rancher. Because it was like “harvest time” sheep shearing was a time of lavish hospitality towards others.
i. “Sheep-shearing was traditionally celebrated by feasting, with enough and to spare.” (Baldwin)
c. The name of the man was Nabal: This is another indication of his character, because the name Nabal means fool. In ancient Israel names were often connected with a person’s character. We don’t know if Nabal was given this name or he earned it but he certainly lived up to it.
i. The fact that he was of the house of Caleb may also be a bad description of Nabal, because Caleb means dog, and to be of the house ofa dog was no compliment. “As the word caleb signifies a dog, the Septuagint have understood it as implying a man of a canine disposition, and translate it thus… he was a doggish man. It is understood in the same way by the Syriac and Arabic.” (Clarke)
d. Abigail… a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance: Nabal’s wife was both beautiful and wise, in contrast to Nabal himself. The Bible gives Abigail great praise when it says she was of beautiful appearance, because the only other women who have this Hebrew phrase applied to them are Rachel (Genesis 29:17) and Esther (Esther 2:7).
i. How did a woman like this ever get matched up with a man like Nabal? We can understand it in that day of arranged marriages. But there are many Abigails today who are in that place not because the marriage was arranged but because they chose it. “It is remarkable how many Abigails get married to Nabals. God-fearing women, tender and gentle in the sensibilities, high-minded and noble in their ideals, become tied in an indissoluble union with men for whom they can have no true affinity, even if they have not an unconquerable repugnance.” (Meyer)
ii. “May I say to you lovingly, but firmly, if such a circumstance has befallen you, that is no reason for you to invoke the law of the country to get out of the entanglement. Perhaps God knew that you needed the fiery trial to humble you and make you a testimony to your partner. The Bible says you must stay as you are. Maybe there will come to you one day, as there came to Abigail, a new opportunity; but until then, it is for you to prove the grace and power of the Lord in your heart to strengthen you and keep you pure.” (Redpath)
3. (4-9) David asks for compensation for his valuable service to Nabal.
When David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep, David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. And thus you shall say to him who lives in prosperity: ‘Peace be to you, peace to your house, and peace to all that you have! Now I have heard that you have shearers. Your shepherds were with us, and we did not hurt them, nor was there anything missing from them all the while they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and to your son David.’” So when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in the name of David, and waited.
a. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and your son David: David made this request because he performed a valuable service for Nabal, protecting his flocks when Philistine raids were common. To our modern ears it might sound like David ran some kind of “protection racket,” but that wasn’t the case at all. He performed a worthy, valuable service for Nabal and expected to be compensated.
b. Nabal was shearing his sheep: This means David waited until the right time to ask for compensation for his services. David protected Nabal’s shepherds and flocks a long time but did not expect to be compensated until Nabal himself made his money at the “harvest” of sheep shearing.
c. David sent ten young men: This shows that David made the request politely. He did it through messengers so Nabal would not be intimidated. He sent the messengers with a greeting full of warmth and kindness (Peace be to you), so Nabal would not give out of fear or intimidation.
d. Your shepherds were with us… nor was there anything missing… ask your young men, and they will tell you: This shows that David made the request properly, carefully and patiently giving Nabal an “itemized receipt” for services rendered.
e. For we come on a feast day: David politely reminded Nabal of the traditions of generosity surrounding harvest and sheep shearing time.
f. Please give whatever comes to your hand: David did not demand any specific payment from Nabal or set a price – he simply left it up to Nabal’s generosity. Then David’s messengers simply waited for the reply.
4. (10-12) Nabal’s reply to David’s request.
Then 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 each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?” So David’s young men turned on their heels and went back; and they came and told him all these words.
a. Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse: It can’t be that Nabal did not know who David was, because David was famous throughout all Israel (1 Samuel 18:5-7). Nabal said this as a direct insult to David – knowing who he was but refusing to recognize him. In our modern way of speaking, Nabal said, “Who does he think he is?”
b. There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master: Nabal deepened his insult, saying that David is simply a rebellious servant. This was completely false because David had continually (though not perfectly) conducted himself wisely when attacked by Saul.
c. Shall I then take my bread… my water… my meat… my shearers, and give it: Nabal showed what an ungenerous man he was. He looked at everything as his, instead of the LORD’s. True and Biblical generosity doesn’t think, “This is mine and I will share it with you.” It thinks, “All that I have belongs to the LORD so you can have some of it also.”
5. (13) David reacts to Nabal’s insulting response.
