I Samuel 25:23-44
23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say.25 Please 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. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. 26 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. 27 And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you. 28 “Please forgive your servant’s presumption. 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. 29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord 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. 30 When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel,31 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.” 32 David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” 35 Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, “Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.” 36 When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak. 37 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died. 39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrong doing down on his own head.” Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. 40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.” 41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” 42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife. 43 David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. 44 But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim.
1. Abigail’s Gracious and Wise Appeal to David 22-31
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.
Abigail’s soft answer turned away David’s anger. By a most gracious demeanor, and charming speech, she atoned for the abusive language Nabal had given. She met a resentful David marching to get revenge and contemplating the destruction of Nabal, but with all possible expressions of compliance, deference and respect she humbly begged his favor, and asked him to forgive the offense. She was submissive; bowed with face to the ground. Yielding pacifies great offenses. She put herself into the place and posture of a penitent and of a petitioner, and was not ashamed to do it when it was for the good of her house, in the sight of her own servants and of David’s soldiers. She humbly begged of David that he will give her the hearing: “let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say,” but this was probably unnecessary because what she said was sufficient to command it. No topic of argument is left untouched; everything is well placed and well expressed, sincerely spoken, and improved to the best advantage, with such a force of natural rhetoric as cannot easily be paralleled.
She spoke to him all along with the deference and respect due to so great and good a man, called him My lord, over and over, to erase her husband’s crime in saying, “Who is David?” She did not criticize him for being hasty to come on the attack, though he deserved to be reproved for it; nor does she tell him how ill it became his character; but attempted to soften him into a better mood perhaps hoping that then his own conscience would finish her task.
She took the blame of the ill-treatment of his messengers upon herself: As though to say “Upon me, my lord, upon me, let this iniquity be.” If you will be angry, be angry with me, rather than with my poor husband, and look upon it as my trespass, not his,” Hateful persons do not care how much others suffer for their faults, yet generous spirits are willing to suffer for the faults of others. Abigail here revealed the sincerity and strength of her affection and duty to her husband and concern for her family; whatever Nabal was, he was her husband.
She excused her husband’s fault by blaming it on his natural weakness and lack of understanding: “Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal,” as though to say 'pay no regard to his rudeness and ill manners, for it is like him; it is not the first time that he has behaved so poorly; everyone has to be patient with him, for it is for want of wit: Nabal is his name his name means folly and folly goes with him. It was due to his folly, not his malice. He is simple, but not spiteful. Forgive him, for he does not know what he is doing.' What she said was too true, and she said it to excuse his fault and prevent his ruin, otherwise she would not have done well to speak so clearly about his foolishness. She tried to give him honor and not criticize him; to make the best of it and not speak ill of him.
She pled her own ignorance of the matter: “I did not see the men my lord sent” hinting that they should have had a better answer had she been there. Her husband was foolish, and unfit to manage his affairs himself, yet she hints that he had enough sense to sometimes take her advice.
She takes it for granted that she has gained her point already, perhaps observing by David’s expression, that he began to change his mind: “since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands.” She did not depend upon her own reasonings, but God’s grace, to calm David down, and did not doubt that God’s grace would work powerfully in him. And then said, “may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal.” In other words, "may the Lord avenge you not only to Nabel, but to all those who oppose you.” That is to say that if you will not avenge yourself, no doubt God will avenge you on him, as he will on all your other enemies. It is beneath the faith and dignity of believers to take vengeance. Nabal is weak, he can do you no hurt nor kindness. Perhaps she referred to David recently sparing Saul, when, but the other day, he had him at his mercy. “Did you hesitate to avenge yourself on that lion that would devour you, and then now you want to turn and shed the blood of this dog that can only bark at you?” She showed such a tender and gracious spirit that her argument affected David; changed David or rather helped David change his mind.
She made only a passing reference to the present she had brought, but spoke of it as unworthy of David’s acceptance, and therefore desired it may be given to the men who follow you, and probably particularly to those ten that were his messengers to Nabal, and whom he had treated so rudely.
She applauded David for the good services he had done against the common enemies of his country, the glory of which great achievements, she hoped, he would not stain by any personal revenge: “because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live.” That is unless you kill Nabal and his household. Leave it to God to fight your battles. You have not done wrong to any of your countrymen, even though you are persecuted as a traitor, and therefore do not begin now, nor do a thing which Saul will use to justify his hunting you down.
