When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited. And Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” So David’s young men turned away and came back and told him all this. And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every man of them strapped on his sword. David also strapped on his sword. And about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.
But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them. They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.” – 1 Samuel 25:9-17 ESV
We discover in these verses that Nabal was a man who lived up to his name, which happened to mean “fool”. He had all the classic characteristics of a biblical fool.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 ESV
The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge,
but fools broadcast their foolishness. – Proverbs 12:23 NLT
Short-tempered people do foolish things… – Proverbs 14:17 NLT
He was arrogant, full of himself, quick-tempered, resistant to counsel, and ignorant of the consequences of his behavior. He treated David, a mighty warrior, as if he were a nobody. He showed him no honor or respect. He looked down his nose at him, foolishly saying, “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?” (1 Samuel 25:10-11 NLT). He knew exactly who David was. Even the Philistines had heard about David’s reputation as a mighty warrior. But Nabal, knowing that David was a man on the run, made a very foolish decision to treat David with disrespect and disdain.
One of Nabal’s shepherds, when he had witnessed what his foolish master had done, ran and told Abigail, Nabal’s wife. Even his words reveal the depth of Nabal’s problem: “he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him” (1 Samuel 25:17 ESV). Nabal’s foolishness ran so deep that he could not even recognize the folly and danger of his own actions. And he was totally resistant to the wise counsel of those around him who might have been able to protect him had he only listened.
What would have possessed Nabal to act so foolishly and risk the wrath of someone as powerful as David? We have to remember that, according to the Bible, foolishness is not a mental or psychological problem, it is spiritual. At the heart of Nabal’s folly was lack of respect for and fear of God. He had placed himself at the center of his own life, making himself his own god and arbiter of his own fate. Ultimately, foolishness is the lack of wisdom. And Psalm 111 tells us:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding. – Psalm 111:19 ESV
Scripture repeatedly warns us that a person who denies, ignores, or neglects God lacks wisdom and inevitably displays the characteristics of a fool.
- He acts thoughtlessly: He gives little or no thought to God; refusing to consider the truth about God. His treatment of others is simply a byproduct of his lack of thought regarding God’s holiness and judgment.
- He becomes dull-minded: When a man fails to consider God, his mind becomes dulled by the things of this world. He begins to lose the ability to see clearly, having his spiritual vision clouded by materialism, success, comfort, and pleasure. not being sharp in his thoughts about God. His mind becomes intoxicated with the things of this world and he sluggish toward God.
- He becomes senseless: A man who neglects God finds himself lacking in wisdom and acting contrary to good common sense. Because he is deficient in his thoughts about God, he becomes in his ability to think clearly and sensibly. He may be smart and successful, but he will be plagued by senseless decision-making and the harmful outcomes it brings.
- He will be without understanding: Because he fails to grasp or comprehend God; he will end up with wrong conclusions or thoughts about God. He will wrongly assume that God is not there or that God does not care about what he is doing. He will make godless decisions because he is essentially living a God-less life.
- He will exhibit an ignorance of God: He won’t truly know God. Because he has left God out of his thought processes, he will display behavior that reveals his faulty understand of God. He won’t fear God’s holiness. He won’t worry about God’s judgment. He won’t seek God’s wisdom. He won’t see a need for God’s forgiveness.
- He will be unwise: Without God in his life, he will lack wisdom. If fact, regardless of what he tries to do, he will act contrary to wisdom. His behavior will make sense to him, but it will actually lead to dangerous and foolish outcomes.
These characteristics, while true of the lost, should be especially scary to the believer, because any of us can exhibit these same qualities at any time. All it takes is for us to neglect God in our lives, to fail to fear Him and treat Him with the honor, respect and worship He is due. When we leave God out of our lives, we open up the door to foolishness. Foolishness if nothing more than a lack of wisdom and, as the psalmist said, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Nabal was a fool because Nabal was ungodly. If he didn’t fear God, why in the world would he fear David? If he was willing to treat God with disrespect, what would prevent him from treating David the same way?
It is interesting to note that, in the Proverbs, there are five different types of fools mentioned. They seem to run on a continuum, moving from bad to worse. There is the simple fool, the silly fool, the sensual fool, the scornful fool and the stubborn fool. Each is characterized by a different Hebrew word. The last one, the stubborn fool, is the word, “nâbâl”, which just happens to be the name of the character in our story.
According to the Proverbs, this is the most dangerous type of fool. A stubborn fool rejects God and His ways. He is self-confident and close-minded. He is his own god, freely gratifying his own sin nature. It is his goal to draw as many others as possible into following his ways. His actions tend to impact all those around him, just as Nabal’s actions were going to result in the deaths of all those around him. The Proverbs make it clear that only God can reprove a stubborn fool. And we will see in the story that, while David had a heart for God, he ran the risk of acting foolishly himself. He was going to let the foolish actions of Nabal cause him to respond in a godless, foolish way. But wiser heads would prevail.
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.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson