Acts 13:22 gives a familiar picture David as a man after God’s own heart: “And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’” I propose that it is a worthwhile area of Bible Study for us to pause and think as to how we may apply this particular principle so as to better understand the heart of God through the heart of David. To be sure, David made his fair share of mistakes, nor was he a perfect and blameless man. It would take too long and get us too far off the point to go over these errors in detail at this present time, so what I would like to do instead here is to look at a single incident in which David demonstrated his general impetuosity but demonstrated the heart of God in his warm commendation of someone’s behavior. And by better understanding David’s heart, we might encourage our own to do likewise.
You might wonder, in light of what I am about to say, why this particular incident belongs in an appendix to a study that is largely laudatory about women. As it happens, our main area of interest is in maternal lines discussed in scripture, and the woman involved here has no known surviving children who were able to carry on her line, either with her first husband or with David, her second. Even so, this woman demonstrates the sort of character that any godly man would want in a wife, and that is worth emulating by any godly woman. As a result, while the subject would take us a bit off point with regards to the study of maternal lines, it is a sufficiently worthwhile story that it deserves to be addressed within the larger context of women showing themselves worthy of the highest respect, and David showing himself as a man after God’s own heart through his respect and regard for the wise counsel of a woman. While not all of David’s actions in this story are praiseworthy, his high regard for the wise advice and counsel he receives here demonstrates a wisdom that we all can emulate in our own lives.
The story in question is 1 Samuel 25, one of my favorite stories of the Bible . I will spend a lot of time going into the details of this particular passage, but let us first look at the entire chapter, which forms one complicated story: “Then Samuel died; and the Israelites gathered together and lamented for him, and buried him at his home in Ramah. And David arose and went down to the Wilderness of Paran. Now there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel, and the man was very rich. He had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. And he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. The name of the man wasNabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. And she was a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance; but the man was harsh and evil in his doings. He was of the house of Caleb. When David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep, David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. And thus you shall say to him who lives in prosperity: ‘Peace be to you, peace to your house, and peace to all that you have! Now I have heard that you have shearers. Your shepherds were with us, and we did not hurt them, nor was there anything missing from them all the while they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and to your son David.’” So when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in the name of David, and waited. Then Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, “Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?” So David’s young men turned on their heels and went back; and they came and told him all these words. Then David said to his men, “Every man gird on his sword.” So every man girded on his sword, and David also girded on his sword. And about four hundred men went with David, and two hundred stayed with the supplies. Now one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, “Look, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master; and he reviled them. But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, nor did we miss anything as long as we accompanied them, when we were in the fields. They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore, know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel[b] thatone cannot speak to him.” Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain,one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys. And she said to her servants, “Go on before me; see, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. So it was, as she rode on the donkey, that she went down under cover of the hill; and there were David and his men, coming down toward her, and she met them. Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good. May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light.” Now when Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground. So she fell at his feet and said: “On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be! And please let your maidservant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your maidservant. Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal. For as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him! But I, your maidservant, did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. Now therefore, my lord, as the Lordlives and as your soul lives, since the Lord has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now then, let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal. And now this present which your maidservant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your maidservant. For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the Lord, and evil is not found in you throughout your days. Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. But when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.” Then David said to Abigail: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessedare you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand. For indeed, as the LordGod of Israel lives, who has kept me back from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!” So David received from her hand what she had brought him, and said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person.” Now Abigail went to Nabal, and there he was, holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; therefore she told him nothing, little or much, until morning light. So it was, in the morning, when the wine had gone from Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became like a stone. Then it happened, after about ten days, that the Lord struck Nabal, and he died. So when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be theLord, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept His servant from evil! For the Lord has returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head.”
And David sent and proposed to Abigail, to take her as his wife. When the servants of David had come to Abigail at Carmel, they spoke to her saying, “David sent us to you, to ask you to become his wife.” Then she arose, bowed her face to the earth, and said, “Here is your maidservant, a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” So Abigail rose in haste and rode on a donkey, attended by five of her maidens; and she followed the messengers of David, and became his wife. David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and so both of them were his wives. But Saul had given , Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was from Gallim.”
There is a lot going on in this particular passage. First, it is worthwhile to note that the passage as a whole is framed in a discussion of the context of Samuel’s death (and the removal of the wise counsel David would have received from that quarter) and David’s marital issues, especially with his first wife being given to another man, Palti. So what we have here is a story of David on the run while apparently without his wise counsel, living the bachelor life of someone in disgrace and exile. This is a place in life that I, at least, can understand in part from the circumstances of my own life. David has been anointed king but is currently living a life that is anything but luxurious, and has found himself and his group of soldiers serving as the guard for a wealthy but not particularly bright landowner named Nabal.
