1 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 Paran.
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 was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.
4 While David was in the wilderness, 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 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, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.
14 One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness 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 the whole 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 acted quickly. 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 wilderness 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: “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 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, “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.
Points of Interest
- ‘Then David moved down into the Desert of Paran’–the death of Samuel is a big deal. Over the course of his life, Samuel had been at various times the most respected priest in, the primary prophet for, and the supreme ruler of the country. From his boyhood through his old age, Samuel was arguably the most respected and influential person in the entire country; and his death is not just the end of a life but the end of an era. So, his funeral would be a large state affair. As we recall, both Saul and David were anointed as king by Samuel, and Samuel served as a mentor to both of them. So, Saul and David call a truce so that they can both safely attend the funeral. Once the funeral is over, David returns to one of his desert hideouts.
- ‘His name was Nabal’–as the story points out later, Nabal means, ‘fool.’ So, either his parents were an impressive combination of cruel and insightful, or this is a nickname; whether given to him by the author or by his neighbors is unclear.
- ‘he was a Calebite’–this doesn’t directly relate in any way to what comes before about his surliness and stinginess. The Calebites are a rather famous family from the tribe of Judah; Caleb was one of Moses’ most trusted and faithful assistants. It would be sort of like being related to Benjamin Franklin.
- ‘we did not mistreat them’–it’s probably not an easy thing for David’s men to find enough food, clothing, and other provisions. They are a large group of men, living in the desert, in hiding, and largely cut off from other people. They are also heavily-armed and battle-hardened; so it could be tempting for them to just take what they need, whether it belongs to them or not. They are outlaws, after all, and probably scary enough that no one is likely to put up much of a fight against them. They restrain themselves, and apparently even protect the local ranchers against other bandits.
- ‘be favorable toward my men’–rather than just taking what he wants, David asks politely for some consideration.
- ‘Why should I take my bread and water and give it to men coming from who knows where?’–Nabal decides to put them in their place: ‘Don’t you know who I am? Caleb was my great-great-great grandfather, and I run the most successful ranch around here. I built it with my own two hands. And who are you? Just a ragtag group of outlaws, with no name, no home, and no food. Get out of my face.’
- ‘Each of you strap on your sword!’–Nabal is stingy, ungrateful, and insulting; but it’s hard to see wiping out his entire family and business as an appropriate reaction to him. I get the feeling that this is a last-straw moment for David. He didn’t take any revenge on Keilah or Ziph when they betrayed him to Saul. He held back from killing Saul when he had the chance. But he just doesn’t have enough patience left to let some shepherd named Fool push him around. ‘Who’s David, huh? Well, I’ll give you a close-up view of the sword he used to cut off Goliath’s head.’
- ‘One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife’–it turns out that Abigail is actually the one in charge. Her own ranch hands have figured out over time how to flatter Nabal and keep him fat and happy, while they look to Abigail to run things from behind the scenes. David’s men have naively messed things up by going to Nabal–a culturally understandable but disastrous error. I imagine the dialogue going something like this:
Servant: Abigail, where were you? David’s men came by, and you won’t believe what happened; they talked directly to Nabal.
Abigail: You’re kidding! Not again. What a disaster! What happened this time?
- ‘Abigail acted quickly’–Abigail is dealing with two unreasonable men. Nabal is seemingly always a headstrong fool, and David has lost his head as well. In what may have been a familiar pattern for her, she decides to work around Nabal, guessing–probably rightly–that she has the better chance of talking David down.
- ‘since the LORD has kept you from bloodshed’–up until now, David has been admirably self-controlled. It would be a pity to waste his character and hard-won reputation for fairness and honor on such a miserable object as Nabal.
- ‘when the LORD your God has brought my lord success’–Abigail brings David back to himself. Just as he trusted God to protect him from Saul and give him the kingdom, he can trust God to give him the food he needs. He doesn’t need to grab hold of these few sheep any more than he needs to grab hold of the crown.
- ‘May you be blessed for your good judgment’–David snaps out of his bad mood, and he’s grateful that Abigail so deftly heads him off from doing something he’d regret later.
- ‘He was in high spirits and very drunk’–I wonder how often Abigail comes home from a hard day of work to find Nabal drunkenly partying.
- ‘his heart failed him and he became like a stone’–when Saul realizes how close to death he was, it at least temporarily snaps him out of his obsessive rage and into his better self. Perhaps Nabal has no better self. When he realizes how close he was to death, he has a heart attack and dies.
- ‘asking her to become his wife’–David is impressed by Abigail’s wisdom, intelligence, and resourcefulness. She’s just the kind of companion he could really use, a nice addition to his band of merry men.
- ‘Abigail quickly got on a donkey’–David is offering her a far less comfortable life in some ways. Instead of a big, well-appointed home, she’d be a wandering refugee in the desert. Instead of being a member of a well-established family, she’d be under constant threat as the wife of a traitor. And yet, all of that is worth it to her for the sake of having a husband who notices and appreciates her talents. When she gets the invitation, without hesitation she packs her bags, jumps in the car, and goes.
- ‘Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel son of Laish’–when David proposes to Abigail, you might have thought, ‘But isn’t he already married?’ And indeed he is, but not to the person we thought. Since we last heard about his love life, David has been divorced and remarried. The marriages of princesses were largely political in nature. Now that David is an enemy, Saul no longer wants his daughter connected to him; it might give David an easy way to make a claim on the throne. So, Saul takes her away and marries her to someone else. In the meanwhile, apparently, David has married someone else, about whom we basically only know a name. It seems rather common among men of David’s station and time to have multiple wives. I think it’s because marriages then were all the much more than now the joining of two families, not just two individuals. So, a man might have as many wives as he had families with which he wanted to form a strong bond. This marriage philosophy had the deeply unfortunate downside of frequently relegating women to being pieces in a chess game, as is illustrated by poor Michal being yanked out of one marriage (to someone she genuinely loved) and quickly inserted into another. David’s marriage to Abigail seems to spring more from true mutual affection, though there are probably some strategic advantages as well to being associated with the influential Calebites. As we will see, family life in these polygamous marriages isn’t easy. As you can well imagine, jealousy and rivalry among wives, jockeying for position among the children of different wives, and even confused feelings toward siblings are the outgrowths of multi-wife families; it’s the stuff of soap operas.
Taking it home
- For you: If I were Abigail, I probably would have been panicked, overwhelmed, and paralyzed in the face of the servant’s news. Abigail, on the other hand, is a remarkable picture of courage and poise. She quickly figures out what she needs to do and then does it. What situations are you in where you think, ‘Someone else would do this better’? Consider that whatever situation you face today, you’re actually the person for the job. Ask God to give you courage to know that you have a meaningful role to play in whatever you face today, and pray that God would give you wisdom on the best course of action.
- For your six: Abigail wins David over with a generous gift of some of her very best possessions. Almost everyone appreciates a good gift. Maybe one of your six could really use a nice gift today; or maybe the right gift is just the thing to take one of your friendships to the next level. Ask God if he has any gift-giving suggestions for your six today.
- For our church: Pray that our church would be one to act quickly and boldly, just like Abigail did, when the time calls for it.
- For families: Sometimes God asks us to be a peacemaker between two people who are fighting. As a third-person mediator, sometimes we are able to see things that the two fighting people might miss. Have you ever felt like God asked you to be a peacemaker? What was that like? Are there any situations where two people you know are fighting right now? Do you feel like God is asking you to do anything about that? Make sure to really listen to God here, as there are also many times when God might tell us not to jump into the middle of someone else’s fight.