David’s continued outlaw life — 1 Samuel 25-27

David, in today’s reading, finds himself in such a difficult position; he wants to come home to Israel, but he is unjustly kept out by Saul. Consequently, he has to live by his wits and whatever “odd jobs” come his way.

One “odd job” that he made for himself was protection for herdsmen on the edge of Israel’s controlled territory. One such wealthy herdsman was a man by the name of Nabal — oddly but appropriately, a name meaning “fool” — and David and his men had guarded his two large herds. On the surface of it, it may sound like a “protection racket”, but when we read further down (25:14-17) the herders really had depended on them for protection. Kingdoms of the ancient middle east (especially on the borders or frontiers of national territories) had little or no (mostly “no”) military patrols to protect its people, and the concept of police forces hadn’t been invented yet — for the most part, you were on your own. Nabal’s herders were open to attack from Philistines, Amalekites, and other raiders. David’s protection — desired by the herders — had made Nabal’s prosperity possible. Yet, when David sent messengers to politely request some remuneration at shearing time (a big feast would ensue) for this protection (in the form of food), Nabal had scorned them, claiming that he owed David nothing. David had probably taken this insult as all the ingratitude that he was going to take, and he called his men together in a rage to attack and slaughter every male in Nabal’s household. But he was stopped by a woman.

Fortunately, Nabal was married to his opposite, a wise woman, Abigail, who interceded for the whole household and gave David and his small army the reward of food that they had earned by protecting Nabal’s herds. She did this without Nabal’s knowledge, because “no one can speak to him.” Later, when Abigail does tell him, he appears to have suffered an apoplectic stroke (from which he later died).

Have you ever been a Nabal? So foolish, so cock-sure, so bull-headed that no one could speak to you? Oh sure, many of us are this way in our late teens and early 20’s, but have you grown out of it, yet? Confidence is one thing, “Nabal-ism” is another. What would your spouse say? What would your colleagues say? What would your children say? It’s an attitude that leads down the path of folly and evil. It’s nothing to be proud of, even if Sinatra did immortalize it by singing, “I did it my way!” You really don’t want to be “that guy”.

And though we certainly don’t have time or space here to investigate it completely, Abigail is a great study in intercession. She was a firewall between David and Nabal. She diplomatically confesses that the sin was really hers, because she hadn’t noticed David’s young men with David’s request. She brings the food stuff David to satisfy their honorable request. She’s humble. And she reasons with David that he really didn’t want to take his own revenge in this matter — that it would be a great regret, when he became a great king. Everything she did was calculated to put David’s fire out; and it worked! No small wonder that David later proposed marriage to her. Her skills are useful in the church, too; as long as there are people in the Lord’s church, there will be a need for intercessors and “fire extinguishers” and brethren who will help us be our better selves rather than our proud and insulted selves.

But then in chapter 26 David gets yet another chance to end his suffering by eliminating his persecutor — but he refuses to touch the Lord’s anointed. And interestingly enough it has the same effect as the time in Engedi, when David deliberately passed on the chance to kill Saul. In both cases it sort of boiled down to…

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:19-21, NAS95.

It works and Saul leaves David alone again. Let it work for you, too.

Lastly, David flees to Gath to “work” for the Philistine king Achish. Even though David had been been a real spoiler to Gath’s military campaigns in the past, he was happy enough to have David on his side now. He even gives him Ziklag as a city to live in and rule. From Ziklag David launches a number of “black ops” on neighboring Gentile towns, completely “silencing” them, so they couldn’t tell Achish what was really happening. David’s deception toward an enemy of the Chosen People has been often debated. It has been suggested that this was merely another example of the Bible telling it like it is about the lives of even its great heroes — warts and all. And on the other hand, it has been suggested that it provides adequate justification for deceiving a “Gentile” enemy, when necessary — for example, in an effort to save an innocent Jewish family from Nazi murderers. Such a debate here would again be too long (and philosophic) for this format, but let’s just say that we need to be very, very careful, when we start playing with what could be called situation ethics.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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