Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife was Abigail. And the woman was intelligent and had a beautiful figure, but the man was harsh and evil in his dealings. And he was of the house of Caleb. Bible see other translations

“Nabal.” The name “Nabal” has more than one meaning. It is the strongest Hebrew word for “Fool,” but it can also refer to a musical instrument such as a harp, or it can refer to a container such as would contain wine. Some scholars suggest that no parent would name their child Nabal, the strongest Hebrew word for “fool” and that therefore it is a name assigned to Nabal by the Author to make a point. While that is possible, it is also possible that the parents had one of the other meanings in mind when they named him Nabal, but his wife certainly thought his name was “Fool,” so even if that was not the intended meaning for his birth name, it was the moniker by which he came to be known (1 Sam. 25:25).

Something the reader should keep in mind as they read the records of David is that in many ways David was a type of Christ and many of the records that God chose to include in the Bible about David are shadows of the life of Christ. That is certainly the case here in 1 Samuel 25, where one of the major characters is Mr. Fool who is selfish and worldly and spurns David and holds him in contempt. In contrast to Nabal, there is “Abigail,” which likely means “my father rejoices” or less likely, “my father is joy.”a Thus, Abigail’s father—who is by extension God—rejoices in her, and we see why in the description of her and in the fact that she honored and supported David—by extension Christ—and is blessed for it, eventually becoming part of the royal family. So we see via the type of Christ that those people who spurn Christ will end up dead, obliterated from life itself, while those people who honor Christ will join the royal family and live forever.

“of the house of Caleb.” This could also be translated, “And he was a Calebite,” but that is not as clear to the English reader as “of the house of Caleb” does. It seems most likely that what is being emphasized here is that Nabal was a descendant of Caleb, one of the two faithful spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land, and who was given Hebron as his inheritance (Num. 13:6; 14:5-9, 26-30; Josh. 14:13-14). This would explain why Nabal lived in the desert area near Maon, a town in the hill country of Judah (Josh. 15:48, 55) about nine miles south of Hebron. However, the word “Caleb” can have two other meanings, which, even if they are not the primary meaning of the word, come into play as we meet Nabal because a native Hebrew speaker would see all the potential meanings. “Caleb” can also mean “like his heart,” from the word leb, heart, in Hebrew, indicating that Caleb was a man who acted like his heart and thus was harsh and evil, and it is interesting in that light that when Abigail told him that she had given sustenance to David and his men, Nabal’s “heart died inside him,” and then following his heart, he died too. Also, “Caleb” can be pointed differently in the Hebrew than the proper name is, and mean “dog.” Thus, kaleb (#03612 כָּלֵב) is the man’s name and keleb (#03611 כֶּלֶב) means dog, but without the vowel points that were added many hundreds of years after Samuel’s time, the two words are the same. So “Caleb” can also literally mean, “like a dog,” making his name and description “Fool...like a dog,” and dogs were generally disliked in the biblical culture.b Sadly for the house of Caleb, Nabal was not the good man that Caleb was.

Cp. A. Steinmann, 1 Samuel, Concordia Commentary.
Cp. Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, I and II Samuel, Old Testament Library, 199.

Additional resource:

Video expand/contractNabal, Abigail, David, and Christ (56:48) (Pub: 2020-11-18)

This teaching covers 1 Samuel 25 and the record of Nabal, Abigail, and David. It provides an explanation of the record itself and ties it into David being a type of Christ and in how in the big picture, on the Day of Judgement, there will only be two types of people: people like Nabal who reject God’s Anointed and end up dead, and people like Abigail who humbly submit themselves to God’s Anointed and end up living with him when he reigns as the King.

Verses: 1 Sam. 19:18; 1 Samuel 25

Teacher: John Schoenheit

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Commentary for: 1 Samuel 25:3