Saul’s Perfect Prototype

First Samuel 25

Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David moved down into the Desert of Maon.

A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel.

His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings.

While David was in the desert, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep.

So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name.

“Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!’” (verses 1-6) 

The latter part of several of these chapters consistently tells us information that it seems we needed to know at the beginning. I think this is to see if we will reserve judgment until we know more. An example of this is when David sent his men to collect from Nabal. This might appear to be a strong-arm tactic. We learn later of the details of the considerable services already rendered to Nabal by David and his men.

“‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing.

‘Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my young men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.'”

When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited (verses 7-9).

These were ten young men. David was deliberately trying not to be intimidating. He wanted what was owed him, but as a true shepherd, he didn’t want to be manipulative or forceful. He had operated in good faith toward Nabal and was presuming he would reciprocate. David was avoiding the sins of both witchcraft (manipulation) and paranoia.

Just a note from a stockman: Sheep are sheared in the spring when they no longer need their thick winter coats of wool. Adult females, (ewes), also give birth in the spring. Sheep shearing time is when a shepherd finds that some of his ewes won’t be birthing this year. Those ewes are either eaten or sold to others for immediate slaughter. So sheep shearing time is when workers and friends and neighbors drop in for some fresh barbeque. It is harvest time for a shepherd – a time for feasting and merry making.

Nabal—Another Saul Heart

Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days.

“Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” (verses 10-11)

Nabal was the perfect picture of a Saul heart. David had protected Nabal’s flocks, and Nabal owed him for his services. True to his character, he was unwilling to pay up. David had shepherded Saul’s two-legged sheep at Keilah and, far from being rewarded, he was threatened for doing so. The Philistines in chapter 17 didn’t keep Goliath’s promise to David when they didn’t surrender after the giant was killed; David had to chase them down to collect a part of what he had been promised. In this case Nabal was about to fail to keep the implied bargain he’d made with David. To add insult to injury, Nabal despised him as a runaway servant.

David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word.

David said to his men, “Put on your swords!” So they put on their swords, and David put on his. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies (verses 12-13).

Saul had tried several times to murder David. He had also repeatedly dealt falsely with him. In spite of this, David would not lay a hand on Saul. Why did David plan to exterminate a whole household because Nabal had snubbed him? It was harder for David to be snubbed by a common man than by a king. Fortunately, God’s grace was about to give David a second chance.

One of the servants told Nabal’s wife Abigail: “David sent messengers from the desert to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them.

“Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing.

“Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them.

“Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him” (verses 14-17).

Just as Saul’s men were always busy behind the scenes, quietly trying to keep Saul from messing up too badly, so Nabal’s men were subtly shepherding their master.

Abigail—A David Heart             

Abigail lost no time. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys.

Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal (verses 18-19).

Abigail, true to her David heart, was not passive for one second. All she had to do to be rid of a mean husband and become a rich widow was sit still and do nothing. This was what Eli and Saul had done at crucial moments. But her heart was pure, and she did not hesitate to do what she knew was right.

Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God’. Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me” (John 6:45). Every man and woman hears from God all the time. Everyone is “taught” by the Father, the Spirit of Truth, but not everyone LEARNS from Him. Even before the incarnation, Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, was the “true light that gives light to every man” (see John 1:9).

No one is completely without light, except those who choose to be blind. Only the willfully ignorant don’t know what is right. The David heart “falls on the Rock and is broken,” admitting it is too weak to resist God’s great truth, as well as His love. Abigail was a David heart. Just as David got up and out early on the day he met Goliath, Abigail hustled out to meet David. And had she hesitated, she would have been too late to deliver David from having a Saul heart moment.

Abigail was the only one able and willing to confront an angry, hurt David. She was really trying rescue to David and Nabal, who were both acting like Sauls. Her actions would speak to their consciences and cause them to pause and consider what God was saying. She was showing both men that their ways were reckless before the Lord.

As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them (verse 20).

Abigail and David were both running down hill, building momentum for a clash at the bottom of the ravine. There David would have to decide who he was.

Abigail is the fourth David heart in our story after David, Hannah, and Jonathan. In fact, she very nearly was David for a moment, descending into the Valley of Elah, volunteering to do what no one else could do. She chose to face a man with the spirit of Saul – no, GOLIATH, for he carried the same blade as the giant, and David swore an oath similar to the one spoken by the behemoth against Israel! She even came to him in the Name of the Lord as David had come to Goliath!

David had just said, “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good.

“May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” (verses 21-22)

[More on this oath later.]

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground (verse 23).

She was on her face before a “Saulish” David even as David had been on his face before Saul with the corner of a robe in his hand.

She fell at his feet and said: “My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say” (verse 24).

She was imploring David not to be like Nabal who was described by one of his servants as “such a wicked man that no one can talk to him” (see I Samuel 25:17).

May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent (verse 25).

I believe this is one of the three most important verses in First Samuel. Davids have to choose to retain a Davidic heart. It is also by choice that Saul hearts abide in the darkness of their fear and wounded pride. I believe this is a summary of a chief theme in this tale of two hearts. Every man falls, but no man can rightfully say he can’t get up. The pure in heart can be “infected” by encounters with the folly that “goes with” a Saul heart.  But by God’s grace, they can, and will, repent.

“Now since the Lord has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, may your enemies and all who intend to harm my master be like Nabal” (verse 26).

There was a general awareness in Israel of who and what Saul was and who and what David was. Somehow Abigail knew David had spared Saul in the cave. She also knew he might have a harder time being so merciful to Nabal. Indeed, she was a VERY intelligent woman.

“And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my master, be given to the men who follow you” (verse 27).

She was trying to appease his pride by offering the desperately needed supplies to his men, instead of to him, thus stroking his bruised dignity.

“Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the Lord will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the Lord’s battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live” (verse 28).

“The Lord’s battle” is avoiding wrongdoing and walking in relationship with Him. And this prophetic lady intercessor knew well that a lasting dynasty was at stake. Because of Saul’s error at Gilgal, Samuel had told him his family’s dynasty could not last.

Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling” (verse 29).

She was alluding to the fact that the shepherd boy had known he was invulnerable when he went up against Goliath with a sling.

“When the Lord has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord has brought my master success, remember your servant” (verses 30-31).

There is a prophetic overtone here of the era of Christ. The One who now sits on the throne of David inaugurated a covenant in which taking vengeance was wrong. Through David’s rash oath God was saying: “May God do to all my enemies the thing I am about to do to every male in Nabal’s house, if I leave one of them alive by the time the sun rises.”

When David said this, he did not know he was going to show mercy to Nabal and his house. So what he unwittingly swore was that if he spared Nabal, then he hoped that all his enemies would receive the same treatment—mercy! This was fulfilled by the Lion of Judah who has offered grace to all His enemies.

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me.

“May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.

“Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.”

Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, “Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.”

When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing until daybreak (verses 32-36).

Abigail was just as ready to be silent and still as she was to speak and act.

Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone.

About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.” Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife.

His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”

She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “Here is your maidservant, ready to serve you and wash the feet of my master’s servants” (verses 37-41).

David had to wait only ten days to see God deal with Nabal. And Abigail, who tried to save her “surly and mean” husband, was delivered from having to endure him without using witchcraft.

Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five maids, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.

David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives.

But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim (verses 42-44).

It is common in Scripture that the most profound truths are hidden in lists and genealogies. David’s first three wives are named here. Abigail was a great blessing; Michal, a profound curse, and Ahinoam … Ahinoam will turn out to be the greatest mystery of the whole story.