By Samuel Ridout
David and Abigail
1 Samuel 25.
We follow now for a little the history of David, almost entirely apart from Saul. The present chapter is occupied with the interesting and profitable subject of David's experience with Nabal the Carmelite, and Abigail. We shall find here that the beloved man after God's own heart was that only by grace, and was quite as capable as others of acting in an ungenerous way, or of taking his case into his own hands.
We are first, however, introduced to a scene of mourning in which all Israel shares. Samuel dies, and the whole nation is gathered together at his funeral. Well may they lament that faithful witness who had stood for God during all those years of apostasy and the triumph of the enemy. To write the life of Samuel would be to narrate the history of the times in which he lived; for he formed a large part of those times.
How good is the memory of a faithful life! It enters into the helplessness of the nation like the strong framework of a great building which upholds and unites all the other material. His faith and example gave a stimulus to all in whom there was any heart to respond to his faithful warnings; his earnest entreaties, loyal intercessions and unfeigned sorrow were the choicest heritage of the people in the time in which he lived. No doubt he had his enemies, and the one great sorrow of his life was that the young man on whom he had set his affections, and for whom he had such bright hopes, had proved himself unworthy of the trust which God had permitted him to put into his hands. It had been his privilege to anoint Saul king. He had witnessed the acclaim of the people when the lot pointed him out as the chosen of the Lord, and had also witnessed, though he had not shared, the exultation of the people in their victory over Ammon. It had been his sad duty, however, to declare to Saul once and again his rejection by God; and, finally, he had been compelled in faithfulness to withdraw from him, and never saw him to exchange words after the great act of disobedience with regard to Amalek.
Samuel too had set David apart; and while not as intimately associated with him as he was with Saul, he no doubt followed with keen appreciation every step in his career. The people had abundant cause to remember Samuel with all reverence; and well were it for them had they, even at this date, hearkened to his solemn warnings. With them, as with their descendants of a later day, they were content rather to build the sepulchres of the prophets, to erect memorials to them in celebration of a faithfulness by which they themselves had not profited.
With Samuel, however, all is at rest. He is buried at the scene of his home labor, in Ramah, the last station of that circuit which he constantly made, going from place to place to judge Israel-Ramah, "the exalted," a fitting place of sepulture for one whose mind and heart were communing with the heavens, and whose hopes would fittingly find their fulfilment there. We do not read whether Saul attended the funeral of Samuel or not. He may have done so. It would have been eminently appropriate; but in the troublous and disjointed times in which he was living, with his own glaring inconsistencies, we cannot be sure whether he would take his place as a mourner at the bier of one who had so faithfully warned him.
The death of a prophet is a solemn event in the history of a nation. The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart." It meant the ceasing of a voice which had always been lifted on the side of right and of God. It meant that the people were cast afresh upon God, and the question was, Would they turn to Him, or forget the teachings of the departed faithful witness?
It is not without significance that the history of David's experience with Nabal and Abigail follows immediately after the death and burial of Samuel. Had the prophetic voice become silent in his own heart, or did he forget the admonitions of the faithful servant of God? If so, it was not, as in the case of Saul, of that permanent character which leaves no hope for repentance, but only a temporary lapse from which he was speedily recovered by the voice of prophecy, uttered, too, by an instrument whom he would little have thought of in that connection.
Nabal was a descendant of the whole-hearted Caleb, and illustrates, as many another example does, that grace is not transmitted by natural inheritance. Doubtless he had greatly profited by the faithfulness of his forefather Caleb. A fair heritage was his, and his possessions so abundant that they attracted special attention.
The names here seem significant. The general locality was the wilderness of Paran, "adornment," which, in connection with Nabal, seems to suggest an outward display which ill accorded with his spiritual condition. His home is at Maon, "a dwelling-place," suggesting perhaps the sense of security in earthly things, much like the man in Luke 12, who said, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." Indeed, God's answer to him, "Thou fool," is a translation of Nabal, which means, "folly." His end, too, like that of Nabal, is in solemn contrast with the luxury by which he was surrounded.
Carmel, "vineyard," would be in line with all this. On the other hand, David, though now rejected, was heir of all this as ruler of the land, and in that sense was in the midst of his own possessions — possessions, however, which he could not then enjoy, as it was the time of his rejection. It is this that makes his action inconsistent as a type of Him who, while heir of all things, abode in poverty here, and had not where to lay His head.
It was the time of sheep-shearing, when the flocks would yield up, in their fleecy wool, an enormous revenue to their owner, which he had little share in producing. It is quite significant that every action of sheep-shearing that is mentioned in the Scriptures is connected with some manifestation of evil. It was at the time of sheep-shearing that Judah fell into his grievous sin, and later on Absalom slew his brother Ammon at the feast in sheep-shearing time. Is there here any suggestion of a misuse of the flock, or may we say, at least, a failure to apprehend the fact that all blessing comes through the sacrifice? A sheep would yield its wool without giving up its life, and how many have secured outward blessings while not realizing that they were the purchase of the sacrificial death of Christ!
It seems to have been an occasion of feasting, and David would take advantage of it to replenish his scanty larder, and sends out an appeal to one who lived in affluence to remember those who had scarcely their daily bread.
