Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there lived a husband and a wife named Nabal and Abigail. This is a story of their lives in the land of their king, King David.
Now Nabal was a very wealthy man. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep. I’m not exactly sure what one does with 1000 goats; make tons and tons of goat cheese, I guess. I am not rich like Nabal; I myself do not have 1000 goats, nor would I want 1000 goats. The closest I have to that is 1000 goat jokes.
Like, “What do you call a goat with one ear? Vincent Van Goat.”
Or this one: A farmer found out his pig had been murdered in the barn. The only witness was a rabbit. The farmer lined up all the suspects, the cow, the horse, the goat, the rooster. The farmer asked the rabbit who did it, and the rabbit stared right at the goat.
The goat said nervously, “I didn’t do it!” And the farmer said, “Hare’s looking at you, kid.”
So I’m not a wealthy man like Nabal with his 1000 goats and 3000 sheep. Thank goodness.
All this wealth did not make Nabal a happy person. In verse 1 Samuel 25:3 – oh, I forgot to tell you this is a bible study, so open your bibles to 1 Samuel 25. In verse 3 in the NIV, Nabal is described as “surly and mean in his dealings.” The NASB calls him “harsh and evil.” The King James calls him “churlish”, whatever that is, but I’m guess it’s surly and mean and harsh and evil. Or it means he owns goats.
Historians aren’t sure that Nabal is his real name. The word “Nabal” occurs 42 times in the Old Testament. Twenty-two occurrences are in this chapter, describing this man. The other 20 times the word “nabal” is translated “stupid, foolish and wicked”. As in Jeremiah 17:11,
Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay
are those who gain riches by unjust means.
When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them,
and in the end they will prove to be fools (nabal).
So it’s possible that the writer changed the name of the man to “fool” because he didn’t want to honor this man throughout history.
Then I went on a rabbit trail. Who *was* the writer of the books of Samuel? Was it Samuel the prophet? Let’s look at the first 3 words of this chapter, 1 Samuel 25:1,
Then Samuel died.
I’m thinking if Samuel wrote this entire book, then Samuel had help. Most scholars believe that chapter 1-24 were indeed written by Samuel the prophet, but starting in 1 Samuel 25, Nathan, the son of Saul, probably completed the books.
In says in verse 2 that Nabal was shearing his sheep in Carmel, and I don’t believe for a moment that Nabal was shearing the sheep himself. I think he ordered his servants to shear the sheep.
Carmel was a small town in the hill country of Judah, about 10 miles south-southeast of Hebron, near the bottom of the Dead Sea. Remember 3 weeks ago when we heard of Saul’s partial obedience in killing the Amalekites, but he spared the best of the cattle for himself and then build a monument to himself to proclaim how good he was? That was at Carmel. Saul is still nearby; Saul sometimes proclaims how great David is and other times tries to kill David, and right now there seems to be peace between them. The point is that Nabal would know everything going on at this point since he’s living and working at the heart of this conflict.
Nabal is also a distant relative of David, because verse 3 says Nabal was of the house of Caleb. He was a Jew, though his parents aren’t mentioned anywhere in scripture. Caleb, you might remember, was one of the 12 spies representing the tribe of Judah, and David, too was descended from the line of Judah.
Now Nabal the fool was married to Abigail the beautiful and wise. I know she was beautiful and wise because in verse 3 it says Abigail was beautiful and wise. Abigail, too, was a Jew, though it’s not clear in the passage. Her lineage is real confusing.
2 Samuel 17:25 Abigail is listed as the daughter of Nahash, whose name means “serpent.” It’s not exactly clear who this Nahash is; there is a Nahash, king of the Amorites in 1 Samuel 11 who routs Jews at the city of Jabesh-gilead and threatens to put out the right eye of every male Jew until Saul, recently appointed king, kills all the Amorites and possibly Nahash. I say possibly because 40 years later, Nahash, king of the Amorites, is a friend to David in 2 Samuel 10.
As if that wasn’t confusing enough, in 1st Chronicle 2:1-16, we find out that Abigail is a sister of David. Some scholars think Nahash and an unnamed woman had a daughter, when Nahash died, Jesse married her and adopted Abigail. Others think this is a completely different Nahash and might even be a woman, the name of Jesse’s wife. Still other scholars think that Nahab might even be another name for David’s father Jesse.
I spent way too much time on this. Let’s just say Abigail was beautiful and wise and David already knew her.
Then there’s David, son of Jesse, King of Israel if Saul would quit horsing around, slayer of Goliath, and a man’s after God’s own heart. And it’s that last description that makes this passage so crazy. David wants to kill Abigail’s husband, Nabal. And like a good CSI:Israel show, let’s review the plot and motive to see how a man’s after God’s own heart went into a murderous rage.
See, while Nabal was in Carmel, he had his 3000 sheep with him and it was sheep-shearing time. No doubt this was long hard work. Sheep wool is thick and difficult to cut, and they had hand tools, so I’m certain it took days or even weeks to shear all the sheep. Unless you’re Matt Smith from New Zealand and you set the world record for sheep shearing, 731 sheep in 9 hours averaging one every 44 seconds, like this:
Some days I have trouble staying focused on the lesson. Let’s just say that shearing Nabal’s 3000 sheep took a lot longer than 44 seconds. It was such hard work, but apparently it’s also a festival time, because 1 Samuel 25:8 says it’s a feast day.
What has David been doing lately, besides hiding out from Saul? Among other things, David and his soldiers have been near Nabal’s flock of sheep, and since they’re armed fighting men, nobody dares attack Nabal’s herd. Nabal’s getting free protection. Now that the sheep-shearing feast day has arrived, David and his men are hungry, and, well, here’s 1 Samuel 25:4-8,
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.’”
Basically, David’s saying, hey, we’ve been guarding your flock for free, and now that you’re having a feast for those who have been helping you, how about a little something for me and my men, whatever you can spare. We like BBQ lamb.
Nabal’s response is mean, verse 10-11,
“Buzz off, Goat-breath.”
And in the NIV translation,
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?”
The response is both mean and a lie. If Nabal doesn’t know who David is, how does he know he’s the son of Jesse? He’s saying that David is just a runaway slave and Nabal is not even going to provide bread and water.
When David’s men return and tell David, David goes ballistic. Not literally, because they didn’t have bullets back then, but you know what I mean. David tells 400 of his men to grab their swords, they are going to slaughter Nabal and every male that belongs to him. So sayeth the man after God’s own heart. We’re going to come back to that in a moment.
One of the men approached Nabal’s wife, and says, “Dear Abby, King David asked for a little food during the sheep shearing feast, and Nabal was verbally abusive and insulting to David. Now David wants to slay every male here, including me. What should I do? Signed, Confused in Carmel.”
I’m certain that I’ve mentioned that Abigail was beautiful and wise, and she demonstrates her wisdom this night. Abigail gathers a feast of bread and wine and lamb and raisins and figs, and meets David who is in full battle mode. And Abigail dismounts off of her donkey, falls at David’s feet and says,
My husband is an idiot. Please don’t kill us. Here, have a sandwich.
This is from Michael’s paraphrased edition, of course. The longer version says Abigail fell on her face before David, and she said her husband matches his name, he is ignorant and he is a scoundrel. But I, Abigail, didn’t know you needed help, I didn’t see the men you sent, please forgive me. I know that the Lord is with you and will defeat your enemies. If you spare us, then the Lord will remember your goodness, and then when the Lord has dealt well with you, please remember me.
And David listens and blesses the Lord for Abigail convincing David to stay his hand and from coming to bloodshed. And he accepts her sandwich.
Abigail has done both a good thing and a bad thing; she has definitely disobeyed her husband, but her disobedience is outweighed by the good. She’s avoided bloodshed and she’s obedient to David the future King of Israel. But now she has to go home and tell her husband Nabal why they’re out of mayonnaise. She’s made sandwiches for King David and all of his men, despite her husband saying they should be sent away hungry. Her husband is mean and an idiot, what shall she say to him?
In verse 36,
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.