Then David said to his men, “Every man gird on his sword.” So every man girded on his sword, and David also girded on his sword. And about four hundred men went with David, and two hundred stayed with the supplies.
a. Then David said to his men, “Every man gird on his sword”: David received Nabal’s response exactly the way Nabal intended it to be received: with great insult. But Nabal is not dealing with a weak, no-account man; David was a great soldier and warrior. In our modern way of speaking, David would have said to his men, “Lock and load!” In a western movie, he would have said, “Mount up, boys!” David was ready to fight.
i. This is not a high moment for David. He doesn’t respond the way the LORD would have him respond to an insult, or even to an attack. God would have us bear insults with love and kindness, returning their evil with our good. This is high ground to walk on, but it is commanded by Jesus: Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Matthew 5:38-39)
ii. David didn’t show Nabal the same kindness and longsuffering that he showed to Saul. In just the previous chapter, David spared Saul’s life when Saul not only insulted David but also actually attacked him and tried to kill him. David was able to be kind and longsuffering to Saul, but it seems to have been harder to do it towards someone he perceived as his equal or lower than himself. Often, this is true measure of our character – not how we treat our superiors, but how we treat our equals or those “beneath” us in some way or another.
b. About four hundred men went with David: David is not coming to Nabal just to make a statement, but to wipe him out. That is why he arms himself and his men and why he left some men behind to watch the stuff and serve as reinforcements.
B. Abigail intercedes between David and Nabal.
1. (14-17) Abigail hears of how Nabal responded to David.
Now one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, “Look, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master; and he reviled them. But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, nor did we miss anything as long as we accompanied them, when we were in the fields. They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore, know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him.”
a. He reviled them: One of the servants who witnessed Nabal’s response to David’s men tells Nabal’s wife Abigail that Nabal reviled David’s men and by extension, David. To revile means, “to treat with contemptuous language.”
b. The men were very good to us: Nabal’s servants told Abigail of the valuable service David’s men performed. Abigail then knew that David and his men deserved compensation.
c. Know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined: Nabal’s servants read the handwriting on the wall. They knew that David would not take such an insult (theft, actually) lying down. For their own sake and for the sake of the household they asked Abigail to do something (consider what you will do).
d. He is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him: This explains why they did not appeal directly to Nabal. The Book of Proverbs had not been written yet, but they still knew the truth of Proverbs 17:12: Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly. Therefore, they made this life-or-death appeal to Abigail.
2. (18-20) Abigail prepares a present for David and his men.
Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys. And she said to her servants, “Go on before me; see, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. So it was, as she rode on the donkey, that she went down under cover of the hill; and there were David and his men, coming down toward her, and she met them.
a. Abigail made haste: Since she was a woman of good understanding (1 Samuel 25:3), she knew that time was of the essence and something had to be done quickly.
b. Two hundred loaves of bread… two skins of wine… five sheep already dressed… one hundred clusters of raisins: Abigail did what Nabal should have done, but what he didn’t do.
i. The fact that Abigail was able to gather so much food so quickly shows how wealthy Nabal was. If this much food was on hand, it makes Nabal’s ungenerous reply to David all the worse.
3. (21-22) David vows to massacre Nabal and his entire household.
Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good. May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light.”
a. And he has repaid me evil for good: David was accurate, but not right in his heart. He had the facts straight, but not his heart.
b. If I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light: This made David’s intention clear – he planned to massacre Nabal and all the males of his household. This was the expected reaction (Nabal’s own servants expected it according to 1 Samuel 25:17) but God called David to go further than what the world expected.
4. (23-31) Abigail’s appeal to David.
Now when Abigail saw David, she hastened to dismount from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground. So she fell at his feet and said: “On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be! And please let your maidservant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your maidservant. Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal. For as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I, your maidservant, did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, since the LORD has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now then, let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal. And now this present which your maidservant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your maidservant. For the LORD will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the LORD, and evil is not found in you throughout your days. Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the LORD has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. But when the LORD has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.”
a. When Abigail saw David: Because of the hilly terrain (she went down under cover of the hill, 1 Samuel 25:20), Abigail could remain hidden from David right up until they met face to face. It also seems that Abigail saw David first, and when David first saw her, she was humbled before him, at the head of a great train of gifts and provisions.
i. In his angry, agitated state, something unexpected made David and his whole company come to an immediate stop: a great procession of gifts, and at the head of that procession, a beautiful woman bowing down before David. This had to make a startling impression on David.
b. She hastened to dismount from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground: Abigail made her appeal in utmost humility. She didn’t come to David as a superior (as the beautiful, rich, and privileged often do) or even as an equal; she came to David as his humble servant.
c. In this appeal, Abigail did many things very right.
i. When she first heard of the crisis, she immediately went into action (Then Abigail made haste, 1 Samuel 25:18). She knew this was an urgent situation, so she acted with urgency.
ii. With her first words to David Abigail immediately took the blame on herself (On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be!). Abigail didn’t do this because she really believed she was guilty. She took the blame because she knew that David would punish her differently than he might punish her husband Nabal.
iii. Abigail asked permission to speak instead of taking command of the conversation (Please let your maidservant speak in your ears).
iv. Abigail smoothly suggested the positive outcome to David in her appeal (the LORD has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand). She stated it in a way that almost guided David towards her suggested outcome.
v. Abigail brought David a present (now this present) but was wise enough to say that it was for the young men who follow David, not for David himself. To say that it was for David would suggest that he was in this just for the money, and that David’s insulted dignity could be bought off with money.
vi. Abigail plainly, straightforwardly, asked for forgiveness (Please forgive the trespass of your maidservant).
vii. Despite David’s present anger and agitation – which is clearly sin – Abigail spoke of David’s character in high terms, regarding his present unmentioned state as an aberration (my lord fights the battles of the LORD, and evil is not found in you throughout your days).
viii. Abigail reminded David of the LORD’s promise for his life (the LORD will certainly make for my lord an enduring house). She guided David to look beyond the immediate aggravating circumstances to the bigger promise of God.
ix. Abigail asked David not to do something he would later regret, when God’s promise was ultimately fulfilled (that this will be no grief to you… that you have shed blood without cause). This is perhaps the single best thing that Abigail said; she wisely asked David to consider the outcome of his present course and how bad it would be. She asked him to let the LORD settle the matter instead of taking vengeance into his own hands.
d. Abigail also did some things wrong in her appeal to David.
i. She did all this without her husband’s counsel or approval (But she did not tell her husband Nabal, 1 Samuel 25:19).
ii. She openly and severely criticized her husband to David (this scoundrel Nabal… Nabal is his name, and folly is with him). No wife should speak this way of her husband and no husband should speak this way of his wife.
iii. She almost suggested to David that he kill the guilty Nabal (let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal), but that he spare the rest of the household because they were innocent (shed blood without cause).
iv. She made herself available for David’s future consideration, perhaps in an inappropriate way (When the LORD has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maidservant).
v. Abigail was not outstandingly submissive or respectful to her husband Nabal. Though there is no explanation in the Bible perhaps it was justified because this was a legitimate life-or-death situation. If Abigail didn’t do what she did, then Nabal and scores of innocent men would die. But the point of the passage is how submissive and respectful Abigail is towards David, not Nabal.
e. The life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling: This perhaps is the strongest point of Abigail’s appeal and she used a wonderful turn of speech. She said, “David, you are like a bundle that the LORD holds closely and securely to Himself. Your enemies are like rocks that the LORD will sling away.” This invites David to act like a man who is close to the LORD.
i. David took his 400 men to do what God could do as easily as throwing a stone out of sling. This had to remind David of a time when he really did trust God for the victory – when he cast a stone out of a sling and killed Goliath. Through her wise words, Abigail focused David’s attention from Nabal back unto the LORD.
ii. Abigail’s appeal to David was so glorious because it lifted him up instead of beating him down. David was clearly in the wrong, and Abigail wanted to guide him into the right. But she didn’t do it by being negative, by emphasizing to David how wrong and angry and stupid he was – though in fact he was. Instead, Abigail emphasized David’s glorious calling and destiny, and the general integrity of his life, and simply asked him to consider if what his present course of action was consistent with that destiny and integrity.
iii. Abigail is a marvelous model of “sweetly speaking submission.” Many Christian wives have the idea of “silent submission.” They say, “I know my husband is wrong, but I won’t tell him. Submission means I should shut up.” That is wrong, and they should look to Abigail as an example. Other Christian wives have the idea of “sharply speaking submission.” They say, “I know my husband is wrong, and God has appointed me to tell him. And boy, will I!” That is wrong, and they should look to Abigail as an example. Abigail gives the right example – submission that speaks, but speaks sweetly instead of sharply.
iv. Abigail’s submission to Nabal was not outstanding but her submission to David was. And David’s submission to the LORD was equally outstanding; by giving up the fight, he had to trust God to take care of Nabal.
5. (32-35) David thanks God for Abigail’s appeal, and receives her advice.
