After months of playing cat-and-mouse, David and Saul finally had a face-to-face meeting in chapter 24. But it didn’t turn into a sundown shootout. Quite the opposite occurred, in fact. The tables were turned as the mouse found himself in the position of cat – and chose not to harm the mouse. In return for David’s mercy, Saul turned around and went straight home without attempting to lay a finger on David.
So as we enter Chapter 25, things seem to be looking up just a bit. After all, Saul isn’t chasing after David anymore (for now).
But before we get too happy about anything, we get some bad news. Chapter 25 starts right off by informing us that the prophet Samuel has died. All of Israel mourns the loss of this man who was so well known throughout the land as a man of God. This would have been a sad time for the entire nation, but also for Saul and David. It was Samuel who had crowned Saul king, who had gone with him to battle, who had prayed for him even after he was rejected by God. And it was Samuel who anointed David as the future king and sheltered him from Saul when he first fled.
But this sad bit of news is rather glossed over in the text. It gets one sentence, and then we move right on to learning that David has switched hideouts again.
In the area where David is camping out, lives a very rich man called Nabal, who is a descendent of Caleb – the contemporary of Joshua who trusted in the LORD even when everyone else didn’t. The passage stresses Nabal’s wealth, but also his “harsh and evil” ways. On the other hand, it praises Nabal’s wife Abigail for her beauty and wisdom.
When David finds out that Nabal is shearing his 3000 sheep in Carmel and holding a feast, he sends 10 messengers who very respectfully ask that whatever comes to Nabal’s hand get sent to David. They point out that they have protected Nabal’s shepherds from harm, so their request has certainly been earned.
Nabal finds their request quite preposterous. He shows no honor to the servants of David, asking scornfully, “Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse?” Ironic that the Philistines know who he is, but Nabal does not – or chooses to forget.
When David finds out that Nabal has refused to accommodate his request, he prepares his men for battle. He angrily fumes to himself, “Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good. May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light” (vs. 21-22).
I find David’s anger ironic, especially in light of the previous chapter. Saul, too, had repaid evil for good – and to a much greater degree than Nabal had. And yet David would not dare to raise his hand against Saul, instead choosing to show him mercy. Perhaps his sentiments only applied to the “anointed of the LORD.”
You could say that these two stories play off one another. Here we see that David is quite capable of getting angry and avenging himself, so the mercy shown to Saul in the previous chapter is even more apparent. But we also see that David is quite capable of showing mercy to even his greatest enemy, so the quickness of his temper toward someone who refused to accommodate a rather demanding request is surprising.
As David prepared for battle, one of Nabal’s servants went to Abigail and explained the situation. He spoke well of David and his men, testifying to the good protection that they had extended. But he must have foreseen David’s dark reaction, “Now therefore, know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him” (vs. 17).
Abigail quickly gathers together as many provisions as she can, loads them on donkeys, and rides out to meet David. Under the cover of a hill she finds him and his men. Without hesitation she dismounts from her donkey, bows with her face to the earth, and pleads her case (sound familiar?).
She admits that her husband is a scoundrel and a fool (in fact, his name “Nabal” means “fool”), but she believes that God will hold David back from avenging himself on his enemies. May God sling out the lives of David’s enemies as from a slingshot, and may all his enemies be as Nabal. Will he forgive her for not being aware of the situation and accept her gift of provisions, so that when he becomes king he may not look back on this situation with grief and regret?
David reacts with gratitude, “Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand. For indeed, as the LORD God of Israel lives, who kept me back from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!” (vs. 32-35)
So David went back to his place, and Abigail returned home to Nabal, who was holding a feast like a king. Ironic isn’t it – that Nabal holds a feast fit for a king, but withholds provisions from his future king?
In the morning, Abigail told Nabal all that had happened, and the man’s heart “died within him” (vs.37). Ten days later he was dead. The LORD had “returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head” (vs. 39).
Scarcely had David heard the news before he proposed to Abigail, and she went off and married him without delay.
The chapter closes by telling that David took another wife as well, and explaining that the princess Michal had been given to another man.
So what do we get out of this story?
What I see here is a lot of contrasts. The contrast between Nabal, who’s living like a king, and David, the king-to-be who is living in need. There’s a contrast between the quick-thinking wisdom of Abigail and the hasty reactions of both Nabal and David. There’s a contrast between the mercy shown by David in chapter 24 to now the desire for revenge shown in this chapter. While in chapter 24, David pleads his innocence, in chapter 25 it’s Abigail who’s pleading – and she’s pleading guilty in spite of her innocence!
I also see in Nabal a picture of what’s to come. Nabal rejects David, just as Saul did. But God avenged David in the case of Nabal, and we’ll see that He does the same in the case of Saul.
I also notice a lot of haste in this story. Nabal makes a hasty decision to withhold provisions. David makes a hasty decision to get revenge. Abigail makes haste to prepare food. When she meets David, she makes haste to dismount and bow before him. There’s a brief lull as Abigail waits to tell Nabal what has happened, and then as soon as she does, he “becomes like stone” and dies 10 days later (vs. 38). Then when David hears the news, he quickly proposes to Abigail, and she rises with haste to join him.
In the case of Nabal and David, their hastiness is not a good thing. While the story points out very clearly that Nabal is a fool, I would say that David also acted foolishly by letting his anger get the best of him.
How often do we make the same mistake?
He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly.
Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.