In the early 1980s a very wealthy married couple got into an argument. Things got heated—escalating to the point that they both started acting like fools. Their fight started when the husband cancelled a vacation—saying he had to work. The wife expressed her “disappointment” by pouring bicarbonate soda into her husband’s fish tank, killing his entire collection of rare tropical fish. The husband responded by grabbing a selection of his wife’s diamond jewelry and throwing it into the garbage disposal. She proceeded to lug his stereo equipment to their pool and throw it in. He kicked a hole in her $250,000 Picasso. She was planning to sink his 38-foot yacht when their daughter finally called the police. But—when the police arrived, they said they couldn’t do anything because it isn’t illegal to destroy your own property. Finally, the family lawyer intervened and established a truce between these two fools—a husband and a wife who were in a downward spiral of hardheartedness, arrogance, and destruction.
I share this TRUE story to whet your whistle for another TRUE story about two other fools who were in a similar downward spiral. I’m referring to the Biblical account of David and his disagreement with a man named Nabal. But in this story it wasn’t a daughter who intervened—it was Nabal’s wife—a Godly woman named Abigail. Her intervention saved her husband’s neck—and David’s reputation.
Before we get to their story I’ll let you know that today we’re starting a new sermon series entitled: “Connecting With the People of the Bible.” The idea is for us to study the stories of these people so we can learn from them.
As I said, last week, every one loves a good story. I mean, stories about real people can be powerful because they arouse our interest. They prompt us to ask questions like:
- Where do I fit into this story?
- Are these people like me?
- Where does their pilgrimage intersect with my life?
- What can I learn from their story that will help me with mine?
- What do the experiences of these people tell me about God’s grand story to save us and renew us in Jesus Christ?
Answering these kinds of questions is the purpose of this series.
Okay—back to TODAY’s story. I’ve already listed the three main individuals in this story—but let’s go a little deeper beginning with David.
To give you the timeline—David has killed Goliath. He’s been anointed as the next king of Israel but the current king—Israel’s FIRST king, Saul is not happy with David. He jealously sees him as a competitor—a threat to his throne and has made it his goal in life to kill David. In fact, at this point in his life David has eluded Saul’s murderous rage six times. So—to get out of King Saul’s reach, David has moved down into the wilderness area of Paran.
And “down” if the correct word because Paran was WAY DOWN—below the Dead Sea, just above Sinai. We would call it no man’s land because it was too far from the government to have any authority. I mean, anyone living there had to fend for themselves. I can’t help but think if the “wild west” but here it would be the “savage south!”
Now, by this time David has attracted about six hundred fighting men—many of them guys who for one reason or another were not friends of King Saul. And—under David’s leadership—these malcontents had become a disciplined fighting force. In fact, here in the wilderness they became the self-appointed peacekeepers and lawmen of the region. They were like John Wayne and his gang of good guys—protecting the people from robbers and thieves—and every rancher in the region was thankful for their presence. They knew that without David and his men out there patrolling—they would be out of business. In fact, there was an unspoken agreement—a tradition—that whereas these peacekeepers would not demand payment for their services—the owners of these flocks and herds would voluntarily offer compensation out of gratitude. To fail to do so would be like not tipping a waitress who had done a great job serving your meal.
Now—the protection David and his men provided was superb. None of the flocks or herds in the area were harmed. Not a single sheep or cow was stolen. So—David and his men expected to be “tipped” well—and rightfully so. Now in that culture—tipping time—was when the sheep’s wool grew to the point that it needed to be sheared. This annual “wool harvest” was when David and his crew were thanked in a tangible way by all the ranchers in the region. That brings us to a rancher named Nabal. You see, Nabal was the kind of guy who needed a gentle reminder of this custom. I mean, the other ranchers voluntarily gave of their bounty to David and his gang but not Nabal. Now who was this guy? Look at verse 2. It says that Nabal, “was very rich.” He had thousands of sheep and cattle. He was loaded. He owned more livestock than the Cartwrights.
His ranch was bigger than the Ponderosa. If you don’t recognize these references talk to an old person.
By the way, the word “Nabal” means “fool.” It’s the same word used through out the proverbs to refer to rude, ignorant, dishonest, belligerent, obstinate people. And because it was a commonly understood term, I doubt this was Nabal’s given name. Surely no mom would name their baby “fool.” It was more likely a nickname given him—a name people used behind his back—because of the foolish things he constantly did.
And before we judge, let’s admit it. You and I can be foolish at times. In fact, foolishness is so common, that the makers of many products have to put warnings on their products to help prevent foolish actions. Here are actual warnings were found on consumer products:
- On a Duraflame fireplace log: “Caution—Risk of Fire.”
- On a Batman costume: “Warning: Cape does not enable user to fly.”
- On a bottle of hair coloring: “Do not use as an ice cream topping.”
- On a cardboard sun shield for a car: “Do not drive with sun shield in place.”
- On a portable stroller: “Caution: Remove infant before folding for storage.”
We chuckle—but we’ve all done FOOLISH things—things that embarrass us. Right? Can I get a show of hands?
Well, apparently Nabal did foolish things—not once where he learned from his actions—but all the time. I mean he DESERVED this nickname that was uttered behind his back. He wasn’t just foolish—he WAS a fool. I love how Charles Swindoll describes him. He writes, “Nabal was a bigoted, stubborn, rigid, prejudiced, and underhanded businessman. On top of it all he was a tightwad. Aside from all that, I suppose we could say that Nabal was a fine gentleman.”
Okay, that’s David and Nabal. Let’s take a closer look the heroine in this story: Abigail. Abigail was Nabal’s wife. Her name means, “my father is joyous,” and it probably referred to Abigail’s beauty. I get the picture of a father rejoicing at the birth of his beautiful little girl. She probably was born with a head full of curly hair. Maybe she looked like Molly Price! Well, as she grew it became obvious that Abigail’s beauty was more than skin deep. She had a beautiful spirit. She was smart, winsome, gracious, kind, and courageous. Nabal definitely married “up.” Like me he landed a wife who was way out of his league. I mean, Abigail, was everything Nabal was not.
Let me just stop and say—I have discovered that if one spouse is a selfish person—a difficult person—someone who is hard to live with—and if that person has been married any length of time—usually their spouse is the opposite. He or she is selfless, kind, giving—loved by others.
The reason I say this is because two selfish people won’t stay together. The only person who will stay with a “Nabal-like” individual—is the opposite. The only person who will put up with a difficult person is a is a selfless, loving person! Has anyone out there ever seen this kind of thing? Has anyone experienced it?
This would NOT be a good time to look at your spouse!
All kidding aside, we all have a little “Nabal” in us and it’s a wonderful blessing to have a spouse who believes you can grow—a helpmate who hangs in there with you in spite of your flaws—someone who lovingly co-labors with God to help you on your journey toward Christlikeness. Can I get an AMEN? One of the blessings of marriage is spouses who work together to help each other grow and mature. We all need that kind of help.
This week I came across something Beth Moore said. She tells of a friend, who, when she read this story in the Bible, said, “I finally have a name for my husband. I am married to such a ‘Nabal!’ Then I had the strangest feeling that God said to me in response, “But he is married to no ‘Abigail.’”
Now—if you are like me you wonder how someone like Abigail could end up with someone like Nabal. I mean how did someone of great wisdom get married to such a foolish numby-head? Well, we have to remember that, in those days, marriage was a business arrangement between fathers, not the culmination of courtship and love like today. And most of the time that kind of arrangement worked out well. I mean, Fathers loved their little girls and took great care to choose a man who would not only provide and care for her but love her and treat her tenderly.
Most of the time this worked—a genuine love grew in that kind of arrangement. But sometimes it didn’t because people then, just as today, could be fooled. They could be deceived by appearances just like us. I’m thinking that a wonderful person like Abigail must have come from a good home, but her dad didn’t’ see the obvious character flaws in his future son-in-law. Perhaps Abigail did—but she thought Nabal could change. In any case, things didn’t work out. Nabal only got worse. And a terrible marriage was the result. Abigail suffered greatly. But you wouldn’t know it to see her.
Well, since Nabal didn’t willingly offer anything to David and his men—David sent him a gentle reminder. I mean, he has 600 hungry soldiers who have been working for free—so he sends a committee of ten guys to check on things—just the right amount to make a statement, without overwhelming Nabal
Look at verses 5 and following. David tells his committee:
“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! 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 men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’”
Verse 9 says: “When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited. 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?”
Does Nabal sound like a fool or what?! We can see his character in these words. Nabal was a direct descendant of Caleb—the guy who stood with Joshua during the Exodus. He definitely had his nose in the air when he questioned David’s lineage. Inferring he was a servant who had run away from his master was a mean, hurtful thing to say. He went so far as to infer that David and his men didn’t deserve payment—that David and his crew were a bunch of lazy no-counts while he did all the work. Basically, he was saying, “David is a nobody who does nothing. How dare him ask for help from someone like me!” I mean, Nabal wasn’t just a fool. He was a PROUD fool.
