Life and Times of David
NABAL & ABIGAIL
1 Samuel 25 – As we consider David’s history, it is interesting to observe how different individuals were affected by his person. It required faith to discern the future king of Israel in this despised outcast. In this part of our study we are presented with two striking examples of people who were affected by David’s person and career. “There was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats; and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of the man was Nabal.”
This Nabal was an Israelite, and he appears here in marked contrast with God’s anointed. Though anointed king of Israel, David had no where to lay his head – a wanderer from mountain to mountain, from cave to cave. Nabal was a selfish man, with no sympathy for David. Any blessings he might have were for himself; if he was “great,” he never thought of sharing his greatness with any one else, least of all with David or anyone connected with him.
David heard that Nabal had sheared his sheep. So, David sent ten young men, saying to them, “Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name.” David was in the wilderness; while Nabal was surrounded by all the comforts of life. The former owed all his sorrows and privations to what he was; the latter owed all his possessions and enjoyments to what he was.
Today, it is not uncommon for the spirit of worldliness to be connected with some who claim to minister – to profess truth. This is a grievous evil. The apostle was made to feel the anguish of it, even in his time. The apostle felt the of it, even in his time, “Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Phil. 3:18-19)
Notice, they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. Why? Because they have only a semblance of Christianity; but in reality are far from it. The expression, “Many walk,” shows a measure of profession.
Such people, no doubt, would be offended if refused the appellation of Christians; but they do not want to take up the cross; they do not identify with the self-denial of a crucified Christ. “Their God is their belly, and they mind earthly things.” How many of us must plead guilty to the charge of minding earthly things? It’s easy to make a profession of the religion of Christ, without ever knowing Jesus, or the cross. It is easy to take up the name of Jesus with our lips, while walking in self-indulgence and loving the world – the human heart knows so well how to imitate. All this finds its full example in the person of the churlish Nabal. He shut himself up in the midst of luxuries and wealth, caring not for God’s anointed. He felt nothing for David’s season of painful exile and sojourn in the wilderness.
What was his reply to David’s touching appeal? “Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now-a-days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be?”
Here was the secret of this worldly man’s estrangement of heart; he did not know him. Had he really known David, it would have been a different matter: but he neither knew who he was or from where he came. He did not know that he was railing on the Lord’s anointed. Because of selfishness, he discarded the privilege of ministering to the need of Israel’s future king.
The moral of all this is deeply instructive. It demands the clear vision of faith to discern the true glory of Christ, cleaving to Him in the time of His rejection. It is one thing to be a Christian in name only, and another to confess Christ before men. We can think of nothing more selfish than one who is willing to take all that Jesus has to give, while yielding nothing to Him in return. Here’s the secret thought of some today: “Provided I am saved, all the rest is unessential” or “If I am sure of salvation, it matters little about the glory of Christ.”
This was just Nabal’s mode of acting; he reaped all the advantage he could from David; but the moment David put in his claim for sympathy and aid, his worldly spirit appeared. “One of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness, to salute our master; and he railed on them. But the men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we anything, as long as we were conversant with them when we were in the fields. They were a wall unto us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.”
Nabal understood the value of David’s protection, though he cared not for David as a person. So long as David’s men were a wall to his possessions, he tolerated them until they become a burden, then rejected and railed on them.
As might be expected, the way Nabal felt was contrary to Scripture. It is written in Deuteronomy 15, “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt open thy hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee.”
How unlike Nabal. Grace keeps the heart open; selfishness closes it. Independent of his knowledge of David, Nabal should have obeyed the Word. But, selfishness was too deep in his character to allow obedience to the Lord’s Word, or to the Lord’s anointed.
However, Nabal’s selfishness led to some important results. In David’s case, it led to the exhibition of humility in the presence of God. He is here seen coming down from the high elevation that usually characterized him. No doubt, it was trying to meet with such ingratitude from one for whom he had been a wall of defense. No doubt it was also galling for David – reproached on the very ground of those circumstances in which faithfulness had called him; accused of breaking away from his master while being hunted through the mountains. All this was surely hard to bear, and, in the first ebullition of feeling, David expresses words that would not bear examination in the Sanctuary. “Gird ye on every man his sword,” was not language we would expect from one who, up to now, had walked in a meek and gentle spirit. The Scripture just quoted presents the resource of the poor brother, viz.: to “cry unto the Lord,” not to draw his sword for revenge.
