Abigail and Nabal
“Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb.” (1 Samuel 25:3) What a story is contained in these words!
It was as mismatched a marriage as you would ever see. The man churlish and evil; his very name meant “fool.” And his longsuffering wife, Abigail, perceptive and upright. How did such a union ever begin? Was Nabal like this when they married? Had Abigail been a foolish young woman when she married this man? Or had there been a possibility of character and nobility in the young man when they started out? He was of the house of Caleb. Perhaps his background looked even more auspicious than hers. Perhaps things changed after their marriage.
Nothing is said in the Bible about their children. We do not know. Nothing is said about in-laws, cousins, aunts, or uncles, either. We are presented with a paradox: one wanted to live right and please God; the other pleased self and gratified the devil. And these two were man and wife. They were bound together until death did them part.
And the one who loved God and wanted to please Him was the wife. She was charged with the responsibility of obeying this churlish, evil man; of honoring him as her head. It must have tried the heart of Abigail to the limit and beyond. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) These words were spoken by the Apostle Paul about his experiences in sin while under the Mosaic Law. But I am certain that they describe the despair, the hopelessness that came over Abigail at times as she considered her marriage and her future.
It just went on and on. Nabal became more and more churlish and unreasonable each day. “For he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.” (1 Samuel 25:17) The meaning of “Belial” as found in the scriptures is: “worthlessness, and hence recklessness; lawlessness. The expression son or man of Belial must be understood as meaning simply a worthless, lawless fellow.” A man abandoned to sin and willfulness. The unjust judge, who feared not God or man, was a son of Belial. “Chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities…. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption…. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray.” (2 Peter 2:10-15) Thus Peter spoke of men who walked the same path that Nabal chose to walk.
Everyone who lived with Nabal was affected by his awful choice of life. First his wife, then everyone who worked for him, his children (if he had any), and everyone who had business with him in any capacity. It would be safe to say that people feared him and avoided him as much as they could. God allowed him to be rich, this son of Belial. He enjoyed tormenting and bullying. He took pride in his ability, amplified by wealth and economic importance, to hurt others around him. All of this was driven by a gnawing undercurrent of failure. For his riches came in spite, not because, of him being a fool. His personal relationships with others were fiascos. He was totally untrustworthy, a discredit to the entire human race, and had dedicated himself to be as negative, obtuse, and unworthy to everyone else as he could possibly be.
Anyone who lived around Nabal would have to climb over him, as a barrier, to live right. As long as we are simply reacting to realities in our lives, such as the presence of a Nabal, we do not make much progress. You will not be able to live for God by allowing the devil to set the agenda. If you try to live for God by crisis, so to speak, then you will find that the trials will herd you in a certain direction that is not good, and the outcome will not be satisfactory. We must “lay hold” of eternal life. We must get a hold of spiritual realities that are greater than the awful realities of sin that bestride our pathway. Abigail could not build a successful relationship with Nabal, for there was nothing to build on from him. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) She wanted to make a successful marriage. She wanted the benefit that came from a team, husband and wife, pulling together. She longed for it; but, alas! It was not to be! Nabal was not interested. He did not care if you lived right. He did not think much of living right. He criticized anyone he pleased: Samuel, Saul, David, Jonathan. It did not matter to him; he did not care. Of course he despised his wife. He exploited her as he did everything else. Oh, how much pleasure Nabal furnished Satan, the enemy of God and mankind!
The next scripture in Psalm 11:4 shows us the way out of our Nabalish snare. “The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven.” There is a Rock that is higher than us. It is higher than our trials, too. The Lord has a way. If we abandon ourselves to God, He will take the seemingly insurmountable mountain before us, and show us a way over it.
