LESSON EIGHTEEN - Samuel, David, Nabal and Abigail

I Samuel 25:1-22

1 Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David moved down into the Desert of Paran. 2 A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. 3 His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite. 4 While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. 5 So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. 6 Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! 7 “‘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. 8 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.’” 9 When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited. 10 Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. 11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” 12 David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. 13 David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. 14 One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 15 Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. 17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.” 18 Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. 21 David had just said, “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. 22 May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”

1. Samuel’s Death Observed (1)

Few noticed when Samuel was born as an answer to Hannah’s earnest prayer, but many observed his death. How our story ends is much more important that how we begin. Let’s aim to finish well.

Here is a short account of Samuel’s death and burial. Though he was a great man, admired and well qualified for public service, yet he spent his latter days in retirement and obscurity, not because he was unable to lead (for he still knew how to preside in a college of the prophets, I Sam 19:20), but because Israel had rejected him, and because his apparent desire was to be quiet, enjoy himself and his devotion to God in his advanced years. God graciously gave him fruitful golden years. Let old people be willing to rest and yet still look for opportunities to serve. Samuel apparently founded the School of the Prophets. Elijah and Elisha later led that same institution.

Though he was a firm friend to David, for which Saul hated him, yet he died in peace even in the worst of the days of the tyranny of Saul, whom not just David, but also Samuel feared. Samuel sometimes thought Saul would kill him for in I Sam. 16:2, Samuel asks “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” Though Saul did not love Samuel, yet he feared him, as Herod feared John, and feared the people, for all knew him to be a prophet. This may be why Saul was restrained from hurting Samuel.

All Israel lamented him; and they had reason, for they all now suffered a loss. His personal merits commanded this honor to be done him at his death. His former services to the public, when he judged Israel, made this respect to his name and memory a just debt; it would have been very ungrateful to have withheld it. The sons of the prophets had lost the founder and president of their college, and whatever weakened them was also a loss to all Israel.

But that was not all: Samuel was a constant intercessor for Israel who prayed daily for them, “. . . far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” (I Sam 12:2). If he goes away, they part with the best friend they have. The loss is the more grievous when Saul has grown so outrageous and David is driven from his country; with never more need of Samuel than now, yet now he is removed. We might hope that the Israelites lamented Samuel’s death all the more bitterly because they remembered against themselves their own sin and folly in rejecting him and desiring a king. And God did justly chastise them for rejecting Samuel. They got Saul! Samuel had warned them. Can we learn from this to let God be our King?

Those have hard hearts who can bury their faithful ministers with dry eyes, who are not sensible of the loss of those who have prayed for them and taught them the way of the Lord. We are to give honor to whom honor is due and follow their examples. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

David then went down to the wilderness of Paran, retiring perhaps to mourn the more solemnly for the death of Samuel and, now that he had lost so good a friend, who had been and he hoped would be a great support to him, he realized his danger to be greater than ever. It made good sense that he therefore withdrew to a wilderness, out of the limits of the land of Israel and lived in the tents of Kedar. Paran, the wilderness, and Kedar are evidently in the same place. In Ps 120:5 David laments Woe is me . . . that I live among the tents of Kedar!”

2. Nabal and Abigail (2, 3)

The two that make up this couple are of extremely varied character. Every time I read about Nabal I think that, by temperament, I could be just like him. I pity him—and Abigail—but I am glad the story is there as a warning to me.

Here begins the story of Nabal, a man we should never have heard of if there had not happened some communication between him and David. Observe, 1. His name: Nabal—a fool; that is what it means. It was a wonder that his parents would give him that name and an ill omen of what proved to be his character. Yet indeed we, all of us, deserve to be called that when we come into the world, for man is born like the wild ass’s colt and foolishness is bound up in our hearts.

He was of the house of Caleb, but was indeed of another spirit. He inherited Caleb’s estate; for Maon and Carmel lay near Hebron, which was given to Caleb (Josh. 14:14; 15:54,55), but he was far from inheriting his virtues. He was a disgrace to his family, and then it was no honor to him. The Septuagint says, A Good extraction is a reproach to him who degenerates from it. Some other ancient versions, read it as if it were just a name; He was a Calebite, (Kaleb means “dog” in Hebrew) but He was a dogged man, (not like nobel Caleb the spy) of a currish disposition, surly and snappish, and always snarling. He was a man that was a cynic. That name seems to fit the story.

He was very great, that is, very rich for riches make men look great in the eye of the world, otherwise, to one that takes his measures aright, he really looked very mean. Riches are common blessings, which God often gives to Nabals, but to whom he gives neither wisdom nor grace.