Nabal is one of the more fascinating minor personages of scripture, largely for the fact that he is among the dumbest people in all of biblical history. Let’s look at the framing of this story from his perspective. Nabal is wealthy and owns large flocks. In a somewhat dangerous area of the wilderness in the Negev, he has a group of several hundred armed men who guard his flocks and keep them safe for a period of some months. Then, at the time of the harvest, when these men ask for payment, he treats them immensely rudely, as if his words could dismiss their claims for just compensation for labor. In this he did not ask for advice from anyone else, who might have sensibly pointed out that insulting armed men who protected you from harm was not generally a wise decision, not in ancient history and not today. Most bullies and tyrants in human history, by no means men of great wisdom and intellect, were at least smart enough to know the necessity of treating well the men who saved your life from harm. Nabal was not even that smart, and worse yet, despite bringing down threats of destruction on his whole household, no one thought that they could go to him and talk sense into him, and so instead his servants went around his back to his wife Abigail.
Now it must be freely confessed that Abigail is among my favorite women in all of scripture. I have long read this particular story and thought to myself that I would particularly want a wife life Abigail. David, to his credit, felt the same way. Among the many pieces of evidence that this story presents that show that Nabal was among the most foolish of men is the way that he completely fails to appreciate the wisdom of his wife. I would hope that I am not as foolish a man as Nabal was, but the way that he neglects Abigail in this story is unconscionable. From Abigail’s quick thinking and quick action to save the lives of her household, we know her to be a woman of industry. Her interaction with David is full of graciousness, a task she likely had to practice often in dealing with the tactlessness and boorishness of her husband. Even she, wise as she was, completely went behind Nabal’s back when saving his own life which he had imperiled as a result of his utter stupidity. If you have a wife as industrious and as wise and as gracious as Abigail is, you ought to appreciate that. We see David’s own obvious appreciation of what she had to offer in the fact that he apparently wasted no time in marrying the widow when Nabal met his reward and no longer plagued the earth and the people on it. David knew, wise man as he was, that one did not find women as wise as Abigail very often, and that one was not going to waste an opportunity to benefit from her wisdom and graciousness and industry when the opportunity arose.
All of this demonstrates the heart of God in action. Despite his own incredibly fierce response at having been completely snubbed and treated unjustly and ungenerously by Nabal, he is willing to be persuaded out of judgment by the graciousness of Abigail. Once he and his men have some tasty food in their belly and the knowledge that not everyone in the household of Nabal making decisions is a mouthbreathing idiot, the need for a lynch mob vanishes and David is glad to have been able to escape bloodshed. No doubt the servants of Nabal felt a great deal of relief that the clever and gentle mistress of the house, gifted with a sense of wit that a good man would appreciate as well, were happy that she had saved their lives. Despite having what was likely a large list of just grievances against Nabal given his drunkenness and general lack of sensitivity towards others–a man as ugly in soul as Nabal must have been a terrible husband–she demonstrated a better loyalty to his best interests than he himself showed. And her reward was marriage to a future king of Israel.
Of course, first there were many years of living in the wilderness and seeking to escape from the murderous wrath of King Saul, but eventually he was crowned king, and from there we hear little more of Abigail, at least directly. Nevertheless, we do know that David was susceptible to the wise advice of women, as we can see from the example of the wise woman of Tekoa in 1 Samuel 14:1-3: “So Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was concerned about Absalom. And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman, and said to her, “Please pretend to be a mourner, and put on mourning apparel; do not anoint yourself with oil, but act like a woman who has been mourning a long time for the dead. Go to the king and speak to him in this manner.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.” This story, which is longer (and which I recommend that you read), demonstrates the fact that David was certainly interested in wisdom and advice from women, so much so that even his chief general utilized this particular tendency to influence him.
What lessons can we draw from this example ourselves. For one, a godly man is going to appreciate the wise counsel that comes from a godly woman. Most of us may, hopefully, be wiser than Nabal was, but no matter how wise we are, we are always going to have blind spots and areas and times of vulnerability, and the presence of wise counsel around us is something always to be appreciated. The fact that David was able to recognize, even in the heat of his own righteous anger, the graciousness of Abigail speaks highly both for her own skill in dealing with people and his own recognition and appreciation of that skill. A wife as loyal and conspicuously gifted as Nabal’s wife was is someone to be appreciated. Any king or husband can use that at his side, and we can be sure that God Himself viewed her highly as well, since she is shown in this account as being a person of exceptionally high praiseworthiness. If we have wise women in our own lives, we ought to appreciate them. Those readers who wish to be wise women may aspire to the skills of Abigail and hope for a wiser husband than Nabal. Being a man after God’s own heart means regarding the wisdom of others even when it may not be a common aspect of the culture around you. We could all stand to be as quick to recognize the wisdom and worth of a woman like Abigail in our own lives and in our own situations, whatever they may be.
 It is the favorite story of many others as well, apparently: