Abigail – The Scandalous Wife?

This study of David, Nabal, and Abigail has been truly enlightening for me.  Having studied it a few times before, I thought I had a decent grasp on the story, but it’s been particularly interesting looking into the hearts of David and Nabal, where they were at emotionally and spiritually in the way they spoke to each other, and the ramifications of giving in to folly that this lesson teaches us.

And now we will look at the second part of the story, the part where Abigail steps in, and in her wisdom and insight, giving the longest speech by a woman ever recorded in the Bible, is able to help both of these men from the fates of foolishness. 1 Samuel 25:12

***

Davids men retraced their steps.  When they returned to him, they reported all these words.  He said to his men, “All of you, put on your swords!”

So David and all his men put on their swords.  About 400 men followed David while 200 stayed with the supplies.

One of Nabal’s young men informed Abigail, Nabal’s wife:

“Look, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, but he yelled at them.  The men treated us well. When we were in the field, we weren’t harassed and nothing of ours was missing the whole time we were living among them.  They were a wall around us, both day and night, the entire time we were herding the sheep.

Now consider carefully what you must do, because there is certain to be trouble for our master and his entire family.  He is such a worthless fool nobody can talk to him!”

Abigail hurried, taking 200 loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five butchered sheep, a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys.  Then she said to her male servants,

“Go ahead of me. I will be right behind you.”  But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

As she rode the donkey down a mountain pass hidden from view, she saw David and his men coming toward her and met them.  David had just said,

I guarded everything that belonged to this man in the wilderness for nothing.  He was not missing anything, yet he paid me back evil for good.  May God punish me, and even more if I let any of his men survive until morning.”

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off the donkey and fell with her face to the ground in front of David.  She fell at his feet and said,

The guilt is mine, my lord, but please let your servant speak to you directly.  Listen to the words of your servant.  My lord should pay no attention to this worthless man Nabal, for he lives up to his name.  His name is Nabal, and stupidity is all he knows.  I, your servant, didn’t see my lord’s young men whom you sent.  Now my lord, as surely as the Lord lives, it is the Lord who kept you from participating in bloodshed and avenging yourself by your own hand.  May your enemies and those who want trouble for my lord be like Nabal.  Accept this gift your servant has brought to my lord, and let it be given to the young men who follow my lord.  Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the Lord is certain to make a lasting dynasty for my lord because he fights the Lord’s battles.  Throughout your life, may evil not be found in you.

When someone pursues you and attempts to take your life, my lord’s life will be tucked safely in the place where the Lord your God protects the living. However, He will fling away your enemies’ lives like stones from a sling.  When the Lord does for my lord all the good He promised and appoints you ruler over Israel, there will not be remorse or a troubled conscience for my lord because of needless bloodshed or my lord’s revenge.  And when the Lord does good things for my lord, may you remember me your servant.”

 

I don’t know about you, but when I read Abigail’s reply, I’m shocked and in awe of the enormous amount of humility and grace this woman shows when the natural response would be quite the opposite.  One might expect her to have gone to her husband in a mix of anger and panic, and rant and rave about his actions causing them all certain death.

But Abigail calmly and quietly prepares a great offering of foods as a generous gift to David and his men.  Although the situation is a dire crisis, she keeps her head and her cool, and boldly goes to meet David herself, confident in her intentions and his own goodness.

Abigail comes to David in humility and covers over her husband’s offense, even taking account for it – saying the guilt is hers!  Although I’ve seen her story used deceptively as a way to teach women that they can disrespect and dishonor their husbands if they believe they are acting foolishly, Abigail clearly honors and protects Nabal by covering his sin.

She also calms David’s anger by acknowledging his grievance against Nabal’s mistreatment of him – she acknowledges the fact that her husband is a fool, that his name even means “fool.”  This is not the same offense that is spoken of in Matthew 5:22

“But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice against him shall be guilty before the court; and whoever speaks [contemptuously and insultingly] to his brother, Raca (You empty-headed idiot)!’ shall be guilty before the supreme court (Sanhedrin); and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fiery hell.”

-Jesus

***

When Abigail refers to Nabal as being foolish (or acting in stupidity), it is not the same as her going to Nabal, and actually telling him “You were a FOOL to treat David that way!”  That particular response WOULD be disrespecting her husband and dishonoring him – speaking to him in a way that God would not be ok with.  Abigail explaining to David, in order to help him avoid reacting in equal folly as her own husband, that Nabal is “just a fool, not worthy of even paying attention to,” is morally right and beneficial in the situation, even honoring her husband in the way that she is preventing innocent blood to be on his hands because of his foolishness.  Matthew 5:22, however, is different from what Abigail did, calling someone something that condemning – telling it to them in a mean-spirited way, is akin to cursing them, something which was taken much more seriously in biblical culture, and something God clearly hates.  In Hebrew culture, if you cursed someone, and it was clear they didn’t deserve your curse, the words and meanings you spoke over their head would fall back onto yours.  Cursing another person was a serious, big deal, which is why Jesus Himself declared that if you called a person a fool, you’d be in danger of going to hell, and it should be noted that Abigail did not directly curse her husband in this way.  She instead used the fact of how he was conducting himself in order to prevent rash and unnecessary violence, and to prevent a good, righteous man from committing great sin.

***

Oh to Have an Abigail When We Need One…

I can’t describe how much I would have longed to know and talk to Abigail, and I can’t wait until we get to Heaven so that I can meet her and get to know her soul.  How many times have you wished you had an Abigail to prevent you from reacting in anger or harshness in response to something that ultimately didn’t matter?  I know I’ve had many times where I could have used an Abigail, a person to remind me of God’s plan for my life – of my goodness and desire to be righteous, of my need to act how God would want me to, especially in times of anger.  This is one of the main reasons I believe we as Christians need godly mentors, and as wives, to trust and go to our husbands for their counsel and wisdom.

If you are married to a man (or wife) like Nabal, my heart breaks for you!  I cannot even imagine the pain and sadness you would endure over the years in being linked to a person with that degree of foolishness that they actually endanger your family through sabotaging their career, or endangering their life through their careless words and wickedness.  I’m blessed and humbled to have a wise and incredible man, he has been a wonderful help to me in shielding me from the words of people like Nabal, but he’s also counseled me in how to acknowledge a person’s foolishness so that I know what I’m dealing with, and be confident in disregarding whatever they say, knowing that this pleases God.

Abigail teaches us how to respond in grace and humility to the provocations of a foolish or wicked person.

Notice how she came to David to help him calm down in his anger:

  • First, her non-verbal display of showing him submission and honor, falling down before him – easing the hurt pride her husband’s careless words had caused David.  Our non-verbal responses are so important because if they don’t add up with what we are saying, they betray our message.  Her genuine care for David is shown more through non-verbal actions than even her words.  Her husband mocked who he was, degraded his reputation, and belittled his future anointing as King, but Abigail, in even just her non-verbal actions, undoes all those messages, and reaffirms her belief that David in good, honorable, and righteous.
  • She humbles herself, and takes the guilt of her husband onto herself.  A natural response for a wife in this situation would be to say that it’s her husband’s fault, and that she was innocent, but Abigail does the opposite!  She doesn’t blame her husband, but actually asks David to forgive her for his offense.  This honors her husband and also diffuses David’s anger, telling him to direct it at her instead.  It reminded me of an old story of a child, in their ignorance, doing something disrespectful in front of a king, and deserving death for the ignorant act.  The father runs up to the king, and covers his child both physically and emotionally, telling the king to put the blame on him, to punish him instead.  The father covers for the sin of the child, indeed, taking the sin upon himself because of his great love and devotion – because he didn’t want to see his child perish.  The king, affected by the display of love and affection by the father for his foolish child, pardons both and enjoys giving them forgiveness.
  • She tells him not to pay any attention to Nabal.  This is a very fundamental truth in understanding how to deal with a Proverbial Fool.  It’s not wise to take their words to heart, because they are only meant to insult or provoke, are meaningless, and provide no actual wisdom or insight.  The Fool is not seeking understanding, thus giving them the benefit of the doubt, trying to reason with them or even rebuking them only invites harm on oneself.  Even Biblically, you don’t respond unless it’s absolutely necessary.  You don’t pay them any attention, because they are not worth your time. You don’t give them any words of wisdom because they will only trample on them like pigs would on precious pearls.  When David found himself ruminating over Nabal’s wicked words mocking and insulting him, Abigail brought to light that Nabal’s words mattered very little in the course of David’s life and future.  He would likely never see Nabal again, Nabal’s acceptance or rejection of David didn’t matter.  In other words, when dealing with a Proverbial Fool, you don’t worry about whether or not they like you – you only care about what God thinks of you and if what you are doing glorifies and honors Him.
  • She reminds him that God wants more for him and from him.  Her reply is akin to her telling him in our modern language, “You’re better than that.”  She reminds him not to avenge Himself, but to leave room for God to, something that is repeated in Romans 12 in response to how we should treat our enemies – by not repaying evil for evil, but by “overcoming evil with good.”
  •  She offers him and his men a generous, tangible gift to nourish their hunger, something to remind them of God’s goodness and generosity.  There is just something very powerful about giving a good or well-timed gift, especially in a tense situation that can calm strife or anger, and bring people together.  But it’s worth noting that she doesn’t just come empty-handed, pleading for their lives, but comes bearing baskets of food overflowing from their celebration to comfort and still them – it could definitely be called a “peace offering.”
  • She verbally speaks blessings of affirmation over David, “for the Lord is certain to make a lasting dynasty for my lord because he fights the Lord’s battles.  Throughout your life, may evil not be found in you.”  She speaks confidently of God fulfilling His known promises to David, and assures him of the joy set before him.  This is just such a beautiful gift to a person in David’s situation – someone insulted, mocked, and ridiculed, denied what they arguably should have because of how they’ve acted in integrity.  He was condemned when he had done nothing wrong, was repaid evil for his goodness, something only a wicked person would do, but Abigail takes his mind off of his anger and pain, and assures him that he is doing right, that God is going to bless him immensely, and that his work and success (something that Nabal completely disregarded as worthless) was godly and would be rewarded.
  • She shows compassion and care for David’s personal and spiritual well-being – outright telling him that she doesn’t want him to have the weight of a guilty conscience because he acted rashly – or have the blood of innocents on his hand for having avenged himself.
  • She assures him that God is the ultimate avenger, and that God will deal with David’s enemies, even with Nabal. God is a righteous and just God, and He knows and weighs the motivations in people’s hearts.

