Fool, Foil and Follies – 1 Samuel 25

Sandwiched between the two assassination opportunities of Saul that were presented to David, his encounter with Nabal and Abigail shows us a different side of him. Samuel was the one true ally that David had by his side as it was he who had anointed him as the king of Israel. After his death, David knew that Saul would try to hunt him down even more aggressively. He retreated to the Desert of Paran where he and his men encountered the shepherds of a rich man named Nabal who was a descendant of Caleb. When David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep at Carmel, he sent his men to request food and supplies from him expecting to be rewarded for watching over the rich man’s cattle.

The Fool

Apparently, David and his men were favourable to Nabal’s shepherds and protected them to ensure no harm would fall on them while they grazed their cattle. Night and day they were a wall around Nabal’s shepherds and David perhaps expected Nabal to show the same kindness in return, by helping him and his band of soldiers who were on the run from the king of the land. David and his men fulfilled what they thought was their obligation and were now expecting their reward but were denied what they thought was rightfully theirs.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:35-36 (NIV)

People usually show kindness to one another, expecting reciprocation in kind. Oftentimes, we do not help people out of the generosity of our hearts but expect our kindness to be credited as their gratitude, in our virtual accounts. The Shrewd Manager was not generous to his benefactors but was only making investments into securing his future. Sometimes, we also expect the same, not realizing that it is God who has placed us in a position to help them but think that we deserve their gratitude.

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?”

1 Samuel 25:10-11 (NIV)

Nabal curses David and his men and even calls David the son of Jesse, as a derogatory term. How can simply calling someone the son of their father be derogatory? It is a way of negating all the individual traits of someone and referring to them as the only homogenous offspring of someone. From Nabal’s statement, it looks like he knew about the strained relationship between David and Saul.

If you recall, Saul, often referred to David as the son of Jesse, perhaps to suggest that he is only a lowly shepherd and not worthy to be a king. Even today when a politician labels his rival with a nickname that highlights his/her flaws, the supporters also start calling that person with the same nickname repeating their talking points (like crooked Hilary, lying Ted). Perhaps Nabal was a supporter of Saul and did not want anything to do with David and his crew of refugees. He even took a jibe at them by saying that many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Most of David’s men were the ones who were oppressed under Saul’s regime and had broken away from their masters to follow David (1 Samuel 22:2). Nabal possibly was also referring to David who had abandoned his master Saul, probably another talking point repeated by Saul’s followers.

When David’s men returned to him with news of Nabal’s refusal, he was enraged at the disrespect shown to him and his men. At once, he took up his sword and with him four hundred of his men, and headed for Nabal’s house to murder him and every male employed to him. The man who thought things through when given the opportunity to murder his greatest adversary is jumping at the opportunity to massacre a whole town of men, simply because their master refused to offer him supplies and had hurled insults.

“It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”

1 Samuel 25:21-22 (NIV)

Nabal had all the right to deny supplies and food to David. Remember, how it was for this very reason that the priests of Nob lost their lives when Ahimelek gave David the consecrated bread and the sword of Goliath. But rather than simply refusing to offer help, Nabal laid curses on David and his men, calling out their selfishness in abandoning their master. These men had forgone any semblance of normal life and were being hunted like dogs by a man possessed by satan. David thought that it was up to him to defend their honour. Similar to Lot who was ready to have his daughters be raped by the men of Sodom for protecting the angels, who were in fact sent to protect him, David was willing to throw away all the plans that God had for him by committing a massacre not too different from what Saul had done to the priests of Nob. 

David even uses a slur to describe Nabal and his men as people who urinate on the wall. As Christians, we are held to a higher standard and not the standards of this world. When a fan hurls abuse towards a player from the opposing team while on the field, the players themselves can’t react in kind, as they are held to a higher standard and are scrutinized stringently. As Christians, we are scrutinized even more by this world and we should have that in our mind when we make decisions.  

The Foil

When Abigail was informed by her servants of how foolishly her husband treated David and his men, she immediately told her servants to load the supplies onto a donkey and in the dark of the night itself started her ascent towards Carmel, the mountain where David and his men were staying. As she reached the mountain ravine, she met David and his men who were descending towards her. When she saw David, she got off her donkey and bowed down before him with her face to the ground. She asked David to pardon the foolishness that her husband Nabal had shown by disrespecting the Lord’s anointed.

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.

1 Samuel 25:26-27 (NIV)

Seeing the humble nature of Abigail, David accepted her supplies and praised her for showing good judgement. David knew the wrong that he was about to do if she hadn’t come during the dark of the night. She had kept him from committing a massacre to quench his thirst for avenging himself, much like Saul had avenged his honour by killing the priests at Nob. The very next morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him everything that had happened and how David and his men were about to destroy their household. At that very moment, Nabal had a stroke and ten days later he was dead.

The Follies

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the LORD, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.” Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife.

1 Samuel 25:39 (NIV)

This incident has shown us traits of David that are similar to his predecessor Saul. When David was trapped in Keilah, Saul thought that God was working on his behalf to help him capture and kill David. Similarly, just because God sent Abigail to prevent David from committing a massacre, it does not mean that He approved of his actions. Abraham did not obey God when he slept with his wife’s maidservant but when the child had grown, God still blessed Ishmael with his own dynasty. Even though God was with Ishmael, that did not undo the wrong that Abraham did in the first place.

Sometimes we take inspiration from the Psalms of David and pray for harm to befall our enemies. These prayers are uttered due to our inability to take revenge on our offenders ourselves and we ask God to intervene and be our hired hitman. David was an imperfect human just like us and we see this side of him which is rash and not waiting to think about God’s will. The only person we should be taking inspiration from is Christ who even at the cross, used His final ounce of strength to forgive the people who put Him there and mocked His ultimate sacrifice.

This chapter highlights the foolishness of two polar opposite men, one who did not care about his men and the other, who for the sake of his men, was willing to commit a genocide. Rather than the two testosterone-driven fools, this incident reminds us how God can use anyone to accomplish His plans even if we are marginalized by the community around us.

Even though Abigail was a rich man’s wife she had no place in her community to talk to men of David’s stature. She still risked her life to intervene as per God’s leading and prevented David from committing a grave crime and possibly losing his throne even before he became the king. God can use anyone at any time if we simply let go of our egos and allow him to take control of our lives.  

Discussion Questions

  • Why is David expecting help from Nabal?
  • Why is Nabal agitated at the thought of helping David?
  • When being turned down by Nabal, why does David resort to violence?
  • Is David right in thinking that the Lord struck Nabal to avenge his honour?


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