Ok, she’ll wait until the morning to tell him, after he’s slept off his drunken gluttonous stupor. Verse 37,
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 happened, after about ten days, that the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.
Um, I guess that’s good news. This sounds like Nabal first had a stroke and then died 10 days later. This was certainly good news for David, who then gave thanks and praise to the Lord for protecting David from doing evil, verse 39,
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 in the remaining verses in 1 Samuel 25, David sent for Abigail and then proposed to her. She accepted and became David’s wife, and they all lived happily ever after.
V. Various lessons
I enjoyed studying for this lesson, and I hope you enjoyed today’s story. However, trying to find an application of this particular story to our daily lives was a challenge. There is not a single, coherent theme that runs through this chapter. Instead, I found a great many smaller lessons.
And isn’t that the way our lives go? In my own life, I often don’t see God’s Grand Plan being lived out through me day to day. Instead of being called to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, I’m asked to love my neighbor. Instead of building an ark and saving all animals and humanity from the flood, I’m asked to love my enemy. Instead of facing my giant with nothing more than a sling, I’m asked to trust in the Lord for my daily bread and know that He will provide for my needs.
Nabal is the least likeable person in this story, and for good reason. Besides being mean-spirited, he’s not smart, and he’s given to overeating and overdrinking. And all of this brings about Nabal’s destruction.
I think Proverbs 15:1 illustrates all 3 people very well,
A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
Nabal has a harsh word for David. David gets furious and wants to kill Nabal. Abigail provides gentle words for David, and David’s wrath is calmed. Perfect illustration of this proverb.
Nabal’s not a likeable character. I mentioned a moment ago about loving our neighbor and loving our enemy, and Nabal illustrates the opposite. Even though David and his men had been guarding Nabal’s sheep and men and lands, David’s request to Nabal was pretty reasonable, I thought. “Hey Nabal, you’re having a feast, can you spare a bite to eat?”
And rather than give David a little of his surplus, Nabal thumbs his nose at David. Harsh words stir up anger, and David is mad. David probably had a right to demand some of the food; after all he was the future king of Israel. But his anger is stirred not by righteous anger for the Lord, but by personal selfish anger.
And Abigail is disobedient to her husband, but obedient to the Lord. It is righteous submission to the Lord’s will, and her soft answer turns away David’s wrath.
And did they live happily ever after? David proposes and marries her, but David was already married. When David defeated Goliath, Saul gave his daughter Michal to David as his wife. David went on to marry Abigail, and then later married Bathsheba, after having an affair with her and sending her husband to the front lines of a battle in order to kill him off. And then David married Ahinoam. And Maacah. And Haggith and Abital and Eglah. We know David had at least 8 wives, and in 2 Samuel 5:13 we are told David has other wives in Jerusalem. Also there were concubines.
It’s important to remember when we are studying the bible that everything recorded in the bible is not approved in the bible. Polygamy may be recorded in the bible, but it’s clear from Genesis that says the “two will become one flesh,” not more than two. And thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife from Exodus 20:17, not thy neighbor’s many wives. It’s clear from scripture that God’s plan is for man to have a single wife. God seemed to allow it in the Old Testament sort of the way He allowed divorce – because men’s hearts were hard.
And in David’s life, these multiple marriages came back to cause all sorts of grief later, family infighting, greed and jealousy, and murder. One could only imagine how David’s life would have gone if he was not only a man after God’s own heart, but also a man after God’s own will.
Our story today was the story of the fool who was also gluttonous and a drunkard. It was the story of the beautiful and the wise with a soft word that turns away anger. And it was the story of a man after God’s own heart who demonstrates his own flaws, his own anger, and his own mistakes.
Somewhere in our story, we may also find our own story. We are flawed, we make bad decisions sometimes. As Christians, our goal is to live according to the will of God despite our circumstances. If we are not invited to a feast, we don’t assemble an army to kill them, of course not. We let the Lord’s will prevail in our life and in theirs, leaving justice to the Lord and practicing forgiveness and gentleness.
And, regardless of our flaws or our actions or our emotions, there is a happy ever after for those who place their faith and trust in Christ the Lord.
To God be the glory.