Nabal’s selfishness could not be remedied by the sword of David, nor would faith ever adopt such a course. We do not find David acting this way in reference to Saul; he left him entirely in God’s hands. Even when induced to cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe, David’s heart smote him. Why did he not act in the same way toward Nabal? Because he was not in communion with God; he was off his guard, and the enemy took advantage of him. Human nature will always lead us to vindicate ourselves, resenting every injury. The heart will secretly murmur, “He had no right to treat me like that; I can’t bear it, nor do I think I should.” This may be true, but the man of faith rises above such things, seeing God in everything. The jealousy of Saul, the folly of Nabal, everything else is looked at as coming from the hand of God, and met in the secret of His holy presence. The instrument is nothing to faith; God is in all. This gives us power to move on through all sorts of circumstances. If we do not trace God in everything, we will constantly be ensnared.
As we proceed with our subject, we shall have occasion to trace this principle more fully, so, we now turn to another character introduced in this instructive chapter – Abigail, the wife of Nabal. She was “a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance.” A noble testimony and one which shows that grace can manifest itself in the most unusual circumstances. The house of the churlish Nabal must have been a withering scene to one like Abigail; but she waited on God, and, as we shall see, was not disappointed.
The case of this remarkable woman is full of encouragement and instruction to those who find themselves, cramped and hindered by unavoidable connections and associations. To these the history of Abigail simply says, be patient, wait on God, do not suppose yourself void of opportunity for testimony. The Lord can be glorified by meek subjection, and will, assuredly, give relief and victory in the end. True, some may have to reproach themselves for having formed such connections, or entered into such associations; but even so, if the folly and evil are felt, confessed, and judged before God, and the soul brought to an attitude of thorough subduedness, the end will be blessing and peace.
In Abigail we see one who was used to correct no less a personage than David himself. Up to the time the sacred historian introduces her, her course may have been painful and trying. It probably was that way since she was associated with someone like Nabal. However, time brought to light the grace that was in her. She had suffered in obscurity, but was about to be raised to an unusually high elevation. Few had seen her patient service and testimony; but many beheld her exaltation. The burden which she had borne in secret was about to drop off before many witnesses. The preciousness of Abigail’s service was not saving Nabal from the sword of David, but keeping David from drawing the sword at all.
“Now David had said, Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him; and he hath requited me evil for good.” This was terrible. David was rashly taking himself out of the place of dependence – the only happy, the only holy place. Nor was it on behalf of Israel. No, it was to avenge himself on one who had treated him badly. Sad mistake. Happy for David; there was an Abigail in the house of Nabal who was about to be used by God to keep David from acting a fool according to his folly. Nabal’s selfishness was used by Satan to ensnare David, and Abigail was the Lord’s instrument to deliver him.
It is well when the man of God can detect Satan's working. But to be able so, he must be in the presence of God. Only there can he find light and spiritual power, enabling him to cope with such a foe. When not in communion with God, the soul becomes distracted by looking at secondary causes, and subordinate agents, as David was distracted by looking at Nabal. Had he paused to view the matter calmly before God, we would not have such words as, “In vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness.” Instead, he would have passed on, leaving “this fellow” to himself. Faith imparts dignity to character, and superiority over petty circumstances. As pilgrims and strangers, we must remember that the sorrows as well as joys of this life are evanescent – we are not to be inordinately affected by one or the other. “Passing away,” is written on everything; the man of faith must always look upward and onward.
By the grace of God, Abigail delivered David from the unhappy influence of the present, by leading his soul onward into the future. We learn this from her exquisite address to him. “And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be; and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. Now, therefore, my lord, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the Lord hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal . . . for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the Lord, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days.”
“Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul; but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall He sling out, as out of the middle of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord shall have done to my lord according to ad the good that Be hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel, that this shall be not grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself; but when the Lord shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.”
We can hardly conceive anything more touching than this address; every part of it calculated to touch the heart. She presents to David the evil of seeking to avenge himself; the weakness and folly of the object of his revenge, reminding him of his proper occupation – “fighting the Lord’s battles.” This must have brought home to his heart the humiliating circumstances in which Abigail met him.