 

Abigail protected and honored Nabal even though he was wicked and enjoyed dealing with others in an evil manner.  I think it’s safe to say that Nabal was probably not a man of God, but since the Bible doesn’t say either way, it is possible that he actually was a man who believed he knew God.  Obviously, even if a person believes they are a Christian, if they are continually acting sinfully and in an evil manner towards others, they have a Satanic stronghold in their life, and are not allowing the Holy Spirit to convict them so that they treat others appropriately.

I encourage you to read the end of the story if you aren’t already familiar with it.  David is blessed by Abigail’s appeal, and thanks her and blesses her in return for her discernment.  She returns home to find Nabal feasting, drinking, and celebrating, completely unaware of the terror that could have happened to him.  She waits until he’s sober the next morning to tell him what David was planning to do, and what she did to avoid their deaths.  Nabal has something like a heart attack that leaves him in a coma for 10 days, before the Lord strikes him dead.

When David finds out about Nabal’s death, he says,

“Praise the Lord who championed my cause against Nabal’s insults and restrained His servant from doing evil.  The Lord brought Nabal’s evil deeds back on his own head.”

David then sent for Abigail to become his wife.  And she accepted in grace and humility.

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7 thoughts on “Abigail – The Scandalous Wife?

  1. DragonFly,

    I actually believe that this is an example of a wife not submitting to her husbands authority when he is engaging in sinful behavior that endangers her and her children.

    Peter said “We ought to obey God rather than men.” – Acts 5:29

    There are times when a woman’s husband’s behavior is so evil that it endangers the life of every one in her house and she must act.

    For instance a wife might turn state’s witness against her mobster husband in return for witness protection and guaranteed safety for her and her children.

    Nabal’s wickedness could have cost the lives of ever male living in her household and she knew that only Nabal should be held responsible for his wickedness.

    “31 That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the Lord shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.” – I Samuel 25:31 (KJV)

    Basically what Abigail did was convince David he should not shed innocent blood by killing all the men at Nabal’s house but instead he should leave his avenging to God. God took care of it and killed Nabal shortly thereafter.

    Abagail knew this was coming and her husband would soon be dead by the hand of the Lord and that is why she told David to remember her – and indeed he did and he took her as another wife.

    There are times when a wife must take a stand against her husband’s wickedness when it endangers her life and the life of her family. I believe this is a perfect example of this. Abagail obeyed God, rather than her evil husband and God blessed her for doing this.

    She also helped David not to sin by killing innocent men and he left the wicked Nabal to God’s justice.

  2. Thank you for your insight BGR, I agree that when a husband is asking a wife to sin or to do something evil, that she must first submit to God. I think Abigail did that beautifully, her response was so unnatural, so godly. A MAJOR part of submitting oneself to God is tempering how we respond to foolish or evil people, and Abigail clearly was above and beyond in this!