His wife, Abigail, was a woman of great understanding. Her name means, the joy of her father; yet he could not promise himself much joy of her if he knowingly married her to such a husband, enquiring more after his wealth than after his wisdom. Many a child is thrown away upon a great heap of the dirt of worldly wealth, and becomes married to only that, and to nothing else that is desirable. Wisdom is good with an inheritance, but an inheritance is good for little without wisdom. Many an Abigail is tied to a Nabal; and if that is the case, let her understanding, like Abigail’s, be ever so great! She too may bring peace to a dangerous situation as Abigail did.

Nabal had no sense either of honor or honesty; not of honor, for he was churlish, cross, and ill-humored; not of honesty, for he was evil in his doings, hard and oppressive, and a man that did not care what fraud and violence he used in getting and saving, so he could but get and save more. This is the character given of Nabal by Him who knows what every man is.

3. David’s Proposition (4-9)

David had been kind and now gave Nabal an opportunity to reciprocate. Good people optimistically think the best of others and expect them to also be as good they are; bad people also tend to expect others to be of their own temperament.

David humbly requested him to send him some victuals for himself and his men. David, it seems, was in such distress that he would be glad to be in debt to him, and did in effect come a begging to his door. What little reason have we to value the wealth of this world when so great a rude and mean spirited as Nabal abounds and so great a saint as David suffers want! Once before we had David begging his bread, but then it was of Ahimelech the high priest, before whom one would be happy to stoop. But to send his men a begging to the rascal Nabal was something, that someone with such a fine spirit as David had, would not be eager to do if he had know Nabal’s character. How do we reconcile this story with Psalm 37:25” “I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread?” The story is not over; Abigail will come.

David chose a good and festive time to send to Nabal, when he had many hands employed about him in shearing his sheep, for whom he was to make a plentiful entertainment, so that good cheer was stirring. Had he sent at another time, Nabal would have pretended he had nothing to spare, but now he could not have that excuse. It was usual to make feasts at their sheep-shearings, as appears by Absalom’s feast on that occasion (II Sam. 13:24), for wool was one of the staple commodities of Canaan.

David ordered his men to deliver their message to him with a great deal of courtesy and respect: “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name.” Tell him I sent you to present my service to him, and to enquire how he does and his family,” (5) His good wishes were very commendable. “Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! Tell him I am a hearty well-wisher to his health and prosperity. He tells them to call him his son David (8), intimating that, for his age and estate, David honored him as a father, and therefore hoped to receive some fatherly kindness from him.

David made a heart-felt request based on the kindness which Nabal’s shepherds had received from David and his men; and one good turn requires another. He appeals to Nabal’s own servants, and showed that when David’s soldiers were quartered among Nabal’s shepherds, they did not hurt them themselves, did them no injury, gave them no disturbance, were not a terror to them, nor took any of the lambs out of the flock. “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.” Considering the character of David’s men, men in distress, and debt, and discontented, and the scarcity of provisions in his camp, it was not without a great deal of care and good management that they were kept from plundering. They also protected them from being hurt by others. David himself does but intimate this, for he would not boast of his good offices: “nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you.” But Nabal’s servants, to whom he appealed, went further “ Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them.” David’s soldiers were a guard to Nabal’s shepherds when the bands of the Philistines robbed the threshing-floors as recorded in chapter 23 and would have robbed the sheep-folds,” Nabal’s flocks were protected by David’s care. Those that have shown kindness may justly expect to receive kindness.

He was very modest in his request. Though David was anointed king, he insisted not upon royal dainties, but, “Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.” Beggars must not be choosers. “we come at a festive time,” a festival, when not only the provision is more plentiful, but the heart and hand are usually more open and free than at other times, when much may be spared and yet not be missed. David demanded not what he wanted as a debt, or tribute as he was a king, or by way of contribution as he was a general, but asked it as a gesture to a friend, that was his humble servant. David’s servants delivered their message faithfully and very handsomely, not doubting but to go back well laden with provisions.

4. Nabal’s Ungrateful Response (10-11)

Nabal did not bother to ask his servants how David had treated them, he responded according to his own character.

One could not have imagined it possible that any man should be so very rude and ill-conditioned as Nabal was as was shown by Nabal’s churlish answer to this modest petition. David called himself his son, and asked bread and a fish, but, instead of that, Nabal gave him a stone and a scorpion; not only denied him, but abused him. If he had not thought fit to send him any supplies for fear of Ahimelech’s fate, who paid dearly for his kindness to David; yet he might have given a civil answer, and made the denial as modest as the request was. But, instead of that, gets emotional, as covetous men are apt to do when they are asked for anything, thinking to cover one sin with another, by abusing the poor to excuse themselves from relieving them. But God will not be mocked. He spoke scornfully of David as an insignificant man, not worth taking notice of. The Philistines could say of him, This is David the king of the land, that slew his ten thousands, yet Nabal his near neighbor, and one of the same tribe, seems not to know him, or not to know him to be a man of any merit or distinction: Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? He could not be ignorant how much the country was obliged to David for his public services, but his narrow soul did not think of paying any part of that debt, nor so much as acknowledging it; he spoke of David as an inconsiderable, obscure, and not to be regarded. Don’t think it is strange if great men and great merits be disgraced like this.

