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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 2–11
Verses 2–11

Here begins the story of Nabal.

I. A short account of him, who and what he was (1 Sam. 25:2, 3), a man we should never have heard of if there had not happened some communication between him and David. Observe, 1. His name: Nabal—a fool; so it signifies. It was a wonder that his parents would give him that name and an ill omen of what proved to be this character. Yet indeed we all of us deserve to be so called when we come into the world, for man is born like the wild ass’s colt and foolishness is bound up in our hearts. 2. His family: He was of the house of Caleb, but was indeed of another spirit. He inherited Caleb’s estate; for Maon and Carmel lay near Hebron, which was given to Caleb (Josh. 14:14; 15:54, 55), but he was far from inheriting his virtues. He was a disgrace to his family, and then it was no honour to him. Degeneranti genus opprobrium—A Good extraction is a reproach to him who degenerates from it. The LXX., and some other ancient versions, read it appellatively, not, He was a Calebite, but He was a dogged man, of a currish disposition, surly and snappish, and always snarling. He was anthropos kynikosa man that was a cynic. 3. His wealth: He was very great, that is, very rich (for riches make men look great in the eye of the world), otherwise, to one that takes his measures aright, he really looked very mean. Riches are common blessings, which God often gives to Nabals, to whom he gives neither wisdom nor grace. 4. His wife—Abigail, a woman of great understanding. Her name signifies, the joy of her father; yet he could not promise himself much joy of her when he married her to such a husband, enquiring more after his wealth than after his wisdom. Many a child is thrown away upon a great heap of the dirt of worldly wealth, married to that, and to nothing else that is desirable. Wisdom is good with an inheritance, but an inheritance is good for little without wisdom. Many an Abigail is tied to a Nabal; and if it be so, be her understanding, like Abigail’s, ever so great, it will be little enough for her exercises. 5. His character. He had no sense either of honour or honesty; not of honour, for he was churlish, cross, and ill-humoured; not of honesty, for he was evil in his doings, hard and oppressive, and a man that cared not what fraud and violence he used in getting and saving, so he could but get and save. This is the character given of Nabal by him who knows what every man is.

II. David’s humble request to him, that he would send him some victuals for himself and his men.

1. David, it seems, was in such distress that he would be glad to be beholden to him, and did in effect come a begging to his door. What little reason have we to value the wealth of this world when so great a churl as Nabal abounds and so great a saint as David suffers want! Once before we had David begging his bread, but then it was of Ahimelech the high priest, to whom one would not grudge to stoop. But to send a begging to Nabal was what such a spirit as David had could not admit without some reluctancy; yet, if Providence bring him to these straits, he will not say that to beg he is ashamed. Yet see Ps. 37:25.

2. He chose a good time to send to Nabal, when he had many hands employed about him in shearing his sheep, for whom he was to make a plentiful entertainment, so that good cheer was stirring. Had he sent at another time, Nabal would have pretended he had nothing to spare, but now he could not have that excuse. It was usual to make feasts at their sheep-shearings, as appears by Absalom’s feast on that occasion (2 Sam. 13:24), for wool was one of the staple commodities of Canaan.

3. David ordered his men to deliver their message to him with a great deal of courtesy and respect: “Go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. Tell him I sent you to present my service to him, and to enquire how he does and his family,” 1 Sam. 25:5. He puts words in their mouths (1 Sam. 25:6): Thus shall you say to him that liveth; our translators add, in prosperity, as if those live indeed that live as Nabal did, with abundance of the wealth of this world about them; whereas, in truth, those thatlive in pleasure are dead while they live, 1 Tim. 5:6. This was, methinks too high a compliment to pass upon Nabal, to call him the man that liveth. David knew better things, that in God’s favour is life, not in the world’s smiles; and by the rough answer he was well enough served, for this too smooth address to such a muck-worm. Yet his good wishes were very commendable. “Peace be to thee, all good both to soul and body. Peace be to thy house and to all that thou hast.” Tell him I am a hearty well-wisher to his health and prosperity. He bids them call him his son David (1 Sam. 25:8), intimating that, for his age and estate, David honoured him as a father, and therefore hoped to receive some fatherly kindness from him.

