Though his head is large, it seems like wasted space for a man who thinks only of the smallest things — like whether the latest delicacy has been properly prepared or his new robe is quite to his liking. Easily displeased, Nabal soothes himself with wine and pleasant food. Year after year, as his head grows emptier, his waist expands.
Despite his tendency toward complaint, he has to admit it has been a good year. Nabal knows other men despise him. But they are jealous, he thinks. The more he senses their disdain, the more he struts and brags. In addition to his wealth, he is married to a woman many men would covet. Abigail is a stunning creature, remarkably intelligent. The proof, he says, is that she married him. Chuckling over his frequently repeated jest, he fails to notice that his wife never smiles when she hears it.
Abigail is always pleasant, never unkind. Because of her, he has no worries. Still, it bothers him to see the servants treating her with greater deference than they do him. He doesn’t know nor would he care to realize how much energy Abigail expends to keep the peace. Nor does he understand that he is the brunt of frequent jokes. He claims, for instance, that his parents named him Nabal because it means “clever,” but everyone else thinks that his name sounds just like the word for “foolish.” No doubt Nabal is a fool — a grown man with the temperament of a two-year-old.
Though she doesn’t show it, Abigail is worn out by her husband’s behavior. His constant complaints are a low-grade torture, like continual dripping from a leaky roof.
She thanks God that at least she has a large household to manage and people to care for. Generous and sensitive, she is a woman who is loved by all. Like her neighbors, Abigail is glad that David is near with his six hundred men. They are encamped in the Desert of Maon, not far from where she and Nabal live. She also knows that Saul would like to kill David. But David is a fox who always gets away.
What she does not know is that ten of David’s men are speaking with her husband right now, bearing this message from David: “Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!
“Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.”
David has chosen a season of harvest and plenty to make his request — a time when good men are generous. He expects Nabal to show gratitude for the way he has protected his flocks. But Nabal has other ideas. Instead of offering provisions to David’s army, he seizes the opportunity to prove himself a fool by replying, “Who is this fellow David? Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?”
When David hears of Nabal’s insulting reply, he is furious. “What a waste to watch over this fellow’s property so that nothing goes missing. Nabal has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him. Each of you strap on your sword!”
So David and four hundred stout men advance toward Nabal’s house in order to take revenge. Meanwhile, Nabal is putting his feet up, taking his ease, and crowing over the size of his harvest. Sensing danger, one of the servants goes directly to Abigail.
Abigail has borne the burden of being married to a fool. But she never imagined a disaster on this scale.
Ordering her servants to collect every bit of food they can put their hands on, she loads up several donkeys, piling them high. There are two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five slaughtered sheep, sixty pounds of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins, and two hundred cakes of pressed figs. She hopes it will be enough to appease David’s wrath.
But she says nothing to Nabal.
Risking the dark, Abigail heads out in haste. As she travels, she prays, begging God for deliverance. Before long, she sees David and his men advancing toward her. She hopes he is as good a man as people say he is. Falling at his feet, she implores him. “My lord, let the blame fall on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what I have to say.
“Pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name — his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. As for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.”
Taking David’s silence as permission to continue, she blesses his future by saying:
The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, your life will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant. — 1 Samuel 25:28-31
Her gracious words evoke memories of everything God has promised to David. He has never heard a woman speak like this, a message that brings peace and hope to his heart, calling him back to God.
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me, he says. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from shedding blood and from avenging myself with my own hands. God himself has kept me from harming you. For if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male in Nabal’s household would have been left alive by daybreak. Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request. — 1 Samuel 25:32-34
It is not yet morning when Abigail arrives home. By now Nabal is drunk and in high spirits. Presiding over a feast, as though he thinks himself a great lord, he’s too drunk to listen to what she has to say, so she waits until morning.
Once her husband has sobered up, she tells him everything. His eyes grow wider with each word. His mouth falls open but there are no words — only grunts and moans. Suddenly one side of his mouth droops low, and he collapses on the couch as though he’s been turned to stone.
Ten days later, God finishes the job, and Nabal is no more. Oddly, Abigail feels a mixture of sadness and relief. Though she no longer bears the burden of her foolish husband, she senses him everywhere as though the misery of his sorry life still lingers.
But David is jubilant when he hears the news, praising God for upholding his cause and keeping him from shedding innocent blood. Wasting no time, he sends word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife.
No one mourns for Nabal.
But everyone honors Abigail. By acting wisely and quickly she has preserved many lives.
Though David is still on the run from Saul, she is eager to join him, and so with five of her maids she heads out into the wilderness. There she will marry an outlaw named David, the man she believes will one day be king.
Excerpted with permission from Wicked Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler, copyright Zondervan.
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Abigail is the consummate mediator, effectively brokering peace in the midst of a perilous situation. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation, putting yourself at risk in some way in order to be a peacemaker? Describe the circumstances and the outcome. Come share your answers with us! We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full