However, the leading point in this address is the special reference to the future. “The Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house.” “The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God.” “When the Lord shall have done to my lord,” “and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel.” These allusions to David’s future blessing and glory were eminently calculated to withdraw his heart from its present grievance. The sure house, the bundle of life, and the kingdom, were far better than Nabal’s flocks and herds; and in view of these glories, David left him to his portion.
To the heir of a kingdom, a few sheep would have little attraction, and Abigail knew this. She knew David, and his high destiny. By faith she recognized in this despised outcast the future king of Israel. Nabal did not know David. He was a man of the world, swallowed up with present things. With him there was nothing more important, nothing more influential, than “my bread, my flesh, my shearers.” For him it was all about self – leaving no room for David or his claims. This might be expected from such a person as Nabal, but not from David, who should have never gone down from his elevation to grapple with someone about perishable possessions. The kingdom should have filled David’s eye, engaging his thoughts, and lifting his spirit above all lower influences.
How did the Master conduct Himself, as He stood at the bar of his own creation? Did He call on His little band of followers to take up the sword? Did He say of the man who sat as His judge, “In vain have I imparted unto this fellow all he is, and all he has?” No; Jesus looked above and beyond Pilate, Herod, the chief priests, and scribes. He could say, “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” This kept His spirit tranquil, while, at the same time He could look forward to the future, and say, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Here was real power over present things.
This is our model; in this way we should meet the trials and difficulties, the reproach, obloquy, and desertion of this present time – viewing everything in the light of “hereafter.” “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” “But the God of all grace, who hath called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?”
Yes; suffering comes first and glory afterward. Anyone who, by his own hand, seeks to take the edge off present suffering and reproach proves that now is more influential to him than “hereafter.”
Pursuing the narrative of David and Abigail a little further, we see a striking example of the vast difference between the child of nature and the child of faith. Abigail returned from her interview with David, and found Nabal “very drunken; wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light. But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And it came to pass, about ten days after, that the Lord smote Nabal, that he died.”
What a sad picture of a man of the world. Sunk in intoxication during the night, and when the morning dawned, struck with terror, pierced by the arrow of death.
Nabal represents the multitudes whom Satan has succeeded in alluring and intoxicating with the perishing joys of a world lying under the curse of God, awaiting the fire of His judgment. “They that sleep, sleep in the night, and they that be drunken are drunken in the night;” but, the morning is at hand, when the wine (good symbol of this world’s joy) has evaporated; when the feverish excitement of this world has calmed down – then comes the stern reality of an eternity of unspeakable misery, with Satan and his angels.
Nabal did not meet David face to face; yet the thought of David’s avenging sword filled his soul with deadly fear. How much more terrible to meet the gaze of a despised and rejected Jesus. Then the Abigails and the Nabals will find their respective places; those who know and love the true David, and those who do not. God, in His mercy, grant that you may be among the happy number of the former.
Also observe that the interesting narrative of this chapter presents a striking picture of the Church and the world; one united to the king, associated with Him in His glory; the other plunged in irretrievable ruin. “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness; looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent, that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” (2 Pet. 3:11-14)
Such are the soul-stirring, momentous facts presented to us throughout the Book of God, in order to detach our hearts from present things, binding them in genuine affection to those objects and prospects connected with the person of the Son of God. Nothing but the deep and positive conviction of the reality of these things produces such effects.
The intoxicating power of this world’s schemes and operations carries the human heart away like a rapid current. When such things are presented: schemes of improvement, commercial operations, political movements, popular religious movements, they produce on the human mind an effect similar to that produced by Nabal’s wine. It sometimes seems useless to announce the stern facts presented by the Apostle Peter above. Still, they must be announced, must be reiterated, “and so much the more, as we see the day approaching.” “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” “All these things shall be dissolved.” “The heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up.” Such awaits all who, like Nabal, burdened with “surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life,” reject the claims and appeals of Jesus Christ.
Blessed be God, there are some who have ears to hear the testimony about the kindness and grace of Jesus, as well as about His coming judgment. Thus it was with Abigail; she believed the truth about David, and acted accordingly – all who believe the truth about Jesus will be found diligently separating themselves from this present world.