Nabal was greatly embarrassing to Abigail. “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.” (1 Samuel 25:25) One constantly had to acknowledge humiliating things (including your connection to the man), apologize, offer restitution, etc., for Nabal constantly. Yes, he’s my husband. (Endure the looks of pity, disbelief.) I’m sorry I didn’t know about the matter until afterwards…. “Nabal is his name, and folly is with him.” She didn’t excuse him or his spiritual condition. They were inexcusable, and she had faced the reality of it. God had helped her to face the reality of it.
There is no victory without facing the reality around us. Over and over the Bible commands us to think soberly, that is, realistically (Romans 12:3; Titus 1:8, 2:2,4,6,12; 1 Thessalonians 5:6,8; 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7, 5:8). God’s ways are based on reality; the devil’s ways are based on illusion. As much as we partake, knowingly or inadvertently, of illusion, we are deprived of effectiveness in overcoming and getting the victory. There is great strength in the humility that faces up to the truth. It is more important to be honest with God and the Bible than any other course we can take. The pretending is more dangerous than we realize. The excusing of what is not right blurs the line between right and wrong. It angers God and offends His sense of justice. Many a child of God is bound in some group of people today because they have not faced the reality of things. They extend confidence when there is no reality upon which to extend it. Abigail’s life began to turn around from the moment she faced reality and acknowledged the truth.
But when reality is faced and I acknowledge that things are truly awful, it is the common experience of nearly all to be heavily attacked by discouragement and despair. And if we do not turn to God and abandon ourselves to Him at that point, we will be conquered by these enemies. There is no getting around this truth: life is full of situations which are hopeless without God. Ah! “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me. Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. For thou art my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trust from my youth.” (Psalm 71:1-5) And when Abigail found her hope and trust in God, she found that old, familiar path that all of God’s little children have found.
“No matter what happens, He will care for me;
He will care for me, He will care for me.
And His mighty hand will enable me to stand,
No matter what happens to me.”*
The closer that Abigail drew to the Almighty God, the less that Nabal’s outrageousness upset her. It is always so. There is in the Lord a perfect foil for all of life’s trials and temptations. They lose their strength as we spend time with Him. We are enabled to rise above them. We do not expect much from the sinful heart. Those who try us are the victims of the sin within them, and it is destroying them. Charity (the love of God) floods our heart, and we relinquish our own rights and privileges, for charity “seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked.” (1 Corinthians 13:5) We cease to battle for fairness. God gives us longsuffering instead. Pity and compassion for the lost, for those who are not the Lord’s and are not in communion with Him.
All this came to Abigail, perhaps we should say Sister Abigail, and it transformed her life. It did not change her husband. If anything, his churlishness and evil was framed by her possession of grace from above, in such a way that he appeared worse and worse, lower and lower, as she found what God has for all who will seek Him with all their heart. He could have been lifted, too; but, alas! he would not.
She did not despise him. She was helped to see what sin does to any heart in which it abides. Oh, how she hungered for her poor husband, that he might know real happiness, real satisfaction! How she prayed for him! And with this burden came an enlargement. For there are many Nabals, to one extent or another, and many could-be Nabals, too. The love and burden for mankind that is God’s began to grow in her. She wanted right to triumph; she was on the Lord’s side in the great struggle between good and evil, the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. Her burden enlarged to take in the king of the land. For living for God from the heart will bring a man or a woman into concerns and burdens that would form no part of their lives otherwise. She heard the story of David, and her heart went out to the man who had dared trust God to slay the giant. He was up against a greater giant than Goliath now. He needed the prayers of all spiritual men and women. He needed them greatly.
All of this was hardly visible to anyone but the all-seeing eyes of God. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) Daily the Lord strengthened and nurtured the spiritual life and labors of the wife of the ranch, and the results were there for any spiritually-minded person to perceive. The servants benefitted. Doubtless, there were neighbors and some others. Perhaps she said, as did another sister of my acquaintance who made an unfortunate marriage, “Maybe I will be the means of him making it to heaven.” It certainly worked on the evil heart of Nabal. It was hard for him to kick against the pricks. But he continued to serve Satan.