She foretold the glorious result of his present troubles in verse 29 which deserves a three-part explanation. The verse says, “Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord 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.” 1) Yes, someone is pursuing you, but even so you don’t need to interpret these matters with so sharp and jealous an eye toward everyone that affronts you, for all these storms that ruffle you now will blow over, 2) “the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God.” This is a Jewish expression suggesting the value of our lives to God: “He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping (Ps 66:9) and The bundle of life is with the Lord our God, for our breath and times are in his hand.” 3) That God would make him victorious over his enemies. Their souls he shall sling out, the stone is bound up in the sling, but it is in order to be thrown out again; so the souls of the godly shall be safely bundled as corn for the barn, but the souls of the wicked as mere tares for the fire. She believed that God would give him wealth and power: “The Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, and no enemy you have can hinder it; therefore forgive this trespass,” that is, “show mercy, as you hope to find mercy. God will make you great, and it is the glory of great men to overlook offenses.”
She desired him to consider how much more comfortable it would later be for him to remember that he had forgiven this affront than to have revenged it. She reserved this argument for the last, as a very powerful one with so good a man. She cannot but think that if he should avenge himself it would afterwards be a grief to him, many have done something in a heat which they have a thousand times wished they had not done. The sweetness of rapid and thoughtless revenge is soon turned into deep and lasting bitterness. She was confident that if he forgives the offense it will afterwards be no grief to him; but, on the contrary, it would yield him unspeakable satisfaction that his wisdom and grace had got the better of his passion. When we are tempted to sin we should consider how it will appear later as we reflect on the deed. Let us never do anything for which our own consciences will afterwards condemn us, and which we shall look back upon with regret: My heart shall not reproach me.
She recommended herself to his favor: “And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.” Remember this woman who tried to keep you from doing that which would have disgraced your honor, troubled your conscience, and made a blot on your history. We have good reason to remember with respect and gratitude those who have been helpful to keep us from sin.
2. David Easily Changed His Mind. 32-35
David immediately saw the wisdom of Abigail’s counsel and forgave her. “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of find gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear” (Pr 25:12). Abigail was a wise reprover of David’s passion, and he gave an obedient ear to the reproof, according to his own principle. He, himself wrote, “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head” (Ps. 141:5). Never was this admonition better given or taken.
David gave God thanks for sending him this happy check to a sinful way. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me.” God is to be acknowledged in all the kindnesses that our friends do for us either for soul or body. We must see God as sending whoever meets us with counsel, direction, comfort, caution, or even timely reproofs. We ought to be very thankful for those happy interruptions that are God’s gracious means of preventing our sin.
He gave Abigail thanks for her timely interference of his wrong intention that he was about to carry out. “May you be blessed for your good judgment.” (25:33) Most people think it enough if they take a reproof patiently; we meet few that will take it thankfully and will commend those that give it to them. Abigail was not any happier that she had saved her husband and household than David was that she had saved him and his men from sin.
He seems very aware of the great danger he had been in, which served to increase the mercy of his deliverance. He was coming to shed blood, a sin for which when in his right mind he had a great horror, as he prayed, Deliver me from blood-guiltiness. He was coming to avenge himself with his own hand, and that would be stepping into the throne of God, who has said, Vengeance is mine; I will repay. The more evil any sin is, the greater mercy it is to be kept from it. The nearer we are to the commission of a sin the greater is the mercy of a timely restraint: “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold” (Ps 73:2).
He dismissed her with an answer of peace: “Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.” (25:35). Wise and good men will hear reason, and let that rule them, though it come from even those that are their inferiors, and though their passions are up and their spirits provoked. Oaths should not bind us to that which is sinful. David had solemnly vowed the death of Nabal. He did evil to make such a vow, but he would have done worse if he had performed it. Note also: “Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue” (Pr.28:23).
3. Nabal Suffered Judgment from God. 36-38
God judged Nabal—David did not need to. The apostle Jude speaks of some that were “twice dead,” (Jude 1;12). We observe here that Nabal was thrice dead, though wonderfully rescued from the sword of David and delivered from so great a death, the life of wicked Nabal is preserved only for a worse death—a stroke of divine wrath. He is dead drunk in his house. Abigail came home, and perhaps he had so many people and so much plenty about him that he missed neither her nor the provisions she took to David. At any rate she found him in the midst of his foolish party, little thinking how near he was to another whom he had foolishly made his enemy. How extravagant he was in the entertainment of his company: He held a feast like the feast of a king, so magnificent and abundant, though his guests were but his sheep-shearers. He forgot that God gives abundance and wealth so we may do good; not to look good. He would not contribute to the well-being of David and his band of men, but he would throw a party fit for a king. He will boast of his gold, but he will not make good use of it. His fleshly pleasure was more important to him than having peace with God. He was very drunk: She would not cast her pearls before swine, but rather wait until the next day when he was sober.
