Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Wife of Noble Character Who Can Find?: Abigail

[Second post in my "A Wife of Noble Character" series.]

Reading about Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 leaves me wishing there were more to find out about this interesting woman.  She is described as “intelligent and beautiful” (v. 3), while married to Nabal, a Calebite, who has gone down in history as “surly and mean” (v. 3). 

It is likely that Nabal, a wealthy man who likes to party like a king and treat others with thoughtless disrespect, has no idea that he is married to “a wife of noble character…worth far more than rubies” (Proverbs 31:10).  If it weren’t for her bringing him good, not harm, all the days of her life (Proverbs 31:12), the account found in 1 Samuel 25 would have ended much differently!

In this chapter, we are told that it is sheep-shearing time—time to party!—in Carmel, where the wealthy Nabal owns a thousand goats and three thousand sheep on his land.  Earlier, David and his men had protected Nabal’s shepherds and their sheep from any foreigners who might have tried to harm them or steal them away.  David thinks it is only fair that his men be repaid by Nabal for their kindness and concern—perhaps with some supplies, certainly an invitation to the party—whatever Nabal can spare for them.  It would be pretty hard to hold a lavish sheep-shearing party, while claiming that he has nothing to offer to men who have done such a great service for him!

David even has his men ask nicely:  “Long life to you!  Good health to you and your household!  And good health to all that is yours!...Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them” (1 Samuel 25: 6, 8).
But Nabal’s response is essentially this:  “Who is this David guy?  He could be ANYBODY.  Why should I waste my bread, water, and meat on HIM and his men?  They could be coming from who knows where!” (a paraphrase of 1 Samuel 25:10-11).

David is outraged, pretty understandably.  Nabal is violating every expectation of hospitality and kindness that would have generally ruled interactions at that time.  His response, though, is hasty.  He tells 400 of his men to grab their swords and head right over to kill every single man in Nabal’s household (1 Samuel 25: 13, 22).  That would have included his family, servants, shepherds, and other workers. 

Well, thank goodness, one of Nabal’s servants tells Nabal’s wife Abigail that a very outraged David and 400 tired, hungry, and angry men are headed their way (1 Samuel 25: 14-16)!

Abigail springs into action—it’s good news for her household that she does not “eat the bread of idleness” (Proverbs 31:27)!—with an understanding of the situation that suggests this isn’t the first time she has to act quickly to smooth over a rift caused by her husband’s bad behavior.  And the fact that the servants know to come to HER to sort out the catastrophe (1 Samuel 25: 17) suggests that they, too, know who to go to for wise action when Nabal’s breaches of kindness and etiquette get everyone else in trouble. 

In her wisdom, Abigail comes to David with humility, provisions, and positive and encouraging words. 

She faces these 400 angry men riding alone on a donkey into a mountain ravine (1 Samuel 25: 20).  Clearly, she is placing herself at David’s mercy.  She immediately falls at his feet, and offers to take all the blame for Nabal’s behavior upon herself (v. 23-24).

But Abigail doesn’t come with words alone.  She also comes with provisions for David and his men.  They are looking for supplies, and she makes sure they get them:  200 loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs (about a bushel) of roasted grain, 100 raisin cakes, and 200 fig cakes (1 Samuel 25: 18, 27).

The Proverbs 31 wife is depicted as making good decisions, working with eager hands, and providing food for her family and servants (v. 13-15).  While we don’t have information about how Abigail fills her days, we DO know that she makes her own very good decisions for her family, and provides what is needed to keep her family and servants safe from harm.  While the Proverbs 31 wife decides how to use her money productively—on fields or vineyards (v. 16)—Abigail knows the value of using her household money to prepare food for David’s men.  While the Proverbs 31 woman sets about her work vigorously and is strong for the tasks before her (v. 17), Abigail moves quickly to take care of her household’s business and is emotionally strong enough to face an oncoming force of 400 men with humility and strength, simultaneously.  

And finally, Abigail wisely brings words of encouragement to appease David, calm his anger, and redirect his thinking.  The Proverbs 31 woman “can laugh at the days to come” (v. 25) because of her confidence that her future lays in God’s capable hands.  Indeed, Abigail is able to prophecy to David that the Lord will make a lasting dynasty from his family and protect his life, while casting aside his enemies, that God will do every good thing he has promised to David and appoint him leader over Israel (I Samuel 25:28-30).  Abigail knows who holds the future in His hands!  And in sharing this understanding with David at such a pivotal moment, “she speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).  She is wise to remind him that he will not want the burden of needless bloodshed marring his reputation and his conscience once he is king.

Imagine Abigail’s HUGE sigh of relief when David says, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me.  May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands…Go home in peace” (1 Samuel 25: 32, 35).  Though her own husband, Nabal, is unlikely to have called her blessed, nor praised her (Proverbs 31:28), David—her future husband—does, in fact, call her blessed.

Mission accomplished:  Disaster averted!

Of course, Abigail is still stuck going home to Nabal.  She finds him drunk and partying, and doesn’t even try to fill him in on what has happened until the next morning.  Long story short, God strikes him dead ten days later, and David asks Abigail to be his wife.  She gets back on that donkey quickly (1 Samuel 25: 42), and heads out to marry David, the future king of Israel!
If I had a chance to speak to Abigail, based on this account of one brief period in her life, I would say to her:  “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:29)!

To read about Rebekah, the first woman in my
"A Wife of Noble Character" series, click here.

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