By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Abigail’s story takes place against a complex backdrop of social upheaval, political uncertainty, palace intrigue, and often chilling violence.
The 200-year period of the Judges has come to an end, with a growing desire among the Israelites for a centralized monarchy, like those of their neighboring nation-states, the prophet Samuel has given in and anointed Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, as the first King of Israel.
Saul is able to unite the scattered tribes into a cohesive group, but his erratic behavior causes his popularity to rise and fall. Then he makes the mistake of disobeying the Prophet Samuel by sparing the life of a heathen king. Furious, Samuel withdraws his support.
Clandestine political maneuvering kicks into high gear. Samuel secretly goes before the elders of Judah and anoints David as Saul’s replacement. Saul’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and paranoid, providing an opening for David to enter his court as a skilled harp-player, capable of soothing the King’s dark, foul moods.
David loses no time making palace alliances, but as he grows in popularity at court and among the people, the king’s jealousy grows as well, until one day Saul hurls a spear at his once-beloved harp-player. David then flees into the desolate hill country and soon gathers a small army of mercenaries from among the outlaws roaming the hills.
It is during this time of treacherous, uncertain and shifting alliances, that Abigail (meaning “a father’s joy”) and her husband Nabal (“fool” or “foolish one”) come on the scene, in 1 Samuel 25.
Nabal is a wealthy, powerful landowner, whose shepherds have met up with David’s mercenaries from time to time and been treated well by them – or at least, not harmed. David believes Nabal is indebted to him because of this, so when his band is running low on food, he calls on Nabal’s “hospitality debt” to help. This was a common custom of the time, and people were expected to honor such a debt. Expected, but not required.
As David soon finds out, Nabal possesses little of the social graces of the day. He does, however, seem to have an inflated sense of his own importance. Used to behaving boorishly towards people and treating them in any manner he pleases, he couldn’t care less about David’s former palace connections. He believes that he can, without consequence, metaphorically flip off a former court favorite: the man who would be king, who at the moment happens to be leading a band of (ahem) outlaw mercenaries.
Of course David is infuriated, but his reaction is completely out of proportion to the offense; he vows to annihilate Nabal and all that is his, setting out with his army to do just that.
Into this dangerous, testosterone-addled hornets’ nest of belligerent, arrogant stupidity on one side and belligerent, hotheaded, wounded pride on the other, steps Abigail.
In 1 Sam 25:3, she is introduced as “a woman of good understanding and of a beautiful countenance,” in contrast to Nabal, who is “churlish and evil in his doings.” When she hears what Nabal has done, she correctly realizes that her husband has finally gone too far, insulted the wrong person and stepped on the wrong toes. Everyone in Nabal’s household, including herself, is now marked for death, unless she does something fast.
She quickly rallies the household servants into preparing a feast for the renegades, some 400 strong. That Nabal’s household is indeed capable of providing a feast for so many at short notice is an indication of his wealth and resources. That Abigail can get all the servants to obey her with such alacrity suggests that in this time period, when Israel was still little more than a collection of clans and tribes, many women still held considerable authority over household matters; or it could indicate that this is not the first time she has had to put out a fire and step in with tact and diplomacy to undo damage Nabal has done.
Detractors often leap upon these actions as “disobedient” and “rebellious” in an era when a good wife was ruled by her husband, arguing that Abigail simply acted in her own best interest and therefore should not be lauded for her role in averting disaster. Still others, noting that Abigail and David are both described as attractive people, and noting that David later took her as a wife, allege that both were motivated by physical desire as much as self-preservation in agreeing to call off the raid.
However, there is no indication that Abigail had ever seen or met David before; when she goes out to meet this band of armed soldiers, she has no way of knowing
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