Nabal was dead again with melancholy the next morning when he heard the news it broke his heart—literally; “his heart failed him and he became like a stone.” We do not know if it was because he was embarrassed that Abigail saved his life and ashamed of himself for having exposed his great selfishness or that he begrudged the meat, wine and raisins that she had give to David. In either case, Abigail could never, by her wise reasonings, bring Nabal to repentance; but now, by her faithful reproof, she brought him to despair—he apparently had a stroke that eventually killed him.
Ten days later Nabal is, at last, dead indeed: “About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.” Those who live without grace may justly die without comfort, nor can we expect better while we go on in our sins. Nobody lamented Nabal’s death. When David heard of it, he Blessed God. When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the Lord.” There were several reasons for David to say this. That God had kept him from killing him. He rejoiced that Nabal died a natural death and not by his hand. We should take all occasions to mention and magnify God’s goodness to us in keeping us from sin. David was thankful that God had taken the work into His hands, and had vindicated David’s honor, and not allowed Nabal to go unpunished who had been abusive to him. All would know that he was one for whom God fought. That God had thereby encouraged him and all others to commit their cause to God, when injured, with an assurance that, in His own time, He will avenge their wrongs if they sit still and leave the matter to him.
4. David’s Response—A Marriage Proposal 39-40
David celebrated his escape from having sought revenge, and proposed marriage to an intelligent and beautiful woman. David was apparently so charmed by her beauty and the prudence of her conduct, that, as soon as was convenient after he heard she was a widow, he informed her of his desire for her to be his wife, not doubting that she who was such a good wife to so bad a husband would also make a good wife to him. Also, surely he had taken notice of her respect for him and her confidence that he would become king. And she had asked him to remember her. She received the proposal with modesty and humility possibly considering herself unworthy of the honor, yet having such a respect for him that she would gladly be one of the poorest servants of his family and even to wash the feet of the other servants. None are so fit to be preferred as those that can humble themselves. She agreed to the proposal, went with his messenger and became his wife.
She did not criticize him with his present difficulties or ask him how he could maintain her, but rather valued him. She knew he was a good man and believed he would, in due time, be a very great man. She married him in faith, though now he had not a house of his own, yet God’s promise to him would be fulfilled. Even today those who join themselves to Christ must be willing now to suffer with him, believing that later they shall reign with him.
5. Three Marriages: David and Abigail, David and Ahinoam, Michal, (David’s wife given to Patiel).
Upon reflection we can learn several significant lessons from these marriages.
On this occasion we have an early account of David’s wives. There were more to come; David was still young in this story. One that he had lost before he married Abigail, Michal, Saul’s daughter, his first, and the wife of his youth, to whom he would have been constant if she had been so to him, but Saul had given her to another (44). Perhaps Saul wanted to disown David as a son-in-law and this was a way to insult him publicly. Perhaps Saul’s removing David’s only rightful wife cheapened marriage so that when David could not keep his first wife he thought that would excuse him if he did not keep his second. Saul’s error was certainly a very poor basis for doing the same thing.
David also married Ahinoam (43) quite possibly before Abigail, since she is named first in I Sam 27:3 David may have been influenced by the corrupt custom of those times; but from the beginning it was not so. “Haven't you read, he replied, that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, For this reason man all leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two-but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mt. 19:4-6)
Regarding Abigail, in David’s proposal and in Abigail’s acceptance, nothing is said about any love he had for her or of her’s to him. Isaac was comforted in his enjoyment of life with Rebekah and the Bible tells of it. Jacob and Rachael’s mutual love was also recorded in Scripture. Why not David and Abigail’s love, if there had been any. They had one recorded son together. I Chron 3:1 “[ The Sons of David ] These were the sons of David born to him in Hebron: The firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; the second, Daniel the son of Abigail of Carmel.” And David married yet other wives. Is it possible they only had a mutually respectful relationship, but no passion or deeply felt love? The Bible does not say, but certainly we today can glean from the many teachings of the Bible that marriage can be much more than just a contract for co-habitation. (See Song of Solomon and Proverbs 31)
Of the many lessons in this part of David’s story, I think the lesson about David not taking revenge against Nabal because David was willing to accept the wise advice of Abigail is the most valuable to the Christian leader today. Thank God for the people around you who care enough about you, your work for the Lord and your success as a servant of God that they are willing to confront you and give you the advice you need to hear. Many will tell us what they think we want to hear, but the words of those who truly love and respect us enough to tell us, warn us and caution us against a mistake we might be about to make—those words are fitly spoken; they are like apples of gold on a picture of silver.