    What amazed me was Abigail’s behavior… I’ve seen this story used to further an egalitarian marriage model, where there is no leader for the marriage or where women compare their normal-sinner husbands to the wicked Nabal so that they don’t have to listen to him, and Abigail’s example of doing the opposite of what Nabal would have wanted what is used to support their opinion. So I guess that’s what I was trying to address… that just because one’s husband (or wife) is evil or foolish, it doesn’t mean that we have license to just behave however we see fit, we are still responsible for how we react to their folly or their evil.
    Thank you BGR!

  3. So nabal was a terrible husband and abby becomes davids wifey in the end – no offense but this sounds like a soap opera type drama

  4. You know BGR I was just thinking it may not be completely correct to compare the character of Nabal to a mobster. A person can be evil and still not break the law or commit a crime. Nabal’s offense was just insulting David, basically cursing him with slander and calling into question David’s character. Nabal didn’t commit an actual crime and we don’t know if he ever did before that time.

    It was the wicked way he allowed himself to treat or talk to people that was his demise, his insulting, mocking and ridicule was what the Bible states that God punished him for , avenging David.

  5. One of the things I love about the story of Abigail along with the story of Esther is that she was a leader, but she led WITH her femininity. Women are told now that if they want to be leaders and make a difference they have to become more like men. Abigail shows the power that real, whole, healthy femininity has to bring about good.

  6. I enjoyed reading this. And I think you might be more right than you realize. Personally, I try to interpret the Bible by focusing on the historical and cultural context of the passages. In this case, there is a lot that supports your interpretation.

    Not only was Abigal’s response graceful and humble, but it was likely done to also save Nabal’s backside.

    See, David’s actions were extremely generous. He protected Nabal’s shepherds at the risk of his own well-being. In a time when roving bandits and other unsavory characters were a huge problem, Nabal basically got free protection, a huge favor. In that culture, you were practically required to pay a favor with a favor, (you scratch my back, I scratch yours kinda thing). Nabal not only refuses to do what is considered right and proper, he twists the knife as well when he says he doesn’t know who David is or where he is from. See, Nabal very likely knew who David was and knew what David had done for his men (Nabal’s men would have very likely told him this). This was just an insult for the sake of insult. What may escape us is that Nabal’s insult of David was an attack on David’s honor/reputation. In a culture of honor and shame this was a huge deal. Culturally speaking, when your honor was attacked, you were justified (and sometimes required) in using violence to regain the lost honor. So from a cultural standpoint, David’s willingness to exact violence on Nabal for this was completely justified and Nabal here is being extremely dishonorable.

    When Abigal secretly meets with David and gives him supplies, she is basically trying to cover for Nabal, to help him save face for his dishonorable conduct (after all, a wife’s actions would reflect on her husband for good or ill). Whether she believed her statements about Nabal being a scoundrel and a fool is irrelevant. She was saying these things to appease David and turn him from the violent path. Abigal’s actions were extremely honorable and very likely saved her husband’s backside in spite of his own foolishness. Like you say, there is nothing but grace and humility in Abigal’s actions.

    Finally, some might chafe that she would marry David so soon after her husband’s death. But then again, remember this was a completely different world. In a world where every day was a struggle for survival, Nabal’s death would have had horrible consequences for Abigal as a woman. Let’s not forget that she was unlikely to be a virgin at this time, so her prospects of finding another husband to provide for her would be slim at best. David’s offer really was the best she was going to get. In short, Her actions are rational, honorable, graceful and humble. Long post, I know, I thought I’d give a few of my thoughts and it ballooned to something bigger.

  7. I’m glad you enjoyed reading this, it was a lot of fun for me to delve into this topic deeply!

    I think you are very right in how you’re interpreting it, too, that Nabal more than likely knew exactly what David had done for him, who David was, but insulted him in the most disgusting way possible. He was an arrogant, fraudulent man, with no conscience or the Holy Spirit to guide him as to how he should treat people.

    What I found so wonderful about the story is how Abigail responded, influenced David’s heart and mind, and how God Himself avenged David against Nabal’s insults.

    The fact that God cares that much about what people say to each other or about each other – hurting them with words or trying to destroy their reputation or dishonor them, is amazing to me. Our God is such a faithful, just God, and He holds people accountable for every word we say and how we respond when insulted. Psalm 109 – A Prayer Against an Enemy – is interesting for this as well, in bringing about justice to people who do us wrong.

    We read your post on Hagee’s false prophecies last night and my husband and I thought it was extremely interesting! We live in Hagee’s city, so we’re VERY much aware of his interesting preaching and false prophecies. We also know a lot of people who think he is wonderful and amazing and that still go to his church. :/ But we really enjoyed your intricate post taking apart the Tetrad presumptions, so thank you for writing that!

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