War on an Empty Wineskin

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In this story, when Nabal was done with his drinking bout, it says that “the wine was gone out of” him (v. 7). The Hebrew word for wineskin (what wine goes out of) is nebel. Nabal is a nebel, a deflated wineskin. God deals with him after David refrains from taking matters into his own hands, and God placed this story in the Bible as a cautionary tale—on many fronts. Nabal is a stand-in for Saul in this section—we have already seen how Saul is a Laban figure, and Nabal is Laban spelled backwards, in both Hebrew and English.

“And Samuel died; and all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah . . .” (1 Sam. 25:1-44).

This is a fascinating story, masterfully told. The chapter begins with the death and burial of Samuel (v. 1). There was a man in the region of Carmel (not the mountain in the north), and he was very rich (v. 2). His name was Nabal (which means fool), which probably means that it was his nickname (v. 3). His wife was intelligent and beautiful, and her name was Abigail. David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep (v. 4), and so he instructed ten young men to go to Nabal and to respectfully ask for sustenance, based on their respectful treatment of Nabal’s shepherds (vv. 5-8). This the young men did (v. 9). But Nabal answered true to form (v. 10), with a reply full of me-my-mine (v. 11). The young men returned to David with Nabal’s taunting reply (v. 12). David mustered 400 of his men, and they all strapped on their swords (v. 13). But one of Nabal’s servants told Abigail the story, and we learn more details about “the son of Belial” (vv. 14-17). So Abigail loaded up some donkeys with many provisions, sent them ahead of her (like Jacob with Esau), and she came after (v. 18). She did not tell her husband (v. 19), and then she came to meet David—one woman against 400 men with swords (v. 20). Now David had stated his complaint and vowed that he would slaughter any “that pisseth against the wall” (vv. 21-22). When Abigail saw David, she hurried, and bowed down to him (v. 23).

She took the blame for the whole thing (v. 24), and said that her husband’s name was about as appropriate as it gets (v. 25). She pleads with David to spare her husband, while at the same time pronouncing an imprecation on him (v. 26). Let her gift of provisions be accepted (v. 27). She states that the Lord will give David “a sure house” (v. 28)—he will be blessed and his enemies not (v. 29). And when he is king (v. 30), let him have no cause to regret at the top what he did to get to the top (v. 31). She asks to be remembered (v. 31). David blesses her and her wisdom, and received her gift (vv. 32-35). Abigail returned to Nabal, who was feasting and very drunk (v. 36). But in the morning, when the wine was gone out of him (remember he is a wineskin), she told him. His heart died, and he became like a stone (v. 37). Ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died (v. 38). And so David blessed God who had vindicated him (v. 39), and he summoned Abigail to become his wife (vv. 39-40). She comes to David and marries him (vv. 41-42). David was apparently already married to Ahinoam (v. 43), and Saul had given Michal to another man (v. 44).


Remember that in the previous chapter, David had identified himself as a son of Saul (1 Sam. 24:11). Saul had reciprocated (1 Sam. 24:16). Here he calls himself a son of Nabal (v. 8), but Nabal responds by contemptuously referring to him as the “son of Jesse” (v. 10). Lots of breakaway servants nowadays.

Abigail was both beautiful and wise (v. 3) and, as the event will show, decisive and courageous as well (v. 23). She simultaneously saves her current husband from the consequences of supreme doltishness and she saves her future husband from bloodguilt, saving two men at once. She knows David will be on the throne, and she knows that tormented consciences and thrones don’t go well together. When she bows (v. 23), and calls herself a “handmaid” (v. 24), and asks to be forgiven for her “trespass” (v. 28), don’t be fooled. She is using what God gave her with cunning and mastery. She works it, and is in complete control of the situation.

There are a number of applications we can take away from this passage.

·    The authority of a husband is not absolute. No human authority is. There is nothing here to indicate that Abigail was in the wrong, and much to show that she was in the right. She honored the lawful authority of her husband in much the same way that David honored the lawful authority of Saul—while knowing that God was going to change everything shortly. She honored Nabal more than Nabal did, which is how David treated Saul. She is a feminine counterpart to David. Biblical submission prohibits rendering to any creature the absolute submission that belongs only to God. And beware of men who demand absolute submission beneath them, and are scofflaws toward the authorities above. There are many men who want to reserve to themselves the right to be blockheads, and they also think biblical submission means that their wives are required to not notice.

·    David vowed to slaughter Nabal and all the males of his house, and Abigail persuaded him to break that vow. It would have been a sin to keep that sinful vow. It is no sin to repent of having made one, provided the repentance includes the sinfulness of taking the vow. David repents of his sinful vow with another vow (v. 34).

·    The law of God prohibits a king from multiplying wives (Dt. 17: 17), and David is moving toward a real problem here. He never takes as many wives as Solomon does, but he begets more sons than he can be a father to. By the time he became king in Hebron, he had six sons, all with different mothers (2 Sam. 3:2-5). Polygamous marriages are recognized as real marriages in Scripture, but they are nevertheless sub-creational (Gen. 2:18) and sub-Christian (Eph. 5:23; 1 Tim. 3:2), not to mention substandard. David was living below the creational norm, but I don’t believe this was a violation of Dt. 17 standard yet (2 Sam. 12:8-9).

·    We are told that Abigail was beautiful and intelligent—but we are not given a photo of her, or her SAT scores. But the fact that we are told this means that relativism is out—this includes aesthetic relativism.

This story is not placed here as a romantic interlude. The chapter serves as a prophetic warning. David narrowly missed incurring bloodguilt in the previous chapter, and he misses it even more narrowly in this chapter. He is teetering dangerously. Previously, he stopped his men from killing Saul. Here Abigail stops him from killing the proxy stand-in for Saul. She becomes David, and he becomes his men. Abigail manages to prevent the death of Nabal from being a grief to David while on the throne—but she sadly does not prevent the death of Uriah from being a grief to David while on the throne. Uriah was another inconvenient husband who got between David and an attractive woman.

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