Meditations in 1 Samuel 50. The Folly of Nabal
1 Sam 25:2,3 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. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings.
History moves on: “Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah.” (25:1a). He had played a significant part in David’s life and now he was gone so we find, “Then David moved down into the Desert of Maon.” (v.1b possibly otherwise Paran, both south of the wilderness of Ziph) David retreats to the desert where he feels most secure. Now Carmel was about seven miles south of Hebron in this same area and it was there that Saul had been held to account for his disobedience (see 1 Sam 15:12-) and it is where the next incident in David’s life occurs.
The starting point is a very wealthy man named Nabal who has a wife named Abigail. Now you really need to read the whole chapter together to see all that goes on. We’ll just pick up the main points. Nabal, apparently was well known for being mean and miserable. Now in his wanderings around the desert David and his men had more than a few times run across Nabal’s shepherds looking after their large flocks and had always treated them well, never taking any sheep and in fact acting as protection for them (see 25:15,16). Now David has a need and requests Nabal for help in the form of provisions (25:5-8). The greeting he sent was gracious and as it was the time of one of the feasts, it might be expected that a very wealthy man might provide for others in need, especially those who had in fact helped him over the past year.
However we described Nabal as miserable although the text calls him surly. Nabal rudely rejects the request (v.10,11) and so the servants return to David who is so annoyed at this man’s lack of generosity that he determines to go and sort him out (v.12,13). Fortunately for Nabal one of his servants tells Abigail what has transpired and tells her this could bring down David’s wrath on them (v.14-17). She take immediate action and gathers together a large quantity of provisions and gets her servants to go ahead of her to meet David (v.18,19) David meantime was making his way towards Carmel working himself up to take vengeance on Nabal (v.20-22).
When the two meet Abigail bows before David and pleads for forgiveness, taking the blame for what had happened (v.23-25). She pleads with David not to act hastily and do something unrighteous (v.26-31). David recognizes that she has saved him from such a wrong action and gratefully receives her gifts and sends her back home with a blessing (v.32-35) and so she goes. When she gets home she finds Nabal is getting drunk and so waits until next morning before telling him what she has done. (v.36,37) and we are told in response, “his heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the LORD struck Nabal and he died.” (v.37,38) What that initial description means we don’t know. Perhaps it meant that he had a stroke Whatever it was, ten days later he dies and the recorder attributes it to the Lord, clearly a judgment on him.
The story does not end there. When David hears of it (v.39a) he sees it as the Lord backing him and keeping him from wrong actions and then he “sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife,” (v.39b) although the words of the servants appear a little stronger than asking (v.40). However she acquiesces and they are married (v.41.42). We are reminded that David already had two wives although one of them, Michal, had been taken back by Saul and given to another. Polygamy was not expressly banned although the early chapters of Genesis suggest or imply that one wife is God’s best plan for man. In this David was following a common if unwise practice.
So what can we learn from this strange passage? Well Nabal stands out as an example not to follow and challenges us to be hospitable and gracious and generous. All things to be thought on some more. David doesn’t come over very well as his initial hasty anger is going to lead him to commit unrighteous acts and he is only saved by Abigail’s graciousness and wisdom. Beware hasty anger. Be those who pause and reflect before we act. Abigail clearly is the heroine who stands out exhibiting wisdom and grace and is eventually rewarded by becoming wife of the future king of Israel. By the judgment of God she is delivered from what was probably not a happy marriage even though they were prosperous. As we said, a strange passage.