The Life of David, Vol. I.
by A. W. Pink
His Check From Abigail
1 Samuel 25
In our last chapter we saw how that God submitted David unto a testing of quite another character and from a different quarter than those he had previously been tried by. Hitherto, the thorn in his side had been none other than the king of Israel, to which we may add the callous indifference toward him of the nation at large. But now he was unexpectedly rebuffed by an individual farmer, from whom he had sought some victuals for his men. "His churlish soul, adding insult to injury, dismissed the messenger of David with contumely and scorn. It is a hard thing to endure. David had endured, and was enduring much. He was suffering from the active enmity of Saul, and from the dull apathy of Israel. But both were great, and so to speak, dignified enemies. Saul was Israel’s king; and Israel were God’s people. It seemed comparatively honourable to be persecuted by them: but it was a far different thing to endure the reproach of one so despicable as Nabal. ‘Surely in vain,’ said David, ‘have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness’" (B. W. Newton).
What made the trial more poignant to David’s soul, was the fact that he himself had acted honorably and kindly toward Nabal. When, on a previous occasion, he had sojourned in those parts, he had not only restrained his own men from preying upon Nabal’s flocks, but had been a defense to them from the wandering bands of the Philistines. It was, then, the least that this wealthy sheep owner could do, to now show his appreciation and make present of a little food to David’s men. Instead, he mocked them. Ingratitude is always trying to flesh and blood, but more so when it is coupled with gross injustice. Yet often God is pleased to try His people in this way, calling upon them to receive treatment which they feel is quite "uncalled for," yea, positively "unjust." And why does God permit this? For various reasons: among others, to furnish us opportunities to act out what we profess!
The reaction of David unto this trial is recorded for our learning: for us to lay to heart, and turn into earnest prayer. "And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword" (1 Sam. 25:13). Well may we ask, Had he been so long in the school of affliction and not yet learned patience? "He forgot that all suffering, all reproach, that is for God’s sake, is equally honourable, whether it come from a monarch, or from a churl. His proud spirit was roused, and he who had refused to lift up his hand against Saul, and had never unsheathed his sword against Israel: he who was called to fight, not for his own sake, against his own enemies, but for the Lord’s sake against the Lord’s enemies, he—David, forgot his calling, and swore that Nabal should expiate his offence in blood" (B. W. Newton).
And how are we to account for his lapse? Wherein, particularly, was it that David failed? In being unduly occupied with the second cause, the human instrument; his eyes were upon man, rather than upon God. When his men returned with their disappointing tidings he ought to have said with Job, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2: 10). Ah, it is easy for us to say what David ought to have said, but do we act any better when we are similarly tested? Alas, has not both writer and reader full reason to bow his head in shame! Far be it from us, who thoroughly deserve them ourselves, to throw stones at the beloved Psalmist. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit has faithfully recorded his failures, and the best way for us to profit from them is to trace them back to their source, and seek grace to avoid repeating them.
Above we asked the question, Had David been so long in the school of affliction and not yet learned patience? This leads us to enquire, What is patience? Negatively, it is meekly receiving as from God whatever enters our lives, a saying from the heart, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11). Positively, it is a persevering continuance in the path of duty, not being overcome by the difficulties of the way. Now to accept as from God whatever enters our lives requires us to cultivate the habit of seeing His hand in every thing: just so long as we are unduly occupied with secondary causes and subordinate agents, do we destroy our peace. There is only one real haven for the heart, and that is to "rest in the Lord," to recognize and realize that "of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things" (Rom. 11:36): ever seeking to learn His lesson in each separate incident.
It is blessed to know that "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord," and that "though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth his hand" (Ps. 37:23, 24). Yes, and ofttimes though we trip, He keeps us from falling. Where it is the genuine desire of the heart to please the Lord in all things, He will not let us go far wrong; where the will is sincerely bent Godwards, He will not suffer Satan to prevail. Thus it was here with David. To answer the fool [Nabal] according to his folly (Prov. 26:4) was just what the devil desired, and momentarily he had gained an advantage over him. But the eyes of the Lord were upon His tempted servant, and graciously did He now move one to deter him from accomplishing his vindictive purpose. Let us admire His providential workings.
First, we are told that, "But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed on them. But the men were very good unto us, neither missed we any thing, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields: They were a wall unto us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him" (vv. 14-17). One of Nabal’s servants acquainted his mistress with what had transpired, confirming, be it noted, what was said, by David’s men in verse 7. He probably drew the logical inference that David would avenge his insult, and anxious for his own safety, as well as for the other members of the household, and yet not daring to voice his fears unto Nabal, he informed Abigail.
