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

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

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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?