Nabal the Fool - I Samuel 25

(Don't Expect What You'd Expect)

In a civilized, 1st world society we live w/ certain expectations that help us get through life just a little easier. 

            “One good turn... [deserves another.”]

            “A penny saved... [is a penny earned.”]

            “I scratch your back... [you scratch mine.”]

            “Do unto others... [what you would have them do unto you.”]           

            Along w/ those expectations for mutual welfare, there are also particular truths that reassure us, merely for the reason that they are utterly unchangeable.  It’s nice to know that some things always stay the same, following the rules of never-changing logic:

            “What goes up... [must come down.”]

            “Where there’s smoke... [there’s fire.”]

            “2 + 2... [= 4.”]

            [Knock]: “Bup, Bup-bup, Bup, Bup... [Bup, Bup!”]

            All these things make sense.  Each is absolutely and wonderfully expected!

            But today, in 1 Samuel 25, much of what you’d expect from the 4 people mentioned in the narrative are absolutely unexpected.  The passage has already been read; let’s jump right in! 

            The first one is Samuel.  Though we haven’t heard from him lately, his presence has always been a “given”.  Central to nearly every event for most of the book, we have likely taken him for granted.  After he prophesies that the kingdom would be taken away from Saul, the prophet lays low, wisely keeping out of the public eye.  And given Saul’s anger issues, that’s proved the right course of action.  But we always knew Samuel was there.  When David didn’t know where to turn, he went to Samuel for encouragement.  But now we read, in v. 1, that Samuel is dead.  Whoa.  Didn’t see that coming.  There’s still 7 full chapters to go in only the 1st book that carries his name, and Samuel is gone.  That is unexpected! 

            And for David, it is absolutely heartbreaking.  Adding to an already long list of disappointments is this sad news.  Robbed of his home and his freedom, David has had to say good bye to his family, relocating them to Moab for safe-keeping.  With one exception, his support in the priesthood has been utterly wiped out, starting w/ the high priest Ahimelech.  His best friend, Jonathan, has been taken away by distance and circumstance.  Even his wife, we will find out today, has been given to another man.  And on top of all this, the one constant; the prophet who actually anointed him king, is now dead.  What authority would now substantiate his claim to the crown?!  It would not be a stretch to imagine that David thought the transfer of his kingship was close at hand.  But now the man who had the respect of all Israel AND the knowledge of his rightful anointing was no more.  This had to be a tragic blow to David.  For  Samuel’s death meant David’s tough times were not over!  ...not even close! 

            Nabal is next.  This descendent of Caleb is one of David’s fellow tribesmen.  Both Nabal and David are from the tribe of Judah.  Like David’s family, Nabal raised sheep.  No doubt, both had much experience as shepherds.  So naturally, given these facts, you’d think Nabal and David would be fast friends.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Turns out, Nabal is a skunk.  But that might be an insult to skunks everywhere.  This Nabal is a fool.  I know you’re not supposed to call anyone a fool, but that’s what 1 Samuel 25 calls him, and, actually, that’s what his name means: “fool”.  Sure, he is a successful businessman; yes, he is rich, to be sure... but he is a Nabal/“fool”.  The country where Nabal pastured his sheep was a dangerous place.  2 weeks back we read that David retrieved the livestock that the Philistines stole when they attacked Keilah.  Well, David’s men acted like a bodyguard to Nabal’s flocks and shepherds, keeping the enemies away.  No payment was asked for.  But now at the time of sheep-shearing, when there would be much feasting and joy, when David hopes to receive a little “love” or maybe a festive meal, in return for their unasked for kindnesses and oversight, Nabal looks a gift horse in the mouth and insults David and his men.  What??!!  That is also totally unexpected! 

            One would naturally expect the one who has been the recipient of repeated kindnesses to respond in kind.  But for all the care and love Nabal has been shown, he gives David and company nothing but disdain, angst and contempt.

            David has been all kindness, warmth & hugs; Nabal is all barbs, venom and coldness.

            So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when David immediately takes offense and orders 400 of his men to “Grab your swords!”.  However, after what we witnessed last week, and what we’ll witness next week, today’s brash reaction is most unexpected.  David was the model of self-control last week, when he had Saul right where he wanted him... and then let him go!  So, naturally, one would think that a mere insult from a total stranger would be taken in stride for a man of such extraordinary forbearance.  But not the case!  No, though he would show patience and kindness to the man who threatened to murder him on multiple occasions, David would show neither to the annoying neighbor who merely had something unkind to say about him. 

