Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Heroes
Chapter 1 – A Woman Named Abigail 1 Samuel 25
by Bob Burridge ©2014
We like to hear stories about heroes.
Heroes have risked their own safety, even their lives, for something greater than their own personal benefit. There are heroes among the defenders of our country who faced death to help fellow combatants. Some become heroes when they risk their lives to rescue others during disasters, or to help victims of crimes. Then there are those who set an example for us in the greatest struggle of all, the mission of promoting God’s glory.
There have been special people who stand out as heroic in the stories of Scripture. There were Prophets who spoke for God, and brought warnings that made them enemies of those in power. The Apostles in the New Testament were arrested, persecuted, and put to death to promote the Gospel of Christ. There were ancient Kings who defied great Empires for the sake of God’s people. We think of people like Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, John the Baptist, and the Apostles Peter, John, and Paul.
In more recent times there were some great scholars and leaders of the church who dared to challenge error, people like Luther, Calvin, Knox, Dabne and Machen.
There are also others who didn’t have special titles or offices. They were not gifted Prophets, Princes, Kings, or Apostles. They were ordinary people in ordinary families, yet they became heroes for God’s Kingdom. Though God at times delivered them miraculously, they weren’t workers of miracles. They became great because of their humble faithfulness to God, and loyalty to God’s Kingdom.
One of these ordinary people was Abigail.
Abigail’s story is recorded in 1 Samuel 25. She’s not usually remembered on lists of the great people of the Bible. She held no special office, or ability to heal the sick. But she had a heart that was committed to doing the right thing in hard situations.
She was faced with a hard moral dilemma, and chose the difficult thing because it most honored the Lord. She didn’t just talk about what was right, she acted upon it.
Her name in Hebrew is Avi-GA-il (אֲבִגָ֑יִל). Her name means, “my father’s joy”. She lived up to her name because she produced joy in others. Samuel 25:3 tells us she “… was discerning and beautiful …”
She was married to a man of the house of Caleb named Nabal (נָבָ֔ל). He was very rich and had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. That same verse in 1 Samuel says he “… was harsh and badly behaved …”. His name means, “fool” in Hebrew. A very fitting title for this man rich in possessions, but poor in wisdom, courtesy, and godliness.
Nabal and Abigail lived in southern Judea in the town of Maon (מָעֹ֜ון).
Nabal grazed his flocks in the southern regions where David and his men protected them. There were tribes in that area which often attacked and took the flocks from shepherds. David had been a shepherd too so he understood the dangers. Protecting them put his David’s own people at risk for their lives. His protection was so good that not one of Nabal’s sheep was lost.
During this time David was living in exile. King Saul had previously sent armies out to kill him. All of Israel knew about the flight of their great hero David. They knew that years ago he not only slew Goliath, but had led armies in victory over the ruthless Philistines. David had more recently passed up an opportunity to kill Saul out of respect for his office as King. When this happened, Saul promised to leave him alone. David wisely didn’t trust him, so he remained in exile in the wilderness. It was there that he kindly protected the flocks and shepherds of Nabal.
At the shearing season Nabal’s shepherds
brought his sheep to him at Carmel in Judea.
The Carmel mentioned here is not the mountain in the north where Elijah and Elisha later carried out their ministries. It’s a place in Judah near their estate in Maon.
The wool from shearing the sheep was used by the owners. What they didn’t need was sold. It was the result of hard labor, and was celebrated with festivities and good foods when the shearing time came.
At that time, David sent a delegation of ten men to show respect to Nabal, and to ask for their deserved provisions. David’s request might sound presumptive to us in our culture. But it was the usual custom in that region to ask payment for David’s services. He had protected Nabal’s shepherds. It was expected that his people would be compensated. It was a reasonable and usual request.
In 1 Samuel 25:6-8, David told his messengers what to say as they brought his greeting and request to Nabal.
“And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 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. 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 was only asking for Nabal to decide what he thought was a fair payment for the protection. Whatever he put in his hand for them would be gladly accepted. David humbly calls his men Nabal’s servants, and honors Nabal as if he was his own father.
However, Nabal was a selfish fool. He insulted them and sent them away with nothing. In verses 10-11 he said,
“Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. 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?”
So David’s men left and reported how Nabal treated them.
David’s response was not wise either. He let his anger get the best of him. He wanted revenge.
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.
This was not a justifiable response. David assembled an army of 400 men to attack the sheep shearers during their festival. David had a right to provisions, but to send his army against Nabal’s workers was not what God’s law provided.
Nabal’s wife, Abigail, heard about David’s plans,
and about her husband’s rudeness and greed.
It was one of the young men who served Abigail and Nabal who told her what happened. He explained how David and his men had protected the shepherds while they tended the sheep. He told her about Nabal’s refusal to compensate them for their work. He explained that Nabal sent David’s men away unpaid for the risk they took. Without David’s protection there might not be this wool that was now being sheared. Some of Nabal’s huge profits were rightfully owed to David. The servant also must have found out that David was on his way to avenge the insult.
He then pleaded with her saying,
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.”
He was asking Abigail to step in to correct her husband’s rudeness, and to do what was right. He saw no point saying anything directly to Nabal. He wouldn’t listen. The servant called him “worthless”. Literally he called him a “son of belial”. The Hebrew expression [baen be-li-al (בֶּן־בְּלִיַּ֔עַל )] means son of a “worthless, unprofitable” person, and therefore evil and wicked. Satan himself is called the father of wickedness. All who are unjust are like the Devil, and behave as his children.
Verse 18 explains that she decided to take some compensation to David for his work.
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.
This would not only make up for the wages that were kept from David’s men, it would also show that Nabal’s people were not all like him. It might also keep David from committing his own atrocity by overreacting with uncalled-for violence.
She did not tell her husband what she was doing. She knew Nabal would not understand. He would stop her from doing what was right. Giving away her plan to her husband would only help him defend his sinful behavior.
She sent her servants on ahead to take the provisions to David and his approaching army assuring them that she would soon follow.
Soon Abigail met David and his men where two hills converged.
It must have been a dramatic scene as Abigail rode down the one side of the valley and David came toward her down the other hill.
To help us understand what Abigail was facing, Verses 20-22 goes back to explain David’s vow to kill all of Nabal’s men for their injustice. He saw the insult and Nabal’s refusal to pay as an insult to God and to his covenant people. He prayed that not one of Nabal’s men would survive his attack.
To slaughter all Nabal’s men went beyond the limits of justice. David had not been installed as king yet. He had no right to lead an army in an attack like that. War is never something to be entered lightly. It should be avoided when possible. Sadly, it is needed and justified in some cases. God even commanded war at times. But this case would have been just personal violence where it was not called for.
So there in the valley between the two hills these two servants of God met. The one was David, a chosen man specially gifted by God, a brilliant warrior, soon to be king. But at the moment he was driven by rage, not acting with the best judgment. The other was Abigail, a just-minded woman trying to right a moral and legal wrong committed by her foolish and selfish husband.
She got down from her donkey and fell on her face before David’s feet, bowing to the ground. Her words are preserved for us in verses 24-31. It’s a humble plea for mercy for herself, and for her husband’s men.
She asked David to lay all the blame on her rather than taking out vengeance on a person who isn’t worth it. She admitted that Nabal always lives up to his name and is nothing but a fool. She also explained that she hadn’t personally seen David’s men turned away. Then she offered provisions for David’s men and asked for forgiveness.
She explained that she saw that David was a good man who fights for the Lord. His victories against the Philistines were well known and celebrated. She understood that he had been fleeing from Saul for his life. David’s situation was well known and talked about among the people of Israel. She knew that God would raise David up to be king one day and therefore he would be protected. Samuel the prophet very likely had mentioned the private anointing of David, and the promises made by God to him about becoming a great King.
She also pointed out that God himself had now intervened to keep David from this unwise attack. In a sense, she was letting David know that he was being unjust too. Saul was wrong and foolish to have made David an enemy. Nabal was foolish for his injustice. David was about to be foolish and unjust also in shedding blood without proper authority. When David becomes king, this little matter of insult by Nabal will seem unimportant. But if he carried out this unjust attack, it would weigh on his conscience. She then requested that when it was all over, that David would remember her as his humble maidservant.
What she said was not given to her by special prophesy. God’s promises to David, his victories, and his exile were all well known facts. Knowing the just punishments demanded in God’s law were available to her in Scripture. She was just a wife who by God’s grace loved justice, and put herself in harms way to preserve and to promote what she knew was right.
David was moved by Abigail’s kind concern and just actions. God was at work here not only in sending Abigail, but also in softening the future king’s angry heart. David called of his attack, and left vengeance in the hands of God. What’s more, he recognized that God was the one who sent this brave and humble woman to stop him from doing something evil, something he would have always regretted. His words are preserved in verses 33-34.
33-34, “Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from avenging myself with my own hand! 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.”
After accepting her gift David said,
35, “… Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.”
Nabal didn’t take the news well.
When Abigail came home, her husband was drunk from his celebrating. She thought it wise not to say anything to him while he was in that condition. But the next morning she explained what she did, and that David’s army had been turned away.
He should have been grateful that his life and his men had been spared from a surprise attack. But verse 37 tells us that he didn’t take it that way.
“… his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.”
Nabal was faced with the fact that he was almost killed for his foolishness. He had to accept that David ended up getting the compensation Nabal refused to give him. He could also see that his wife was not with him in his evil and injustice. Wickedness does not respond well to the exposure of its sin.
He became unresponsive. Some interpret this verse to mean that he suffered a stroke. Whether that was the cause or not, the result was the same. He became lifeless like a stone. Then, about ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died (verse 38).
When David heard about Nabal’s death he was humbled before God.
He said in verse 39, “Blessed be the LORD who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The LORD has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head.”
His first response was to thank God for keeping him from doing something foolish. He realized that things like that should be left in the hands of God.
Then David sent his servants to Abigail with a proposal for her to marry him.
40, When the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.”
He had remembered her just as she asked him to, but in a way greater than she expected. This woman had earned his great respect and admiration.
Verses 41-42 records Abigail’s response to David’s proposal through his messengers.
And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” And Abigail hurried and rose and mounted a donkey, and her five young women attended her. She followed the messengers of David and became his wife.
Abigail is an example of someone committed
to what was just and right.
Abigail recognized the criminal act of her husband, and saw that another one was about to be committed by David. She could have just let things happen and simply made it a matter of prayer. But she did much more than that. She put her heart’s convictions into action.
It’s easy to leave things to others and not get involved. But good is something you do, not just something you think about, talk about, or pray about.
Abigail wasn’t just a nice woman. She trusted in Jehovah, the God of Israel, the True God. She credited God for her opportunity to keep David from doing wrong (25:26). She knew that David fought for Jehovah as one chosen by him, that he would bless David’s household (verse 28), and that the Lord will do good for David according to his promises (verse 30, 31). As one who trusted in the promise of God’s covenant, she showed evidence that she was born of God through faith by grace.
It’s only by our faith in Christ’s death in our place that we can rise above apathy. His Spirit in our hearts is what moves us to do what’s right, even when it’s hard. We need to pray that God will bless us and empower us through our Savior in that same way.
Her actions were not self serving, except that she knew that God blesses humble obedience. She faced a difficult moral dilemma. To stop a horrible atrocity she had to go against her own husband. She realized that her only option was to act secretly.
Husbands in leading their homes do not have God’s authority to force their wives or children to cooperate in or to conceal a crime. Telling her husband would have caused him to stop her from doing what was right.
Her hope was to correct a wrong and to keep another wrong from happening. When she knew her husband was safe from David’s army, and that the wrong was corrected, she did tell him. She could have tried to kept her involvement a secret from Nabal. But she honored her husband’s headship over the home, even though he had abused that role. Keeping it from him would have been like a living lie.
She did what was right even without direct revelation from God, or holding a special office. She is one of those ordinary heroes of the Bible. She distinguished herself extraordinarily, and is a role model for us.
When we see a need we should find a right way to meet it if we can, prayerfully resting with confidence in the power of God to honor what honors him.
Her example shows us how we need to put Micah 6:8 into action.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.