The Wise, the Rash and the Fool

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1 Samuel 25:1-44 (Abigail, David and Nabal)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is on David and Saul, and this morning we come to the second of three chapters where David spares the lives of evil men. Today’s passage is an unusual passage for our David and Saul series, because there is no Saul in the passage! Saul is mentioned, and he is in the background, but he does not take an active part in the narrative. Instead we have David interacting with two new people in the narrative, although the theme is the same as last week’s passage. How will David treat those who treat him badly? Will he take revenge, or will he leave it up to God? Basically, will vengeance be David’s or the Lord’s? (Read 1 Samuel 25:32-34 and pray)

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In today’s passage we encounter three people who represent three different actions and whose actions lead to three different outcomes. In 1 Samuel 25 we meet Nabal the fool, David the rash and Abigail the wise. Hence, the title of today’s message: “The Wise, the Rash and the Fool.”

Today’s passage clearly illustrates the important biblical principle that our actions affect our outcomes. A person reaps what they sow. And this is clearly illustrated in the actions and outcomes of Nabal, David and Abigail in our passage. The one exception is David is rescued from his actions, while Abigail and Nabal reap the fruit of their actions.

I. The Fool – Nabal (1-11)

So, first, let’s look at Nabal. Nabal is the type of character, once you meet him, you never forget him. Nabal is presented as a foolish person in the story. In fact, his very name means “fool.” Imagine parents naming their child Fool! Well, that’s Nabal. And unfortunately, his actions back up his name.

   A. Surly and mean (1-3)
      – Proverbs 18:6

First of all, he is described as surly and mean. Look at 1 Samuel 25:1-3:

Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David moved down into the Desert of Maon. 2 A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. 3 His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings. (1 Samuel 25:1-3)

Verse one tells us of Samuel’s passing. Samuel’s death marked the end of an era, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him. It’s interesting that his death takes place during this brief time of peace between Saul and David. We’re not told whether both attended the assembly, but it’s possible that they did.

David moves back into the Desert of Maon and that is where we meet Nabal. We are told four things about Nabal. He is wealthy. He has an intelligent and beautiful wife. He is surly. And he is mean. The word translated “surly” in this verse means someone who is stubborn, difficult, harsh, even cruel. The word translated “mean” means someone who is abusive or given to mistreating other people.

Perhaps you know some people who are surly and mean in your life. Well, those are some of the defining characteristics of Nabal. He is a stubborn, hard, abusive man, and he is a fool. Proverbs 18:6 says: “A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.” (Proverbs 18:6) That’s Nabal. He is mean and a fool, and his lips are about to invite a beating.

   B. Arrogant and selfish (4-11)
      – 1 Timothy 6:17-18

He is also arrogant and selfish. Look at 1 Samuel 25:4-11:

While David was in the desert, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. 5 So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. 6 Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!

7 “ ‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. 8 Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my young men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’ ”

9 When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited. 10 Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. 11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” (1 Samuel 25:4-11)

David’s men greet Nabal pleasantly enough with words of blessing and well-wishing. David asks for some provisions for his men, nothing outrageous, especially considering that David and his men treated Nabal’s men well when they were in the desert. Nabal has the opportunity to do good here, and what does he do instead? He is arrogant and selfish, and he refuses. He says, “Who is this David that I should help him?”

Nabal is wrong here on so many levels. He goes against the customs of hospitality for his day. Not only that, it is a festive time and thus even more a time for sharing. Not only that, Nabal is a wealthy man and can easily afford to be generous. Not only that, David and his men had treated Nabal’s men well earlier when they were tending their sheep in the desert, and you would think Nabal would be grateful. Nabal’s name means Fool, and unfortunately, he lives up to his name here.

1 Timothy 6 in the New Testament says: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant…. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18) Nabal does none of those things. Nabal is surly and mean. He is arrogant and selfish. His name means Fool, and as we’ve already seen in Proverbs 18:6, a fool’s lips invite a beating.

II. The Rash – David (12-22)

Next, we come to David’s part in the story. If Nabal is presented as the fool in the story, David is presented as rash. David is admirable in so many ways, but he is certainly not perfect, and he makes his fair share of mistakes. His response to Nabal here is one of them.