            No, there’s no way around it.  The champion of self-control last week, displays absolutely none of it today!  In his first reaction to Nabal’s slight, David is quick to react, and dare we say, overreact!  Yes, for the relatively small crime of hurling insults, David, we later discover, is planning to slaughter Nabal and all the men in the household.  Up to now, David has pretty much been the poster child for doing things the way God calls us to do them.  But not so, today.  Sorry, but this punishment David is planning, here, just doesn’t fit the crime.  Certainly, Nabal was wrong to slight David as he did, especially since he was a fellow member of the tribe of Judah.  But kill a man for insulting you?  ...and kill all his sons and man-servants, just because someone said something mean about you?  C’mon David!  You know better than that!  We know you do, because of all you have endured under Saul’s abuse.  Perhaps therein lies the key.  After taking so much abuse at the hands of Saul, David engages in a bit of displaced aggression.  He can’t retaliate on the big crimes of Saul, so he will retaliate on the smaller crime of Nabal.  (...just because he CAN!)  But it still represents a low point in David’s life.  One who has risen to such heights of moral strength, now sinking to the depths of seeking personal vengeance for a verbal cut-down?  No, we certainly don’t expect this from David.  We’ve come to expect so much more.

            Which is why it is like a lovely, unexpected breeze entering the room - when we are first  introduced to Abigail, the wife of Nabal.  With Abigail, we are first surprised that the wife of such a wicked/abominable scoundrel could be a woman who is “intelligent and beautiful”, as v. 3 says.  This is certainly not what we would have expected to read about the wife of Nabal the fool.  But even more unexpected is what Abigail does when one of the family servants informs her of the latest foolish thing her husband did!  Indeed w/ our introduction to Abigail, we are treated to the biggest, most unexpected action yet! 

            Yes, in the culture and time she lived, one would expect the wife of a rich, powerful man to be a demure, silent, reserved wife who lives in her husband’s shadow.  But this is not Abigail.

            As we read, Abi knows that there’s no talking to Nabal when once he has set his mind on something, and for some strange reason he has set his mind against David.  So Abigail is decisive and springs into action.  We’ve already established that it’s sheep-shearing season, so a huge banquet is being prepared for Nabal and his household.  It seems that Abi merely diverts a few of the preparations and, w/ them, she heads out to try to meet David before he arrives at there w/ his men.  When once she meets him, her actions are most wise, yet undeniably humble; (and by her actions, I mostly mean her speech!)  Like Jacob of old, even the order of presentation is considered, as she sends the many donkeys laden w/ food in front of her, so that this is what David first encounters.  Then when she sees him, she dismounts and bows before him w/ her face to the ground.  Humbleness exudes from every pore and every sentence of Abi’s long speech.  In fact, this is the longest speech by a woman in the entire O.T. (153 Hebrew words!)  And at every turn she refers to herself as David’s maidservant, and addresses David w/ “my lord” no less than 14x.  But added to her humility is her unexpected wisdom.  She knows to whom she is speaking.  She admits that Yahweh would make David into an enduring house and a godly leader.  The most unexpected but charming line in her long, brilliant speech is when she declares to David: “the lives of your enemies [God] will sling out as from the hollow of a sling.”  To the shepherd-boy who defeated the Philistine champion w/ a sling & a stone, this was music to his ears.  So too was hearing Abi follow-up the sling comment by referring to David as the one who would be appointed as Israel’s ruler.  Even if her husband was clueless, she at least, knew what the future had in store for David.  She also seems to have possessed an intuition (bordering on prophetic leading) of what was to come when she closes her important speech w/ the words: “When Yahweh deals well w/ my lore, then remember your maidservant.”  David would soon fulfill her final request, as Nabal would be struck down by God and die before 2 weeks had elapsed. 