When I think of proud people I get the mental image of a Pufferfish. As you can see in this picture, the Pufferfish can inflate into a ball shape to evade predators. Also known as blowfish, these clumsy swimmers fill their elastic stomachs with huge amounts of water (and sometimes air) and blow themselves up to several times their normal size. But these blow-up fish aren’t just cute. Most pufferfish contain a toxic substance that makes them foul tasting and potentially deadly to other fish. The toxin is deadly to humans—1,200 times more deadly than cyanide. There is enough poison in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote.
Well, here’s the tie-in with pride. You seek like Pufferfish, we can blow ourselves up with pride and arrogance to make themselves look bigger than we are—better than we are. And this pride can become toxic to a marriage, a church, or a friendship.
No wonder the late Bible scholar John Stott once said, “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.” Nabal needed to learn this lesson. Now, I want you to note the response of David’s men. No fighting. No arguing. They simply leave. Look at verse 12: “David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived (back at camp), they reported every word.
David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.”
I like how Lucado describes the scene: “400 men mount up and take off. Eyes glare. Nostrils flare. The road rumbles as David grumbles, ‘May God do His worst to me if Nabal and every cur in his misbegotten brood aren’t dead meat by morning! It’s the WILD WEST in the ANCIENT EAST!”
Well, as the habitually oblivious Nabal went back to partying—no doubt thinking all was well thanks to his wise response to the request of David’s men—war was brewing. And we must understand, David is not yet the mature man of God he would one day become. God is not finished with him yet. He’s using these “desert times” to shape David into the kind of man who could be king. And God does the same with us. He uses trials to break us and melt us and then remold us into Christlikeness. He refines us with the fire of difficult times. I mean, David is still growing—still forming. He’s got a bad temper—and Nabal’s evil response fans it to flame. I mean, this is not David’s best moment. Swindoll writes, “His reaction was a rash act of the flesh, not a prompting by the Spirit of God. The Lord may act severely and His judgment may be swift, but He is never rash.”
We can learn from David’s response—learn how to control our desires to get even. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit of God in us—and He always gives us good guidance. But we also carry with us many pounds of carnal flesh that makes wrong seem right. If we are not VERY careful, Satan will use our anger as a foothold. He’ll use our flesh—our bent toward sin—to make us think what we are doing is right—justified—when it’s not. How many of you have done something in anger that you were sure at the time was the right thing—only to regret it later?
Do you remember an incident that happened recently, on a plane full of Hawaii-bound passengers. They found themselves landing in Los Angeles—after a passenger got in a fight with an airline employee over the price of a blanket: $12.00. According to CNN, “The 66-year-old man threatened the worker after he was charged $12 for a blanket.” Due to the chilly on-board temperature, he “insisted he should not have to pay.” Things spiraled down from there. The man got on the phone with an airline representative and said he would, ‘like to take someone behind the woodshed.’” The captain rerouted the plane to Los Angeles. A Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman said, “Diverting a flight is clearly not our first choice, but our crew felt it was necessary in this case to divert to Los Angeles—and deplane the passenger before beginning to fly over the Pacific Ocean.”
Now—I think $12 for those pieces of felt they call blankets is ridiculous—but is it worth diverting an entire plane? Is it worth being kicked off? Surely that man felt foolish when he calmed down. So—when we feel heat building under our collars—when anger rises and you’re tempted to do something rash, ask yourself:
- Does Scripture affirm this action?
- What will the consequences be? Will they edify the person or tear them down?
- Will what I do lift Jesus up?
- Will it hurt His church?
- Have I prayed enough about this?
David didn’t stop long enough to ask these kinds of questions. He angrily grabbed his sword and ordered the rest to do the same. They mounted up—and headed out. As Swindoll puts it, “Nabal’s tent would be soaked with his ‘blue blood’…and not only his, his sons as well. A massacre was in the making.”
Okay—look at verses 14-17. Here we read that, in the meantime: “One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, ‘David sent messengers from the wilderness 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 the whole 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.’”
Did you note how casually this servant talks about Nabal’s worthlessness to his wife? It shows how foolish this guy was—how well-known he was for his stupidity and pride. Have you ever had to live under someone like Nabal? Perhaps it was a boss who could do no wrong—-or a spouse or a teacher?
Now—think of how Abigail could have responded to this. She could have thought, “David is on the way to kill my fool of a husband. Yay! The source of my constant misery will soon be gone. God does indeed move in mysterious ways His wonders to perform! I will finally be free of this evil man!”
But instead of letting things proceed, Abigail showed her integrity. She chose to protect her husband, not because he deserved it—not because he was good—but because SHE was good. I can’t help but think of God—Who loves us and sent His Son to die in our place—not because WE are good—but because HE is good. I mean, Abigail showed her godliness, because in spite of how bad a husband Nabal had been, she chose to remain honorable—she chose to do the right thing. God can use that kind of response. If we humble ourselves—if we let Him, He can empower us to respond in a way that brings Him glory—respond in a way that opens the door for a fool to see his or her folly.
