Read the Passage: 1 Samuel 25
Contextually, the events of this chapter occur between the two times that David spared Saul’s life. This chapter gives us a brief look into David’s life as a refugee in the wilderness. Although it is only one verse, 1 Sam. 25:1 is an important passage, for it records the death of Samuel the prophet. On account of more than 40 years of ministry, the lamentation for Samuel was great as the prophet was buried in his hometown of Ramah. Note that Samuel’s death is briefly mentioned later at 1 Sam. 28:3. In 1 Sam. 25:2–3 we are introduced to two new characters, Nabal and Abigail of Carmel. We are told that Nabal “was very rich” (1 Sam. 25:2). This is in contrast to David who was a refugee. There is also a contrast between Nabal, which means “fool,” and Abigail, which means “father’s joy.” Nabal is described in this passage as being harsh and evil, while Abigail is said to be beautiful and intelligent.
In 1 Sam. 25:4–9 David sends his men to make a request of Nabal. We learn that David and his 600 men had encountered Nabal’s shepherds and flocks while in the wilderness. David and his men had voluntarily protected Nabal’s possessions (cf. 1 Sam. 25:7–8), as his men later testify (cf. 1 Sam. 25:15–16). In return for his protection, David sent messengers to request provisions from Nabal for himself and for his men. While this may seem like a bold request—that is, David, a complete stranger to Nabal, requesting provisions for 600 men—consider the following. First, the text tells us that Nabal was very rich. Second, David and his men had legitimately contributed to Nabal’s material flourishing. Third, what prompted David’s request was news of Nabal sheering his sheep. Such times of harvest were occasions for rejoicing and great feasting (cf. 1 Sam. 25:8), and was a time of great material flourishing for Nabal.
Given his description as being a “harsh and evil” man (1 Sam. 25:2), as well as his very name, Nabal’s negative response to David is expected. Note, however, the details of Nabal’s rejection of David and his men. First, Nabal accuses David of being a servant who is in rebellion against his master Saul. This shows that Nabal was aware of who David was and of the then current political climate. Surely Nabal knew that David was the king-elect. Second, Nabal is prideful in referring to his possessions as being his own and under his control. Note that Nabal did not seek to confirm David’s men’s account, he did not ask God for wisdom, nor did Nabal seek advice from others before responding harshly to David’s messengers. Upon hearing Nabal’s sharp response, David ordered 400 of his men to gird their swords. It is clear that David’s intent was to attack Nabal’s household (cf. 1 Sam. 25:17, 22, 34).
Beginning at 1 Sam. 25:14, Abigail’s good understanding is on full display. Apparently, Abigail was unaware of the earlier visit from David’s men. However, upon being informed by a servant of David’s visit, his protection of the servants and flocks, and Nabal’s harsh rebuttal, Abigial quickly sprang into action without telling her husband. She prepared supplies for David and his men, sent scouts ahead to intercept David, and set out herself to meet him. Upon meeting David, Abigail accepted blame for the situation, confessed Nabal’s injustice, asked David to receive her gift, and—most importantly—showed that she was aware that David had been chosen by God to be king of Israel. Clearly, Abigail knew of Saul’s pursuit of David and about the current political events. This humble intervention of Abigail resulted in David calling off the attack on the household of Nabal.
The narrative is immediately resolved with David’s men receiving the provisions offered by Abigail, as well as Nabal’s household being spared. As the narrative continues, however, and we learn that Nabal passed away–likely from a stroke–after Abigail informed him of her actions. It is unclear if the news of Abigail’s actions is what prompted Nabal’s death, or if it was his feasting, or possibly both. In any event, David is pleased when he learns of Nabal’s death, as he views it an act of divine justice. In a surprising move, David then proposed to Abigail and she became his wife. This is unexpected, for David was already married to Michal. Yet, earlier, Saul had given Michal to another man as his wife—likely in an attempt to spite David and to remove him from his family lineage. Moreover, we learn that David also took a third wife named Ahinoam of Jezreel.
- How far do the commands in the Bible toward hospitality extend? Was David correct in asking Nabal to provide food for he and his men?
- Which material state does the Bible describe as being more favorable: wealth or poverty? How does one’s material status affect one’s spiritual status, if at all?
- Do you think that David’s response, after being refused by Nabal, is overly harsh? Was David being driven by anger, justice, vengeance, or something else?
- Abigail did not follow her husband’s leadership, even initially hiding her actions from him. How can we justify Abigail’s actions?
- Given the Bible’s presentation of monogamy as being normal (cf. Gen. 2:24), how can we explain David’s actions of taking more than one wife?