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Go to Bible: 1 Samuel 25
“and lamented him.” The Hebrew word generally refers to the public crying and wailing that occurred when someone died (see commentary on 2 Sam. 11:26).
“the wilderness of Paran.” With Samuel dead and Saul aggressively seeking his life, David fled out of Judah and went far down south into the wilderness of Paran, the wilderness area that was inhabited centuries earlier by Ishmael and his descendants (Gen. 21:21). Paran is a broad central area in the Sinai Peninsula, but its exact boundaries are only generally described. The whole of Paran is some 23,000 square miles, and there is plenty of rough country to get lost in. Exactly where in the wilderness of Paran that David went is not described; the point was not so much exactly where David was as how far from Judah he went to get away from Saul. Despite being so far from Judah, David stayed in touch with people in south Judah, which is no doubt how he heard about Nabal and the sheep shearing that he was doing, which would have meant there was a lot of food available to David if Nabal was willing to help.
[For the details of David’s journeys once he started running from Saul, see commentary on 1 Samuel 19:18].(top)
“Carmel.” This is the town in south Judah, close to Hebron; it is not “Mount Carmel.”
“wealthy.” The Hebrew is “great,” but it refers to being great in wealth.(top)
“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.
|1Sm 25:4||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:5||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:6||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:7||- (top)|
“to your son David.” David humbles himself as if he were a son in need.(top)
“in the name of David.” Here we have the custom of agency. To speak in the name of David is as if David spoke.(top)
“Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse?” It is almost impossible that Nabal did not know about David—he would have known about him. David had been fighting the Philistines for years, was a commander in Saul’s army, and was the son-in-law of King Saul. Just from David’s killing of Goliath, David would have been known about around the kingdom. Also, Abigail, Nabal’s wife, knew all about David and that he was anointed to be the next king in Israel. So what we see in Nabal (“Mr. Fool”) is not ignorance, it is willful contempt. Nabal spurned God’s anointed ruler and would not help him in any way. Nabal thought he did not need God or His ruler.
It is also likely that what we see in Nabal is a willful blindness: he saw what he wanted to see. When he spoke about servants breaking away from their lords, he was referring to the way David was no longer with Saul—that David had “broken away” from King Saul—but Nabal turned a blind eye to why that occurred, which had nothing to do with sin or rebellion on David’s part. Also, the fact that King Saul was pursuing David deep into the wilderness to kill him showed that Saul had an intense interest in killing David, whereas he could have just dismissed him from service and let him go back to Bethlehem; so something was clearly wrong here. Furthermore, Nabal ignored not only the prophecies about David that Samuel had given that were likely well-known, but also ignored the ancient prophecy that the ruler of Israel would come out of the tribe of Judah. Nabal had no desire to submit to God or His anointed ruler, and so explained away his responsibility to do that.
This attitude of Nabal toward David is part of the scenario being set forth in the Bible of David being a type of Christ. Nabal is typical of people who are mean and selfish and who reject God and His Messiah, His anointed. They reject God because they are proud and arrogant and often think of themselves as self-sufficient, but like Nabal, their end will be death; death in this life and then everlasting death in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15).(top)
|1Sm 25:11||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:12||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:13||- (top)|
“a greeting of blessing.” The Hebrew is just “bless,” but a blessing was used as a greeting.
“our lord.” This is a grammatical plural, literally “lords,” but it refers to a single “lord,” Nabal (see commentary on 1 Kings 1:43).
“he shrieked at them.” The noun form of “shrieked” is the name of a hawk. Thus the men bring in the idea that Nabal screamed at the men like a hawk would shriek at something. It's never good to shriek at the anointed king of Israel, only trouble can follow.(top)
|1Sm 25:15||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:16||- (top)|
“lord.” The Hebrew “lord” is plural; a grammatical plural of emphasis or majesty.
“sons of Belial.” This is a designation of sons of the Devil.
[For more on sons of Belial, see commentary on 1 Samuel 2:12. For more on the unforgivable sin and children of the Devil, see commentary on Matthew 12:31.](top)
|1Sm 25:18||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:19||- (top)|
“just as she rode.” God’s invisible hand is at work to bless both Abigail and David.
“under the cover of the mountain.” Abigail used the mountain in her area to get the supplies to David without being seen by her husband or the people who would report to him.(top)
“in vain.” The Hebrew word indicates a lie or falsehood. The idea is that it was a lie that David could treat Nabal well and be treated well back.(top)
“who pisses against a wall.” A crass idiom and cultural way of referring to the men.(top)
“bowed down.” The common biblical way of bowing down before people or God was to fall to one’s knees and bow the upper body and face to the earth, as we see in this verse. The word translated “bowed down” is the same Hebrew word as “worship.”
[For more on bowing down, see commentary on 1 Chronicles 29:20.](top)
|1Sm 25:24||- (top)|
“Please do not let my lord.” Abigail addresses David in the third person out of respect.
“man of Belial.” This is a designation of sons of the Devil, although Abigail likely did not mean it that way; she would have meant it more as “worthless man,” or something like that.
[For more on sons of Belial, see commentary on 1 Samuel 2:12. For more on the unforgivable sin and children of the Devil, see commentary on Matthew 12:31.]
“Nabal.” The word “Nabal” means “fool,” but there are several different words for “fool” in Hebrew. The word “Nabal” refers to a committed, unrepentant fool.
“folly is with him.” This is a Hebrew idiom. Today we would say “He is a fool,” but in the Hebrew idiom, the phrase is “folly is with him” (cp. Job 12:13, 16).(top)
|1Sm 25:26||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:27||- (top)|
“a lasting house.” Perhaps more literally, “an established house,” but the idea in mind is that David would start a dynasty as well as that his own house would be established.(top)
|1Sm 25:29||- (top)|
“all the good that he has spoken concerning you.” There had to be wonderful prophetic words spoken to or about David that were well known in the culture, which makes Nabal’s rejection of David even more stark in contrast to what Abigail knew.(top)
|1Sm 25:31||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:32||- (top)|
|1Sm 25:33||- (top)|
“who pisses against a wall.” An idiom and cultural way of referring to the men.(top)
“and have granted your request.” The idiom is, “I have lifted up your face,” meaning “I have looked upon you favorably,” or “I have granted your request.”(top)
“banquet.” The Hebrew is mishteh (#04960 מִשְׁתֶּה). It is a banquet with lots of wine. Everett Fox (The Schocken Bible) translates it “drinkfest.”(top)
“he became like a stone.” Nabal likely had a stroke.(top)
|1Sm 25:38||- (top)|
“Yahweh has returned the evildoing of Nabal.” Nabal returned evil for David’s good (1 Sam. 25:21), and here Yahweh returns Nabal’s evil for evil.
“Then David sent and spoke with Abigail.” David speaks with Abigail through mediators, the men he sent.(top)
|1Sm 25:40||- (top)|
“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.](top)
“five young women.” Although the Hebrew text uses the word for “young women,” in the culture they are “hers” and would have been slaves. The fact that Abigail took five slaves with her and rode on a donkey showed that she had wealth and influence. There is no mention of things she would have taken with her, this is assumed in the text because she would have taken things that would have allowed her some comfort, even in the wilderness with David.
“a wife to him.” Abigail was likely not David’s first wife. Michal was first, but Saul took her from David. Then David married Ahinoam from Jezreel, and Ahinoam is always mentioned before Abigail every time they are listed together and Ahinoam bore David’s first son, Amnon. Given that, staying more literal to the Hebrew and saying, “a wife to him” rather than shortening it to “his wife” seems to give the most accurate meaning.(top)
“Ahinoam of Jezreel.” This is the “Jezreel” of Judah, not the Jezreel in the Jezreel Valley. This Jezreel is in south-central Judah, not far from Maon, Ziph, and Carmel (cp. Josh. 15:56; 1 Sam. 25:43; 27:3; 30:5; 2 Sam. 2:2; 3:2; see commentary on Josh. 15:56).
“and the two of them were his wives.” The need for a royal heir who could continue the dynasty was such that most kings had more than one wife. In this case, David’s having more than one wife was important because Abigail’s only son, Chileab, David’s second son (2 Sam. 3:3), seems to have died as a child. He is never mentioned as being part of the life of the royal family. David married more wives later.(top)
“Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti.” This is just one more indication that by this time in his life Saul had turned away from God in his heart. Saul may have considered David his enemy, but he was still legally married to Michal and so Saul had no right under the Mosaic Law to give her away. It is clear that by this time in his life Saul had, and/or was influenced by, demons, and demons and demonic people are lawbreakers and defy God. We certainly see that in Saul.
“Gallim.” Gallim is somewhere just south of Gibeah, north of Jerusalem, in the tribal area of Benjamin.(top)