While hiding in the neighborhood where Nabal kept his flocks, David and his men had not trespassed upon his rights. On the contrary, the men had acted as a wall to protect his flocks from attacks of savage beasts, and still more savage men. David thus makes a frank appeal for recognition by Nabal. Would he not give him a small portion of that which he had in such abundance?
Applying this briefly in a spiritual way, how has the world imitated Nabal in his churlish refusal of David's request! It too has its sheep-shearing, its time of gathering in rich results to which it has contributed little or nothing. It has not realized that every temporal mercy enjoyed is the purchase of the death of Christ, and that He has been their unseen protector and provider. He makes His claim — not a harsh nor an unjust one — that of their abundance they give freely to Him. We are not dwelling, of course, upon the truth of the gospel. In that, no claim is made upon the sinner. He is confronted with his guilt and lost condition, and the demand made upon him is not to offer a present, but to acknowledge his sin and to accept the gift of God. But in a general way it is true, and the world recognizes that God makes a claim upon it, righteous and equitable, which it fails to acknowledge.
Nabal refuses even the meagre pittance which David, with all courtesy, requests. Utterly unlike his illustrious forefather, so far from following with his whole heart the Lord, he refuses to give one particle in recognition of His rightful claims. Thus he establishes his moral kinship with Saul, rather than with David. His churlish reply shows how utterly he failed to recognize that everything he had was a gift from God. It was his own, to do with as he would, is all his thought; and should he take his sheep and his provision, which he had made for his servants, to give to one whom he utterly refused to acknowledge? He goes beyond the refusal to give, and adds a gratuitous insult to the one who had made the claim. "Who is David?" he says, "and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants nowadays that break away every man from his master." To him, David was nothing but a runaway slave who had absconded from Saul, his master. Nabal probably knew something of the merits of the case. He need have been no stranger to why David was away from the court of Saul, and he himself had likely been a witness to the relentless pursuit of David. For him, therefore, to speak as he did showed more than a misapprehension. It was a wilful refusal to recognize the righteous claims of one who was suffering for no wrong of his own.
We must now see wherein David missed a great opportunity of showing magnanimity toward Nabal, similar to that which he had extended to Saul. His answer to David's messengers was calculated, no doubt, to provoke any latent feeling of resentment which David may have had. It was so utterly uncalled for, so brutal, that perhaps most of us can only say we would have done what he did. But it is not a question whether his resentment was natural, but was it an expression of the faith, patience and self-denial which had so beautified his life up to this time? There can be but one answer to this. David signally failed here in his readiness to take his case into his own hands, rather than to wait only upon God.
It is but a lapse, however, as we have said, and not the bent of his heart; and God mercifully interposes to prevent His servant from wreaking a vengeance which would have remained the regret of his life. The instrument, too, chosen of God is striking — Abigail, the wife of Nabal. Often has God used the lips of a woman to recall His people back to the path of faith and obedience. Abigail acts most beautifully, and offers many suggestive hints of other truths. She does not consult with her drunken lord as to what is to be done, but quickly takes those things which David had requested, and brings them to him. When she meets him, she takes the attitude of a suppliant, and, as if she herself had committed trespass against David, confesses it. She acknowledges that her husband but answers to his name, "fool," and had acted as the fool ever does, in selfishness and utter forgetfulness of higher claims.
She would, on the other hand, assume his guilt as her own; and, with confession of that, casts herself upon the mercy of David: "Forgive the trespass of thy handmaid." Most delicately does she remind David of the danger into which he had fallen — of taking vengeance; and, as she looks forward to the time of his future kingdom, reminds him that it would be no regret, in that day, that he had not shed blood causelessly, nor avenged himself. In this connection, she goes on to own him fully as the anointed of the Lord. She recognizes that the Lord would make him a sure house in contrast to the crumbling one of Saul, or even that of Nabal. She confesses his prowess had been shown in fighting the Lord's battles, and owns, too, his innocence of all the charges made against him.
She characterizes King Saul's course in an unmistakable way. "A man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul"; and in view of all the dangers to which he had been, and was, exposed, she declares that his soul shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord, while his enemies will be cast away from that holy Presence. There may be an allusion, too, in the "sling" to David's victory over Goliath.
All this needs little comment. It is the full reversal of Nabal's insult, and reminds us of that confession of the thief upon the cross, who rebuked the railing of the other malefactor, confessing that "this Man hath done nothing amiss," and casting himself upon the mercy of the Lord when He shall come in His kingdom.
The cloud passes from David. Gladly does he recognize the mercy of the Lord in having spared him from the shame of his own course. Again he relinquishes his interests into the only capable Hands, and refrains from taking vengeance. A few days are sufficient to show there is never need for one to avenge himself. God smites Nabal, and in hopeless gloom his lamp of life goes out. When Abigail is thus released by death from the chain of such an alliance, David brings her into his own household, and associates her with himself. It may suggest, typically, the Church composed of those sinners who have recognized our Lord in the time of His rejection, and who, set free from the bond. age of sin, are brought into bridal relationship with the Lord in glory.
The chapter closes with another reminder of the lawlessness of Saul. He had taken his daughter Michal, whom he had given to David as wife, and given her to another. Truly the flesh tramples upon everything that is sacred, whether human or divine.