   A. Acting on impulse (12-19)
      – Proverbs 14:16; James 1:19-20

First, we see David acting on impulse. Look at 1 Samuel 25:12-13:

David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. 13 David said to his men, “Put on your swords!” So they put on their swords, and David put on his. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. (1 Samuel 25:12-13)

When David hears how Nabal responded to him, he is furious. He takes four hundred men and their swords, and they set out for Nabal’s place. Nabal’s words may invite a beating, but that doesn’t mean David has to respond to the invitation. David is acting more like the leader of a group of bandits in the wild west than as the future king here.

James 1 says: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) Proverbs 14:16: “A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless.” (Proverbs 14:16) We have to be careful not to act on impulse, especially when we’re angry.

Fortunately, Abigail intervenes. We will learn more about the wisdom of Abigail in a moment, but first, notice her quick actions here. Look at 1 Samuel 25:14-19:

One of the servants told Nabal’s wife Abigail: “David sent messengers from the desert to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 15 Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them. 17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”

Abigail lost no time. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. (1 Samuel 25:14-19)

David is acting rashly, but Abigail is acting wisely in order to protect her family.

   B. Vengeful; ready to return evil for evil (20-22)
      – Romans 12:17,19,21

In fact, David is not only acting on impulse here. He is vengeful and ready to return evil for evil. Look at 1 Samuel 25:20-22:

As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. 21 David had just said, “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. 22 May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” (1 Samuel 25:20-22)

David engages in some negative self-talk here. He is still angry, and he is venting. He’s even throwing himself a little bit of a pity party. “It’s all been useless, watching over this man’s property. He paid me back evil for good. Well, I’m going to get him now!” David plans not only to kill Nabal but all the men in his family as well!

We read this passage, and we say, “David, what are you doing?” David is acting more like Saul here than the David we know and love. David has forgotten all the lessons we learned last week when David spared Saul’s life in the cave. Remember Romans 12? “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. Do not take revenge.… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17,19,21) David is acting completely different here than he did with Saul. It’s almost as if God needs to remind David that this principle of not pursing personal revenge applies to all situations, not just to his situation with Saul.

Fortunately, Abigail heads David off at the pass, just as David is plotting his vengeance. We see God’s providence in the timing here, just as we did earlier when God brought a messenger to break off Saul’s pursuit of David just in in time. Except this time God in his providence isn’t protecting David from Saul. God is protecting David from himself! Praise God for all the times when we are about to do something stupid, and God in his providence intervenes and saves us from ourselves.

III. The Wise – Abigail (23-31)

Nabal is the fool in this story. David is the rash. And Abigail is the wise. We’ve already seen that Nabal’s name means Fool. Abigail’s name means “my father is delighted.” And any father would be absolutely delighted with such a wise, intelligent, beautiful daughter as Abigail.

   A. Humble and gracious (23-25)
      – Proverbs 11:2, 15:1

Abigail meets David, and unlike her foolish husband Nabal, she is humble and gracious. Look at 1 Samuel 25:23-25:

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said: “My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. 25 May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent.” (1 Samuel 25:23-25)

Last week we looked at the longest unbroken speeches by David and Saul in the Bible. Well Abigail’s speech to David here is the longest unbroken speech by a female in the Bible. And it is a speech full of wisdom.

Abigail is humble and gracious. She bows down before David. She falls at his feet. She accepts the blame for her husband’s actions. She asks permission to speak and tells David her husband is a fool. She’s basically saying, “I know what he said to you was offensive but consider the source. The man’s a fool. He treats everyone like that!”

Abigail is humble and gracious in her approach to David, and the Bible tells us this is wise. Proverbs 11:2 says: “With humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) Proverbs 15:1 says: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

   B. Generous; encourages David to do right (26-28)
      – Proverbs 11:25; 1 Thessalonians 5:15

Abigail is also generous, and she encourages David to do right. Look at 1 Samuel 25:26-28 where Abigail continues:

“Now since the LORD has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, may your enemies and all who intend to harm my master be like Nabal. 27 And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my master, be given to the men who follow you. 28 Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the LORD will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the LORD’s battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live.” (1 Samuel 25:26-28)

Abigail is generous and gives David the provisions he had requested earlier. She is following the way of wisdom here. Proverbs 11:25 says: “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25) This was certainly a lesson that Nabal the fool had never learned.

She encourages David to do right. She encourages him not to commit bloodshed by avenging himself with his own hands. She says to David, “Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live.”

1 Thessalonians 5:15 says: “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15) Not only are not to return evil for evil, but we are to make sure nobody else does either.

David was taking matters into his own hands here instead of leaving it with God. Abigail encourages him to leave it in God’s hands instead.