            But even more than all these humble, wise actions, the high point is Abigail’s act of intercession on her husband/household’s behalf in saying: “Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant”, [Hebrew]: Saw  Nah  LufashA  Amateck(a)!  This is so powerful because Abi had done nothing wrong!  She was not the fool; her husband was.  She had not offended David; her husband had.  Her actions had not riled up David’s wrath; her husband’s had.  Yet SHE takes Nabal’s guilt upon herself: ‘Please forgive MY transgression!’ she says.  [pause]

            And rather than slay and punish an innocent woman for the offense of her awful husband, David stops; thinks; [slow] and sheathes his sword.  [pause]  When he does this most unexpected thing, he is showing by his soft, responsive heart, that he will NOT be a king after the order of Saul.  Personal vendettas have no place in God’s appointed order.  As Abigail also pointed out, David’s change of heart saved him from bloodguilt – that is, from the injustice of executing men, even Nabal, who had done nothing wicked enough to deserve the judgment/sentence of death.

            In the end, God required Nabal’s life from him, due to his wickedness to David.  God, not David would protect David’s honor.  Yes, vengeance was God’s; God alone would repay. 

            And when the dust settles, Abigail’s bold actions and wise words have spared much needless bloodshed; she has gained a wise, godly husband to replace the godless fool; but perhaps most importantly, Abigail’s counsel and intercession have rescued David from becoming Saul the Second.

            This is surely what the human writer of 1 Samuel sought to communicate through today’s narrative — that David was not another Saul.  Imagine what would have happened in today’s passage if Saul had been the one Abigail was trying to appeal to.  Saul’s hard heart would have been recalcitrant, and Abigail would have likely been the first member of Nabal’s household slaughtered that day!  But no!  David was no Saul!  His heart was tender, capable of being moved in the face of godly counsel and intercession.  Yes, thank GOD that David was not another Saul! 

            If you think about it, Nabal is the closest Saul-figure in today’s passage.  Nabal has all the traits and qualities of Saul – 1) it is Nabal who, like Saul, returns David’s good w/ evil; 2) David ends his opening appeal to Nabal by referring to himself as Nabal’s “son”, just as he was Saul’s son-in-law; 3) Nabal’s feast is described to be “like the feast of a king”, yet he will not spare or share his rich bounty w/ David; 4) Nabal is selfish and entirely self-absorbed, thinking only of how HE may profit and how HE may be satisfied - caring nothing for others.  Like Saul, his heart was dead & stone-hard long before his final days.  Yes, Nabal is the Saul-substitute in 1 Samuel 25. 

            And if Nabal is a type of Saul, Nabal’s wife is a type of Christ!  This, more than anything else, is what we as the N.T. readers need to remember.  Yes, Abi is a hero, or rather, heroine today — because of the way she reflects the saving work of the Lord Jesus!  Abigail has done nothing wrong, she is innocent of any guilt, yet at great risk to herself she attempts to cut David off at the pass as he races on the war path to annihilate Nabal and his household.  Jesus did nothing wrong, He too was innocent of any guilt.  Yet at great risk to Himself, he also steps into the line of fire, accepts the blame for our offenses and takes the fall on our behalf.  Yes, Abi is the big hero today, because her actions mirror and foreshadow those of our Savior on the cross!  And if you think about it, Abigail interposes her life on behalf of a foolish, self-absorbed man.  Hmmm.  That too mirrors and foreshadows we for whom Christ died.  Before God calls us to Himself, we too are “Nabals” – focused only on ourselves and what will further OUR good.  But Jesus puts His own needs aside and places Himself in harm’s way FOR we who are as “Nabal”. 

            No, it’s not real pleasant to liken ourselves to Nabal the Fool.  But that is what we are, outside of Christ. 

            If you think about it, David’s actions today even reflect this.  If we are a lot like Nabal, David too is Nabal-like, here in chapter 25.  If nothing else, David is horribly inconsistent.  Remember last week?  The model of self-control.  Saul is relieving himself in a dark corner of a cave that David and his men are hiding in.  His men urge David to slit Saul’s throat, but instead David merely slits Saul’s robe.  Our sermon last week echoed David’s praises for holding the rare spiritual fruit of self-control in high regard.  I even heard an account of someone who was able to display the spiritual fruit of self-control in response to our focus on David last week.  AND NOW THIS WEEK - David is the model of NO self-control.  A man everyone knows is a big jerk cuts him down verbally, and the dam bursts inside David as he intends to annihilate perhaps hundreds of innocent men on account of an insult.  Wow!  Yes, David is acting very Nabal-like this morning. 