Then David said to Abigail: “Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand. For indeed, as the LORD God of Israel lives, who has kept me back from hurting you, unless you had hastened and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!” So David received from her hand what she had brought him, and said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person.”
a. Blessed be the LORD God of Israel: David was on a sinful course and Abigail, through her bold, quick, and wise appeal, stopped him from sin. He knew God spoke to him through Abigail (who sent you this day).
i. David is being taught a good lesson – our hurt feelings never justify disobedience. When others sin against us, we may feel justified in sinning against them, but we are never justified by our hurt feelings.
b. You have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand: David can also thank God because Abigail successfully reminded him of his destiny – to reign over Israel in righteousness and integrity. If David had slaughtered Nabal and his household it would forever be a black mark against David among Israelites. They would forever wonder if they could really trust him. It might also seal his doom before Saul, because for the first time David would have given Saul a legitimate reason to hunt him down as a criminal.
c. Blessed is your advice, and blessed are you: David was man enough and wise enough to take counsel from a woman. He knew that the issue wasn’t Abigail’s gender, but that God used her at that time and place. David did well both to receive her advice and to praise her for her boldness in bringing it.
d. So David received from her hand: It is important to remember that Abigail did not come to David empty-handed. One reason her appeal was effective was because she paid David what was owed to him. When David received it from Abigail he acknowledged that Nabal had paid the bill and there was nothing outstanding.
i. Here David knew the blessing of being kept from sin. It surely is a blessing to be forgiven our sins; but it is an even greater blessing to be kept from sin.
C. Nabal dies and David marries Abigail.
1. (36-38) God strikes Nabal dead.
Now Abigail went to Nabal, and there he was, holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; therefore she told him nothing, little or much, until morning light. So it was, in the morning, when the wine had gone from Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became like a stone. Then it came about, after about ten days, that the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.
a. There he was, holding a feast in his house: Nabal lived up to his name; he was a fool. His life was in imminent danger – his wife knew it, all his servants knew it, but he didn’t know it. He eats and gets drunk as if all were fine, and didn’t have a care in the world.
i. In this regard, Nabal is a picture of the sinner who goes on rejecting God without regard to God’s coming judgment. David certainly would have killed Nabal and it is certain that God will judge the sinner who continues to reject Him.
b. Like the feast of a king: All Nabal had to do was invite David to this tremendous feast and Nabal’s life would have been spared. Nabal’s own greed and foolishness was his undoing.
c. His heart died within him, and he became like stone… the LORD struck Nabal, and he died: Abigail’s wise action saved Nabal from David and saved David from himself. But it could not save Nabal from God’s judgment. Nabal was never out of God’s reach and when it was the right time, God took care of him.
i. In 1 Samuel 25:33, David was grateful that Abigail’s appeal had kept him from avenging myself with my own hand. This proves that David did not need to avenge himself with his own hand; God was more than able to do it.
ii. Jesus may have had Nabal in mind when He taught the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:15-21). That parable describes a man who dies with everything – and nothing.
iii. “All which time he lay like a block in his bed, without repentance or confidence in God; but condemned of his own conscience, he went to his place without noise. Let this be a warning to drunkards.” (Trapp)
2. (39-44) David marries Abigail.
So when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept His servant from evil! For the LORD has returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head.” And David sent and proposed to Abigail, to take her as his wife. When the servants of David had come to Abigail at Carmel, they spoke to her saying, “David sent us to you, to ask you to become his wife.” Then she arose, bowed her face to the earth, and said, “Here is your maidservant, a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” So Abigail rose in haste and rode on a donkey, attended by five of her maidens; and she followed the messengers of David, and became his wife. David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and so both of them were his wives. But Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was from Gallim.
a. For the LORD has returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head: David knew the death of Nabal was God’s judgment, which the LORD showed when David decided to let the LORD avenge him instead of avenging himself.
b. David sent and proposed to Abigail: In 1 Samuel 25:31, Abigail asked David, then remember your maidservant. Here, David certainly remembered her and he took her as his wife.
i. Was this inappropriate? Wasn’t David already married to Saul’s daughter Michal? (1 Samuel 18:27) The writer of 1 Samuel explains that at this time, David was not married to Michal, because Saul had taken her away and given her to another man to spite David (David will get Michal back in 2 Samuel 3:13-16). So, Abigail is not really David’s second wife; she is his “second first wife.”
c. David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and so both of them were his wives: Though Abigail was David’s “second marriage,” with Ahinoam David took a second wife and will add many more wives.
i. Was this inappropriate? It wasn’t directly sin, because God hadn’t commanded against it. But it did go against God’s ideal, His plan for oneness in a marriage relationship. David was a man of great passions and as a part of that he had many wives. But because David never really followed God’s plan and purpose for marriage, his family life was never blessed and peaceful. Family trouble brought David some of the greatest trials of his life.
d. Here is your maidservant, a servant, to wash the feet of the servants of my lord: Abigail did not allow her success with David or the death of Nabal make her arrogant or bossy. She greeted the servants of David with the greatest humility.
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