Then she arose and bowed down with her face to the earth and said, “Behold, your servant is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” Bible other translations

“servant...servant...servants.” In her speech, Abigail uses three different words for “servants.” The first two refer to female servants, and Abigail refers to herself as a “servant.” The third, in the phrase “the servants of my lord,” is the common word for a male servant or slave. The first word translated “servant” in the verse is 'amah (#0519 אָמָה), and it generally referred to a female servant or female slave, a maid or handmaid, a concubine. The second “servant” in the sentence is shiphchah (#08198 שִׁפְחָה), which is considered by many scholars to refer to the lowest rank of a female slave, who was also often the female slave of the mistress of the house, although shiphchah can in some contexts simply refer to a female servant, maid, handmaid, or slave girl. However, the reader must be sensitive to the context because there are times when 'amah and shiphchah are used synonymously in the Hebrew text, especially when they are used in Hebrew poetry.

Sometimes, such as here in what Abigail said to David’s men, the difference between 'amah and shiphchah is quite important, and in this case reveals the complete humility of Abigail, and her wisdom in the way she begins to become part of David’s household. She accepts David’s offer with the words, “your servant ['amah] is a servant [shiphchah] to wash the feet of the servants of my lord,” which shows great humility, wisdom, and tact seeing that as the former wife of Nabal she could well have been the wife of the wealthiest and most powerful person in that general area of Judah and could have been quite conceited and haughty about it. After all, when she went to David she took five slave girls with her and rode on a donkey, a sign of wealth and influence. Thus, in reality, although she spoke of washing the feet of David’s servants, both as an owner of slaves and as the wife of David it is extremely unlikely that Abigail would ever wash anyone’s feet except perhaps those of her husband David at home.

Abigail somehow knew about the prophecies that David would be king and spoke to him as an anointed ruler, being truly humble and using great wisdom long before she knew there was a possibility of her being David’s wife (1 Sam. 25:30). Here in 1 Samuel 25:41 however, she is faced with the reality of becoming part of the family and royal dynasty that will define Israel into its future, as she herself said of David, “Yahweh will make, yes, make my lord a lasting house” (1 Sam. 25:28). It is difficult to know exactly what was going on in the mind of Abigail, but we can make some assumptions based on regular human life and experience. Abigail had been the wife of “Mr. Fool” (“Nabal” means “fool”) who was selfish and harsh, and although she would have had money and slaves and been somewhat privileged, life with Nabal must have been very difficult and distressing in many ways. Now, very unexpectedly, she is invited to be the wife of God’s anointed ruler, the future king of Israel, and thus to be a founding member of the royal house that we now know ruled Israel for many generations and eventually produced the Messiah himself. She would no doubt have been somewhat apprehensive about what her totally new life would be like, but that would be mixed with excitement, wonder, amazement, and other things as well, such as concern over the conflict between David and Saul that had not been resolved and had no easy resolution. But Abigail was a wise, strong, and determined woman and she saw the opportunity before her and moved forward into it with resolve. She married David and gave birth to Chileab, David’s second son (2 Sam. 3:3; called “Daniel” in 1 Chron. 3:1), who, sadly, apparently died as a child because he is never mentioned in all the goings-on in the royal household of David. Then, as is typical in biblical records, as the focus in David’s house moved to his kingship and conflict between his heirs, Abigail is no longer a focus of attention and is no longer mentioned in the Bible. However, based on the woman she was, we can assume she played an important part in David’s life and household, especially early on.

Keeping in mind that David was a type of Christ and things in the Old Testament are to teach us (Rom. 15:4), we see in Abigail’s dealings with David the right attitude and action that people are to have toward the Messiah, Jesus Christ: be genuinely humble, use wisdom, and act decisively.

[For more on 'amah and shiphchah see commentary on Ruth 3:9].

Commentary for: 1 Samuel 25:41