Abigail is quite a popular name. It means, ‘father’s joy’. You may well know an Abigail.
Our Old Testament passage, which is part of a bigger story has an Abigail. Does she do justice to her name? What is the story here?
First of all the prophet Samuel is no longer there; the prophet who anointed the young shepherd David king, while Saul was still king, had died. Even though Samuel and David didn’t see much of each other, David was aware of Samuel’s presence; of his prophetic voice and that was a silent support to David.
The fact that in our story Saul is still king, is the reason why we find David in the wilderness. For Saul is after him. And in this wilderness of Paran, David is a steppe sheriff. A good, caring one. He looks well after the shepherds of Nabal, a wealthy businessman, who is Abigail’s husband. So David is the shepherd of these shepherds, but at the moment the sheep of these shepherds are not in the fields. They’ve been taken away as they’re getting sheared. That also means partying; a yearly feast than no shepherd wants to miss: the celebration of lots of wool with lots of drinking, and lots of food. Nobody thinks about the fact that the harvest is good also thanks to David, who had been protecting Nabal’s shepherds, so they could do their work in peace.
David thinks, ‘give a little, take a little’. So David sends his men. Say to Nabal: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace to all that you have, from David, the son of Jesse. He has taken good care of your men. Share a little bit of what you’ve gained.’
It was not unusual to do so, to give a bit of the profit. It was courtesy to do so, but Nabal’s refusal is so much more than meanness and rudeness.
Nabal is not just mean and rude. That’s what it may be to us: unfair, unkind, just taking no giving. But in Bible stories it doesn’t stop with how things are for us, human beings. Bible stories give more, they also tell how things are seen by God.
David? Who’s he?
Well, David is the chosen king by God. God had His plan with David. So what we actually have here is scoffing at God.
This scoffing from Nabal echos what Pharaoh once did,
“Who is the Lord’, Pharao said, ‘that I should obey his voice.. I do not know the Lord.
When David hears this, he is furious.
“Every man strap on his sword!”
Now this doesn’t sound like David, so touchy and so violent. It is as if things are different, now Samuel is no longer there for David. Has it changed David? Is David a bit lost without Samuel’s prophetic voice? Has David lost direction?
Let’s hope not. Good Lord, do something. For if You don’t, your chosen king David is going to be like Saul and then what? Then we’ll be back at square one.
What is it again Isaiah says…?
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2)
David is at this point of walking in the darkness of his anger. And this is where this story, that happens in the wilderness of Paran, that seems so not relevant to us, is exactly the opposite of irrelevant.
For the darkness in which David finds himself, is not different from ours; is not different from the people of whom Isaiah says,
The people who walked in darkness
We pray the words of the Lord’s prayer together, every Sunday, ’Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’.
Do we, kind of know what we’re saying at the moment we’re saying it, and then forget when we find ourselves, like David, caught in exactly that moment of temptation?
For the temptations to let our reactions and actions be determined by our anger, our impatience, self interest, all these temptations come to us on a pretty regular basis. That is why the first prayer of our worship is the prayer of confession, when we bring to God all those things that we thought, said and done that were not in line with God’s will, but that were detached from Him.
So through David, we can see ourselves. His anger may be justified, anger in itself is not sin, but how it’s handled can come close to sin and become precisely that.
As for Nabal, the husband of the discerning and beautiful Abigail, Nabal means ‘fool’.
Foolishness is spelled out and illustrated in the book of Proverbs:
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool
cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
And wisdom is spelled out too.
In the same book of Proverbs, wisdom is this:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
For by me your days will be multiplied,
and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself;
if you scoff, you alone will bear it. (9:10-12)
Foolishness vs wisdom.
So here, in our story we have the couple, Mr Fool and Mrs Wise.
What now may begin to emerge is that this is not a story that gives us historical facts. This story is actually a parable that has truths that don’t stop being truths.
We see how human David is. He is overwhelmed by his anger and his reaction is to give in, just as we often do, it’s so natural. But that has consequences. And the consequences lead us more and more away from God into darkness, from which we cannot save ourselves, even though we think we can. We do so by switching on a light, a light that we can find: finding things that cheer us up, that keep ourselves busy, by taking ourselves not too seriously. But those lights last only so long, they’re superficial.
The light that came to Mary is different.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
That same light came to Joseph, in a dream, when the Lord spoke to him,
…Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
Now, it would be wise, discerning, to acknowledge that God’s son was born as a Jewish boy, which means that the name He was given was Yeshua, rather than Jesus. Yesua means ‘God saves’. If you have that in mind, what the Lord said to Joseph makes more sense,
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua (meaning, ‘God saves) for he will save his people from their sins
Our parable about David, and Nabal and Abigail, it doesn’t stop with David giving in to the temptation of his anger. We’ll follow the story next week and see how God went His way with David, how He didn’t let go what His Hand began through Samuel, in David.
That’s is how God is, He doesn’t let go what His Hand began. And that is why we will have Christmas again.