4. He pleaded the kindness which Nabal’s shepherds had received from David and his men; and one good turn requires another. He appeals to Nabal’s own servants, and shows that when David’s soldiers were quartered among Nabal’s shepherds, (1.) They did not hurt them themselves, did them no injury, gave them no disturbance, were not a terror to them, nor took any of the lambs out of the flock. Yet, considering the character of David’s men, men in distress, and debt, and discontented, and the scarcity of provisions in his camp, it was not without a great deal of care and good management that they were kept from plundering. (2.) They protected them from being hurt by others. David himself does but intimate this, for he would not boast of his good offices: Neither was there aught missing to them, 1 Sam. 25:7. But Nabal’s servants, to whom he appealed, went further (1 Sam. 25:16): They were a wall unto us, both by night and day. David’s soldiers were a guard to Nabal’s shepherds when the bands of the Philistines robbed the threshing-floors (1 Sam. 23:1) and would have robbed the sheep-folds. From those plunderers Nabal’s flocks were protected by David’s care, and therefore he says, Let us find favour in thy eyes. Those that have shown kindness may justly expect to receive kindness.

5. He was very modest in his request. Though David was anointed king, he insisted not upon royal dainties, but, “Give whatsoever comes to thy hand, and we will be thankful for it.” Beggars must not be choosers. Those that deserved to have been served first will now be glad of what is left. They plead, We come in a good day, a festival, when not only the provision is more plentiful, but the heart and hand are usually more open and free than at other times, when much may be spared and yet not be missed. David demands not what he wanted as a debt, either by way of tribute as he was a king, or by way of contribution as he was a general, but asks it as a boon to a friend, that was his humble servant. David’s servants delivered their message faithfully and very handsomely, not doubting but to go back well laden with provisions.

III. Nabal’s churlish answer to this modest petition, 1 Sam. 25:10, 11. One could not have imagined it possible that any man should be so very rude and ill-conditioned as Nabal was. David called himself his son, and asked bread and a fish, but, instead thereof, Nabal gave him a stone and a scorpion; not only denied him, but abused him. If he had not thought fit to send him any supplies for fear of Ahimelech’s fate, who paid dearly for his kindness to David; yet he might have given a civil answer, and made the denial as modest as the request was. But, instead of that, he falls into a passion, as covetous men are apt to do when they are asked for any thing, thinking thus to cover one sin with another, and by abusing the poor to excuse themselves from relieving them. But God will not thus be mocked. 1. He speaks scornfully of David as an insignificant man, not worth taking notice of. The Philistines could say of him, This is David the king of the land, that slew his ten thousands (1 Sam. 21:11), yet Nabal his near neighbour, and one of the same tribe, affects not to know him, or not to know him to be a man of any merit or distinction: Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? He could not be ignorant how much the country was obliged to David for his public services, but his narrow soul thinks not of paying any part of that debt, nor so much as of acknowledging it; he speaks of David as an inconsiderable man, obscure, and not to be regarded. Think it not strange if great men and great merits be thus disgraced. 2. He upbraids him with his present distress, and takes occasion from it to represent him as a bad man, that was fitter to be set in the stocks for a vagrant than to have any kindness shown him. How naturally does he speak the churlish clownish language of those that hate to give alms! There are many servants now-a-days (as if there had been none such in former days) that break every man from his master, suggesting that David was one of them himself (“He might have kept his place with his master Saul, and then he needed not have sent to me for provisions”), and also that he entertained and harboured those that were fugitives like himself. It would make one’s blood rise to hear so great and good a man as David thus vilified and reproached by such a base churl as Nabal. But the vile person will speak villany, Isa. 32:5-7. If men bring themselves into straits by their own folly, yet they are to be pitied and helped, and not trampled upon and starved. But D avid was reduced to this distress, not by any fault, no, nor any indiscretion, of his own, but purely by the good services he had done to his country and the honours which his God had put upon him; and yet he was represented as a fugitive and runagate. Lev. t this help us to bear such reproaches and misrepresentations of us with patience and cheerfulness, and make us easy under them, that it has often been the lot of the excellent ones of the earth. Some of the best men that ever the world was blest with were counted as the off-scouring of all things, 1 Cor. 4:13. 3. He insists much upon the property he had in the provisions of his table, and will by no means admit any body to share in them. “It is my bread and my flesh, yes, and my water too (though [ I]usus communis aquarum—water is every one’s property), and it is prepared for my shearers,” priding himself in it that it was all his own; and who denied it? Who offered to dispute his title? But this, he thinks, will justify him in keeping i t all to himself, and giving David none; for may he not do what he will with his own? Whereas we mistake if we think we are absolute lords of what we have and may do what we please with it. No, we are but stewards, and must use it as we are directed, remembering it is not our own, but his that entrusted us with it. Riches are ta allotria (Luke 16:12); they are another’s, and we ought not to talk too much of their being our own.