Read the passage here.
Our passage today continues directly after chapter 24 which we looked at last week. Chapter 24 is the (relatively) well-known passage where David chooses not to kill Saul in the cave. And as we posited last week, this is because David realizes that it is not his duty to avenge the wrongs that Saul has done to him; rather, he chooses to leave this up to God. Chapter 25 continues this theme in a story about David encountering Nabal and Abigail.
This is again a somewhat lengthy narrative, so we won’t read every verse. However, I want to give a brief outline of what’s going on.
- Firstly, verse 1 gives us a very brief report of the death of the prophet Samuel. We might explore the significance of this a little more, but we’ll leave it at that.
- Then, in vv. 2-13 we get the account of David and Nabal.
- vv. 2-3 introduce to us Nabal and his wife Abigail. We learn that Nabal is described as very wealthy, but surly and mean (other translations, “harsh and evil”). However, in stark contrast, his wife Abigail is described to us as beautiful and intelligent.
- In vv. 4-8, we learn that David, who had been in the area with his army, sends a message to Nabal. We learn later in the chapter that David and his men have been protecting Nabal’s territory and belongings (that is, his flock). And now, David asks that Nabal (who we remember is very wealthy), share his wealth and help support David and his men.
- However, in vv. 9-11, Nabal refuses to do so. In short, Nabal says, “why should I give you what is mine?”
- And in vv. 12-13, David finds out about Nabal’s response and determines to go attack Nabal and (presumably) seek revenge.
- Now at this point, we should very much be reminded of the passage that we read last week. And in last week’s passage, we saw that David had the opportunity to kill Saul – Saul who had been pursuing David and was very much determined to kill him. David’s own men encourage him to do this. However, David ultimately decides that it is not his job to seek revenge, but rather God’s. He decides that God will avenge him and therefore, he will continue in trust.
- But what we’re reading here seems to contradict this altogether. Because David has certainly been insulted and disregarded by Nabal. But rather than forgive Nabal, or at least leave vengeance up to God, he takes his army and seeks out Nabal.
- Now at this point in the narrative, vv. 14-19, Abigail (Nabal’s wife) hears about David’s intentions and makes her own plans.
- In vv. 14-17, one of the servants reports to Abigail the situation. We learn that David and his men had been protecting Nabal’s property, but that Nabal, being a wicked and foolish man, did not appreciate this.
- So in vv. 18-19, Abigail gathers together all of the provisions that Nabal should have offered in the first place, and prepares to meet David.
- Now we are going to come back and look at the next few verses (especially vv. 20-31) in a little more detail, but for now, suffice it to say that Abigail pleads with David to not seek revenge against Nabal, and David relents.
- And in vv. 32-35, we read of David’s appreciation for Abigail and his promise not to seek revenge against Nabal.
- Now the rest of the chapter (vv. 36-44) likely serves as an epilogue to this account.
- In vv. 36-38, we learn of Nabal’s death.
- And in vv. 39-44, after Nabal’s death, David marries Abigail. Now we also find out that David marries another woman and, in fact, his first wife Michal was given away by Saul. There’s probably stuff we need to unpack there, but we’re going to leave that alone for now.
Now I recognize that that was probably not actually quicker than just reading the passage, but hopefully it gives us a good idea of what this passage is about. As a way of digging a little deeper into what’s going on, I want to think about the relationship between the different characters. Specifically, I want to consider the relationship between David and Nabal, and David and Abigail. And inasmuch as we’re focussing on the person of David (which, as we know, is a function of the theme of God’s continuing work in building His kingdom, which is another way of describing the theme of God’s continuing work in redeeming creation), we are also considering the question of what kind of king is David becoming.
So let’s begin by thinking about what’s going on with David and Nabal. We learn from this chapter that, in avoiding Saul’s pursuit, David winds up in the area of Carmel. And here, he and his men take up the responsibility of looking after the property (that is, land, livestock, and people). And this is in keeping with what we’ve seen from David – even in “exile,” he has previously taken up the responsibility of protecting Israel from its enemies. So when sheep-shearing season arrives, David asks Nabal to reward them for their protection. He and his men are on the run, in hiding from Saul and his armies, and they need the support of the people in food, supplies, and etc. in order to not be captured and killed. Now the text isn’t particularly explicit, but it seems that this was a reasonable request. And the text is clear that Nabal is wrong, even wicked, for refusing David’s request.
At this point, it’s worth thinking about David’s actions and reactions. We already know – because the text is pretty explicit – that Nabal’s actions are distasteful, even abhorrent.
What we don’t know is the status of David’s heart and mind in making the request. What were his expectation when he took up the responsibility of protecting Nabal’s property? Why was he so angry at the refusal?
It should be obvious that I’m making some guesses or assumptions here. But did David only take on this responsibility with the hope of being paid? Did the refusal enrage him because of a breach of implied contract? Or did he somehow take this as a personal affront? Did he somehow think he had a right to the reward? He had taken on a job, and therefore he deserved to get paid? Did he think that Nabal was disregarding his position, his status as the anointed of God (even if Nabal might not have been aware of it)?
Of course, it’s impossible to know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if all of this was going on in David’s heart. None of us are immune to the feeling of, “What about me?”
So with David’s anger, we turn to his encounter with Abigail.
Now to begin with, we should note the significance of Abigail’s involvement in this whole narrative. As a woman in this society, her initiative in intercepting David is worthwhile. Moreover, her determination to effectively overrule her husband’s decision could likely have caused her all kinds of problems if Nabal found out. And I point this out because of how often in scripture, women intercede on God’s behalf for the ignorance, foolishness, and cowardice of men. Now obviously, my personal theology arises out of (or is rooted in) an egalitarian perspective. However, my broader biblical theological point is that, in scripture, it is frequently (frequently!) the case that God uses the weak to overcome the strong.
So at this point, I want to look a little deeper into Abigail’s speech to David. Let’s take a look at vv. 23-31:
23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. 25 Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. 26 And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. 27 And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.
28 “Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. 29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. 30 When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, 31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”1 Samuel 25: 23-31
There are a couple of phrases here that I want to key in on, in keeping with the theme that we’ve been looking at (in the last couple of chapters). Firstly, Abigail asks forgiveness for Nabal because he is foolish man. Then she says:
26 And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal.
28 “Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live.
30 When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, 31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself.
And what I want to point out is how Abigail makes the distinction that we noted last week. That is, she implores David to not take revenge against Nabal because it is David’s duty, as the anointed, not to seek justice for himself, but to seek the will of God (here, to “fight the Lord’s battles.”). In saying, “When the Lord has fulfilled…every good thing [for David],” she reminds him that it is not his duty to seek vengeance for (perceived) wrongs done to himself, but that God will bring justice and reward as He has promised.
This should hopefully remind us of the very thing we discussed last week, when David chose not to kill Saul but to leave justice to the Lord. So it’s maybe surprising that David appears to have forgotten that point so quickly. And incidentally, it’s worth noting that in the very next chapter (ch. 26) we see this theme played out again. In chapter 26, David is once again presented with the opportunity to kill Saul but chooses to leave Saul’s judgement up to God. Now this structure is worth exploring further – though at this point, I’m intending to skip chapter 26 (mostly because of the degree of apparent repetition). At least one commentator sees this triad of chapters/narratives as indicating David’s growth in this area. However, I’m not so sure. We can perhaps see David growing in this area from chapter 24 to chapter 26. But I’m inclined to see chapters 24 and 26 as not too different (that is, does David really grow all that much?).
Leaving that particular point for now, what I’d rather do (which is perhaps related) is think about the question that we posed earlier. That is, what does all this tell us about what kind of king David is called to be? Which is to say, what does it tell us about what kind of kingdom David is called to establish (or, what kind of kingdom is God building)? And of course, this is obviously (I hope) related to the question of, how is David being formed?
