David and the Wife of Nabal1 Samuel 25:2-35 (NRSV)
There was a man in Maon, whose property 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 clever and beautiful, but the man was surly and mean; 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. Thus you shall salute 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 sight; for we have come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’”
When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David; and then they waited. But Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and the meat that I have butchered 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. David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every one 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, “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were 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 evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.”
Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them. Now David had said, “Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; but he has returned me evil for good. God do so to David[a] and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”
When Abigail saw David, she hurried and alighted from the donkey, and fell before David on her face, bowing to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, “Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal[b] is his name, and folly is with him; but I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.
“Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, since the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from taking vengeance with your own hand, now let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be like Nabal. And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your servant; for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord; and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. If anyone should rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. When the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.”
David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from bloodguilt and from avenging myself by my own hand! For as surely as the Lord the God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there would not have been left to Nabal so much as one male.” Then David received from her hand what she had brought him; he said to her, “Go up to your house in peace; see, I have heeded your voice, and I have granted your petition.”
There are lots of people in the world, with lots of different personalities. Some people tend to be more positive, always seeing the good in the world around them. While others tend to be a little more negative, focusing more on the struggles. But to be honest, to the person who sees the good in everything, it’s sometimes frustrating to listen to all the complaining. And to the person who focuses on the struggle, it can be just as frustrating to hear about unicorns and rainbows all the time.
Well in today’s story, we hear of a husband and wife who have very different outlooks on life. You may wonder how they met each other, fell in love, and decided to get married when they have such different views and attitudes. But the truth is most marriages were arranged in Abigail and Nabal’s time. Romantic love and commonalities had nothing to do with it. Often the couple would meet for the first time at their wedding, kind of like that TV show, “Married at First Sight.” A marriage in Nabal and Abigail’s time–about 1000BC–was a covenant or a contract, between a man and a woman, the terms of which each was expected to honor, and it didn’t matter if they agreed on things or even liked each other.
Well, in scripture, Abigail is described as clever and beautiful while her husband Nabal, though wealthy, was bad-tempered and impossible to reason with. Abigail had learned the art of peacemaking by experience. I’m sure that she had faced several situations when she had to smooth things over, and she quickly learned, as the old adage goes, that you catch more bees with honey. In her quiet strength, she expressed self-control and humility. Her gentle words and actions achieved more than an army at full strength. And when it came to the situation with David, her quick intelligent action, her humility, and her trust in God saved the lives of her household.
Now some of you might be thinking that we are being a little tough on Nabal. I mean, what right did David have to expect Nabal to share what he had with David and his army? That’s a little presumptuous, isn’t it? Well, actually, no. It was customary at that time for those being protected to offer some sort of tribute or gift of thanks. That’s why David sent his men to talk with Nabal. He merely expected what was known to be a common courtesy. But Nabal, in his arrogant selfishness, refused to share his abundance even with David, and that made David angry. It made him so angry, as we heard in today’s story, that he readied his men for a vengeful attack against Nabal.
I wonder what would have happened if Abigail hadn’t stepped in? Was this why Abigail was matched with Nabal? So that her kindness could not only bring peace to her home but also to David and his army? Folks, the truth is we all face difficult times in our lives, and sometimes we barely have the energy to take care of ourselves let alone others. But no matter how frustrated and tired and angry we may feel, we need to remember that our words and our actions affect the world around us.
There are lots of examples of this in the Bible, but one that comes to mind for me is the apostle Paul. Paul was always writing letters to the churches to encourage them. In one letter Paul wrote to the church in Philippi telling them to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. Do not worry about anything. and do whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing.”
My goodness, Paul must have been having a really great day. Don’t you think? Things must have been going his way. He was so positive. Life must have been a lot easier for him than it is for us. He must not have had all the worries that we have. But you know what my friends? That is simply not true because Paul wrote that letter from prison, and his prison sentence was expected to end in a trial that could result in his death if convicted. He was jailed and beaten and eventually killed for being a follower of Jesus. And yet until his dying day, he called out, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”
My friends, in the days and weeks and months ahead, when you face bumps along the road and unexpected twists and turns on your journey, I urge you to think about Abigail and Paul and the peace that their kindness brought to the world. Folks, we always teach others by our own example, and our actions speak much louder than our words.
Wouldn’t you expect that sitting in prison, Paul would be angry and frustrated? Or living with Nabal day after day that Abigail would be tired and irritated? I’m sure that some days they were. But especially on those days, they remembered to enter their inner sanctuaries where they were reminded of the calm and peace and rest that God brought them. And because of that, they felt called to share that kindness and peace with others.
Friends I wonder. Do you have days when you just want to throw in the towel? I know I do. Do you have moments when you just want to tell people off and complain about the things that you are going through? I think we all do. But have you ever heard God whisper in your heart to just love your neighbor no matter what? To be kind even when others are being rude? And to bring peace to chaotic situations? Friends, the choice is always ours.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into the world this week, think about how you react to the stresses of the world. Do you add to the chaos, or do you bring a sense of calm, and kindness, and peace? Next time you find yourself in a difficult place where stress and frustration are running high, remember Abigail and Paul and do your best to be humble and kind, as you help to bring peace to the world.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen