1 Samuel 25:1-13
I know that most of the stories I’ve been telling recently have to do with my daughter, but that’s just because I’m a new dad, and I’ve got to try and get the most out of these stories before she’s old enough to ask me to stop. Hopefully I have the wisdom to listen to her when the time comes.
She’s usually a really good listener. But there are those times when she has “selective hearing.” You know what I’m talking about? When the person you’re talking to just carries on as if they can’t hear you even though you KNOW they can absolutely hear you! And then when you DO get their attention, they just give you this goofy smile as if they don’t know that you’ve been trying to talk to them for the last two minutes!
I’m not the only one who has experienced this? Good.
But then there are other times when Megan and I will be talking in the car, and Emmy is in the back singing songs to herself or something, and then she’ll repeat something we just said. We didn’t know she was listening, but there she is, proclaiming in a loud voice, “What the Heck?!”
(Let’s just say that I’m glad I didn’t let any other words slip when I thought she wasn’t listening.)
Jesus once said that a wise person is someone who listens and obeys his words, while someone who hears Jesus’ words and then doesn’t do anything about them is a foolish person.
I wonder how we would score on that scale on any given day?
I wonder if you’re like me, and most of the time, you don’t really listen to anyone else, but just charge ahead with your life until someone speaks to you in a way that stops you from going too far or losing perspective. Today, we’re going to see David in exactly that situation.
We last left off when David had a chance to kill Saul, but instead he decided to pull a power move and send a message, while SEEMING like he was still being subservient and humble. Do we remember? With the cave and cutting off the edge of the robe?
Today’s story gives us a little break from David’s drama with Saul while we follow David into the wilderness with his men and see how David is maturing as a leader and future king.
READ 1 SAMUEL 25:1-13
Don’t worry, we’re not going to stop there on a cliffhanger like that! Definitely keep your Bibles open, because we will be going through this whole chapter. But before we see what happens after David arms himself, let’s walk back and unpack what we just read.
Our story starts like a fable or legend, “There once was a rich man who lived near Carmel…”
This man’s name is Nabal, which we find out later means “Fool.” And so, already, we almost wonder what is coming next from this folly of a man who is married to an intelligent and beautiful woman. And without even reading ahead, we have a clue from the way the narrator has introduced Nabal to us by way of his possessions. Nabal is exceedingly rich, and he is a cunning and shrewd business-person. One of my first thoughts was of Ebenezer Scrooge, hunched over his money, suspicious of the world.
But Nabal isn’t the main focus of the story in chapter 25. David is.
And so David is introduced, still living in the wilderness with his men, where he has been on the run from King Saul. It’s sheep shearing time, a time known for landowners and shepherds to be extra generous and celebratory, since they are gathering up their goods from this past season and getting ready to make the sale of the year.
David sends a group of his men to greet Nabal and ask for generosity, “whatever is at hand.”
Now, if you’re like me, you might read this and think, “Now wait a minute! Is David trying to extort Nabal? Did he just send a goon-squad to squeeze a rich guy? This sounds like some kind of mafia-scheme!”
Can you imagine?! David’s men, dressed in cheap suits and slicked back hair. One guy doing all the talking while the rest just stand around and look menacing.
Well, now that you’ve got that image firmly planted in your mind, I’m sorry to say it’s an incorrect one. I had to look into it, but apparently, sheep shearing was accompanied by great feasting and would be an ideal time for a rich landholder to extend hospitality to strangers.
But David and his men weren’t even strangers to Nabal. We find out here, and it’s corroborated later in the chapter by one of Nabal’s servants, that David and his men were actually providing protection for the shepherds this past season. In the words of the servant, David and his men were like a wall around the sheep, guarding them, and treating them with kindness.
So, I guess David and his men are totally in the right and in line with the culture of the area to go to Nabal and ask for some generosity in return for the services they had provided. David and Nabal were, in one sense, business partners.
That’s why it’s so surprising when we see how Nabal responds: “David? David who? Never heard of him. Sounds like some runaway slave trying to scam me out of my hard-earned cash.”
In a time known for celebration and generosity towards others, we get to see where Nabal gets his reputation for being surly and mean in his business dealings. In one verse, verse 11, Nabal puts all the focus on himself: “Why should I take MY bread and MY water, and the meat I have slaughtered for MY men, just for ME to give it to people that I don’t know?”
Now we see how fitting it was for the narrator to introduce Nabal in terms of his possessions. His life is determined by his property. He surrounds himself with his possessions. He spends his life defending his property. And when someone shows up that he perceives as trying to take his property, he doesn’t listen to them for even a second.
Instead, he jeers at David’s men and insults the would-be king. So when David’s men report back to David, he is livid. He reacts immediately by telling his men to suit up for battle. Nobody crosses David and gets away with it!
And now we’re caught up with the cliffhanger we left off at previously, and the narrator zooms us back to Nabal’s area, where we see one of his servants go to his wife, Abigail, to tell her about the interchange between David’s men and Nabal. The servant is worried because David and his men had indeed treated them very well, and yet Nabal had only hurled insults at them. He ends his story with a plea to Abigail: “Please see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over all of us. And no one can talk sense into our master.”
Abigail, we’re told, acts quickly and puts together an enormous gift basket of bread, wine, grain, cakes, dried fruit, and even a couple sheep. She loads up the caravan and sends the servants ahead of her. She hits the road without saying anything to her husband. Maybe she knew that listening wasn’t his strong-suit.
The narrator zooms us back to David, where he has just told his men that his intention is to completely wipe out Nabal and those in his stead. Even though they had not touched a single sheep of Nabal’s, now he is vowing to not leave a single person alive.
Just as they begin to descend down the mountain ravine, they meet Abigail and her caravan of goods on their way up. Abigail immediately gets off her donkey and bows down before David. She pleads with him, saying (VERSE 24), “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say.”
Abigail shows David the utmost respect and honor, and unlike Nabal with David’s men, David actually pauses to listen. Abigail goes on to ask that David not pay any attention to Nabal’s words. She even says that his name means Fool, and the name fits the man! But “as for me, I didn’t see your men when they came.”
And then Abigail says something that stopped David cold.(VERSE 26) “Since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands…please accept this gift for your men.”
Abigail knew what David was capable of. She had probably heard the songs about his military victories. Yet she decides to take the immense personal risk of hurrying out to meet him. A woman, going out to meet 400 armed, angry men. A woman, armed only with a caravan of food and words of humility. She is wise and beautiful, yes, but also very brave. In many ways, Abigail is the exact opposite to Nabal.
“Don’t do this rash thing. Trust the Lord your God, who has preserved your life all this time. God will make you king, and you don’t want to have the guilt of this bloodshed.”
Abigail pretty much tells David to trust God to fight the battles for him. Taking matters into your own hands will only leave you with regret.
And David listens to her. He pauses long enough to realize how close he was to blowing it. He had reacted in anger, and set off to completely wipe out a whole village. That would have put him in the same place as Saul, who had killed all the men, women, and children of Nob just a few chapters ago.
In the last chapter, we saw David show restraint in how he dealt with Saul, but he wasn’t showing restraint here. Maybe he was grieving the death of Samuel the prophet. Maybe he was getting sick of hiding in the wilderness and wanted to exert his frustration on someone else. Maybe he was getting tired of waiting to become king and wanted to take control of the situations around him.
In any case, we can’t miss the fact that David needed correction. He needed to be reminded to trust God’s ways. He needed to be stopped before he foolishly exacted vengeance on the fool, Nabal, and put his own future at risk. David was beginning to act like Saul, and he needed someone to confront him and stop him from going there.
Abigail filled that role for David. She does it tactfully enough, praising his previous efforts, and lauding him with affirmations that God had been and would be with him. She even calls down judgment on his enemies (even though that meant throwing her husband under the bus). She declares that God was establishing him as king, and gives the warning that all of us would do well to listen to. Have you ever heard this saying?
Do nothing on your way up that will bring you down later.
Wise words from the wife of a fool.
And David hears those words, and receives them gratefully. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me!”
David recognizes how God has been at work behind the scenes to ensure that he didn’t misstep here. He accepts her gift and sends her home.
She gets back, and finds Nabal in the middle of a huge banquet, completely drunk and enjoying the spirit of the season of sheep-shearing. Since he was not in any frame of mind to listen to anything she had to say, she doesn’t say anything to him until the next day. Then she goes to him and tells him everything that happened, including the part about the 400 armed men ready to slaughter everyone because of Nabal’s rash words.
The narrator tells us that Nabal’s heart failed him, and he became like a stone and died ten days later. Nabal was a hard worker, a hard eater, and a hard drinker. Maybe you’ve known someone like that. Then he had a major fright, and it was all too much for his heart.
Word gets back to David about Nabal’s death, and he praises God, attributing Nabal’s demise to the hand of God, working behind the scenes to bring justice for David’s hurt pride. Regardless of whether or not this is exactly why it happened, the narrator doesn’t tell us. We just see that David feels vindicated, and capitalizes on the opportunity by sending for Abigail and asking her to marry him.
She says yes, and the chapter ends by letting us know that she is now David’s third wife. So we end this story not with a happy, romantic ending, but a puzzling one. There’s no mention of love or romance between David and Abigail. He just married the widow of a rich landowner and gained all of Nabal’s assets and prestige in the area. Abigail knows a good opportunity when she sees one. It seems like a good outcome for both of them.
But the fact is that David is already starting a habit of TAKING women that intrigue him and adding them to his collection. By the time he is made king in the region of Hebron, he’s going to have 6 sons by 6 different women. The famous Bathsheba episode that comes later on is just the natural progression of a man who thinks he can TAKE whatever he wants. And we’re seeing the beginning of that trend now.
So what are we to make of this? We can see that all throughout this story of human shrewdness, calculation, and just plain acting dumb, that God is again at work behind the scenes to bring about his intention of making David king. And sometimes that involves keeping David safe from his own temper. Sometimes that involves surrounding David with wise counsel so that he doesn’t go through life simply REACTING to things that happen to him.
This story shows us the danger of making choices based on our pride and letting our anger get the best of us. But it’s also a little refreshing to see David struggling with normal human emotions like pride and anger. It’s helpful to see him struggle to make the right decision, because it shows us God’s grace in his life. And that helps serve as a reminder to us about God’s grace in our lives as well.
This story also shows us the difference between people who listen and respond from a place of security and faith in God’s provision and those who just REACT based on their own pride or fear or anger. Go back and see all the places that words like listen or hear or talk or speak are mentioned:
4 – David HEARD about the sheep shearing
8 – ASK your servants and they’ll TELL you
12 – They REPORTED every word
14 – TOLD Abigail
17 – “He’s such a wicked man that no one can TALK to him”
19 – Abigail did NOT TELL her husband
24 – Let me SPEAK to you; HEAR what I have to SAY
35 – I have HEARD your words
37 – His wife TOLD him, and his heart became like stone
39 – David ASKING her to be his wife
And I might have even missed one or two! This story revolves around David’s desire for vengeance and Abigail’s gentle persuasiveness in preventing him from committing something he’d regret. It’s all about listening. But are we listening to the right people? Are we selectively listening but really ignoring the wise counsel that God has placed around us? Are we seeking out other members of the family of God to help speak to us so that we don’t operate as a lone wolf, intent on pursuing our own path, even if it gets us into trouble?
Who are you listening to?
Or, put another way, is the WHO you’re listening to fighting for God’s will for you? Or something else?
Because everyone has an agenda. Just look at this story. David’s men spoke to Nabal in order to hopefully receive some generosity in response. Nabal’s servant spoke to Abigail in order to get her to act to fix the mess that Nabal had gotten them all into. Abigail was trying to dissuade David’s anger. And the people in our lives that we give the privilege of speaking to us have an agenda as well.
Sometimes, when I speak to my wife, I want to convince her of something. Sometimes, she wants me to stop what I’m working on and help her with something. Sometimes, I want to warm her up to an idea. Sometimes, she wants me to connect with her about our day.
These are all normal. And they’re not bad. But every once in a while, when I’m speaking to my wife, it’s because I can see something that she isn’t seeing, or something that she isn’t believing about herself. And because I know her well, and because I know that God desires the best for her, I try to speak to her in order to declare something that is true about her because of what God is doing in our lives. Or sometimes, she’ll remind me of the love and acceptance I already have in Christ, so I don’t need to perform or earn. Or I’ll remind her that our God is an abundant provider, so she doesn’t need to react in such a self-protective way in a situation.
Is the WHO you’re listening to fighting for God’s will for you, or something else?
Who are you listening to?
Are you listening to people who just want something from you?
Are you listening to people who want you to react in anger against something you’re both frustrated about, so they egg you on and raise the temperature until you’re both angry?
Are you listening to someone who is trying to manipulate you into feeling bad, because of how bad they feel?
Are you listening to someone who isn’t making Christ-centered decisions for their own life, and they’re content to have you join them in a life of chasing after things that won’t last?
Who are you listening to?
This is an important question for us because we need good counsel to keep us from rash decisions. Even those of us who say we follow Jesus make bad decisions, and I can almost guarantee that the worst decisions are made when we’re in isolation and not listening to good counsel.
We have been created for community.
We have been created to live as a family. There’s no such thing as a lone-wolf Christian. If you’re following Christ, you’re part of a body, and God is inviting us into a deeper relationship of connection and accountability with each other. And this isn’t a burden, it’s freedom. It’s a “get to!”
We get to listen to the counsel of others, even if it reveals our own failures, because only God deserves glory, so we don’t need to work to protect our pride.
We get to be accountable to the counsel of others, because we can trust that God’s grace is at work in our lives, so we don’t have anything to prove on our own effort.
God is at work behind the scenes of the story of our whole family of faith, and he’s leading us toward our future. And we get to hear his leading through the wise counsel of others because he has empowered each of us with his own Spirit, all thanks to the loving sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.
So let’s take inventory of our “who” that we’re listening to.
If they’re fighting for anything other than God’s will for us, for our family, then prayerfully ask God whether or not we should turn down the volume knob on that person’s voice in our life.
Because of Jesus, we don’t have to live reactively to protect our pride.
We don’t have to chase after getting more and more just to feel we have enough.
We don’t have to live our lives in fear of what others think about us.
Because we have a good Father who is always working to call us back to him, and is inviting us into the new creation life of the kingdom of God, where we GET TO listen to the words of Jesus, and then obey him in how we welcome others into the family.
And that’s good news.