Now Samuel died. And all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him in his house at Ramah.
Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran. And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite. David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. So David sent ten young men. And David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name. And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’” – 1 Samuel 25:1-8 ESV
This chapter is going to serve as the centerpiece between chapters 24 and 26, linking the two stories they contain. In chapter 24, we saw David pass on what appeared to be a God-given opportunity to take the life of King Saul. He would not raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed. Chapter 26 will present us with a very similar story in which David is presented with another tempting and seemingly divine opportunity to get rid of Saul once and for all. Sandwiched in-between these two chapters is the story of David’s encounter with Abigail and Nabal. The central figure in the story is Abigail. Her relationship with her rich, but foolish husband, Nabal, will provide a timely comparison to that of David and Saul. We will find intentional hints dropped along the way that reveal how much Saul is like the character of Nabal. And Abigail will provide a hard-to-miss illustration of how someone is to handle the “fools” in their lives.
But before we address David’s encounter with Abigail and Nabal, we have to deal with David’s loss. The chapter opens with the announcement of the death of Samuel. This would have been a shocking blow to David. Samuel, the prophet and the last of the judges of Israel, had played an integral role in the nation’s transformation into a monarchy. He had witnessed and overseen the establishment of Saul as the very first king over the nation of Israel. He had done so somewhat reluctantly, seeing their demand for a king as an indictment against him as their judge. But there was more to the story. We’re told in 1 Samuel 8 that Samuel had two sons, Joel and Abijah, who both served as judges, but they didn’t exactly have sterling reputations.
Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. – 1 Samuel 8:3 ESV
It was the thought of these two men judging over them that moved the people to demand a king. But Samuel took offense. He had been the one to rule over and guide them. He had served as God’s mouthpiece, dispensing judgment and providing direction for the people. But with the appointment of Saul as king, Samuel’s role changed dramatically. He became a counselor to the king and a prophet to the people. He still had a vital role to play, presenting Saul with the difficult news that his kingdom was coming to an end and that God had already chosen his replacement. He was the one to anoint David to be the next king. But now, as the nation stood on the brink of a major change, as the transfer of power from one man to another grew closer, Samuel died. The last judge of Israel passed off the scene. A new era was beginning. The period of the kings was about to begin in earnest and it would represent one of the most volatile and unstable periods in the history of the nation of Israel. David and Saul would end up representing the two diametrically opposite extremes of kingly conduct and character. Israel would know what it was like to have godly kings and godless, foolish, immoral kings.
And that is where the story of Abigail and Nabal comes in. David and Saul had parted ways after their encounter outside the cave in the wilderness of Engedi. Saul had shown remorse over his treatment of David and acknowledged his realization of the fact that David was going to replace him. It was God-ordained. But David did not return with Saul. He continued to live in the wilderness with his men, knowing that not much had changed. The transfer of power from Saul to himself was up to God and according to His timing. He would have to continue to wait until God decided the timing was right. And that brought him into the wilderness of Paran, where he had a “chance” encounter with Nabal.
We’re told that Nabal was rich, having 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats. He also had a wife named Abigail. And the text tells us, “The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite” (1 Samuel 25:3 ESV). We are immediately presented with the contrasting characters of these two individuals. They have been joined together in marriage, but they could not be more dissimilar in their natures and behaviors. Later on in the story, Abigail will rather bluntly share with David, “I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests” (1 Samuel 25:25 NLT). His very name meant “fool.” Somewhat of an odd name for any parents to name their child, but the name obviously fit. Nabal was a surly, egotistical, arrogant and unwise individual who had made a name for himself in the world and enjoyed a life of relative wealth. In the Bible, the designation, “fool” had nothing to do with intelligence. It is more of a spiritually-oriented label. David would one day write in one of his psalms, “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!” (Psalm 14:1 NLT).
In Psalm 10, we are given an even more descriptive assessment of the fool, but in terms of their wickedness:
4 The wicked are too proud to seek God.
They seem to think that God is dead.
5 Yet they succeed in everything they do.
They do not see your punishment awaiting them.
They sneer at all their enemies.
6 They think, “Nothing bad will ever happen to us!
We will be free of trouble forever!” – Psalm 10:4-6 NLT
It seems that David and his men had encountered the shepherds of Nabal while they were hiding out in the area of Paran. Because of their presence there, David’s men had made the area safe from Amalakites and Philistines. They had served as a kind of military presence in Paran, ensuring the safety of its residence, and this had included Nabal’s shepherds and his sheep. So David determined to seek aid from Nabal, expecting him to gladly extend courtesy out of gratitude. He sent his men with a message for Nabal.
“Peace and prosperity to you, your family, and everything you own! I am told that it is sheep-shearing time. While your shepherds stayed among us near Carmel, we never harmed them, and nothing was ever stolen from them. Ask your own men, and they will tell you this is true. So would you be kind to us, since we have come at a time of celebration? Please share any provisions you might have on hand with us and with your friend David.” – 1 Samuel 25:6-8 NLT
But David was in for a rude surprise. His kind words were going to be met with stubborn defiance. This encounter was going to push David to the limits. He was already struggling with his ongoing feud with Saul. He had been hiding and running for some time now. And he had just heard the devastating news that his mentor, Samuel, had died. He was not in a good mood. He was not a man to be trifled with. And yet, at this low point in his life, David found himself coming face-to-face with Nabal, the fool.
David was going to receive an invaluable lesson on how to handle the fools in his life, and it would come from an unlikely source, the wife of Nabal. And this lesson would serve David well in his ongoing relationship with Saul.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.