Okay—look at verse 18 and following: “Abigail acted quickly. 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. As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them.”
I wish I could have been there to witness this meeting. I mean, all the tension of this story builds to this moment. Think of it. David and Nabal were as opposite as could be but they behaved in similar ways.
- Both were obstinate, proud men.
- Each believed the other to be a fool.
- Both allowed anger to rule their judgment.
- Each shot off his mouth about the other.
- Both acted rashly led by impulse rather than good sense.
So—with their confrontation everything would have gone down the tubes if it weren’t for Abigail’s intervention—her meeting David with enough food to feed a literal army. Picture the scene in your mind’s eye. When David and his posse see her, four hundred men, yell, “WOAH” in unison. The horses come to a grinding halt. Lucado writes, “Some gape at the food. Others gawk at the female. She’s good lookin’ with good cookin’, a combination that stops any army.”
Then Abigail falls at the feet of David’s horse and issues a plea worth of a paragraph in Scripture.
Look at verse 24 and following: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands—may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you. Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord 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. When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing He promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel—my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”
Is Abigail wise or what!? I mean, she reminds David of God’s promise and encourages him to live up to his calling. Did you catch the “sling reference?” She’s reminding David to do what he did when he faced Goliath—reminding him to let God fight his battles—to remember that God Who had begun a good work in him wasn’t finished yet. She warns him about ruining his future rule with this massacre. This unarmed woman facing 400 armed and dangerous warriors, basically says, “Look David, there’s one fool in this story—my husband. Isn’t one fool enough? I think God expects more from you David.” Abigail was a true peace-maker.
I’m reminded of someone I read about this week. His name is Rashawn Welch and he was tired of all the violence in his city, so he used his resources to generate a creative solution. Welch’s company, 305 Elite, offers a free night out in one of his high-end luxury cars to anyone who turns in a gun. Welch says he came up with the idea after he kept noticing many of his clients getting involved with violence and street life—a lifestyle he knows well, having spent five years in prison himself. He says, “I’m just trying to get (guns) off the street, no matter what.” He says, “Why would I turn in a gun for a $200 gift card at Target when I could sell it on the street for $500? It doesn’t make sense.” Welch is convinced his lavish stable of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, and other opulent vehicles will be a sufficient incentive for a positive choice. It’s a mission to stop gun violence, one shocked stare at a time. No doubt Welch has stopped a lot of people from doing something very foolish.
Okay, let’s read David’s response: “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.’”
Well, Abigail walks back to her home. When she arrives, her husband is still enjoying his “harvest party.” In fact, he’s enjoying it too much. He’s very drunk—bombed out of his mind—unable to understand what she needs to tell him, so she waits until the next morning when he is sober to tell him about his near-death experience. The next morning when he’s sobered up she does tell him and he has a stroke from which he never recovered. Ten days later God strikes him dead.
Well, I guess you could say “And they lived happily ever after” because when David learned what had happened he asked Abigail to marry him and she agreed. He knew a good wife when he saw one. Unfortunately, David wasn’t wise enough to STOP with one wife. But that’s another story.
Now—as I said, the stories in the Bible invite us to ask questions about our own stories—and this story is not an exception. Abigail’s story invites questions like:
- Where have I been acting like a fool?
- Have I been giving Satan a foothold with anger?
- Am I being given a chance at redemption?
Remember both Nabal and David were acting like fools. They both had a chance at redemption. Nabal rejected it—and told David’s guys to take a hike. David listened to Abigail.
Here’s another “intersecting question.”
- Am I living up to my calling as a child of God?
- Am I letting God finish His good work in me?
David knew he would be the next king. In his encounter with Nabal he almost forgot that. We need to remember who we are—WHOSE we are—and do nothing to interfere with God’s work—His calling in our lives. Here’s another question:
- Am I teachable person?
Remember what the servants said about Nabal: “He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.” The Bible tells us there is one sure way to spot a fool: he or she is unteachable and uncorrectable. They refuse criticism and correction and instead bristle, get defensive, and deflect criticism back on you. Proverbs 9:5 reads: “Fools say, ‘Who are you to tell me how to live my life?’” Are you acting that way? Is there a situation where you need to listen to the loving correction offered by another? Are there other questions the Holy Spirit is putting in your mind?
Note: Sources for this message include commentary in the following books: Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives by Charles Swindoll, Cast of Characters by Max Lucado, and a message posted on Preaching Today by Matt Woodley