1 Samuel 25:1–35
The intriguing story of David, Abigail, and Nabal is set in the early days of David. Insane jealousy or paranoia has caused King Saul to make several attempts on David’s life. At the time of this story, David has fled from the king and, as a fugitive, is seeking to support himself and several hundred followers. David’s followers are described in 1 Samuel 22:2 as the poor, the discontented, the distressed, and those in debt.
David is shrewd. Although fleeing from Saul, he also is seeking to strengthen support from the tribe of Judah. He and his ragtag band of men have been roaming the Judean hills providing protection against thieves and wild animals. This is the setting.
The story itself seems straightforward. David asks rich Nabal for some compensation for protecting Nabal’s flock. Nabal refuses, insulting David. David is enraged and starts on a mission of vengeance, vowing to exterminate every male in Nabal’s company.
At this point, Nabal’s wife, Abigail, intervenes. She provides the supplies David has requested and persuades David to turn back from his mission of revenge. As a postscript to this story, Nabal dies and David marries his widow, Abigail.
In this story, we are tripped up by a few factors. The first is that biblical stories often do not tell us immediately if an action is good or bad. If one follows the whole biblical story, however, a later episode will often come up that can be read as a judgment of the earlier story.
Similarly, just because a person like David is sometimes presented as a hero does not mean that he is perfect or that his motives are pure. David could be vindictive, rash, and manipulative as well as generous, thoughtful, and graceful. This story does not come out and tell us whether David’s actions are justified.
Commentators often say that Abigail “rescued” her husband from the anger of David. Nabal refuses to recognize that David had any right to compensation. Abigail does not mention the issue of compensation and whether David had a right to ask for it. She simply apologizes for her husband’s behavior and speaks of what vengeance will do to David’s conscience. One decision the reader must make is whether Abigail’s primary motive is to rescue her husband from the anger of David or to rescue David from himself. David’s life, says Abigail, lies in the hand of God. If David’s enemies need to be dealt with, leave it up to God and not to David’s sword.
Of course, perhaps Abigail’s motives are not purely to protect either David or her husband. Perhaps she is maneuvering events for her own future. She ends her speech with a peculiar request that when David has won his throne, he should remember her. It is possible that the final result may not be completely to her satisfaction, but she succeeded in her primary goal: she prevented war between David and Nabal.
This story is timely in our polarized society. Think of times when you have needed the creativity and resilience of Abigail. In what ways can you foster those qualities in your own life and in the lives of those you teach?
God, I never know when I will have a chance to embody your love and work for peace in the world. Help me notice and take advantage of those opportunities this week. Amen.
This Bible study comes from Shine: Living in God’s Light, the Sunday school curriculum published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia.