All of us have experienced times when we’ve gone out of our way to help someone who reacts by treating us unjustly. David was no exception. A good portion of his life was characterized by unjust treatment. The natural temptation is to retaliate—to get even. That David was able to persevere and continue to make wise choices in response to unreasonable people, however, is a lesson we ignore to our own detriment.
We pick up the story in the twenty-third chapter of first Samuel with Saul hot on David’s trail. Word had come to David that the Philistines were attacking Keilah situated between Gaza and Hebron and were pilfering the threshing sites of the city.
David and his men countered by driving off the Philistine army. Rather than showing gratitude, the local inhabitants betrayed David’s location to Saul. Retreating to the Wilderness of Ziph, David’s cover was short-lived when the Ziphites also sent an informant to King Saul. Over the next few months, Saul aggressively pursued David and appeared to be closing in.
During these dark days, God sent encouragement to David through two unlikely prophetic voices. The first occurred when Saul’s son, Jonathan, “went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God“ (1 Sam. 23:16). Jonathan prophesied,
“Don’t be afraid, because my father’s forces will not find you; you will be king over Isra’el, and I will be second to you. Sha’ul my father knows this, too” (1 Sam. 23:17 CJB, emphasis added).
More than an inspirational moment, Jonathan’s words confirmed God’s anointing on David that undoubtedly encouraged him to persist until he became king.
Forced to flee yet again, David traveled south into the Wilderness of Maon bordering the western edge of the Dead Sea. With his band of followers growing to approximately 600 men, they protected the large flocks of a man named Nabal (v. 13).
Nabal owned some 3,000 sheep and more than 1,000 goats. He was a very wealthy man. David’s small army protected Nabal’s livestock from raids of looting Philistines and savage tribes living near the southern borders of Israel.
Expecting compensation, David sent 10 men to greet Nabal and request the customary remuneration for services. This was not an extraordinary request. Wealthy sheep owners freely rewarded everyone associated with the prosperity derived from their flocks. Bonuses were typically given during the festivities associated with sheep shearing. The expected gift from Nabal would provide much needed subsistence for David’s small army.
Instead of offering compensation, Nabal sneered, “Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse?“ (1 Sam. 25:10). It was a rhetorical question. He knew full well the identity of David. Nabal and David were distantly related. The response was one of contemptuous scorn.
Jewish scholars infer that Nabal’s disdain may have stemmed from his contempt for Jesse’s grandmother Ruth who had Moabite ancestry. Or, it is possible that Nabal disparaged the future king of Israel in the same way David’s family had when Samuel came to anoint him. That Nabal was aligned with Saul and viewed David and his band of men as rogue insurgents could also account for his boorish behavior (v. 10).
Nabal’s disrespect, ingratitude and lack of integrity were an outrageous insult against the man widely known to be the anointed king of Israel. A servant rushed to alert Nabal’s wife, Abigail, before the situation could escalate and appealed to her sensibilities. He quickly recapped the situation:
“David sent messengers from the desert to greet our master, and he flew on them in a rage, even though the men had been very good to us — they didn’t harm us, and we found nothing missing during the entire time we went with them, while we were out in the countryside. They served as a wall protecting us day and night all the time we were with them caring for the sheep.
So now decide what you are going to do, for clearly harm is on its way to our master and all his household, but he’s so mean that no one can tell him anything” (1 Sam. 25:14-17 CJB, emphasis added).
When Abigail heard what had transpired between David’s men and her husband, she acted to avert disaster. After gathering enough provision and dispatching her servants to transport the goods to David’s men, Abigail discreetly went to meet the future king. Bowing low before David, she apologized for her husband’s shameful conduct.
Tellingly, Nabal’s name is the Hebrew equivalent for “fool” and is often used to describe someone who is churlish, severe, cruel, obstinate and vulgar. Whether the result of sadistic parents or just a descriptive nickname, Abigail conceded that the name suited him (25:25).
Pressing David to spare Nabal’s life, Abigail was the second to prophetically encourage David. She said,
“Even if someone comes along searching for you and seeking your life, your life will be bound in the bundle of life with ADONAI your God. But the lives of your enemies He will fling away as if from the pouch of a slingshot.
Then, when ADONAI has done all the good to my lord that he has said about you and made you ruler over Isra’el, what happens here will not have become an obstacle to you or a cause for remorse to my lord, neither that you shed blood without cause nor that my lord took vengeance into his own hands. . .” (vv. 29-31 CJB, emphasis added).
It was another prophetic reminder that David’s life was inseparably bound with God’s promises. In spite of the circumstances, God was in control. Abigail was confidant God would not only deal with King Saul, but also her foolish husband at the appropriate time.
Her words were speedily confirmed. The next morning, when she told Nabal how closely he had come to calamity, “he had a stroke and became as motionless as a stone. Some ten days later ADONAI struck Naval, and he died” (vv. 37-38 CJB).
When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said,
“Blessed be ADONAI for having taken my side in the matter of Naval’s insult and for having prevented his servant from doing anything bad. On the contrary, ADONAI has caused Naval’s bad deeds to return on his own head” (v. 39 CJB, emphasis added).
David acknowledged that God had sent Abigail to give him wise counsel. Had he acted on emotion, he would have made a grave mistake with long-term consequences. At times when David easily could have despaired and lost sight of his anointing or made rash choices based on emotion, God communicated a prophetic message through Jonathan and Abigail.
As a result, the future king of Israel chose not to give into emotion or act on impulse. The unjust realities he experienced are barely discernible in the 31st Psalm that was penned during this challenging two-year period of his life.
“Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints!
For the LORD preserves the faithful,
And fully repays the proud person.
Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart,
All you who hope in the LORD.”
When you courageously determine to follow the Lord, He will often strengthen your resolve through the testimony of others. Like David, you can persevere and make wise choices regardless of the treatment you receive from people.
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken. Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1) The Meeting between David and Abigail. By Giustino Menescardi. Used for illustrative purposes. Public domain/Wikimedia Commons/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
2) Nabal’s Flocks. Used for illustrative purposes. Public domain/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios