How to Handle Unexpected Hostility

September 16, 2019 at 4:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel.

I Samuel 25:2

This man, who probably had two separate homes (one in Maon and one in Carmel), was extremely rich. Some wealthy people are generous – and some are mean and stingy. In the historical period described in I Samuel, if there was ever a time when it would be wise to approach a rich man to ask for a favor, it would be during the shearing time – a time of celebration and prosperity.

Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb.

I Samuel 25:3

What a contrast! This evil and rude and mean-spirited man had a beautiful and gracious wife. He was a fool, and she was known for wisdom. He was “churlish” – translated from a Hebrew word which brings to mind a mean dog that bites the hand that would feed it, and is a pun on the name “Caleb,” which in Hebrew sounds like the word for dog. How could a man like Nabal obtain a wife like Abigail? If you know me and my wife, you are probably thinking I should know the answer to that, since it describes me and her! The Bible doesn’t tell us, though. We are left to assume that Nabal changed after the wedding, or that it was an arranged marriage, without Abigail having had a say in the matter.

And David heard in the wilderness that Nabal did shear his sheep.

I Samuel 23:4

David and his men needed food and supplies. Not knowing Nabal’s temperament, David believed this would be a good time to call in the favor implicitly owed to him by Nabal, but instead of charging into the shearing party with 600 unruly soldiers, he exercised discretion and sent ahead ten young, inoffensive messengers.

And David sent out ten young men, and David said unto the young men, Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name: And thus shall ye say to him that liveth in prosperity, 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, all the while they were in Carmel. Ask thy 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.

I Samuel 25:5-8

There was an understanding that the good service done to Nabal’s shepherds in protecting them and his flocks, and in being very scrupulous not to take anything for themselves without permission, would be rewarded in a culture where the custom of hospitality toward strangers was of the utmost honor.

And when David’s young men came, they spake to Nabal according to all those words in the name of David, and ceased. 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.

I Samuel 25:9-10

Verse 14 says that Nabal “railed” on them, which is translated from a Hebrew word that means to screech at someone in fury like a predatory bird swooping down on its prey. It is difficult to overstate how insulting this was toward David, especially after he had just had an opportunity to take Saul’s life, and had refused to do it.

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? So David’s young men turned their way, and went again, and came and told him all those sayings.

I Samuel 25:11-12

David was a complex character. He was a man after God’s own heart, known for his passion and zeal for God, but passionate and zealous people often have a hard time controlling that passion and zeal. David was someone who rejoiced at good news with his whole heart – as many of the Psalms attest – but he was also someone who could react very violently at bad news – as many of the OTHER Psalms, along with some of David’s actions – attest. When he received word of Nabal’s insults and his refusal to pay what David felt he owed, he did not hesitate.

Sometimes it’s hard to read tone into Biblical dialogue, but it’s not at all hard to hear David’s attitude, and imagine him speaking through gritted teeth with flexed muscles and furrowed brow in this verse:

And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the stuff.

I Samuel 25:13

David angry at Nabal

While this was going on, one of Nabal’s servants had the foresight to see where things were heading, and, when David’s servants left to report back to David, this servant, acting on his own initiative, went and found Nabal’s wife, Abigail, and told her what kind of trouble Nabal had stirred up for himself.

Just as David acted decisively and without hesitation when told of Nabal’s offensiveness, Abigail acted just as quickly and decisively – but with a far different motive and intention. Whereas David had strapped on his sword, Abigail packed a picnic!

Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses.

I Samuel 35:18

That sounds like a huge amount of food prepared in a short period of time. As she went forth, the Lord’s invisible hand (what we call His providence) was at work. He arranged it so that David, bearing down on Nabal’s estate, ran smack into Abigail at just the right moment.

And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, And fell at his feet, and said, 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.

I Samuel 25:23-25

A superficial reading makes it sound like she was being disloyal to her own husband, pointing out that his name was well-deserved, but in reality she was doing him a great service – albeit behind his back.

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.

I Samuel 25:26-31

There is tremendous wisdom in this speech, and it is not flattery. It is truth: David would one day reign over Israel, and the act of vengeance he was on the verge of committing would have been a stain on his reputation that would have hindered his abililty to rule, as well as showing a lack of trust in the Lord to fight his battles for him.

And David said to Abigail, 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 mine own hand.

I Samuel 25:32-3

We can take a few lessons from the account of Nabal, David, and Abigail:

1. Don’t assume that people are good-natured.

David took it for granted that his good service toward Nabal would be returned in kind. We don’t have to resort to gross pessimism, but we do need to remember the doctrine of man’s depravity, so that we are not caught off-guard when someone responds to our kindness with rudeness or hostility.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

Romans 3:10-11

2. When you encounter unexpected hostility, don’t respond with rash anger in return.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

James 1:19-20

There are times when righteous indignation is the appropriate and even God-honoring response, but a cooling-off period in which we seek the Lord in prayer and Bible-consultation helps us to exercise wisdom.

3. Don’t let your mouth write a check your provision can’t cash.

Nabal talked very boldly and arrogantly and provocatively to David’s servants, but he was ill-prepared to deal with the consequences.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:28-33

4. Peacemakers enjoy God’s favor.

Abigail saved both both men from a tragic consequence – at least temporarily.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Matthew 5:9

Making true peace involves sharing the truth, and it involves self-sacrifice. Abigail took a big risk intercepting David, but she needed to share the truth that ultimate vengeance belongs to God, not us. David’s change of mind turned out to be the right course of action, and Nabal did not escape God’s justice.

And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light. But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And it came to pass about ten days after, that the LORD smote Nabal, that he died. And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, Blessed be the LORD, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept his servant from evil: for the LORD hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head. And David sent and communed with Abigail, to take her to him to wife.

I Samuel 25:36-39

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Romans 12:19

Abigail’s actions remind us in a way of Jesus, Who rescued us from the wrath and the shame we deserved because of our hostility toward God and each other. If you have been rescued from the power of sin, and from even greater sin than you would have committed apart from God’s providence and intercession, then praise Him. If you are still in your sins,  seize this opportunity right now – as did David – to turn from your present course, and turn toward Jesus. Repent, trust Him, ask Him to take away your sin and guilt – and live.

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  1. […] a Clean and Sensitive Conscience (II Corinthians 1:12-24) 112. Where to Find Courage (Joshua 1) 113. How to Handle Unexpected Hostility (I Samuel […]


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