And Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.
Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?…
And it came to pass about ten days after, the Lord smote Nabal, that he died.
I Samuel 25:10,11,38
At last the time had returned once again when it appeared quite safe for David to pass wherever he might desire to go in the land of Israel. Before his undeniable kindness in sparing the life of Saul, the king had withdrawn in confusion and shame blurting forth so very uncharateristically the acknowledgement of his own sin. There was no reason to believe anymore therefore, that Saul would interfere with him wherever he went. Yet David remained very much unsure. He had seen too much of the vicissitudes of the king to rest his life on any momentary promise that came from his lips. For the time being he thought it much safer to remain in the comparative safety of the Judean hills rather than attempting to return to life in the populated cities. Even when the news was brought to him that his old teacher and friend Samuel had died, as much as he would have liked to have joined the mourners before his grave, discretion told him that it was better not, lest the attention which he would surely arouse might again serve to cast down the king into another one of his dark and moody fits of jealousy and hatred. Rather, he merely satisfied himself with passing on to a little less desolate portion of the wilderness.
Through this all, moreover, David was not one to remain inactive. He was not one who found himself able to sit around doing nothing. His time had to be used profitably, which for him meant that it had to be used in the service of the nation and the people whom he loved. Neither did he lack for opportunity. It was an undisciplined age in which he lived, and there was no greater danger that threatened those that lived without the protection of city walls than that of roaming robbers and marauding bands of enemies. A wealthy man with a goodly number of servants might be able to keep his own home safely; but those who remained unprotected out in the fields were considered fair game for all. It was here that David and his men proved particularly helpful. Their force was large enough and their men experienced enough that they could repell a force of any size that might try to ravage the land; and they did exactly that too. It must surely have been a new and wonderful thing for the inhabitants of the territories into which David came. For the first time, they found themselves protected from all their enemies. Every robber was duly punished, every enemy was immediately driven back; even the wild animals of the hills were slain and kept under control by David’s hunting parties: and through it all, because David’s men were men of righteousness and faith in God, never once did they themselves think to plunder or steal or do harm to any man. In gratitude, the people were usually more than willing to pay for the services of David’s men with gifts of food and clothing which they needed if they were to live.
Not always, however, did it work out so well, as is brought out for us by the history of Nabal the Maonite.
It came about after the death of Samuel, when David moved into the district of Paran, that he first came into contact with the possessions of Nabal. Nabal was an extremely wealthy man with many servants and great flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. He was exactly the kind of man who benefited the most from the presence of David’s force within the territory. No sooner had David moved into this area than Nabal began to prosper as he had never prospered before. One of the regular, anticipated expenses of his business was the continual loss of sheep and cattle to marauding forces of all kinds; and now suddenly this was stopped. David’s men were everywhere throughout the territory to protect them from evil and to lend a helping hand whenever Nabal’s men were in need of any aid. The result was a prosperity for Nabal far beyond any previous experience.
But Nabal was a selfish and very wicked man. Having what he did at any one moment, his mind could think only of how he could keep it and increase it still more. Apart from this his whole nature was quite incapable of functioning. Particularly foreign to him was any feeling of gratitude or sympathy for his fellow man. Thus it came that weeks and months passed by without one word of recognition for David from Nabal. Above all, there was no expression at all from Nabal as to his willingness to pay David and his men for the innumerable services which they had rendered. For David, it presented an extremely difficult and embarrassing situation. He was not a man who found it easy to impose himself upon others, and he found it embarrassing to have to beg anyone for anything even when he clearly had it coming. Nevertheless, the needs of such a large company of men were great; and they could not go on long without due return in food and other needs for the labors which they provided. Finally, therefore, David determined to send a group of young men to Nabal to remind him of their needs and the benefits which had come to him through their presence in the land.
It appeared that the time was ideal for such a request. It was the time of the shearing of sheep, by far the most jovial time of all the year in lands where sheep were kept. Wool was their greatest cash crop, and when it was gathered the prosperity of the coming year was guaranteed. It was the season of feasting and good will and kindness to all men. The very sheep shearing camp itself was like a great festival at which everyone was welcome to join in the festivities. Thus it appeared to David most appropriate that he, having contributed so much to Nabal’s prosperity for this year, should send a delegation to the shearing camp asking that they too be remembered and be allowed to share in some of the fruits of the season. Ten of his finest young men were chosen to fill out this delegation.
Coming to the camp of Nabal, the words which David’s young men were instructed to speak were as mild and polite as possible. They in themselves reflected clearly that these were not wild, undisciplined and lawless men, but men of true character and righteousness. The words they spoke to Nabal were these, “Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast. And now I have heard that thou hast shearers: now thy shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not, neither was there ought missing unto them, and the while they were in Carmel. Ask the young men, and they will shew thee. Wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes: for we come in a good day; give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand unto thy servants, and to thy son David.”
But the fact that Nabal had heretofore ignored David and his men was far from an oversight on his part. He knew full well what David’s men had done, and he knew the reward that was due them. But his only concern had been with how this payment could be avoided, and he had decided that the best would be to feign that he knew nothing at all about David and what he had done. His reply to David’s men constituted the height of all rudeness; for he answered with a tone of scorn, “Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?” Utterly taken back, disgusted and dismayed, and not knowing what they could answer to words as rude and uncouth as these, the ten young men turned away from Nabal and hurried back to David to tell him what Nabal had said. But with David there was no such stunned uncertainty. Here was not just a disdaining of all of the efforts his men had expended in Nabal’s behalf, here was a direct affront to their righteousness and integrity, to their right of existence within the nation. Quickly he acted, commanding four hundred of his men to take up their swords and follow him. Surely at that point things would have gone very badly with Nabal had it not been that one of his servants went immediately to his wife and said, “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, and we were not hurt, 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 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.”
For all of Nabal’s pride and foolishness, his wife Abigail was a woman of discretion and great faith. Immediately she understood the critical nature of the situation, and gathering together a large supply of food and wine she set out herself to intercept David. Through many years of marriage, she had become accustomed to the foolishness of her husband and to making recompense for it without his knowledge. Even more, she knew about David and understood the blessing of God that was with him. She could understand his anger; but also for his own sake it was best that he should be kept from seeking vengeance beyond his right. And so it was that when she came to David, she threw herself to the ground before him and gave forth with a most beautiful speech. She said, to David, “Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the Lord hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal. And now this blessing which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it even be given unto the young men that follow my lord. I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the Lord, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days. Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel; that this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the Lord shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.”
David recognized the beauty of a truly virtuous woman, and his answer was accordingly, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: and blessed be thy advice and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with thine own hand. For in very deed, as the Lord God of Israel liveth which hath kept me back from hurting thee….” So He received her gift, and so he dismissed her with the words, “Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person’.”
But God was not through with Nabal. That night yet he feasted and drank in hedonistic revelry; but with the coming of morning his wife told him of the danger that had come so close to touching his life. Even more, with that there came upon him from the Lord that same spirit of depression that Saul had known. Only Nabal had not the strength to bear it and within ten days he died.