David’s rise to power (1 Samuel 17-30)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

Unlike Saul who had begun his reign soon after Samuel anointed him (1 Samuel 11:1), David has a long and difficult apprenticeship before he is acclaimed as king at Hebron. His first public success comes in slaying the giant Goliath, who is threatening Israel's military security. As the army returns home, a throng of women begin singing, “Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). This enrages Saul (1 Sam. 18:1). Rather than recognizing how both he and the nation can benefit from David's capabilities, he regards David as a threat. He decides to eliminate David at the earliest opportunity (1 Sam. 18:9-13). Thus began a rivalry that eventually forces David to flee for his life, eluding Saul while leading a band of brigands in the wildernesses of Judah for ten years.

When given opportunities to assassinate King Saul, David refuses, knowing that the throne is not his to take. It is God's to give. As the Psalms express it, “It is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Psalm 75:7). David respects the authority God has given Saul even when Saul acts in dishonorable ways. This seems like a lesson for those today who work for difficult bosses or are waiting to be acknowledged for their leadership. Even if we sense we are called by God to a particular task or position, this does not authorize us to grasp power by contravening the existing authorities. If everyone who thought God wanted them to be the boss tried to hasten the process by seizing power on their own, every succession of authority would bring little more than chaos. God is patient, and we are to be patient, too, as David was.

Can we trust God to give us the authority we need, in his time, to do the work that he wants us to do? In the workplace, having more authority is valuable for getting necessary work done. Grasping at that authority prematurely by undercutting a boss or by pushing a colleague out of the way does not build trust with colleagues or demonstrate trust in God. At times it can be frustrating when it seems that it's taking too long for the needed authority to come your way, but true authority cannot be grasped, only granted. David was willing to wait until God placed that authority in his hands.

Abigail defuses a crisis between David and Nabal (1 Samuel 25)

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As David’s power grows, he comes into conflict with a rich landowner named Nabal. As it happens, David’s band of rebels against Saul’s rule has been encamped in Nabal’s area for some time. David’s men have treated Nabal’s shepherds kindly, protecting them from harm or at the very least not stealing anything themselves (1 Sam. 25:15-16). David figures this means Nabal owes him something, and he sends a delegation to ask Nabal to donate some lambs for a feast for David’s army. Perhaps realizing the weakness of his claim, David instructs his delegation to be extra polite to Nabal.

Nabal will have nothing of it. Not only he does he refuse to give David anything for the feast, he insults David publicly, denies knowing David, and impugns David’s integrity as a rebel against Saul (1 Sam. 25:10). Nabal’s own servants describe their master as “so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.” David immediately sets out with 400 armed men to slay Nabal and kill every male in his household.

Suddenly David is about to commit mass murder, while Nabal cares more about his pride than about his workers and family. These two arrogant men are unable to resolve an argument about sheep without spilling the blood of hundreds of innocent people. Thank God, Nabal’s wise-hearted wife Abigail steps into the fray. She quickly prepares a feast for David and his men, then rides out to meet David with an apology that sets a new standard for courtesy in the Old Testament (1 Sam. 25:26-31). Yet wrapped in the courteous words are some hard truths David needs to hear. He is on the verge of shedding blood without cause, bringing on himself a guilt he could never escape.

David is moved by her words and abandons his plan to kill Nabal and all his men and boys. He even thanks Abigail for diverting him from his reckless plan. “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” (1 Sam. 25:33–34).

The incident shows that people need to hold their leaders accountable, although doing so may come at the cost of great personal risk. You don’t have to have authority status to be called to exercise influence. But you do need courage, which fortunately is something you can receive from God at any time. Abigail’s intervention also demonstrates that showing respect, even while making a pointed criticism, provides a model for challenging authority. Nabal turned a petty argument into a life threatening situation by wrapping a minor dispute in a personal insult. Abigail resolves a life-threatening crisis by dressing a major rebuke in a respectful dialogue.

In what ways may God be calling you to exercise influence to hold people in positions of higher authority accountable? How can you cultivate a godly attitude of respect along with an unwavering commitment to telling the truth? What courage do you need from God to actually do it?