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Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 25
We are going to read a lot of Bible today, so I won’t waste time with an introduction except to say that this is God’s holy Word, and it demands our attention.
1 Now Samuel died. And all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him in his house at Ramah.
This is a very brief memorial for such an important man, but this is all the writer gives us and the story moves on.
Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran. 2 And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. 3 Now the name of the man was Nabal,
Nabal means “fool”. It is also “Laban” spelled backwards, in Hebrew as well as English, and there are some similarities between this story and the story of Laban and Jacob.
and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite.
Abigail is clearly the better half in this relationship and she’s the most important character in this story.
4 David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. 5 So David sent ten young men. And David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name. 6 And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.
7 I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. 8 Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore, let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’”
David made a simple request. His men provided protection for Nabal’s servants. In return, he is respectfully asking for some food – “whatever you have at hand”… whatever you can spare.
9 When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited. 10 And Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters.
In other words, he’s calling David a runaway slave.
11 Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?”
In Hebrew, Nabal manages to use 8 personal pronouns in one sentence. “I, I, my, my”
It reminds me a children’s book we used to read to our kids called “The Mine-O-Saur”. It’s about a dinosaur who won’t share with the others because he believes everything belongs to him. Over and over he roars, “Mine – Mine – Mine!”
That’s the effect verse 11 is meant to have. Nabal is a greedy, foolish man.
12 So David’s young men turned away and came back and told him all this. 13 And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every man of them strapped on his sword. David also strapped on his sword. And about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.
It is obvious what David is planning to do. He’s on his way to open a 55-gallon drum of vengeance on Nabal. And it seems justified, but don’t forget what happened in the last chapter.
Remember what David said to Saul?
24:12 May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you.
The Bible reminds us that David was refreshingly human. What happened to loving your enemies, David? What happened to vengeance belongs to the Lord? David is being inconsistent and impetuous, which is something we are all guilty of. Some days we get it right. Other days we get it very wrong.
But thank God for Abigail.
14 But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. 15 Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them.
16 They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. 17 Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.”
18 Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep already prepared and five seahs of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys.
19 And she said to her young men, “Go on before me; behold, I come after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 And as she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, behold, David and his men came down toward her, and she met them.
21 Now David had said, “Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good. 22 God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”
23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground.
Remember how David fell on his face before Saul?
24 She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 25 Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.
26 Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.
27 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. 28 Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live.
29 If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.
30 And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel,
31 my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.”
This is such a brilliant speech. In many ways, it is much better than the speech David made to Saul. It is full of personal appeals, but also rich with theological language.
She’s telling David that if he does this, blood will be on his hands. This is not the kind of king he should be. Don’t try to save with your own hand. Don’t try to work salvation yourself. Let the Lord handle this.
Abigail is the mercy of God. Ralph Davis writes, “Abigail is the Lord’s stop sign, mercifully placed in David’s path.”
32 And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! 33 Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!
34 For as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.”
35 Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.”
This is the message of the text: sometimes God graciously stops us from doing something foolish. He doesn’t allow us to be as bad as our hearts want us to be.
But it is important to see what was in David’s heart. Look at what he wanted to do. Nabal was the one responsible for rejecting David. But David was planning to kill every male in town! If God had not been merciful, that’s what David would have done.
Instead, Abigail stands in the gap. David backs off. And ten days later, God killed Nabal with a heart attack.
David learned a lesson and it seems obvious that David is a much better king than Saul. But we need to remember that David is also just a man. He’s going to make a lot of mistakes. At the end of the chapter, we are told that he takes Abigail and some other woman as wives. David is going to take a lot of wives for himself and that will become a major problem for the kingdom.
As the story unfolds, we will learn that the kingdom is not safe in anyone’s hands except God’s. Jesus is the only King who gets it right.
What should we do with this story? How can we bring it home today?
I think, first, we need to look for God’s mercy in our lives. Sometimes God lets us experience the failure of our sins, but it is usually not as bad as it could be.
We tell our kids all the time, “God’s mercies are new each morning.” Look for that. Take time to reflect on your life and look for those moments when God kept you from self-destructing.
I remember years ago I sinned against a close friend of mine, essentially betrayed him. It should have ended our relationship. But he decided to show me mercy and it humbled me greatly. We are much closer now than we were before. And really that was God showing mercy because there could have been much greater consequences.
For moments like that to make a difference, we have to look in the mirror and dig deep. What was in my heart to do and what should have been the consequences? This is hard work, but the grace and mercy of God become more beautiful to us against the backdrop of our sin.
We don’t know this for sure, but it is possible that David wrote Psalm 14 in response to this story. Listen to the words of the Psalm:
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
David recognizes that the impulse of his heart is to act like God doesn’t exist. The impulse of his heart is to do evil… not to seek God… not to do good. And he says that everyone suffers from this problem, not just Nabal. And by the way, that’s the word for fool in verse 1. “Nabal” says in his heart… but David is including himself among the fools.
Paul uses this Psalm in Romans 3 to explain the depravity of mankind. No one is righteous – apart from Christ.
For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
Every sin we indulge, every failure, every foolish impulse of our heart is an opportunity to remember the mercy of God to us in Jesus Christ. And part of that impulse, if you remember Abigail’s speech, is to save ourselves by our own hand – that we can somehow work salvation for ourselves. That’s the most foolish thing about us, that we think we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
Redemption is a gift we receive. And we don’t really move on from this. The Christian life begins with and flourishes in repentance and faith. Daily repentance and faith. What is in my heart? What do I deserve? Where would I be if not for Christ? Hell. The answer is hell.
May God give us the grace to believe that and turn to Christ – for the first time and then every day.