Scripture References—1 Samuel 25:1-42; 2 Samuel 3:3
Name Meaning—Father of Joy, or Cause of Joy
Family Connections—Scripture gives us no clue as to Abigail’s parentage or genealogy. Ellicott suggests that the name given this famous Jewish beauty who became the good angel of Nabal’s household was likely given her by the villagers of her husband’s estate. Meaning “Whose father is joy,” Abigail was “expressive of her sunny, gladness-bringing presence.” Her religious witness and knowledge of Jewish history testify to an early training in a godly home, and acquaintance with the teachings of the prophets in Israel, Her plea before David also reveals her understanding of the events of her own world.
The three conspicuous characters in the story of one of the loveliest females in the Bible are Nabal, Abigail and David. Nabal is described as “the man churlish and evil in his doings” (1 Samuel 25:3), and his record proves him to be all that. Churlish means, a bear of man, harsh, rude and brutal. Destitute of the finer qualities his wife possessed, he was likewise avaricious and selfish. Rich and increased with goods and gold, he thought only of his possessions and could be classed among those of whom it has been written—
The man may breathe but never lives
Whoe'er receives but nothing gives—
Creation’s blot, creation’s blank,
Whom none can love and none can thank.
Nabal was also a drunken wretch, as well as being unmanageable and stubborn and ill-tempered. Doubtless he was often “very drunken.” This wretch of a man was likewise an unbeliever, “a son of Belial,” who bowed his knee to the god of this world and not to the God of his fathers. Further, as a follower of Saul he shared the rejected king’s jealousy of David. Added to his brutal disposition and evil doings was that of stupidity, as his name suggests. Pleading for his unworthy life, Abigail asked for mercy because of his foolishness. “As his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him” (vs 25). Nabal means “a fool,” and what Abigail actually meant was, “Pay no attention to my wretched husband for he’s a fool by name, and a fool by nature.” Truly, such a man will always provoke the profoundest perversion in all who read his story.
Abigail is as “a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance.” In her, winsomeness and wisdom were wed. She had brains as well as beauty. Today, many women try to cultivate beauty and neglect their brains. A lovely face hides an empty mind. But with Abigail, loveliness and intelligence went hand in hand, with her intelligence emphasizing her physical attractiveness. A beautiful woman with a beautiful mind as she had is surely one of God’s masterpieces.
Added to her charm and wisdom was that of piety. She knew God, and although she lived in such an unhappy home, she remained a saint. Her own soul, like that of David, was “bound in the bundle of life with the Lord God.” Writing of Abigail as “A Woman of Tact” W. Mackintosh Mackay says that, “she possessed in harmonious combination these two qualities which are valuable to any one, but which are essential to one who has to manage men—the tact of a wise wife and the religious principle of a good woman.” Eugenia Price, who writes of Abigail as, A Woman With God’s Own Poise, says that, “only God can give a woman poise like Abigail possessed, and God can only do it when a woman is willing to cooperate as Abigail cooperated with Him on every point.” True to the significance of her own name she experienced that in God her Father there was a source of joy enabling her to be independent of the adverse, trying circumstances of her miserable home life. She must have had implicit confidence in God to speak to David as she did about her divinely predestined future. In harmony with her many attractions was “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is more lustrous than the diamonds that decorate the delicate fingers of our betters, shone as an ornament of gold about her head, and chains about her neck.”
David is the other outstanding character in the record. He it was who fought the battles of the Lord, and evil had not been found in him all his days (25:28). He could match Abigail’s beauty, for it was said of him that he was “ruddy...of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to” (1 Samuel 16:12). When Abigail and David became one they must have been a handsome pair to look upon! Then, in addition to being most musical, David was equal with Abigail in wisdom and piety for he was “prudent in matters,...and the Lord [was] with him” (1 Samuel 16:18).
The sacred historian tells us how these three persons were brought together in a tragic way. David was an outlaw because of Saul’s hatred, and lived in the strongholds of the hills with his loyal band of 600 followers. Having often helped Nabal’s herdsmen out, being in need of food for his little army, David sent a kind request to Nabal for help. In his churlish fashion, Nabal bluntly refused to give David a crumb for his hungry men, and dismissed David as a marauding hireling. Angered, David threatened to plunder Nabal’s possession and kill Nabal and all those who emulated his contempt. Abigail, learning from the servants of David’s request and her husband’s rude refusal, unknown to Nabal, acted with thought, care and great rapidity. As Ellicott comments &--;
Having often acted as peace-maker between her intemperate husband and his neighbours, on hearing the story and how imprudently her husband had behaved, saw that no time must be lost, for with a clever woman’s wit she saw that grave consequences would surely follow the churlish refusal and the rash words, which betrayed at once the jealous adherent of Saul and the bitter enemy of the powerful outlaw.
Gathering together a quantity of food and wine, sufficient she thought for David’s immediate need, Abigail rode out on an ass and at a covert of a hill met David and his men—and what a momentous meeting it turned out to be. With discreet tact Abigail averted David’s just anger over Nabal’s insult to his messengers, by placing at David’s feet food for his hungry men. She also revealed her wisdom in that she fell at the feet of David, as an inferior before a superior, and acquiesced with him in his condemnation of her brutal, foolish husband.
As a Hebrew woman was restricted by the customs of her time to give counsel only in an emergency and in the hour of greatest need, Abigail, who had risked the displeasure of her husband whose life was threatened, did not act impulsively in going to David to plead for mercy. She followed the dictates of her disciplined will, and speaking at the opportune moment her beautiful appeal from beautiful lips, captivated the heart of David. “As his own harp had appeased Saul, the sweet-toned voice of Abigail exorcised the demon of revenge, and woke the angel that was slumbering in David’s bosom.” We can never gauge the effect of our words and actions upon others. The intervention of Abigail in the nick of time teaches us that when we have wisdom to impart, faith to share, and help to offer, we must not hesitate to take any risk that may be involved.
Abigail had often to make amends for the infuriated outbursts of her husband. Neighbors and friends knew her drunken sot of a husband only too well, but patiently she would pour oil on troubled waters, and when she humbly approached with a large peace offering, her calmness soothed David’s anger and gave her the position of advantage. For her peace-making mission she received the king’s benediction (25:33). Her wisdom is seen in that she did not attempt to check David’s turbulent feelings by argument, but won him by wise, kind words. Possessing heavenly intelligence, self-control, common sense and vision, she exercised boundless influence over a great man, and marked herself out as a truly great woman. After Abigail’s successful, persuasive entreaty for the life of her worthless husband, the rest of her story reads like a fairy tale. She returned to her wicked partner to take up her hard and bitter life again.
It is to the credit of this noble woman that she did not leave her godless husband or seek divorce from him, but remained a loyal wife and the protector of her worthless partner. She had taken him for better or for worse, and life for her was worse than the worst. Wretched though her life was, and spurned, insulted and beaten as she may have been during Nabal’s drinking bouts, she clung to the man to whom she had sworn to be faithful. Abigail manifested a love stronger than death. But the hour of deliverance came ten days after her return home, when by a divine stroke, Nabal’s worthless life ended. When David hearkened to the plea of Abigail and accepted her person, he rejoiced over being kept back by her counsel from taking into his own hands God’s prerogative of justice (Romans 12:19).
When David said to Abigail, “Blessed be thy advice,” he went on to confess with his usual frank generosity that he had been wrong in giving way to wild, ungovernable passion. If Abigail had not interceded he would have carried out his purpose and destroyed the entire household of Nabal, which massacre would have included Abigail herself. But death came as the great divorcer or arbiter, and Nabal’s wonderful wife had no tears of regret, for amid much suffering and disappointment she had fulfilled her marriage vows. In that farmer’s house there had been “The Beauty and the Beast.” The Beast was dead, and the Beauty was legally free of her terrible bondage.
After Nabal’s death, David “communed with Abigail” (1 Samuel 25:39)—a technical expression for asking one’s hand in marriage (Song of Solomon 8:8)—and took her as his wife. Married to Israel’s most illustrious king, Abigail entered upon a happier career. By David, she had a son named Chileab, or Daniel (compare 2 Samuel 3:3 with 1 Chronicles 3:1). The latter name means, “God is my Judge,” and one has an inkling that the choice of such a name was Abigail’s because of her experience of divine vindication. She accompanied David to Gath and Ziklag (1 Samuel 27:3; 30:5, 18). Matthew Henry’s comment at this point is, “Abigail married David in faith, not questioning but that, though now he had not a house of his own, yet God’s promise to him would at length be fulfilled.” Abigail brought to David not only “a fortune in herself,” but much wealth so useful to David in the meeting of his manifold obligations.
Among the lessons to be learned from the life of Abigail, the first is surely evident, namely, that much heartache follows when a Christian woman marries an unbeliever. Unequal yokes do not promote true and abiding happiness. The tragedy in Abigail’s career began when she married Nabal, a young man of Naon. Already we have asked the question, Why did she marry such a man? Why did such a lovely girl throw herself away upon such a brute of a man? According to the custom of those times marriages were man-made, the woman having little to say about the choice of a husband. Marriage was largely a matter of family arrangement. Nabal was of wealthy parentage and rich in his own right with 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats and thus seemed a good catch for Abigail. But character should be considered before possessions.
Many a woman in the world today made her own choice of a partner. Perhaps she knew of his failures and thought that after marriage she would reform him, but found herself joined to one whose ways became more evil. Then think of those brave, unmurmuring wives who have to live with the fool of a husband whose drunken, crude ways are repellant, yet who, by the grace of God accept and live with their trial; and who, because of a deep belief in divine sufficiency retain their poise. Such living martyrs are among God’s heroines. All of us know of those good women chained with the fetters of a wretched married life for whom it would be infinitely better for them—
To lie in their graves where the head, heart and breast,
From care, labour and sorrow forever should rest.
Thinking of modern Abigails the appropriate lines of noble Elizabeth Barrett Browning come to mind—
The sweetest lives are those to duty wed,
Whose deeds, both great and small, and closeknit strands
Of an unbroken thread; where love ennobles all.
The World may sound no trumpets, ring no bells:
The Book of Life the shining record tells.
Devotional content drawn from All the Women of the Bible by Herbert Lockyer. Used with permission.