Firstly, I want to reiterate and emphasize the point that David seems to be learning in this chapter (as well as 24 and 26): That is, that justice belongs to the Lord. What we see is that David has the opportunity to take vengeance against his enemies. Again, in chapters 24 and 26, that enemy is Saul, and we’ve seen how Saul has pursued David because he wants to kill him. Effectively, Saul has taken everything from David so it makes sense that David would want to kill Saul. By killing Saul, David could get back everything that is his, as well as take possession of everything that presumably is promised to him – that is, the rule of the kingdom of Israel.
In our chapter today, David has performed a generous, benevolent act towards Nabal. And presumably, the right thing for Nabal to do would be to reciprocate by taking care of those who have taken care of him – to pay back what he owes. But he doesn’t. And David wants to take revenge. In fact, we might say that David has a right to take what belongs to him. But he doesn’t. He chooses not to assert his rights. He is reminded by Abigail that God alone will give David what he truly deserves, what he is truly owed.
Secondly, I want to think further about this notion of what David is owed – that is, David’s rights. That is, though the passage doesn’t explicitly state that it’s David’s pride, his ego, that he’s protecting, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to me. In fact, it might even be likely. David had been “serving” Nabal -and would undoubtedly be angry that this service wasn’t recognized. He might have believed that he had a “right” to recompense – that he was owed. And from a certain perspective, this is true. But the thing for us to be aware of, the thing that is often the temptation, is conflating our own personal agendas with doing kingdom work. That is, the temptation is to think that fighting for justice for ourselves is the same thing as working for God’s purposes.
Now obviously this is at the very least a skewed view of justice. And we talked about this a little last week (and on many other occasions).
But more than that, I think it demonstrates a poor, reductionist, and selfish view of God and kingdom. I feel like it demonstrates a misunderstanding of what God is doing in redeeming creation; that we don’t understand what it means to be made whole.
And this brings us to the third point I’d like to raise. For this, I want to revisit the biblical motif that we see again here that God so often chooses and works through weakness, not strength.
Now we’re not specifically looking at it here, it may be worth noticing that in chapters 24 and 26, it is David’s men, soldiers under David’s command that encourage him to kill Saul. But here it is a woman, Nabal’s wife, Abigail who encourages David to not take vengeance in his own hands.
Now I don’t want to over-state what’s going on here, but it seems to me that throughout scripture, it is frequently (perhaps usually?) through weakness that God’s kingdom work is accomplished. There are numerous example we could explore, but the paradigmatic example is Jesus Himself. Jesus Christ, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8).
So what I’m trying to suggest is that Abigail’s exhortation to David is not just about rejecting revenge or reparations. It’s not just about keeping one’s hands clean. Rather, perhaps it’s also indicative of what kind of king David is supposed to be; what kind of kingdom David is supposed to build.
Many years ago, I noticed a verse that has always stuck with me. 1 Corinthians 6:7 says:
1 Cor. 6:7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
And we should be clear – the specific context of this verse has to do with disputes between believers within the community. And it builds on one of the themes of 1 Corinthians about unity in the body. But it seems to me that the idea behind this verse is very much related to what we’re talking about today. And that is, “standing up for your rights” is a key principle in our society. In a world where human beings seem like we are constantly at battle with one another, where we are constantly seeking to conquer or subdue one another – and we have to, because that’s the only way to get ahead, to make sure we don’t get taken advantage of others – this makes sense. In a world where survival of the fittest is the foundational principle, and capitalism is the purest expression of it, this seems obvious. However, the ethics of the kingdom goes beyond this. The kingdom demands from us not (what we think) we deserve, what we think is our right, but asks us to seek what is better.
David is still learning; David is still growing; David is still being formed. And part of that formation is learning that the kingdom of God is not established by the means that make sense to the world. Sometimes, the means don’t even make sense to us – because we can’t understand how that benefits ourselves. But sometimes, we have to be willing to give up ourselves in order that God’s kingdom can be revealed.