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The death of Samuel 25:1
Samuel’s years of being a blessing to all Israel ended at this time. David took his place as God’s major channel of blessing to the nation. It is appropriate that the notice of Samuel’s death occurs here since Saul had just admitted publicly that David would be Israel’s next king (1 Samuel 24:20). Samuel’s ministry of providing a transition to the monarchy had therefore ended. People all over Israel mourned Samuel’s death. Samuel was the last of the judges. David would probably have continued Samuel’s ministry and become Israel’s first king without the hiatus of Saul’s tragic reign if Israel had not insisted on having a king prematurely.
"Since the days of Moses and Joshua, no man had arisen to whom the covenant nation owed so much as to Samuel, who has been justly called the reformer and restorer of the theocracy." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 238. Cf. Jeremiah 15:1.]
This chapter opens with one disappointment for David, the death of his mentor, and it closes with another, the departure of his mate (1 Samuel 25:44). This suggests that the events of chapter 25 took place when David was at a low point in his life emotionally. This may account for the fact that David did not conduct himself completely honorably at this time. He is not the hero of this chapter. Abigail is. God used a woman to avert a tragedy in Israel’s history, again (cf. Judges 4; 2 Samuel 14:2-20; 2 Samuel 20:16-22). The wilderness of Paran, to which David fled next, lay just southeast of Maon (1 Samuel 25:2).
David’s request of Nabal 25:2-8
Both Maon and Carmel ("Garden Spot") stood about 14 miles west of Engedi and about 7 miles south-southeast of Hebron. The reference to Nabal’s 3,000 sheep may be an allusion to Saul’s 3,000 soldiers (1 Samuel 24:2). As the story unfolds, we will discover many similarities between Nabal and Saul, and the writer may have dropped this and other clues to help the reader compare the two men. He used a literary device called narrative analogy in which ironic parallelisms abound. [Note: Robert P. Gordon, "David’s Rise and Saul’s Demise: Narrative Analogy in 1 Samuel 24-26," Tyndale Bulletin 31 (1980):42-43.]
"Nabal" must have been a nickname since it means "fool" in Hebrew. Nabal was a descendant of Caleb who had received Hebron and its environs as his inheritance from Joshua (Joshua 15:13). Nabal was unlike his ancestor in many ways. He was foolish, but Caleb was wise. Nabal did not take God into account, but Caleb counted on God’s promises. Nabal opposed God’s purposes and died prematurely, but Caleb cooperated with God and lived long.
The Old Testament prophets regarded those who are ungodly, namely, those who do not take God into account, as fools (Psalms 14:1; Proverbs 18:2; Proverbs 18:7; Isaiah 32:6). God promised to punish the ungodly (Deuteronomy 28), and He will punish fools (1 Samuel 25:25-26).
The contrast between Nabal and Abigail could not be clearer. He was foolish; she was wise. He was evil; she was good. He was repulsive; she was attractive. He was arrogant; she was humble. He was ungodly; she was godly. He was antagonistic; she was peacemaking. They were one of the mismatched odd couples of the books of Samuel along with Hannah and Elkanah, and David and Michal. The rabbis considered Abigail one of seven women in the Old Testament whom the Holy Spirit had graced unusually. [Note: Jon D. Levenson, "1 Samuel 25 as Literature and as History," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (1978):231.]
"The story of the stupid sheepherder with a beautiful and intelligent wife is one of the most delightful in Samuel. Its purpose is to lay one more brick in the edifice of David’s legitimacy, however, and not to entertain." [Note: Heater, "Young David . . .," p. 56.]
David’s armed followers had been patrolling the wilderness of Paran in Judah where Nabal’s shepherds had been tending his flocks. They had made that area safe from raiding Amalekites, Philistines, and occasional wild animals that might have harassed Nabal’s shepherds. It was only common courtesy that wealthy Nabal would have expressed his appreciation to David by providing some food for David’s men. Sheep-shearing was a happy time for shepherds and usually involved feasting (cf. 2 Samuel 13:23-24). [Note: Baldwin, p. 147. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:8.] We can see in these verses that David, as one committed to the Mosaic Law and as the Lord’s anointed, was a blessing and an indirect source of fertility to his companions.
By referring to himself as Nabal’s "son" (1 Samuel 25:8) David was placing himself in a subordinate position to Nabal. David had earlier called Saul his "father" (cf. 1 Samuel 24:11; 1 Samuel 24:16). This is another clue that suggests that the writer wanted us to view Nabal as Saul’s alter ego. One writer suggested that David’s request for food and his reference to himself as Nabal’s "son" implied more.
