The story of David, Nabal and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 is not beautiful; it is one of the dark spots in the life of David. However, it has a happy ending; David married Abigail after her husband Nabal died. Beautiful and godly, she was the best wife David had and she was the only woman who was a blessing to him. Nabal was a descendent of Caleb. The name Nabal, which means “fool,” accurately describes his character. We do not know how he got this name, but he certainly lived up to it. In Scripture, the “fool” is not the one who is mentally deficient, but the godless man. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1 NKJV). Nabal is a type of the natural man, especially the man who rejects the Lord and His message of grace. Scripture describes Nabal as “churlish” (1 Sam. 25:3), which means that he was vulgar, rude, cruel and difficult to work with. He was evil, dishonest and a drunkard. How he came to marry a beautiful, intelligent wife, we do not know. Abigail and Nabal have been referred to as “the beauty and the beast.” He was rich; he had 3000 sheep and 1000 goats. As the story opens Nabal was shearing his sheep in Carmel (25:2).
David had protected Nabal’s sheep from robbers. This is clear from what David’s messengers told Nabal: “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” (25:7). He also said, “In vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missing of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good” (25:21).
David needed food for his 600 men. He sent ten men to Nabal asking for help. His message to Nabal was, “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” (25:8). He made this request on the basis of the protection David’s men had provided for Nabal’s shepherds. Common courtesy would have provided the basic supplies which David asked for. David was polite in asking for a little help for his men in return to his favor to Nabal.
David had acted honorably toward Nabal. He had restrained his men from preying upon Nabal’s flocks and had guarded them against the Philistines. The least this rich farmer could do was show his appreciation by feeding David’s men. Instead, he mocked them: “Who is David and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master” (25:10). Nabal meant that David betrayed his master, Saul, and was a disloyal runaway slave. Nabal then added: “Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men whenI do not know where they are from?” (25:11). In this reply, Nabal used seven personal pronouns. He reminds us of a fool in the New Testament who also spoke of “my crops … my barns … my goods … my soul,” and said to himself, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” What did God say? “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” (Lk. 12:16-20).
Upon hearing Nabal’s reply, David got angry and lost his self-control. Instead of the kindness he showed Saul, he was enraged and ready to kill Nabal and his household. “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” (25:13). He was ready to answer a fool according to his folly. But Proverbs 26:4 says otherwise: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.”
It is not difficult to account for David’s failure in this incident. He was out of communion with God and did not ask the Lord what course of action he should take as he had earlier (1 Sam. 23:2,4,10,11,12). His eyes were on man not God. This is recorded for our learning. We are not to look upon men and circumstances, but upon the God of all circumstances. We should cultivate the holy habit of seeing God’s hand in everything and not be occupied with the circumstances. David spoke much about waiting on God in his psalms (Ps. 25:3,5,21; 37:7; 40:1). But he was long in the school of suffering and had not yet learned patience. He was out of touch with the Lord; we read nothing here of David’s asking the Lord about sending ten men to Carmel, nor did he inquire of the Lord when in anger he ordered 400 men to proceed on this dreadful errand.
Abigail learned of what transpired between her husband Nabal and David’s men, and of David’s intention to retaliate by killing Nabal and his household. She acted promptly and prepared lots of food for David and his men. She was guided by God who had put in her heart to intervene before David could kill her husband and his men. The hand of God calmed her heart and directed her mind.
How wondrously God makes all things work together for His own good. How blessedly He times His mercies; David was premeditating evil and was about to carry it out, but Abigail, sent by the Lord, pacified him. When she met David she greeted him with respect; she fell at his feet in the dust (25:23).
She repeatedly addressed David as “my Lord.” She did not reprove him for his spirit of revenge. She asked that her husband’s iniquity be laid on her instead (25:24). She acknowledged her husband’s folly and the fact that she did not see David’s ten men (25:25). She spoke of the restraining grace of God who was thus honored: “The Lord has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand” (25:26). She took upon herself the ill treatment of his men, and asked for forgiveness. She revealed complete understanding of the Lord’s choice in anointing David to be king. She showed strong faith saying, “The LORD will certainly make my Lord an enduring house,” and she praised David for fighting the Lord’s battles (25:28). She acknowledged that Saul sought his life, but saw that the Lord was protecting him (25:29). She confidently contemplated the time when the Lord would make him “ruler over Israel” (25:30). Finally, she asked David to remember his “maidservant” when he ascended to the throne (25:31).
God blessed Abigail’s address to David, as she was led by God to help David see his own vengeful spirit and wicked purpose in true light. First, he praised God for sending Abigail to him (25:32). It is a true sign of genuine spirituality when we see the Lord’s hand in our circumstances. Second, he thanked Abigail for keeping him from shedding innocent blood by avenging himself (25:33-34). He did not speak lightly of his evil intention, but emphasized its enormity. Third, he dismissed her with a message of peace and accepted her present (25:35).
David was restrained from his evil purpose by Abigail’s intervention. The place she took before David, her supplications, her confession, her humble prayer for forgiveness, her delicate reference to David’s sinful threat to shed blood, her faith in David’s coming exaltation and her concluding request – to be remembered by the future king – are so rich and beautiful. Abigail, in her piety and understanding, typifies the true believer and also the Church. Nabal typifies one who despises Christ and perishes in his sins.
When Abigail returned home, she found her husband feasting merrily, and very drunk (25:36). This fool typifies those unbelievers who feast as though all is well with their souls for eternity and whose hearts are merry with “the pleasures of sin for a season.” The sword of divine justice hangs upon their necks and “the blackness of darkness” (Jude 13) awaits them.
Abigail did not reproach her husband while he was drunk, but in the morning when she told him what had transpired: “His heart died within him, and he became like a stone” (25:37). Facing death and the terrors of the Almighty, he was paralyzed with a senseless stupor induced either by his intoxication or by anguish. After ten days he died by sudden divine judgment (25:38). Such is the doom of every one who despises Christ and spurns His blood. When David heard that Nabal was dead, he praised the Lord who kept him from evil, and rejoiced in the exercise of divine justice over iniquity (25:39).
David then sent messengers to Abigail with a proposal of marriage. God’s judgment had freed her from her marriage to unbelieving, evil Nabal. God gave her favor in David’s eyes; he was charmed by her beauty, wisdom, humility, and piety. Abigail accepted David’s proposal and became his wife – a happy ending to a sad story.
By Maurice Bassali
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org