How wondrously God makes all things "work together" for the good of His own. How perfect are His ways: fulfilling His own secret and invincible designs, yet leaving quite free the instruments, who unconsciously, fulfill them. The providential machinery to restrain the impetuous David was now set in motion. A servant of Nabal’s, moved by nothing higher than the instinct of self-preservation (so far as his consciousness went), warns his mistress of their impending danger. Now mark, secondly, her response: she did not laugh at the servant, and tell him his fears were groundless; nor was she suddenly paralyzed by feminine fright at the alarming tidings. No, a hidden Hand calmed her heart and directed her mind. Accepting the warning, she acted promptly, setting out at once with an elaborate present to placate the angry David; a present that would meet the immediate needs of his hungry men: see verses 18, 19.
There are some who have criticized this action of Abigail’s, dwelling upon the last clause of verse 19: "But she told not her husband Nabal." Such a criticism is a very superficial conclusion. What Abigail did was necessary for the protection of the family. Perceiving that Nabal’s stubbornness would ruin them all, the exigencies of the situation fully justified her conduct. It is true she owed allegiance to her husband, but her first and great duty was to take measures to protect their lives: inferior interests must always be sacrificed to secure the greater—our property to preserve our lives, our very lives to preserve our souls. As we shall see, verse 24, 28 make it clear that she acted from no disloyalty to Nabal. Nevertheless, it is an extraordinary case which is here before us, and so not to be used as an example.
And what of David at this time? Was he recovered from his outburst of anger? No, indeed, or there had been no need for Abigail’s mission of conciliation. The words of Nabal were still rankling within his heart. Hear him as he petulantly declares, "Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him: and he hath requited me evil for good" (v. 21). He repented of the kindness shown Nabal, feeling now that it had been wasted upon him, that he was devoid of gratitude and incapable of appreciating the good turn shown him. But God is "kind to the unthankful and to the evil," and bids us "Be ye therefore merciful" (Luke 6:35, 36). Ah, to cultivate that attitude we must seek grace to mortify the spirit of pride which desires recognition, and that bitterness which rises when we are slighted.
Not only was David chafing under the ingratitude and taunts of Nabal, but he was still bent on revenge: as verse 23 shows, he had determined to slay every male in Nabal’s household. This was unjust and cruel in the extreme, and if God had suffered him to carry out such a design, would have greatly sullied his character and given his enemies an immense advantage against him. So determined was he, that he confirmed his intention with an oath, which was rash and savored of profanity. See here, dear reader, what even the child of God is capable of when grace is not active within him. The realization of this ought to make us walk softly, and work out our salvation with "fear and trembling." It is for this reason that God so often withdraws from us the power of His Spirit: that we may know what is yet in our hearts (2 Chron. 32:3 1), and be humbled before Him.
How blessedly God times His mercies. Here was David premeditating evil, yea, on the point of carrying out his wicked purpose. But there was one, sent by the Lord, already on the way to deliver him from himself. Ah, dear reader, have not you and I often been the recipient of similar favors from Heaven? Were there not times, be they recalled to our deep shame, when we had determined upon a course dishonoring to our Lord; when, all praise unto Him, some one crossed our path, and we were delayed, hindered, deterred? That some one may not have spoken to us as definitely as Abigail did unto David: rather perhaps their errand was of quite another nature, which at the time we may have resented as a nuisance for interrupting us; but now, as we look back, do we not see the kind hand of God withholding us from carrying out an evil purpose!
Apparently David was already on his way to execute his evil intention when Abigail met him (v. 20). Blessed it is to see the place which she now took: "When Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face and bowed herself to the ground; and fell at his feet" (vv. 23, 24). This was not mere adulation, and it was something more than an oriental salutation: it was faith’s acknowledgment of the "anointed of the Lord." Nabal had insulted him as a runaway slave, but his wife owns him as a superior, as her king in the purpose of God. Her address to him on this occasion (vv. 24-31) is deserving of close study, but we can only offer a few brief remarks upon it.