He criticized him with his present distress, and misused the occasion to represent him as a bad man, that was fitter to be set in the stocks for a vagrant than to have any kindness shown him. How naturally does he speak the selfish language of those that hate to give! There are many servants now-a-days (as if there had been none such in former days) that break every man from his master, suggesting that David was one of them himself. “He should have kept his place with his master.” It would make one’s blood rise to hear so great and good a man as David vilified and reproached like this by such a base rascal as Nabal. But the vile person will speak villany, Isaiah 32: 5-7 says a better day will come: “No longer will the fool be called noble nor the scoundrel be highly respected. For fools speak folly, their hearts are bent on evil: They practice ungodliness and spread error concerning the Lord; the hungry they leave empty and from the thirsty they withhold water. Scoundrels use wicked methods, they make up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just.”

If men bring themselves into difficulties by their own foolishness, yet they are to be pitied and helped, and not trampled upon and starved. But David was reduced to this distress, not by any fault, nor indiscretion of his own, but purely by the good services he had done to his country and the honors which his God had given him; and yet he was represented as a fugitive and vagabond. Let this help us bear such reproaches and misrepresentations of our own with patience and cheerfulness, and make us more at ease under them. We know that it has often been the experience of honorable men and women before us. Some of the best men that ever lived on this earth were counted as the off-scouring of all things, see 1 Cor. 4:13.

Nabal placed great value on the property and provisions on his table, and will by no means allow anybody to share in them. “It is my bread and my flesh, yes, and my water too—though water is every one’s property, and it is prepared for my shearers,” priding himself that it was all his own; and who denied it? Who offered to dispute his title? But this, he thinks, will justify him in keeping it all to himself, and giving David none; for may he not do what he wants with his own? We are mistaken if we think we are absolute lords over what we have and may do what we please with it. No, we are but stewards, and must use it as we are directed, remembering it is not our own, but His that entrusted us with it. Riches are another’s, and we ought not to talk too much of their being our own.

5. David’s Response to Nabal’s Response (12-13)

In a symbiotic (inter-dependant) relationship we tend to react and respond with treatment similar to what we receive. This is especially important for married partners to understand. If you want others to treat you well, treat others well. In this case David was reacting to Nabel’s treatment of him.

Here is a report made to David of the abuse Nabal had given to his messengers: They turned their way. They showed their displeasure, as was proper for them to do, by abruptly breaking off from such a rude and boorish person, and prudently governed themselves well so as to not render railing for railing, not to call him as he deserved, much less to take by force what ought of right to have been given them, but came and told David that he might do as he thought fit. Christ’s servants, when they are abused like this, must leave it to Jesus to plead his own cause and wait till He appears in it. The faithful servant will show his lord what affronts and abuses he had received, but will not return them, see Luke 4 :21.

David quickly put his sword on, and ordered 400 of the 600 men to do so too. We are told, he repented of the kindness he had done to Nabal, and looked upon it as wasted. He said, surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow has in the wilderness. I thought to help him and make him my friend, but I see it is to no good purpose. He has no sense of gratitude, nor is he capable of receiving a good turn, else he could not have responded like this. He has paid me back evil for good. But contrary to that, when we are paid back, like that we should not repent of the good we have done, nor be hesitant to do good another time. God is kind to the evil and unthankful, and why may not we?

He determined to destroy Nabal and all that belonged to him and in this instance David was not like David. David did not act like himself. His resolution was bloody, to cut off all the males of Nabal’s house, and spare none, man nor man-child. The justification of his resolution was passionate: “May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” Is this your voice, David? Can the man after God’s own heart speak so unwisely and in such a rash manner with his lips? Has he been so long in the school of affliction, where he should have learned patience, and still be so passionate? Is this he who used to be dumb and deaf when he was rebuked, (Ps.38:13), who but the other day spared Saul who sought his life, and yet now will not spare anything that belongs to the rude man who has only put an affront upon his messengers? He who at other times used to be calm and considerate is now put into such a heat by a few hard words that nothing will atone for them but the blood of a whole family. Lord, what is man! What are the best of men, when God leaves them to themselves, to try them, that they may know what is in their hearts? David expected injuries from Saul, and against those he was prepared and stood upon his guard, and so kept his temper; but from Nabal he expected kindness, and therefore the spirit of retaliation that rose up in his heart was a surprise to him and caught him off guard. This kind of sudden and unexpected attack can happen to any of us any time and it will put us in a terrible mood. Little wonder that Jesus taught us to pray, Lord, lead us not into temptation!