"This would seem to be an instance of negotiation with an invitation to Nabal to enter into a regulated covenant with David." [Note: D. J. Wiseman, "’Is it peace?’-Covenant and Diplomacy," Vetus Testamentum 32:3 (1982):318.]
Nabal’s foolish response to David 25:9-13
Nabal was a political loyalist who regarded David simply as a rebel. Perhaps he felt that David was running a protection racket to finance his outlaw way of life. More probably, I think, miserly Nabal simply did not want to part with anything that he had (cf. Luke 7:44-47). He failed to admit that David had been a blessing to him. He also refused to acknowledge David as the Lord’s anointed. Ironically Nabal’s servants were about to abandon him, the very thing he falsely accused David of doing to Saul (1 Samuel 25:10; cf. 1 Samuel 22:7-8). [Note: Levenson, p. 225.] David overreacted to Nabal’s insulting rebuff (1 Samuel 25:13). He prepared to attack and kill every male in Nabal’s household that very night (1 Samuel 25:22; 1 Samuel 25:34)
A servant’s appeal to Abigail 25:14-17
Nabal’s servant appealed to Abigail to reverse Nabal’s orders. He testified that God had blessed Nabal’s shepherds greatly through David. David’s soldiers had been a wall of protection for them (1 Samuel 25:16). One of the characteristics of a fool is that he or she does not listen to other people (1 Samuel 25:17). Nabal was such a fool that he did not even listen to God. If he had, he would have known that David was the Lord’s anointed servant (cf. 1 Samuel 25:30).
The Hebrew words for "good" and "evil" each occur seven times in chapter 25 (1 Samuel 25:3; 1 Samuel 25:8; 1 Samuel 25:15; 1 Samuel 25:21; 1 Samuel 25:30-31; 1 Samuel 25:36; 1 Samuel 25:3; 1 Samuel 25:17; 1 Samuel 25:21; 1 Samuel 25:26; 1 Samuel 25:34; 1 Samuel 25:39 [twice]). [Note: Gunn, p. 96.]
"Together they underscore one of the major themes of the story: Good brings its own reward, while evil recoils on the head of the wicked." [Note: Youngblood, p. 753.]
Abigail’s preparations for appealing to David 25:18-22
As Abimelech had done earlier (1 Samuel 21:4), Abigail prepared to sustain the Lord’s anointed and his men with food. Compare Jacob’s similar scheme to placate Esau (Genesis 32:13-21). Was it proper for Abigail to do this without telling her husband? I would say that it was since she was attempting to save Nabal’s life. If she had told him, he probably would not have permitted her to go and would have died at David’s hand as a result.
Abigail’s appeal to David 25:23-31
Abigail’s approach to David was a model of tact and courage. Visualize this solitary woman, riding a donkey, approaching 400 armed men who were riding horses and were bent on slaughtering her household. It took immense courage and boldness, as well as great wisdom, for Abigail to take her life in her hands and do what she did.
First, Abigail took all the blame for her husband’s foolish actions. In this she reminds us of Jesus Christ who also rode into the teeth of His enemies on a donkey, took on Himself the sins of generations of fools, and was willing to suffer the consequences unselfishly. Abigail begged David to listen to her; her own husband would not (cf. 1 Samuel 25:17). Nabal had proudly described David as a runaway servant (1 Samuel 25:10), but Abigail presented herself humbly as a servant to David (1 Samuel 25:24).
She described her husband as a fool (1 Samuel 25:25). Is this how a wife should speak of her husband, even if he is a fool? Perhaps she meant that in responding to David as he had, Nabal had substantiated what others called him. If David had interpreted her description of her husband as disloyal, it is doubtful that David would have asked her to marry him later (1 Samuel 25:40). She might have proved disloyal to him too.
Abigail proceeded to help David view his situation from God’s perspective. She referred to the Lord as the One who, in response to her words, was restraining him from shedding innocent blood (1 Samuel 25:26). She was anticipating David’s proper response to her appeal. She further wished that all who opposed David, as Nabal had done, would be ineffective. She presented her gift of food and asked for David’s forgiveness, again as the substitute for her husband (1 Samuel 25:28; cf. 1 Samuel 25:24). She believed that Yahweh would give David an enduring dynasty because he fought the Lord’s battles (1 Samuel 25:28), not just Saul’s battles, and because David would do the Lord’s will. In this she again anticipated David’s proper response to her request. She believed God would preserve David alive, a blessing promised in the Mosaic Law for those who obeyed God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 16:20; et al).
