For the Love of God, Volume 1/September 1
From Gospel Translations
1 Samuel 25; 1 Corinthians 6; Ezekiel 4; Psalms 40—41
DESPITE ITS GREAT INTEREST and deft characterizations, one must ask why the story found in 1 Samuel 25 is included. How does it advance the storyline of 1 and 2 Samuel?
Once some of the social conventions of the day are understood, the account itself is clear. Apparently at this point David is not actively being pursued by Saul (see 1 Sam. 24), but relations are still so tender that David and his men keep right out of Saul’s way. Much of this culture was bound up with two values that many in the West rarely experience: (1) Every good deed must necessarily be repaid with another. The forms of courtesy extend to reciprocal gift-giving. Failure in this respect calls down shame on the person who defaults, and treats the other person with contempt. (2) The demands of hospitality mean it is unconscionable to turn another away. That would signal rudeness and greed. Mere courtesy demands that one offer one’s best to guests. This is especially true when one is wealthy.
So when David’s men arrive at Nabal’s door, they are not asking for protection money. When Nabal sends them on their way, he is not an upright man who refuses to be bullied by a brigand, but an ungrateful wretch who will take and take from everyone, never give anything in return, thumb his nose at the courtesies and conventions of the culture, bring down shame on himself without caring what people think, and treat the man who has contributed to the wealth and wellbeing of his operation with insufferable contempt.
Abigail cuts the best figure in the narrative. With grace and tact, she assuages David’s wrath and preserves the lives of her husband and the men he employs. David is a mixed figure. By the light of day, doubtless he had some warrant for the vengeance he was planning, but it could only presage more bloodshed and a style of leadership that would sully the throne he would one day occupy. All this Abigail sees—and winningly convinces him she is right.
So why is the account included? Superficially, of course, there are little hints that David is coming closer to the throne. Samuel, the prophet who anointed him, is dead (25:1). David now heads an armed band of six hundred. Abigail represents the rising number of Israelites who recognize that sooner or later David will be their king (25:28, 30). But above all, David is now heading in a different moral direction from Saul. As Saul’s power has increased, so also has his passion for vengeance. David is heading in the same wretched direction, until Abigail checks him, as he himself recognizes (25:32-34). There are important lessons here for many powerful Christian leaders.