It is to be carefully noted that Abigail did not upbraid David for cherishing the spirit of revenge and tell him that it ill became his character and calling: that had not been seemly for her to do; rather did she leave it for his conscience to accuse him. She did not excuse her husband’s conduct, nor did the present case allow her to hide his infirmity, but she sought to turn his well-known character for rashness and insolence (v. 25) into an argument with David, why he should lay aside his resentment. ‘She intimated that Nabal (whose name means ‘folly’), intended no peculiar affront to him, but only spoke in his usual way of treating those who applied to him; and it was beneath a person of David’s reputation and eminence to notice the rudeness of such a man" (Thomas Scott).
Abigail’s piety comes out clearly in verse 26. Possibly she perceived a change in David’s countenance, or more probably she felt in her spirit that the object before her was now gained; but instead of attributing this unto her pleading, or the present she had brought, she ascribed it solely unto the restraining grace of God: "the Lord hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand." Thus alone is God honored and given His proper place, when we freely impute unto His working all that is good in and from our fellow-creatures. Beautiful too is it to behold how she shields her churlish husband: "upon me, my lord, upon me, let this iniquity be" (v. 24), "I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine hand maid" (v. 28). She took upon herself the blame for the illtreatment of his men, and says, If thou wilt be angry, be angry against me, rather than with my poor husband.
Next, we behold her strong faith: "the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house" (v. 28). She makes reference unto the future to draw his heart from the present. As another has said, "To the heir of a kingdom, a few sheep could have but little attraction; and one who knew that he had the anointing oil of the Lord upon his head, might easily bear to be called a runaway servant." Ah, it is ever the office of faith to look beyond present circumstances and difficulties, on to the time of deliverance; only thus do we begin to judge things from God’s viewpoint. Then she pointed out that David was fighting "the battles of the Lord" (v. 28), and therefore it was not for him to think of avenging an insult to himself.
Her closing words in verses 29-31 are very beautiful. First, she makes reference to the relentless persecution of Saul, but in becoming loyalty to the throne speaks of him as "a man" rather than "the king," and assures David in most striking language that his life should be preserved (v. 29). Second, looking away from his abject condition, she confidently contemplated the time when the Lord would make him "ruler over Israel": how heartening was this unto the tried servant of God! Thus too does God often send us a word of comfort when we are most sorely tried. Third, she pleaded with David that he would let his coming glory regulate his present actions, so that in that day, his conscience would not reproach him for previous follies. If we kept more before us the judgment-seat of Christ, surely our conduct would be more regulated thereby. Finally, she besought David to remember her, his "handmaid," when he should ascend the throne.
"‘As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear’ (Prov. 25:12). Abigail was a wise reprover of David’s passion, and he gave an obedient ear to the reproof according to his own principle: ‘Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness’ (Ps. 141:5): never was such an admonition either better given or better taken" (Matthew Henry). Herein are the children of God made manifest; they are tractable, open to conviction, willing to be shown their faults; but the children of the devil ("sons of Belial") are like Nabal—churlish, stubborn, proud, unbending. Ah, my reader, lay this to heart: if we will listen to faithful counselors now, we shall be delivered from much folly and spared bitter regrets in the future.
God blessed this word of Abigail’s to David, so that he was now able to view the whole transaction and his own bitter spirit and purpose, in a true light. First, he praises God for sending him this check in a sinful course (v. 32): it is a true mark of spirituality when we discern and own the Lord’s hand in such deliverances. Second, he thanked Abigail for so kindly interposing between him and the sin he was about to commit (v. 33): ah, we must not only receive a reproof patiently, but thank the faithful giver of it. Note that instead of speaking lightly of the evil he premeditated, David emphasized its enormity. Third, he dismissed her with a message of peace, and accepted her offering. The whole shows us wise men are open to sound advice, even though it comes from their inferiors; and that oaths must not bind us to do that which is evil.
Finally, let us point out for the benefit of preachers, that we have in the above incident a blessed picture of an elect soul being drawn to Christ. 1. Abigail was yoked to Nabal: so by nature we are wedded to the law as a covenant of works, and it is "against us" (Col. 2: 14). 2. She was barren to Nabal (see Rom. 7:1-4). 3. It was tidings of impending doom which caused her to seek David (v. 17). 4. She took her place in the dust before him (v, 23). 5. She came to him confessing "iniquity" (v. 24). 6. She sought "forgiveness" (v. 28). 7. She was persuaded of David’s goodness (v. 28). 8. She owned his exaltation (v. 30). 9. She, like the dying thief, begs to be "remembered" (v. 31). David granted her request, accepted her person, and said, "Go in peace" (v. 35)!