Possibly the outstanding lesson in 1 Samuel 25 is that however often a Christian has overcome temptation in a particular area of life, a further test in the same area may bring failure. David, in previous chapters, had been under great temptation to take revenge against his enemies but had managed to control himself and maintain his fellowship with God. Now a new crisis has arrived, and Davids reaction is a reminder to us that past victory should never leave us taking things for granted.
This is true in every area of life. An upright businessman or employee may ultimately succumb to dishonesty, especially under new financial pressure. A brother known for level-headedness may yet lose his temper when provoked. Happy home relationships are no guarantee for years ahead. Faithful involvement in assembly activities has often given way to an unproductive life on the sidelines. These are only some examples, and in view of our inherent weakness none of us can be complacent.
Abigails contribution in the case of David has placed her amongst the most impressive of Bible women, especially when viewed in the light of the trying circumstances of her home life. This chapter gives rise to practical considerations, and, as some of these are brought out, the storyline will become clearer.
David had been an example of grace and patience in his refusal to slay Saul when it would have been so easy for him to do so (1 Sam 24.3-22). His faith in God carried him through, and his attitude of submission to God-appointed rule carries a much-needed lesson even in assembly life today. Yet now, under provocation, he is ready to take four hundred men to exterminate Nabal and every man related to him. Had he been allowed to carry out his plans a dark shadow would have fallen over the rest of his years. He would have been remembered for his ruthless revenge and needless murders. We might well wonder, "Why, David, are you doing this? How could you change so much?". Left to ourselves we also would fail, and Christians today are often led to ask about others, "What came over him? How could that ever have happened?". We must remember that the flesh remains in the believer and can betray us at any time, regardless of past victories. May we learn the lesson of our own insufficiency, and that even with past success and the best of determination we may succumb to failure.
Two Scriptures are helpful in this regard: "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh" (Gal 5.16), and, "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Rom 13.14). It is only as we judge ourselves in His presence, and draw upon the Spirits power, that we will be victorious in the pathway. The bended-knee and the Bible are still essentials in our daily discipline of life.
David at this time was still the object of Sauls bitter hatred and jealousy, and had travelled far south for safety. While there, he and his men were a great help to the farmers, shepherds and local people, not least in protecting them from Philistine attacks. It was natural, then, that wealthy men like Nabal would show some kind of recognition to David and his men. Sheep-shearing time was an occasion for community kindness, and since Nabal owed much of his prosperity to Davids protection he had added reasons to return some favour. It turned out very differently. "Who is David?", he asks. To this scorn, he added slander, insinuating that David was only in his predicament because of disloyalty to Saul! In saying this, Nabal was putting on a great show of "keeping law and order", even when he himself was far from the Lord.
Does this sound familiar? It all has a sad echo in our own day. It is distressing at times to see the thoughtless ingratitude of Christians to those who have been their benefactors. Whether the benefit has been material or spiritual, we should be people marked by thankfulness. One of societys present evils is that of being "unthankful" (2 Tim 3.2). Perhaps those who feel this most keenly are elders whom the Holy Spirit has raised up, who are faithful in their spiritual toil and Scripture teaching. Such are often heartlessly unappreciated and even slandered as David was. "Who does he think he is?", might well be a present day paraphrase of Nabals outburst. We can be sure that God views this seriously, and will recompense it in a solemn way. One of our problems as saints is that we suffer from sudden (and suitable) lapses of memory. If only we thought for a little about the blessing some Christian has been to us we might consign to the waste-bin some of the churlishness and callousness that can be harboured against a brother or sister. Along with Nabals ingratitude there was meanness, and these two features often coincide. Where the mouth of hostility is open, the hand of liberality is generally closed.
The marriage of Nabal and Abigail must be one of the nightmare stories in the history of earths oldest institution. Whether it was an arranged marriage is open to question, but any "matchmaker" in our times would certainly not be proud of such an outcome and at any rate would be wise to leave the choice with God and with the couple. The compatibility of two people for marriage usually takes some time to confirm, and there will be even more time afterwards to have it tested. The supreme safeguard for both is total loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. If this is maintained, major problems will be avoided. Nabal might have had wealth, but he was destitute of anything else. He was foolish, callous, selfish, hot-tempered, mean, and fond of drink.
Nabals servants even saw it: " he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him" (v.17). Sadly, there are still some around, even of Gods people, and reasonableness has so deserted them that they cannot be talked to. No one knows a man like his wife, and Abigail said, "As his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him" (v.25). All the money in the world could not make up the deficit. Perhaps some Christian wives read this chapter and without saying much, breathe a little sigh of relief!
In contrast, Abigail scores highly in just about everything. She must have cut a lonely spiritual figure in an otherwise worldly set-up. "A woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance" (v.3), she had the rare combination of winsomeness and wit, of beauty and brains. Further reading shows that she had a deep knowledge of the ways of the Lord, and spoke with humility and reserve when before David. Sadly, when she married Nabal, along with the fortune she got a fool. One is left wondering how the pair got along at all. In todays world the marriage would not have lasted long, but she endured admirably, did what was right, and when Nabal was dead she was divinely disentangled.
The lasting appeal of the whole story is the way in which Abigail influenced David and averted a spiritual disaster. For this she is rightly famous and has left a striking model for others to imitate. She gave good advice to David when she told him to give no heed to criticisms that came from such a fool as Nabal, and we too should remember that criticisms are only as valuable as those who give them. Many criticisms can be safely overlooked. Abigail acted with haste, honesty and humility.
Sometimes situations, whether personal or in the assembly, could be saved by a little more urgency in dealing with them. Honesty is always a must, and all who would influence others for good will need to act with lowliness of mind as she did. Not only was Abigails intervention timely, but it was tactful. It is said that "tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy". This woman had mastered the art, but behind it all is a well-developed spiritual mind. Her words to David completely disarmed him, as she reminded him of his blessings, his good reputation, his victories, and above all, the great future God had for him. He had no need to take things into his own hand. She "put a cool hand on a hot head" and the result of her influence on David was that he began to see the bigger picture - something we should all aim for, even if it tests our patience. How often we act with only the present in view, and forget the solemn law of reaping what we sow. Davids praise of God and of Abigail follows, and, just as Ruth was widowed and childless and had both situations resolved, so Abigail was soon to be united to a man of stature in Israel, and become fruitful. Thus ends this striking episode in the career of David, with its lessons for today.