And then there came the day that the servant came to her. We have the words recorded. “But 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 any thing, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields: They were a wall unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.” (1 Samuel 25:14-17) Note the openness and the candor of this servant in pouring out his heart to the mistress of the home. There is not desperation in his voice. He has seen God use this woman before to deal with the trouble that Nabal agitates. And the situation is very serious, but he has confidence that the woman walks with God, and that God will help her.
Nor is his confidence misplaced. There is not time to pray down an answer, much less to inquire of the Lord concerning David. She meets the trial with what she has on hand from God. She deals with the problem quickly without involving her husband. She is not usurping his position, although he does an incredibly poor job of being the head of the home. She intends to tell him as soon as the moment is right, and she does. But she is incredibly responsive to the leading and dealing of the Spirit of God. She has a mission from the Lord. She has a burden from the Lord. God is pressing her to do certain things. She gathers a generous provision, a fair provision, of the fruits of the home. Out of long habit, she bears and accepts responsibility for the results of her husband’s sins. She has had much experience in dealing with the aftermath of his foolhardiness. But her burden is greater. What if the man upon whom God has His hand should mar in the Potter’s hands? What if he should do something that he would evermore regret? She does not know for certain that he is angered that greatly, but the insult was deadly and ingeniously calculated by her husband’s master to bring David to sin and regret. She is burdened for his soul, for the success of the work of God.
And thus this wise woman, exercising great and proper wisdom toward her husband (even as Jonathan toward his father [1 Samuel 14:1]), made haste to meet the enraged man of war, who was bent on destroying every man on the estate of Nabal!
It touched his heart. What a word given in due season! “And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand. For in very deed, as the Lord God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me.” (1 Samuel 25:32-34) It should be noted that Abigail played a part in God’s purpose of setting David on the throne of Israel in the right way. “Blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou.” He was fixing to do something that he would have regretted the rest of his days, but this woman of God was used of the Lord to restrain and reprove him. And he listened. He received the provisions that she had brought, for it was only fair. He and his had rendered valuable service to Nabal, and it was fitting that remuneration be offered and accepted. It was all as it should be.
She went back home—to Nabal. He was drunk. She said nothing then, but she told him all the next morning. “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.” (1 Samuel 25:37) He was shocked by what sin had almost brought him to. How we wish that we could read that it stirred him to repentance! That he humbled himself! We read it of the wicked King Ahab. He humbled himself to sackcloth and ashes. He didn’t change, but judgment was postponed. But we read nothing of this about Nabal.
It was the end for him. His time, his opportunity, ran out. He was weighed and found wanting. His numbers were exhausted. “For God shall bring every work into judgment,” (Ecclesiastes 12:14) and it was Nabal’s time to leave and answer for the deeds done in the body. “And it came to pass about ten days after, that the Lord smote Nabal, that he died.” (1 Samuel 25:38)
She was free. God had delivered her from that union to that ungodly man. But she was not the same woman who used to long for deliverance from her fool of a husband. She had taken God’s pathway, and He had prepared and qualified her for more than just Nabal’s benefit. The man who had benefitted from the Lord using her, who feared God and desired to please Him; this man heard that she was a widow. “And David sent and communed with Abigail, to take her to him to wife. And when the servants of David were come to Abigail to Carmel, they spake unto her, saying, David sent us unto thee, to take thee to him to wife. And she arose, and bowed herself on her face to the earth, and said, Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord. And Abigail hasted, and arose, and rode upon an ass, with five damsels of hers that went after her; and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife.” (1 Samuel 25:39-42) We note the absence of bitterness. She didn’t say, “I don’t ever want anything to do with a man again.” So great and complete was the deliverance and victory that God had given her in her life, that she was ready for further usefulness and service. She became the wife of David. And here the Bible speaks by its silence. Dare we believe that this was the end of her wisdom and insight? Of course not. Only eternity shall reveal the full measure of Abigail, that “woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance.” (1 Samuel 25:3)
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:17-18)