Shepherds carried two bundles, one in which they carried food for themselves and the other in which they placed stones to hurl at the enemies of their sheep. [Note: G. M. Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs, p. 33.] This figurative description of David as kept by God, rather than thrown out by Him, would have appealed to David as a shepherd. Abigail also believed that David would reign as king one day, which she had learned that God had revealed (1 Samuel 25:30). Samuel had recognized David as the future king (1 Samuel 16:12), then Jonathan did (1 Samuel 20:15), then Saul did (1 Samuel 24:20), and now Abigail did. She anticipated that day and viewed David as having a good conscience then for not taking vengeance against Nabal, since vengeance belongs to God. Often the early sins of leaders come back to haunt them when they later attain high office.
"He [David] was about to attack fellow Judeans and wipe out a whole family. This act would surely have brought reprobation on David and would have undone all his carefully crafted relationships with his fellow Israelites." [Note: Heater, "Young David . . .," p. 56.]
Abigail concluded with a request that David would remember her when he attained his throne (1 Samuel 25:31; cf. Genesis 40:14). In all that she said, Abigail revealed a godly perspective that was totally absent in her husband. There are many similarities between Abigail’s appeal to David here and the appeal of the wise woman of Tekoa in 2 Samuel 14:1-20. [Note: Cf. D. M. Gunn, "Traditional composition in the ’Succession Narrative,’" Vetus Testamentum 26:2 (1976):221-22.]
Abigail was careful "neither to exculpate Nabal nor to appear disloyal to him. . . . In short, she must win David without betraying Nabal. Abigail devises the perfect solution to the dilemma: she intercedes on behalf of Nabal (1 Samuel 25:24), although conceding that he has no case and no hope of survival (1 Samuel 25:25-26). In other words, while overtly defending him, she covertly dissociates herself from him." [Note: Levenson, p. 230.]
David’s response to Abigail’s appeal 25:32-35
David heard the Lord’s voice behind Abigail’s words. Consequently he blessed the Lord, her discernment, and her. God had used David’s conscience to keep him from killing Saul (1 Samuel 24:5), and now He used Abigail’s appeal to keep him from killing Nabal. Wise David, who listened to the words of a woman who was a stranger to him, contrasts with foolish Nabal, who would not listen to the words of his wise wife or his fearful servants. Thus godly Abigail, another wise person, became a blessing to David. Earlier he, a godly person, had been a blessing to her and her household. She kept him from sinning (1 Samuel 25:33), and in return he blessed her further by sparing the males of Nabal’s household (1 Samuel 25:35).
Nabal’s response to the news of Abigail’s appeal 25:36-38
When she returned home, Abigail discovered that her foolish husband was drunk from celebrating. He was totally oblivious to his mortal danger. He was feasting rather than fasting. He was behaving like a king, the ultimate authority, rather than as a servant of the next king (cf. 1 Samuel 25:24). Here is another allusion to the similarity between Nabal and Saul who both viewed themselves proudly as kings. Pride was the root of Nabal’s folly as well as Saul’s folly, and it preceded destruction in both of their cases.
Abigail wisely waited until morning before telling her husband what a close brush he had had with death. By then the wine had gone out of him. The writer made a clever play on words here. The Hebrew word for wineskin is nebel. It is as though he was suggesting that Nabal was a nebel. When the wine had gone out of him, he was nothing. The writer may even have been suggesting that all there was to Nabal was his bladder, his personal wineskin. David had earlier vowed, literally, that he would not leave anyone who urinated against the wall (i.e., any male) in Nabal’s household alive (1 Samuel 25:22). The writer pictured Nabal in the most uncomplimentary terms.
Nabal’s heart died within him when he finally realized what a fool he had been. The Hebrews used the heart metaphorically to describe the seat of courage. No courage remained in him. Nabal further appears to have gone catatonic; when he realized what had happened, the shock immobilized him. Ten days later he died, perhaps of a stroke. The writer gave God the credit for terminating his life prematurely. Sometimes people who fail to respond to the will of God die prematurely (cf. ch. 31; Numbers 3:2; Numbers 16:32; Joshua 7:25; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 John 5:16).
God struck Nabal dead for his pride and opposition to the Lord’s anointed. God would do the same to Saul for the same reasons. Nabal’s death undoubtedly encouraged David to believe that God would take vengeance on Saul. David’s experiences with Nabal were a microcosm of all that he had been enduring for so long with Saul, another fool. Saul admitted he was a fool in 1 Samuel 26:21.
David’s marriage to Abigail 25:39-43
David thanked God for vindicating him and for preventing him from doing evil. Abigail had been the instrument that God had used to do this (1 Samuel 25:39). It was proper for David to give thanks since he had left Nabal in the Lord’s hands and had not sought revenge.
It is easy to see why David found Abigail so attractive. Not only was she intelligent (cf. 2 Chronicles 30:22; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 13:15) and beautiful (1 Samuel 25:3; cf. Genesis 29:17; Esther 2:7), but she was also a soul sister with David (cf. Jonathan). She shared his view of life and his commitment to God. However, since from creation God’s will has been monogamy (Genesis 2:24), it was wrong for him to marry her (1 Samuel 25:39). He had also previously married Ahinoam of Jezreel (1 Samuel 25:43). Perhaps he justified his second marriage with the fact that Saul had taken Michal from him (1 Samuel 25:44). Perhaps he got into polygamy also because it was customary in the ancient Near East for great warriors and monarchs to have many wives and concubines (mistresses). Yet God forbade this of Israel’s kings (Deuteronomy 17:17).
David did not restrain himself in his relations with women, and this caused him major problems later in his life. The same words "sent" and "took her" appear both here (1 Samuel 25:40) and in the account of David’s affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:4). We see here the seed problem that bore bitter fruit in David’s adultery.
Should Abigail have agreed to become David’s wife? It appears that she had a choice (1 Samuel 25:42). I do not believe she should have agreed to marry David, who was already married to someone else (Genesis 2:24), if she was truly free to decide. Abigail may have felt a need for security since her husband had died, and David was an attractive man with whom she shared much in common. Furthermore he was destined to become king. Yet he was married. Her decision is certainly understandable, though not commendable.
We can learn a great deal from wise Abigail. We can see how a godly person responds to a spouse’s folly: by preserving and protecting the spouse rather than by ignoring the folly. We see how a godly person responds to a foolish spouse: by honoring him or her rather than by despising him or her. We see how a godly person responds to favors bestowed: by returning them generously rather than by taking them for granted. We see how a godly person responds to other godly people: by helping them rather than by opposing them. We see how a godly person responds to being vulnerable: by sacrificing oneself for others rather than by becoming arrogant. We see how a godly person responds to the threat of danger: by trusting in God and behaving wisely rather than by ignoring the danger. We see how a godly person responds to the desire for security. In this last lesson Abigail is a negative example rather than a positive one. We do so by relying on God to provide legitimately rather than by seizing security.
David’s loss of his wife 25:44
As mentioned before, this chapter opens and closes with a tragedy in David’s life, the death of Samuel and the departure of Michal. Evidently Saul considered David as good as dead, and so, sometime during these events, he gave his daughter, David’s wife, to another man. He may also have done this to remove the possibility of David claiming Saul’s throne because he was Saul’s son-in-law. David later reclaimed Michal (2 Samuel 3:13-16), which proved to be a source of grief for David since Michal did not appreciate how David constantly bowed to Yahweh’s authority (cf. 2 Samuel 6:16-23; 1 Chronicles 15:29).
David’s second sparing of Saul’s life ch. 26
Again the scene shifts to Saul (cf. ch. 24). The writer contrasted his improper attitudes and behavior, and their consequences, with David’s proper attitudes and behavior, and their consequences. There are many similarities between this chapter and chapter 24, which records David sparing Saul’s life in the cave of Adullam. Perhaps the most significant difference is that in chapter 24 David was on the defensive whereas in chapter 26 he was on the offensive. Chapter 26 is the third and final episode in the mini-section on David’s treatment of two fools: Saul and Nabal. A prominent theme in this pericope is David’s learning to trust God to repay his enemies rather than taking vengeance himself.
The general structure of the chapter is chiastic.
"A. Saul searches for David, who then responds (1 Samuel 25:1-5).
B. David keeps his man Abishai from killing Saul (1 Samuel 25:6-12).
B’. David rebukes Saul’s man Abner for not protecting Saul (1 Samuel 25:13-16).
A’. Saul talks to David, who then responds (1 Samuel 25:17-25)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 767.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 25". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26