SynopsisThis passage starts out with mention of the passing of Samuel—so obviously Samuel himself didn’t write the books of I and II Samuel (or at least not all of them).
David goes to the desert of Maon, where there happens to live a man named Nabal—a man who is “surly and mean in his dealings”—and his wife Abigail—a woman who is “an intelligent and beautiful woman” (verse 3). Nabal is very wealthy, and it’s currently sheep-shearing time, so David sends some of his servants to ask Nabal for a handout. After all, David’s men have been protecting Nabal’s property, and have never stolen anything belonging to Nabal, nor mistreated his servants.
However, Nabal doesn’t answer favourably. (One might even say that he is “surly,” and “mean in his dealing” with David’s men.)
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. 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?” (verses 10–11)
When David’s servants bring this message back to him, he immediately springs into action; he straps on his sword, and four hundred of his men strap on theirs, to go and teach Nabal a lesson. (A permanent lesson.)
Luckily, however, Nabal’s servants approach Abigail, and let her know what’s going on. They seem to beleive that Nabal should have given David’s men something, because of all that David has done for them, but they’re also afraid of what is going to happen; they know that they can’t go to Nabal about this, because, “He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him” (verse 17). Abigail immediately loads a bunch of food onto donkeys, and brings them to David, but doesn’t tell Nabal.
As Abigail meets David, he is in the middle of a tirade:
As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. 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. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” (verses 20–22)
(Okay, so she actually meets him just after his tirade.)
Abigail gets off her donkey, and bows down before David. She asks him to let the blame fall on her, and, in essence, says that Nabal isn’t to blame because he’s a fool, and you can’t really expect much from a fool. (The name Nabal actually means fool, according to Abigail.) If Abigail had known about David’s request, she would have responded better.
She then asks David to accept her gift, and keep himself from revenge. She asks David to leave revenge to the LORD, so that David will not have on his conscience “the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself” (verse 31). David is convinced:
David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 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.” (verses 32–34)
So Abigail goes home in peace. When she returns, she finds that Nabal is in the middle of a banquet, one that is “like that of a king” (verse 36). He’s in high spirits, and very drunk, so she decides not to tell him what has happened. She waits until the next morning, when he has sobered up, and then tells him everything that has happened.
When Nabal realizes what has happened, his heart fails him, and he becomes like a stone. He stays in this state for ten days, and then the LORD takes his life.
When David hears about this, he praises the LORD, who kept David from doing wrong, and brought Nabal’s sin down on his own head. He then sends some servants to ask Abigail to become his wife. She agrees.
We are told that, although Saul has given David’s previous wife Michal to another man, David does have a second wife, named Ahinoam. So David is currently married to Ahinoam and Abigail. (As I recall, in a later chapter when David returns to Jerusalem, he’ll take Michal back as his wife.)
ThoughtsA question I have: Even though Nabal was selfish and mean in his dealing with David, would David actually have been justified in killing him? My feeling is that no, he wouldn’t have been. Yes, Nabal should have dealt better with David, but that’s different from actively wronging him. So when David is convinced by Abigail to leave Nabal to the LORD, it’s not just a matter of leaving vengeance in His hands; I think that it’s also the case the David would have been guilty of murder, if he’d gone through with it. I could very well be wrong on this point; I don’t claim to be an expert on Old-Testament-Israel law.
Which might speak, again, to David’s youth; I believe David is still a young-ish man at this point. (I wonder what the age difference would have been between David and Abigail? Were they similar ages? Was Abigail older? I don’t see any indication either way, unless the Hebrew word translated “woman” in verse 3 indicates an older or younger woman.)
In any event, whether David would have been justified in attacking Nabal or not, it seems to me that the LORD is punishing Nabal for his actions. (The passage doesn’t specifically say that Nabal’s death is a punishment, but it seems pretty clear to me that this would be the reason that the LORD strikes him dead.) So whether he specifically sinned against David or not, he definitely sinned. Perhaps we should remember this example the next time we’re on the street and a homeless person asks for change.
This passage also brings up the question of polygamy, since David is now married to two or three women (depending on if you count Michal). But I’ve talked about polygamy before, and don’t have any further insights to add at this time.