            Truth is, all of us are inconsistent.  One day we’re on top of the world, spiritually, and the next day we’re making a mountain out of a molehill.  Yes, as long as we are gravity bound to this old earth, we will be most inconsistent and Nabal-like, ...like it or not!  If you don’t believe me, take 7 days (or even 1!) and keep a diary/journal of where what you do and what you think differs from what you profess in your Christian faith.  Mark my words, if you are honest, inconsistency will not be a hard characteristic to prove.  

            Which is why David’s response to Abigail is so, so refreshing!  Basically, if you boil down her interaction w/ David to the key point, and remove all of her humility, she’s saying “David, don’t be a dufus; killing Nabal and his family is a super bad idea that is unwarranted and will leave a sinful blight on your future royal legacy.”  And, guess what?!  David takes it.  He shows that he is teachable.  His heart is still soft, and he is not a Nabal, nor a “Saul” after all!  If you will, through God’s work in softening his heart, David is now inconsistent in the right direction.  I pray the Holy Spirit will use this beautiful truth to soften our hearts to godly counsel.  David was in the wrong, and when a woman rebuked him, David didn’t bristle or get defensive, he took his medicine and learned from it.  Scholar Joyce Baldwin calls Abi’s shepherding of David, here, “a major lesson in David’s training for kingship, and one that he was going to need to keep before him at future crises.”   May God give me and you the soft, teachable heart to accept correction and shepherding from others.  As hard as it may be to receive it sometimes, teachableness is fast-becoming my favorite attribute of good character. 

            This naturally leads to our final application today.  That we beg God to help us NOT be a Nabal

            As God helped David keep a soft, teachable heart, may God so equip us that possessing a soft, teachable heart is both our high priority and our constant prayer.  We, all of us, will prove inconsistent, as David did today.  We, all of us, will show that Nabal the Fool has nothing on us.  But I pray that God will give us a holy disdain for the inner Nabal we so often resemble.  Rather than a hard heart like a Saul or a Nabal, I pray that the soft, fleshy heart of an Abigail or a David would be ours.  When rebuked by a fellow Xian who loves us, may we consider their truth, resisting the first impulse to lash out in hurt.  For good reason does Proverbs 27 (6) say: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”  In the same vein is Proverbs 13 (1): “A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.”

            As Ezekiel 36 says, a soft, teachable heart is foundational to NOT being a Nabal, but rather a true child of God!  The bad news, is that we’re all Nabals at one time or another.  Some of you, like me, were “Nabal the Fool” for years.  Hard-hearted and recalcitrant, it seemed that nothing would soften us to the good news of the gospel.  But to the Holy Spirit our hard heart is not difficult to overcome.  And so, year after year, we hear stories of God softening the hearts of hard-hearted “Nabals”; people like Jonah the prophet; Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon; Saul of Tarsus, Augustine of Hippo, John Newton, William Wilberforce, Norma McCorvey (alias Jane Roe), Nicky Cruz, Don Shepard, John Horsechief and Eric Olson, to name a few. 

            God even softened the heart of a young man you’ve probably never heard of.  Robert Robinson was a hard-hearted Nabal.  His dad died when he was young, and perhaps that was what started the hardening.  His poor mother couldn’t control him, so she sent him away to London to learn a trade.  Tragically, all he learned was the rules of the street, and soon he was in a gang, an addict to alcohol.  One day, when he was 17, when they were all drunk, Robert & his buddies went to a fortune-teller and laughed all the way through her spiel.  But later that day, God brought a strange feeling of remorse over him and that evening Robert Robinson attended a meeting led by George Whitefield.  God penetrated Robert’s hard heart and, in time, God softened the heart of one who was so “prone to wander”.  Years later, after serving faithfully as a preacher in Whitefield’s own Calvinist Methodist denomination, Robert Robinson wrote a hymn describing how God, like Abigail, interposed to rescue us.  The song speaks of God’s streams of mercy which are never ceasing.  And in language that many a hard-hearted “Nabal” has adopted and claimed as their own, Robinson describes not only his “before” picture but even his “after” picture as one who needs the sealing of the Holy Spirit to keep one who is “prone to wander... prone to leave the God I love.”

            If the musicians could make their way up here now, we’ll close by singing that very song that Robert Robinson wrote.  As you sing it, remember not only Robert’s hard heart that was softened by God, but remember your own hard heart which God is willing and able to soften, just as He did for Robert, and me, and David!  Ezekiel 36 echoes the work that God did to soften  Robert Robinson’s hard heart: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone... and give you a heart of flesh.”