Nabal and Abigail

1 Samuel 25  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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1 Sam. 25
This remarkable chapter opens with the announcement of the death of Samuel and the gathering together of all Israel to lament for him and to bury him. They had, indeed, abundant cause for mourning. Although he had for some time been in retirement, yet while he lived the Spirit of God wrought in Israel, and so powerfully that Saul's messengers and even Saul himself could not resist it, however unchanged in their hearts (ch. 19:20-24).
But this link with the Lord no longer existed; and what was there left to His people of all the blessings lavished on them? Inspiration only can set before us a true picture of their condition, and Psa. 78 furnishes a very vivid one. We quote from ver. 59.
God was wroth, And greatly abhorred Israel:
So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh,
The tent which he placed among men;
And delivered his strength into captivity,
And his glory into the enemy's hand.
He gave his people over unto the sword;
And was wroth with his inheritance.
The fire consumed their young men;
And their maidens were not given in marriage.
Their priests fell by the sword;
And their widows made no lamentation.”
It is a distressing scene. What more so than such a people stricken of God? The last lines disclose such a state of despair in those who were once the most honored of the nation that we cannot think they refer to the death of Hophni and Phinehas only. Saul, surely, was the author of this crowning calamity, and if so, how fatal the course of the people in choosing their own way of deliverance and desiring him, rather than the Lord, to be their king. His worst passions had been stirred by Doeg, and he summoned Ahimelech the priest and all his father's house before him on a charge of conspiracy with David. With unscrupulous ferocity he commanded this Edomite to fall upon them; “who slew on that day fourscore 1., and five persons that did wear a linen ephod.” This was not all. The man who in defiance of God's express command spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, now devoted the whole city of the priests to the sword; women, children and even sucklings were to be slain. This unlooked for and overwhelming stroke fell with all its pitilessness on hearts already crushed by the slaughter of their husbands, and turned their sorrow to despair. They made no lamentation! And now Samuel was dead, and Saul was increasing in power, in resources and in wickedness. How feebly at best can we enter into the feelings of those in Israel who had a heart for the Lord and the things of the Lord. The glory had departed, the tabernacle was abandoned, the king was apostate, the priests were slain, the ephod, with Uri's] and Thummim, was with Abiathar a fugitive, and the prophet was dead. There was no one to offer sacrifice, no one to minister to them the word of the Lord. Could spiritual destitution be more complete, or their helplessness more manifest? But Israel, notwithstanding all their sinful failures, was still precious in the sight of the Lord, and the Psalm already quoted, when things were at the worst, breaks forth in triumphant strains (vers. 65-72), recounting the results of His intervention, and brings before us David as the hope of the nation; God's chosen king, chosen to be the deliverer and restorer, the leader and blesser of His people. At this time, however, he was in suffering and want, an outcast, fleeing before Saul in fear of his life, hunted, as he said, like a partridge in the mountains.
To see his future glory through the dark cloud of his present circumstances needed faith, and this some, as Jonathan, had. To confess him needed love, and this Jonathan had too, wonderful love; but to go forth to him, to bear his reproach and to share his sufferings, needed something more, needed a true judgment of the whole system which cast him out, whatever its present wealth and power. This Jonathan had not. At first he stripped himself for David, even to his sword and his bow; but we find him at last using his weapons in companionship with Saul, and was stripped of them by the Philistines. Solemn lesson whatever the Christian reserves for himself and the world falls into the hands of the adversary. Christ can keep for him, he cannot keep for himself (2 Tim. 1:1212For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)). Abigail in this was wiser than Jonathan.
A few touches suffice to set Nabal, her husband, before us. He was a man of great possessions, but without understanding. Spiritual destitution did not trouble him. His flocks had increased and were in safety, and these were his only care; therefore he would feast and make merry. Unwelcome as the truth was, it was none the less certain, that he owed his prosperity to one on whom he bestowed not a thought. It was characteristic of David to seek the welfare of all of Israel, and it was he who had protected Nabal's flocks from the incursions of enemies (vers. 7, 15, 16). Would he acknowledge this? Would he own his indebtedness and seek to make some return? Nothing could exceed the grace with which the claims of David were set before him. How were they met? With unmingled contempt. “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?
“How various are the passions of men which Satan can take hold of to get the better of them.. What was there in common between Saul and Nabal? What opposites they were, in disposition. Especially the one of indomitable energy and ambition, the other a common sample of inert, sordid selfishness. Yet they were united in their rejection of David. They were both indebted to him, yet they were one in their hatred of him. Is there nothing in this to remind us of Him Whose claims on men are infinite? Every possible variety of character, of position in life, of attainments, and even of religion and race, was united against Christ. As He said, “The world hath hated me.” What a power there must be behind all that is seen to bind together such discordant elements, and to maintain to the present moment such a unity as this; a unity that is appalling to think of in the light of Calvary; a unity from which it needs omnipotent grace to detach a single soul.
Abigail, in her day, is a most interesting example of such a soul. Her firmness and decision are bright features in her character, because her relationship to Nabal made a faithful course exceedingly difficult. She could not deliver hers elf from her position, and she did not attempt to do it; but she could, and did, unequivocally manifest that the king of God's choice had the loyal allegiance of her heart. She would confess David as her lord, come what may, and such a confession of him as she made, we may safely say, is without a parallel. When she heard of him, she responded without a moment's hesitation to his claims, and sent to him a munificent offering, yet humbly owned it was unworthy of him. She bowed before him to the ground. Looking for mercy, taking upon herself her husband's iniquity, for she fully judged Nabal's conduct to be iniquitous. Then her “heart overflowed with goodly matter,” and she rehearsed the counsels of God concerning the king; for already David was king to her faith, and she magnified his work and his worth. “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.”
Glancing a moment at Saul, she saw only “a man” whose attempts to frustrate the will of God must prove vain. David was safe, whoever might rise up against him, “bound in the bundle of life with the Lord;” while “the souls of his enemies should be slung out, as out of the middle of a sling.”
Her only request for herself was, “When the Lord shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.” There is a singularly interesting and instructive similarity between this petition and that of the dying thief to the Lord Jesus; especially as we call to mind that, to sight, there was nothing for either on which to build a hope. In both cases too, the answer far exceeded the request. In about ten days the Lord smote Nabal that he died, and David took Abigail to be his wife, to suffer with him and to reign.
Various reasons have been suggested why the history of Nabal and Abigail was introduced at this crisis in Israel. We may say, that the course of divinely given wisdom and human folly has rarely been so simply, yet so vividly, depicted; and the crisis gave occasion for this. It is also our conviction that, if Matt. 11 (a still more important crisis in Israel) were read in the light of it, there would be less difficulty in understanding ver. 12 (see margin). The law, the prophets and even John, afforded no rest; here it was the king, but the king in rejection. The precious rest of the soul was to be found in and with Him; but oh! the opposition and the hindrances (Luke 12:51-5351Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: 52For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. 53The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:51‑53)).