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Life of David

Bundles and Slings

1 Samuel 25

Every man needs a woman to remind him of just what a hot-tempered idiot he can be. Here's David's:

(1 Sam 25 NIV) 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 Maon. {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, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings. {4} While David was in the desert, 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 young 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, "Put on your swords!" So they put on their swords, and David put on his. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. {14} One of the servants told Nabal's wife Abigail: "David sent messengers from the desert 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 all the 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 lost no time. 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 desert 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!" {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: "My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. {25} May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name--his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent. {26} "Now since the LORD has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, may your enemies and all who intend to harm my master be like Nabal. {27} And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my master, be given to the men who follow you. {28} Please forgive your servant's offense, for the LORD will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the Lord's battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. {29} Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master 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 done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, {31} my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the LORD has brought my master 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 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 wrongdoing 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, "Here is your maidservant, ready to serve you and wash the feet of my master's servants." {42} Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five maids, 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.

Customs of the time

To understand this story correctly, we must know some of the customs of the time. Nabal's flocks graze between two wilderness areas - and David is in one of those areas. He has protected these flocks from local marauders - even to this day such activity is considered normal in some parts of the world. So, from a social point of view, Nabal is in some sense obligated to David. Such social obligations were usually requited at harvest or shearing time, when a great feast would be held. (Remember - no refrigeration. Slaughter the sheep, better be ready to stuff yourself.)

Nabal doesn't see it that way. Perhaps he's aware that Saul's headquarters are at Gibeah, only 30 miles away. Whatever the cause, his reply is, in the custom of the time and place, extremely insulting. It is an insult almost certain to provoke a man to action - and it does.

Nabal

The man's name means "fool" in Hebrew - with a particular connotation of being harsh and irascible. But no one is ever a total loss; he can always be a bad example.

  • Tevye (in Fiddler on the Roof) complained that if "riches are a curse, smite me!" But it's not always a good idea, for riches may indeed be a curse. Perhaps Nabal obtained his riches by being stingy. Thinking himself rewarded for his mean spirit, he decided to keep things that way. It is a sad way in which to live. A poor miser is one thing; a rich one much worse.
  • Some think that courtesy - as Nabal denies it here - is trivial. It is not so. Courtesy is often the accumulated wisdom of people who know how to deal with other people. Practice it; do not ignore it.
  • How secure we think ourselves when we have money - and especially when we are drunk as well! Does this not tell us much? If Nabal was really secure in his wealth, would he not have been so when sober?
  • God hands us a lesson here also. Nabal has a stroke, evidently, and lives another ten days. Why the ten days? Perhaps even fools must be given a chance to repent
Right way for the rich

The rich are frequently condemned in the Bible - but almost never for being wealthy. Rather, they are condemned for what they do with the wealth they have, and in that there are lessons for all of us.

  • The rich, more than most, are to practice hospitality. This makes sense, for often a church needs a place in which to host a visitor - or a mendicant. What better place than the home of a rich man? This indeed is fruitful service.
  • They are also to give liberally, thus putting up treasure in heaven. If the poor are the children of God, then the rich are lending to them so that God might repay.
  • The simplest and greatest advice to the rich: seek first the kingdom of heaven. All else is trivial.
Right reaction for the poor

We don't see it mentioned here, but the reaction of the poor is often to envy the material things of the rich. To them too the advice is the same: see first the kingdom of heaven.

David

One thing you have to like about David: if it's in his heart, it will be coming out of his mouth any minute. Unfortunately, this time it's the wrong reaction.

Wrong reaction

Let's understand this quickly. David's pride has been wounded. This is a case of male ego being offended. Nabal's words were designed to do just that - and they struck home.

But consider: did Nabal "owe" David anything? Only by the tests of social courtesy and custom, not by agreement or contract. While this imposes an obligation, rightfully, upon Nabal, it should not create an expectation in David. Sometimes we need to do an "expectations check."

Indeed, David's reaction is opposite to that of God - who causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust, who returns blessing for cursing. David is about to see that lesson in human form.

Anger

David's reaction is obviously one of anger. No doubt he justified it to himself by repeating, over and over, how good he and his men had been to Nabal and his people. But there is a sure test to tell wrath from righteous anger: is it self-serving? It's one thing to be angry over ill-treatment of someone else; it's entirely another to have the same anger over being ill treated.

Worse, it is needless. God has been teaching David to depend upon him, and here David, in a flurry of rage, forgets it. Instead of being "after God's own heart," he lowers himself to the same level as the man who insulted him. David, in short, is acting like the fool he's mad at.

Lead us not into temptation

In times like this, it is helpful to remember that vengeance belongs to the Lord. It is not wise to take vengeance, for when you do you are stealing what is his. And he doesn't like it.

How did David fall into this trap? He set his expectations into certainty.

But note something: did God provide? Certainly. He sent Abigail (as David acknowledged). Just remember this: she had to get all that stuff from somewhere - say, the feast that Nabal was having prepared for him? God will use the things of the wicked to provide for the righteous.

David, when rebuked

God will sometimes point out our sins to us in the person of another. David's reaction to Abigail - and her rebuke is the mildest of such - is heartening. Hear how he learns his lesson:

  • First, he admits the fault. No more bluster, no more ego - just, "You know, you're right."
  • He then - and this is crucial - praises God for the rebuke. He doesn't grumble at it, he accepts it and thanks God for it.
  • And - unlike modern practice - he blesses, rather than shoots - the messenger.

Abigail

(Blessed are the peacemakers)

One of the funniest things I've encountered in preparing this lesson is this: at least half the reference sources I have spend a goodly amount of time on female submission as the primary topic. They wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea that what Abigail did here is to be taken as an example! I think that misspoken. Abigail is, as Scripture proclaims, one with her husband, and as such she acts as her husband should have.

Penitence

Abigail approaches David in an attitude of penitence. Indeed, it is well that she does, for the approach seems the only one that would work. Note:

  • She is swift about it. She does not wait to see what will happen, but takes action quickly. How many of us have let wounds fester, only to find that healing them takes much longer?
  • She shows her penitence by bringing a gift. This is an example of atonement, in the Christian sense. She, by her actions, is taking the blame for her husband, just as Christ bore our sins at the Cross. By taking the consequences upon herself, we see in her the highest form of love. It is impressive.
  • Shows her penitence by word. Verse 29 is particularly eloquent; she has the bundles of food before her and remembers David's sling, all in one sentence. Her eloquence even presumes David's forgiveness - in that the Lord "has kept" him from vengeance. She reminds him of the "staggering burden" of "needless bloodshed."
  • Why "needless?" Because, as she reminds him, the affair is not just between Nabal and David, but between David and God. She throws herself upon the grace of God - knowing him to be gracious.
A trophy wife

The woman is a gem, and David sees it.

  • She does not insist upon her "rights." She could have argued with David that she never had a chance, aren't you being a little unfair, etc. She didn't. She never mentions her righteousness, but rather deals with his anger.
  • She is not being rebellious against her husband (despite all those Baptist preachers to the contrary). She's covering his rear. Had she been a self-serving, liberated woman she would have seen David as just the man to get rid of this lout.
  • Her integrity in marriage is such that, after she accomplishes her task, she goes back to her husband. Even then she waits until he's sober to tell him what she's done. David might have taken her in as a runaway - but he would not have respected her.
How God treated Abigail

Got a problem with your lout of a husband? Give God ten days or so, see what happens.

Abigail's greatest show of character - and hence greatest reward - comes in this. After Nabal dies, David is so impressed with her (remember, she doesn't inherit anything from Nabal, his sons get it all) that he proposes to her. The offer is not promising, on human terms. The man is on the run from the king; it's a life in hiding in the desert.

Abigail accepts - even to the point of accepting the lowest of servant's duties, the washing of the feet. If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him.

We know very little of Abigail after this. She evidently dies before David takes Jerusalem. But the couple does have one son (whose life was evidently also quite short). The son is named Chileab - which is Hebrew for "restraint."

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