It was not so much anger as fear that prompted David to take immediate action against Nabal. David was worried about what that “very great” (verse 3) and bitterly hostile man might do to him, were he permitted to live. The sacred text makes this clear. First, David was decided to slay only the males of Nabal’s household (verses 22, 34). Second, in reproving David, Abigail speaks of the Lord’s withholding him from saving himself with his own hand. So reads the original text and not, “from avenging thyself with thine own hand,” as the English version has it. David thought it prudent to rid the earth of Nabal and his servants without a moment’s delay. That in his unbelief he was afraid as thinking that Nabal might become actively hostile is plain from the whole thrust of Abigail’s discourse. She advised him not to “set his mind” on Nabal, meaning, as appears from the sequel of her discourse, that he must not allow that wicked man to destroy his peace of mind and drive him to take recourse to weapons of violence in dealing with his enemies (verse 25). The Lord is against Nabal. Hence, he is doomed and will be destroyed. And all David’s enemies and they that seek his soul will be like him (verse 26). David must consider that there is no possibility of his perishing by the hand of his enemies, it being that his soul is bound in the bundle of life with the Lord, but that “souls of his enemies shall be slung out, as out of the midst of a sling” (verse 29), and that, accordingly the Lord will surely build him a house in fulfillment of all the good that he has spoken to him. He shall appoint him ruler over Israel (verse 30). Let David believe the Lord’s word, make God his expectation and refrain from’ securing his position in Israel by the employment of the forbidden weapons of the flesh. He must let God take care of his enemies. The added priceless advantage of his heeding her advice is that he comes into his kingdom with a good conscience before God (verse 31).
The implied rebuke of her discourse is that, whereas the Lord has not authorized that contemplated killing, David has set out on a forbidden mission and that, if he carries out his intention, he comes to blood. Her proof is that the Lord impedes his progress by placing her on his path—her, Nabal’s god-fearing wife. She had nothing to do with Nabal’s contemptuous behavior. She esteems David for what he is:—Israel’s anointed king by whose hand the Lord saves His people and for whom He will build a sure house. This is her firm belief; for she has taken notice that he fights the Lord’s battles and that no evil has been found in him all his days (verse 28). She being a believer, Nabal and his household must be spared for her sake. For she belongs to that household; in it she occupies the position of Nabal’s wife. Any injury done to him is done to her. Hence, David must return his sword to its scabbard as far as Nabal is concerned. It is the Lord’s will.
There are three gross sins in which David involves himself if he goes through with his resolve. First, killing Nabal he comes to blood without divine authorization; and that would be murder. Second, killing Nabal he saves himself with his own hand instead of looking in faith to God to deliver him from his enemies. Third, killing Nabal he hurts the righteous Abigail. By confronting David with this believing woman, the Lord keeps him from committing these sins. David understands. He is grateful to God, and blesses His name, the woman, and her advice by which, to quote David, “the Lord kept me this day from coming to blood: from saving myself with mine own hand; and from hurting thee.” He ends with affirming under an oath that he would have committed these sins, had she not hasted and come to him (verse 34).
Not so long ago the Lord tempted David by delivering Saul into his hand. Now the Lord tempted His servant by exposing him to the vile treatment of Nabal. Both temptations were endured and thus the Lord’s purpose is plain. His purpose was to teach His servant anew that for him the God-appointed way to the throne was the way of cross-bearing, the way of suffering, the way of his enduring the persecutions of wicked men and of looking in faith to God to deliver him out of their hands; and to teach him, too, that in running this way, he runs the way of faith, of spiritual warfare and of victory over all his foes. And David learned these lessons. For by the mercy of God he endured temptation.
Having been dismissed in peace by David, Abigail returns to her place as intending to report to her husband immediately. But it will be a waste of time to report to him now. Her words will make no impression. For Nabal has been feasting in his house with his sheepshearers all during her absence and is very drunken, in the words of the text. But morning comes. Nabal again is sober and Abigail tells him all. Hearing, Nabal is seized with a paroxysm of fear and wrath so great that he suffers a complete loss of all his powers. In the language of the text, his heart dies within him and he becomes a stone. Eight days thereafter he dies. Unbelief says that Nabal’s death was the natural result of a violent emotional disturbance caused by his wife’s report. But the sacred narrator affirms that the Lord smote him. The narrator speaks the language of faith, and likewise David when he exclaims at hearing of Nabal’s death, “Blessed be the Lord, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal and has kept his servant from evil: for the Lord hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head.” It is clear that David is overjoyed, and with reason; He has received new and striking evidence that the Lord is his God and is for him however ill-deserving he may be in himself. The Lord in His mercy kept His servant from evil. Second, the Lord cleared him of all Nabal’s charges by smiting that evil-doing man in punishment of his wickedness; and David blesses the Lord, is thankful to his God. It would be a sad mistake therefore to say that his reply to Abigail’s counsel was inspired by a carnal delight in the sudden destruction of an adversary. Such replies rise not from sinful flesh but are inspired by the Spirit of Christ. Noteworthy is the statement, “For the Lord kept His servant from evil.” It bespeaks a lively awareness on the part of David that by himself he is just as guilty and vile as is Nabal; so that all his righteousness and goodness is of God. It thus bespeaks, does this statement, a humble spirit, and true contrition of heart. That David spake by the Spirit is clear, too, from Psalm 37, which he wrote at some later period, doubtless with the case of Nabal (among other cases perhaps) in his full view. The psalm contains statements such as these, “Fear not thyself because of evil doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass. . . . Trust in the Lord and do good. . . . Commit thy way unto him. . . . and he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.”
The chapter closes with a detailed account of Abigail’s marriage to David. We are told, at the same time, that he took another wife, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and that Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to one Phalti the son of Laish. These sentences indicate a lack of self-restraint in David’s marriage relations that was sinful. His polygamy, though a form of adultery and thus included in the class of sins at which the seventh commandment strikes, was not imputed to him as a crime. It was tolerated in him, as it had been tolerated in Jacob and others. But God did not fail to reveal his displeasure. David never knew the ideal of family happiness. He never knew the ideal of marital love. His polygamy bred strife and contention and the most fearful crimes among his children.
Some way back, perhaps a year and a half, Saul had received absolute proof that David was not seeking his life. It happened in the wilderness of Engedi. Saul was pursuing David. Alone the king entered a cave to cover his feet, the very cave in the deep recesses of which David and his men abided, all unknown to the king. David was urged by his men to kill Saul. He cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privately, but he spared Saul. Rising out of the cave, Saul went his way. David followed. Gaining Saul’s attention, David told him what had just taken place. The Lord had delivered Saul into his hand, but his eyes had spared the king. This was evidence that he sought not the king’s life. And it was evidence that the king could not question. For he saw with his own eyes in seeing himself walk out of that cave alive. Thus, he could no more truthfully deny the genuineness of that evidence and with it David’s guiltlessness, than he could honestly doubt the reliability of his own senses, of his eyes and ears. And he could not gainsay that he had been in David’s power in that cave. For he saw the cut-off skirt of his robe in David’s hand. From that day on Saul was, must have been, as convinced in his inmost heart of David’s innocence as he was convinced of his own existence in the flesh. And on that occasion he had also confessed to David, “Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil. . . .” Yet, a year and a half later, when the Ziphites come to Saul, to tell him that David hides himself in the hill of Hachilah, the king again bestirs himself and with three thousand chosen men of Israel, sets out to seek David’s life to take it. Saul plainly has now developed into a moral monster. His hatred of David is so bitter that he cannot suppress it even though he has seen with his own eyes that he seeks the life of a righteous man.
(to be continued)