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Volume 18, Issue 3: Femina

Where are the Abigals

Nancy Wilson

1 Samuel 25 tells the story of Abigail, a woman of "good understanding, and of beautiful countenance" who was married to Nabal, described as "churlish and evil in his doings" (v. 3). One of Nabal's own men says his master is "such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him" (v. 17).

Nabal's sin (in this chapter of his story anyway) was that he "railed" on David's men. They asked him for hospitality, and he brushed them off rudely. Though David's men had protected Nabal's shepherds in the fields, Nabal returned evil for good, embarrassing his whole household and bringing on the wrath of David.
One of Nabal's young men went to his master's wife Abigail to report the dangerous situation, and he asked her to use her authority: "Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household" (v. 17). Abigail clearly had a reputation among the workers as being a woman who knew what to do and had the courage to do it. When the head of the house acted foolishly, this wife knew how to step in to avert disaster.
This is an important principle for Christian women to understand. It is certainly not a license for wives to intervene every time they disagree with their husbands. But it is a great example for a Christian wife to follow if she is married to a Nabal, and he is exposing the entire household to shame and destruction.
Abigail made haste. She did not stand around thinking. She did not go and discuss the problem with her husband. In fact, "she told not her husband" (v. 19). She did not get "permission" for her plan. But remember, she was a woman of good understanding. She was wise, she made a smart plan, and she acted quickly, sending her servants to David with loads of wine and food.
Abigail humbles herself before David. She tells him that her husband is a fool, and asks David not to give Nabal the time of day. She does not try to justify her husband's actions or ask for pity or mercy for him. Rather, she says something like, "May all your enemies be as Nabal," which is to say, may they all be idiots just like him. She claims her own innocence in the affair: "I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send" (v. 25). She asserts her loyalty to David, calling him "my lord." She boldly steps in, persuading David that God has prevented him from shedding innocent blood, and that when he becomes king, he will have no reason to grieve over this incident.
David's response to this remarkable woman is to bless her and thank her for her advice, giving her the credit for keeping him from destroying her household: "Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person" (v. 35).
Abigail's plan was risky. She put herself directly in harm's way to protect her whole household. Though her husband's rashness would bring serious consequences, Abigail's quick thinking and gutsiness turned the tide and resulted in blessing.
When Abigail returns from her visit to David, her husband is whooping it up, and he's very drunk. So she told him nothing. But in the morning when he had sobered up, she told him what she had done. What was his response? "His heart died within him, and he became as a stone" (v. 37). Ten days later "the Lord smote Nabal" and he died.
So let's apply some of the wisdom of Abigail to modern situations. First of all, wives need to be women of understanding. They need to know what is going on so they are up to speed. If a woman is married to a fool, she should know it, but she won't know it if she is a fool herself. A foolish wife will not recognize foolish behavior in her husband. When a husband is being a jerk, a wise wife should be able to tell. She should not excuse it because it is her husband doing it. Such behavior will ultimately bring destruction down on her house in one form or another if it is not stopped.
Nabal's central sin in this story is that he railed against David's men. When a wife has a husband who is railing, whether it is against the church or against his boss, she should identify it as such. Railing is speaking bitterly, complaining violently, reproaching or protesting strongly. A husband may be doing this privately in his home, or he may be gathering like-minded railers around him. No man can speak to a Nabal. He will not receive correction; he will not listen to reason, and his descendants act much like their ancestor.
Perhaps Nabal acted foolishly because he was trying to show off to his friends. Perhaps he was not willing to humble himself to David. Though he was not willing to share his wealth with David's servants, he was not hesitant to throw himself a big party in his own house "like the feast of a king" (v. 36). Perhaps he wanted to be king himself, resenting David and feeling powerful and big when he sat at his own table. But his motivations, whatever they were, brought about his own destruction. Whether it was arrogance, pride, or envy doesn't much matter; the end was the same.
Over the years I have only seen one or two Abigails, though it would take both hands to count the Nabals. A wise Abigail will act in haste; she will not clear her plan with her husband; she will quickly assert herself; she will name her husband as a fool. God will bless her for it. She may prevent the downfall of her household, though she may not be able to keep God from judging her husband. She has authority, and she ought to use it.

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