Wiki-Lessons: Abigail, Nabal, and Saul: Vengeance is Mine

Wednesday night’s teacher prep class was thinly attended. Most of the teachers had another meeting to attend. But we came across a very interesting parallel in the text.

(1Sa 25:2-3 ESV) 2 And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel.  3 Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite.

If he had 3,000 sheep, he obviously had a large crew of men and women working for him. I mean, how many sheep and goats can one shepherd watch? 20? I don’t know, but if 20 is right, then he had 200 shepherds and goatherders, plus family members. And as we’ll see, evidently quite a lot of farm land.

Carmel (not to be confused with Mt. Carmel) is west of the Dead Sea.

http://media-2.web.britannica.com/eb-media/58/99758-004-9A22B251.jpg

Being a Calebite would mean that Nabal was a descendant of Caleb, a hero from the time of Joshua, and surely among the nation’s most prominent families. He was rich, had lots of people working for him, and had a prestigious pedigree.

MB: We often miss out on some of the lessons God has laid into the text because we don’t know the background, either linguistic or cultural. In this case, I think the writer of Samuel (or the Spirit’s inspiration of the writer) was telling us something about Nabal. “He was a Calebite” may have been a reference to Nabal’s family lineage, but it is also worthwhile to consider that the literal meaning of “caleb” is “dog.” The implication: Nabal is a dog at heart. :MB

(1Sa 25:4-8 ESV)  4 David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep.  5 So David sent ten young men. And David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name.  6 And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.  7 I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel.  8 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 you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.'”

Now, to us, this seems to be a strange request. David had 600 men! But these men were risking their lives protecting the locals from Philistine raids, because Saul had taken soldiers needed for defense and was using them to chase David. David was risking forces needed to keep himself alive to defend farmers such as Nabal.

Moreover, in this part of the world, hospitality is everything. The head of a house would miss meals rather than fail to provide for visitors. It was, in that culture, entirely appropriate for David to ask for food.

(1Sa 25:9-12 ESV)  9 When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited.  10 And Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters.  11 Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?”  12 So David’s young men turned away and came back and told him all this.

To our ears, Nabal sounds entirely sensible. Why is it his burden to feed David? But not to a Middle Easterner. Indeed, given that David was risking his life for Nabal, Nabal’s response was a huge insult.

Borrowed from Adam: Notice, however, how very much like the modern churchgoer is Nabal. He declares, with perfect common sense, that he should not take food from his employees — for whom he has obligations — to feed David. He’d never asked David for protection, and Saul still sits on the throne of Israel. How many of us would have reacted differently?

David was calling Nabal to a level faith and sacrifice that is foreign to our way of thinking. We are willing to give out our surplus — but not at any real risk to ourselves. And yet God ultimately takes the life of the prudent man who fails to see the greater spiritual reality.

Remember: this is an honor culture. Saving face and treating men with honor is more important than eating. It’s not surprising that David responds as he does —

(1Sa 25:13 ESV)  13 And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every man of them strapped on his sword. David also strapped on his sword. And about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.

Now, Nabal was rich and had many men working for him. David’s small army was likely not overkill, but also it was surely enough to be successful. Nabal was about to be killed for his insult.

But Abigail learned of David’s intentions. She rode out to meet him, and he said,

(1Sa 25:21-22 ESV) 21 Now David had said, “Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good.  22 God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”

Abigail replied,

(1Sa 25:24-31 ESV)  24 She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant.  25 Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.  26 Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.  27 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord.  28 Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live.  29 If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.  30 And when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel,  31 my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord taking vengeance himself. And when the LORD has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.”

MB: “Nabal: as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him.” Take a wild guess what the literal meaning of Nabal might be… (Some translations might make it obvious.) :MB

Borrowed from Adam: Notice how very Christ-like Abigail is: “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt.” She offers to take Nabal’s punishment. Moreover, she acts as his intercessor: “Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant.” And she takes on this role on behalf of Nabal — a fool and enemy of God’s anointed! She is, of course, a woman. Remarkable, isn’t it, that the Spirit places a woman in this role.

We often see Abigail as a model of Christian womanhood, but we should see her also as a woman who shows others how to live as Jesus. These, of course, aren’t different concepts at all. But there’s more power, I believe, in seeing Abigail as Christ-like than as the prototypical housewife.

And there’s an irony, having a woman serve as “Jesus” to David, the archetype of Jesus. But this episode is part of what taught David to have a heart like God’s.

Google “Abigail women of the of the Bible” and you’ll find lessons based on this chapter that don’t mention the obvious (once it’s pointed out) fact that she modeled Christ’s character. Somehow, we just don’t easily see Jesus in a wife — which is to our own discredit.

Spend some time on her presentation. It’s a masterpiece of diplomacy. She was obviously aware that God had anointed David to be king, and so surely Nabal was also aware, making his insult all the worst.

But, I believe, God was speaking through her. In particular, notice these words:

“30 And when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel,  31 my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord taking vengeance himself.”

David killed many men in war, but they were all men God had commanded Israel to kill to protect his people and to free the Promised Land. Nabal, however, was a Jew and a Calebite. This would be a very different kind of killing — even if permitted in the local culture. Culture doesn’t define right and wrong when it comes to a violation of the Ten Commandments!

And David relented. Soon God handled the problem for David —

(1Sa 25:36-38 ESV) 36 And Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, 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. So she told him nothing at all until the morning light.  37 In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.  38 And about ten days later the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.

Now, “the LORD struck Nabal, and he died” is not a poetic way of just saying that he died. The author is making a point. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” God handles these things, and David’s place was to await God’s justice.

MB: If Nabal had lived today, his doctors would probably say that he had a stroke or perhaps a heart attack. And perhaps that is an accurate medical  description of what happened to his body. But the Spirit gives us a different perspective: Whatever our scientific, well-informed verdict might be, the truth of the matter is this: God struck the fool, and he died. :MB

Side note:

(1Sa 25:40-44 ESV)  40 When the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.”  41 And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.”  42 And Abigail hurried and rose and mounted a donkey, and her five young women attended her. She followed the messengers of David and became his wife.  43 David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and both of them became his wives.  44 Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim.

David lost Michal, because Saul annulled the marriage, although it wasn’t really his place under the Law. Divorce was permitted, but by the husband.

David Takes Sauls Spear and Water Bottle, James Tissot  (1836-1902 French), Jewish Museum, New York, USA (999-248 © SuperStock)David again refuses to kill Saul

(1Sa 26:3-5 ESV) 3 And Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon. But David remained in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness,  4 David sent out spies and learned that Saul had come.  5 Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him.

Saul and his army had come very close to David.

(1Sa 26:6-8 ESV) 6 Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.”  7 So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him.  8 Then said Abishai to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.”

David made a truly audacious move. He snuck into the camp and found Saul. He could have easily killed him — and the obvious choice would have been to do just that. After all, Saul was there to kill David.

MB: There’s nothing in the text indicating that David knew God was going to put Saul’s army to sleep, so David and Abishai could penetrate the camp without fear. David’s decision to go into Saul’s camp may have been to spy or to gain some advantage over Saul, but it was a calculated military action with risks and benefits, and the decision was evidently made independent of the LORD’s action on David’s behalf.

Sometimes I wonder what actions God may have been planning to put into action on my behalf, or on the behalf of the church, if I had just made the decision to launch out and take a risk for him. Now I’m not suggesting taking foolish risks, but I am saying that David, God’s man, did take some real risks. And if I, as God’s man today, am not willing to take some risks for God, I may not be very much like David – or like Jesus, for that matter. :MB

(1Sa 26:9-12 ESV) 9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?”  10 And David said, “As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish.  11 The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.”  12 So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen upon them.

David with Saul's spear and jugDavid instead took Saul’s spear and water jar and left. He then goes far enough away to be safe from the soldiers’ arrows —

(1Sa 26:13-16 ESV)  13 Then David went over to the other side and stood far off on the top of the hill, with a great space between them.  14 And David called to the army, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner answered, “Who are you who calls to the king?”  15 And David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord.  16 This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the LORD’s anointed. And now see where the king’s spear is and the jar of water that was at his head.”

David taunts Saul’s general Abner and shows the spear and water jar.

(1Sa 26:17-25 ESV)  17 Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.”  18 And he said, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands?  19 Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the LORD who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the LORD, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the LORD, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’  20 Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the LORD, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.”

21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.”  22 And David answered and said, “Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and take it.  23 The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the LORD gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the LORD’s anointed.  24 Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the LORD, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.”  25 Then Saul said to David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.

As before, Saul repents at David’s mercy, but David stays away from Saul.

Now go back to v. 10 —

“As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish.  11 The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD’s anointed.

David now applies the lesson learned from Abigail. Rather than killing Saul and taking vengeance himself, David realizes that he should wait on God. Even though God himself put Saul’s camp into a deep sleep, allowing David to approach Saul so that he could kill him, David did not see the miracle as an opportunity for vengeance. Instead, he showed mercy. And, of course, later Saul is indeed killed in battle.

Lesson:

This is a hard one. It takes great faith to wait on God and not handle things yourself. It takes great faith to let opportunities for vengeance slide and to use those opportunities for mercy.

David had every reason to kill Saul. Saul was trying to kill him. He had been given the throne by God. He had been given the opportunity to kill Saul by God’s own miracle. And yet David chose mercy.

How can we be like David?

How is David like Jesus?

MB: What did Saul do that led directly to Samuel telling him that God would take the kingdom away from him and give it to someone better? (I Sam. 13:11-14) Saul had gotten tired of waiting on Samuel (and on the Lord), and had taken matters into his own hand. So, to apply the lesson: How often have we gotten tired of waiting on the Lord, taken matters into our own hands – and deprived ourselves and whatever “kingdom” God has put into our hand of the blessings God had prepared for it? (Do you suppose Israel would have been better off if Saul had not wasted years of his own life, and of the lives of his soldiers chasing David through the wilderness? What defeats might Israel have avoided? What victories might have been won?) :MB

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  1. For most of my adult life I have been gravely concerned of how many Christians are so quick to want to use the death penalty and go to war. I have listened to Christians in Bible classes when the subject of the death penalty was brought up, if pushed, say that if a few innocent have to be mistakenly executed in order to rid society of the guilty then it is necessary. So, trying to move them to mercy toward the guilty was close to impossible.

    My father, as a young man, did not believe in the death penalty, and had strong feelings that Christians should do everything in their power to avoid going to war. He held these beliefs as one who followed Christ. However, when the sixties came upon us he moved to the right, feeling forced by the radicals that took anit-war and anti-captial punishment stands. How often I have wished that he could have resisted the pressure.

    The point I am trying to make is that the words "Christian" and "American" are not synonyms. No where did Paul or any other NT writer say that somone was a fine Christian and Roman, or Judean. Yet, I hear the words "A fine Christian and American" often. And they are usually used for someone who is strongly, strongly, pro military and capital punishment.

    When I read the gospels, and the epistles, I see that the children of God are in a Kingdom not of this world. This means more than refraining from the moral evils that tempt us, or, as many church members see them, the "short list of do's and don'ts"; It means that wherever we find ourselves, it is a far, far second to the rule of God. And when this Kingdom is this important to us, the guilty, the innocent, the poor, the other race, the alien, will not be seen as scapegoats, but as God's own. It is very difficult to kill them when recognized as such.

  2. 1Sam. 25:3 Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb.

    5037. Nabal, naw-bawl´; the same as 5036; dolt; Nabal, an Israelite:Nabal.
    5036. nabal, naw-bawl´; from 5034; stupid; wicked (especially impious): fool(-ish, -ish man, -ish woman), vile person.

    5035. nebel, neh´-bel; or nebel, nay´-bel; from 5034; a skin-bag for liquids (from collapsing when empty); hence, a vase (as similar in shape when full); also a lyre (as having a body of like form):—bottle, pitcher, psaltery, vessel, viol.

    H178 ’ôb obe From the same as H1 (apparently through the idea of prattling a father’s name); properly a mumble, that is, a water skin (from its hollow sound); hence a necromancer (ventriloquist, as from a jar):—bottle, familiar spirit.

    the Sounding Bronze in 1 Corinthians 13 has the same connection to witchcraft.