   C. Reminds David of God’s promises (29-31)
      – 1 Samuel 23:16-17

And then finally, Abigail reminds David of God’s promises. Look at 1 Samuel 25:29-31 where Abigail continues:

“Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the LORD your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. 30 When the LORD has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, 31 my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the LORD has brought my master success, remember your servant.” (1 Samuel 25:29-31)

Notice how she intentionally uses the image of a sling to describe what God will do with David’s enemies. This also is very wise, as it would remind David of how God helped him with Goliath. She reminds David of God’s promises to him, just like Jonathan did when Jonathan helped his friend find strength in God. (1 Samuel 23)

Abigail is humble and gracious in her approach to David. She is generous, giving David and his men the provisions which her husband, Nabal, had refused to give. She encourages David to do the right thing and to turn away from any wrongdoing. She reminds David of God’s promises to him and the benefits of a clear conscience.

Abigail is the hero in this story. Of course, God is the real hero of every story in the Bible. But Abigail is the human hero in this story. Through her wise actions she protects her family from harm and prevents David from doing wrong.

IV. The Outcomes (32-44)

So, we have met the wise, the rash and the fool in this story. Now we only need to see the outcomes for each of these individuals.

   A. David the rash – saved from wrongdoing (32-35)
      – James 5:20

We see David’s outcome first. David the rash is saved from wrongdoing by Abigail’s’ wise actions. Look at 1 Samuel 25:32-35:

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” 35 Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, “Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.” (1 Samuel 25:32-35)

As we said earlier, David makes his fair share of mistakes, but one of the things you have to love about David, he is always quick to repent when he is confronted with his wrongs. And he repents here, and he is saved from wrongdoing.

James 5:20 says: “If one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20) Abigail turns David back from the error of his ways, and David is rescued from sin.

   B. Nabal the fool – struck down by the Lord (36-38)
      – Luke 12:16-20

Next, we see Nabal’s outcome. Nabal the fool is struck down by the Lord. Look at 1 Samuel 25:36-38:

When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing until daybreak. 37 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the LORD struck Nabal and he died. (1 Samuel 25:36-38)

When Abigail first goes to him, he is drunk, so she waits until morning to tell him what happened with David. When she tells him in the morning, he is so shocked he has either a heart attack or a stroke and becomes immobilized. Ten days later the Lord takes his life.

Later in the New Testament Jesus would tell the story about another rich fool whose life was suddenly taken by the Lord. The parable of the rich fool is found Luke 12 and we read in verse 20: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:20)

   C. Abigail the wise – marries the future king (39-44)
      – Proverbs 3:13-18

And then finally, we come to Abigail’s outcome. Abigail the wise has the very best outcome. She gets to marry the future king! Look at 1 Samuel 25:39-44:

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the LORD, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.”

Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. 40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”

41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “Here is your maidservant, ready to serve you and wash the feet of my master’s servants.” 42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five maids, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.

43 David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. 44 But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim. (1 Samuel 25:39-44)

When David learns that Nabal is dead, he gives praise to God for keeping him from doing wrong. He sends word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. The beautiful and intelligent Abigail is thus rewarded for her wisdom by marrying the future king. Goodbye Nabal, hello David. Folks, this is what we call trading up in life!

Abigail becomes David’s third wife. Earlier David married Saul’s daughter Michal, but Saul gave her away to someone else. He had also married a woman named Ahinoam. And now he marries Abigail.

And so, Abigail marries the future king. David is not king yet, but she believes Gods promises to him. Abigail is a woman of faith and wisdom.

Proverbs 3 says this about wisdom: “Blessed is the person who finds wisdom … for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold…. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor…. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” (Proverbs 3:13-18)

This was certainly true in Abigail’s life, and it is true of all those who embrace the wisdom found in God’s word.

CONCLUSION: 1 Samuel 25 has a very simple message. Our actions affect our outcomes. The Bible says in Galatians 6: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)

Your actions and attitudes have a huge effect on your life and the lives of those around you. So, are you a Nabal, a David or an Abigail? Nabal sowed foolishness and reaped destruction. David sowed rashness and almost reaped disaster. Abigail sowed wisdom and reaped God’s blessing.

As a Christian you are called to glorify God with your actions and attitudes by following Jesus and living according to God’s word. David wasn’t perfect. But he points forward to the perfect Son of God who died for your sins and will help you make right decisions in your life.

I pray as a result of the message this morning that you will seek to avoid foolish and rash decisions and instead follow Christ and live according to the wisdom of God’s word.

© Ray Fowler

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