The Abigail of 1 Samuel 25 offers wisdom for twenty-first-century Christians. Women and men alike need to keep a close connection to God. Abigail teaches us how to let God’s love and wisdom flow through us to others and leave vengeance to God alone. As David wrote in those Psalms born of his desert experience, the Lord watches over us, will not slumber nor sleep, and will keep us from all harm.
The Context of 1 Samuel 25
David, God’s choice to be the next king, was being pursued by a jealous and mentally ill King Saul. David had moved to the desert after the death of the prophet Samuel, his mentor (1 Sam. 25:1). There in the desert, he composed Psalms 120–121, exuding his utter dependence on God and on God’s rich promises to protect him.
Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, owned property there and was extremely wealthy (v. 2). While in the desert, David and his men protected Nabal’s flocks and herds from marauders, who roamed there frequently, attacking and plundering the local populace. They had done this at no cost to Nabal and had treated his property honestly and ethically.
Nabal’s wife Abigail was intelligent and beautiful, but Nabal was surly and mean (v. 3).
The time of sheep-shearing had come—a season of hospitality in that culture. David sent ten young men with instructions to greet Nabal warmly, wish him well, remind him that those of his shepherds near David and his men were well treated, and ask Nabal to give David and his men whatever he could (vv. 5–8). David referred to himself as “your son,” a term of respect (v. 8). His request was in keeping with the customs of that time. Furthermore, David and his men could have helped themselves to Nabal’s sheep and flocks, but they had not.
Nevertheless, Nabal answered meanly (vv. 10–11).
The men reported every word to David (v. 12). He ordered them to arm themselves with swords, as he did himself, and he headed out with 400 men (v. 13). It was not David’s finest moment—more in keeping with the character of Saul.
Turning to Abigail for Help
But one of Nabal’s servants rushed to Abigail and told her everything, even that Nabal had “hurled insults at [David’s men]” (v. 14). The servant told her how good David’s men had been to them while they herded sheep nearby (vv. 15–16). Then the servant suggested she think it over and see what she could do, because otherwise disaster would come to all of them (v. 17). He added, “[Nabal] is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him” (v. 17).
Think about it. What does this say about Abigail? For servants to talk this way to Abigail about her husband suggests that they knew, first of all, that she understood and probably suffered from him also. Second, it suggests she was the kind of boss they could discuss concerns with safely. Usually, even if we know that one family member is hurtful toward another, we are careful not to say anything negative, as the victim will defend the relative.
Think about the logistics. Abigail immediately took 200 loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, about a bushel of roasted grain, 100 cakes of raisins, and 200 cakes of pressed figs; loaded them onto donkeys; and sent them on ahead with her servants (vv. 18–19). She didn’t do all this in her microwave. Many of these foods would have been prepared already, but I can’t help but wonder how long it took to prepare all this and how many donkeys and servants were required.
Notice that Abigail did not tell her husband, Nabal (v. 19). How could they prepare and load this much without Nabal noticing? And just to take that many donkeys and servants out of circulation at the home front must have left a hole. On the other hand, since Abigail returned home later to a drunken Nabal hosting a feast, which probably Nabal didn’t prepare himself, we might guess that they had a huge estate. Maybe Nabal really didn’t miss several donkeys, several servants, and one wife.
Abigail Approaches David with Respect
Abigail met David and his men in a ravine (v. 20). David had just told his men that Nabal had returned evil for good, and he had vowed to kill every male that belonged to him (vv. 21–22). Abigail got off her donkey and bowed to the ground (v. 23). She showed David as much respect as Nabal had shown him scorn. Where Nabal had said with disgust, “Who is David?” she addressed him as “my lord” (v. 24).
She then pled with David to let her take all the blame, and said that Nabal was like his name, which meant Fool, and she had not seen the men that David sent (v. 25). She probably was accustomed to placating people Nabal had offended. Some wives today are skilled at covering their husband’s blunders, explaining what he probably meant by his rash words, or making up for his insensitivity to someone. And some husbands do the same for their wives.
Nabal obviously had not communicated with Abigail about the request. If he had, she might have spared him disaster with her wise counsel. But he was probably more accustomed to giving her orders than asking her advice.
Abigail Wisely but Humbly Rebukes David
Now she asked David to accept her gifts (v. 27). She pointed out that since God had kept him from bloodshed, he should now let the Lord avenge (v. 26). She urged him to keep his name pure and let the Lord fight his battles, and the Lord would bless him (v. 28). If David had carried out his intentions, the people would have had serious doubts about his fitness to be king—people don’t usually want a ruler who exterminates those who oppose his will. Abigail believed that he would become king, and she didn’t want David to look back with guilt upon his rash reaction (v. 31).
Abigail took no credit for her wisdom, but gave it only to God. Surely such humility, wisdom, and her prophecy of David’s future must have come from a prior, regular, close relationship with God.
The Results of Abigail’s Intervention
David praised the Lord for sending her and for her good wisdom that saved him from the guilt of bloodshed (vv. 32–33). Not everyone receives rebuke kindly, without any defensiveness—especially one who knows he is designated to become king. And rebuke from a woman, and in front of all his soldiers! But he recognized the providence of God in their timely meeting, and he praised God for it. He accepted her gifts and sent her home in peace (v. 35).
Back home, Abigail found a drunken Nabal hosting a banquet (v. 36). She told him nothing until daybreak. (Didn’t he miss her at all as he prepared for his banquet?) When he was sober, she told him all, and his heart failed him, he became like stone, was paralyzed, and died ten days later (vv. 37–38). Nabal had had his opportunity. The presence of a godly wife had had no effective influence on him. So he forfeited his right to the further protection of God.
David heard and praised the Lord again for keeping him from sin and for avenging his mistreatment (v. 39). And he sent word to Abigail by his servants, asking her to become his wife. She bowed again, with her face to the ground, and accepted (v. 41). This would ensure that she was cared for the rest of her life.
A Few of the Things We Can Learn from Abigail
What a wealth of lessons we can draw from this story!
- How to treat those who work for us
- How to leave trials in God’s hands to deal with in his manner and time
- How to confront and advise humbly when it is necessary
- How to accept reproof nondefensively
One of the biggest lessons I see in Abigail is to do with how women have agency and responsibility in their relationship with God, and with their husbands. Some Christians teach that women should obey their husbands in everything, even doing something that they know is otherwise wrong. Here we have God blessing a woman who deliberately went against her husband’s wishes. True, we have no evidence that Nabal specifically told Abigail not to serve David’s men, but it’s also clear that she knew how he felt about it, that he had refused, and that she realized he was wrong and set out to rectify his error—even going behind his back so that he couldn’t interfere.
Abigail has taught me how God expects me to nurture my own relationship with him, and to make decisions in my life according to what I see as his will.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.
Who Was Abigail?
Women in Scripture and Mission: Abigail