6. Nabal’s Servant’s Message to Abigail (14-17)

One of Nabal’s servants quickly understood the situation and told Abigail.

The story of this matter is given to Abigail by one of the servants, who was more considerate than the rest. Had this servant spoken to Nabal, and shown him the danger he had exposed himself to by his own rudeness, he would have said, “Servants are now-a-days so saucy, and so prone to tell their bosses what to do, that there is no enduring them,” and, it may be, would have turned him out of doors.

But Abigail, being a woman of good understanding, understood the matter, even from her servant, who, did David justice in commending him and his men for their civility to Nabal’s shepherds, “The men were very good to us, and, though they were themselves exposed, yet they protected us and were a wall for us.” Those who do that which is good shall, one way or other, have the praise of the same. Nabal’s own servant will be a witness for David that he is a man of honor and conscience, whatever Nabal himself says of him he did Nabal no wrong in condemning him for his rudeness to David’s messengers: he hurled insults at them, he flew upon them (so the word is) with an intolerable rage; “for,” say they, “it is his usual practice.” He is such a son of Belial, so very sullen, ill-tempered and intractable, that a man cannot speak to him but he flies into a passion immediately.” Abigail knew it too well herself. I shudder to think I could be like Nabal but for the grace of God and the Holy Spirit in my life.

He did Abigail and the whole family a kindness in making her aware what was likely to be the consequence. He knew David so well that he had reason to think he would highly resent the affront, and perhaps had had information of David’s orders to his men to march that way; for he is very positive evil is determined against his master, and all his household, himself among the rest, would be involved in it. Therefore he wanted his mistress to consider what was to be done for their common safety. They could not resist the force David would bring down upon them, nor had they time to send to Saul to protect them; something therefore must be done quickly to pacify David.

7. Abigail’s Quick and Wise Action (18-19)

Abigail was wise to be quick in her intervention. Abigail’s prudent management for the preserving of her husband and family from the destruction that was about to come on them was amicable and fully reflected her virtuous character. The passion of fools often makes big problems in a little time which the wise, with all their wisdom, must make a great effort to correct. Because she was so wise and he was so dull, it is easy to say that Abigail was more miserable in such a husband than that Nabal had enough sense to be happy in such a wife. Wisdom in such a case as this was better than weapons of war. It was her wisdom that what she did she did quickly, and without delay. It was no time to trifle or linger when all was in danger. Those that desire conditions of peace must send word when the enemy is yet a great way off, even according to Jesus in Luke 14:32: “If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.” It was her wisdom that what she did she did herself, because, being a woman of great prudence, power of expression and competence, she knew that she knew better how to manage it better than any servant she had. The virtuous woman will herself look well to the ways of her household. I train leaders and usually I say we need to learn to delegate, but some things are best done ourselves without delegating them to others.

Abigail must attempt to atone for Nabal’s faults. Now he had been in two ways rude to David’s messengers, and in them to David: He had denied them the provisions they asked for, and he had given them very provoking language. But now, by a most generous present, Abigail atoned for his denial of their request. If Nabal had given them what came next to hand, they would have gone away thankful; but Abigail prepared the very best the house afforded and abundance of it according to the usual provisions of those times, not only bread and flesh, but raisins and figs, which were their dried sweet-meats. Nabal grudged them water, but she took two bottles (large containers made of skin) of wine, loaded her animals with these provisions, and sent them before; for “a gift given in secret pacifies anger.” (Pr. 21:14). Jacob pacified Esau this way. Abigail not only lawfully, but laudably, did not tell her husband. She was protecting him. Husbands and wife under normal circumstances should submit to each other and work together. But this was no normal circumstance.

8. David’s Understandable Disappointment (20-22)

Love expects the best (I Cor. 13). But when this disappointment came, we can understand David’s reaction—even though the reaction was not a good one. Abigail kept David from making a great mistake. No, your service was not wasted, David. If you did it as unto the Lord, whatever you did, it was not wasted; it will be rewarded. David spoke rashly when he said he would kill them all. But God had an intelligent and beautiful woman on her way to meet him who would stop David from doing such a foolish thing. How gracious of God.

Can you think of a time when someone did or said a gracious thing that stopped you from making a big mistake? Thank God for that. Or perhaps you will have an opportunity to play the part that Abigail was to play in this drama. If so, may God give you wisdom to react quickly and wisely.