Watercolour and ink portrait of Abigail by Sarah Beth Baca.
Used with permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
Prints of this portrait can be purchased here.

This article is available in Spanish here.

Abigail, Nabal, and David

Abigail is an interesting woman who we meet in 1 Samuel chapter 25. Like several women in the Old Testament, Abigail is described as beautiful. Unlike most other women in the Old Testament, Abigail is also described as “intelligent” (NAB, NIV, TEV), or “clever” (NRSV), or “of good understanding” (KJV, ASV), etc.[1] Beautiful and clever Abigail was married to a wealthy man, and she may have enjoyed the benefits of an affluent lifestyle, but her rich husband Nabal was foolish, intemperate, and mean.

Abigail’s namֲe is derived from two Hebrew words, “father” and “happiness”, and means “my father’s happiness”. She may have been the cause of happiness in her father’s house, but Abigail’s marriage cannot have been a happy one.[2] Nabal’s name is a Hebrew word which means “foolish” or “senseless”. As an adjective, nabal is used of people who have no perception of ethical or religious claims. It’s an apt name for Abigail’s husband who typifies such behavior.[3]

Nabal had not noticed that David and his men had been protecting his shepherds. When his camp started to run out of food, David sent ten messengers to Nabal. The messengers told Nabal about how they had been protecting his shepherds and they asked for provisions, but Nabal refused them.[4] He even screamed at them (1 Sam. 25:14 NLT). Nabal’s actions deeply insulted David, and David responded by preparing for a slaughter (1 Sam. 25:13, 22).

Abigail’s Actions

Abigail was the able mistress of an extensive household.[5] A servant told Abigail how Nabal has insulted David, and informed her of the danger they now faced. Her servants, both male and female, promptly helped Abigail in her decisive plan to placate David.

Abigail was not just intelligent and beautiful, she was also brave. It would have been no mean feat to confront David and four hundred of his men who had been insulted and were intent on revenge with their swords at the ready. Yet Abigail approached David and, with great diplomacy, humbly offered him a “peace offering”. She gave David and his men plenty of food. Her quick actions saved her household from disaster, and kept David and his men from unnecessary bloodshed.

Abigail was also brave considering that her actions would be found out by her husband, and then she would have to face his violent temper. The next day, Abigail told Nabal everything that she had done. Thankfully, God spared her from Nabal’s wrath. Nabal immediately had a heart attack and ten days died later from heart failure.

Nabal did not know who David was, but Abigail knew. She knew that David was an outlaw on the run from King Saul, and she spoke eloquently and prophetically about David and his future reign as king of Israel.[6] Her speech is one of the longest speeches of a woman recorded in the Old Testament. Here is an excerpt:

“The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.” 1 Samuel 25:28-31 (NIV)

David did remember Abigail. After Nabal’s death, he seems to have lost no time in asking her to become his wife. It is not clear whether David sought this marriage because of his attraction to Abigail or if it was for political reasons, but he certainly admired her. Abigail became David’s third wife and she bore David’s second son Chileab (2 Sam. 3:3). (Her son is called Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1.)

Abigail’s Submission

I remember being so confused about the story of Abigail when I was younger. I had been taught that wives are to submit to their husbands in everything—after all, that’s what Paul says in Ephesians 5:24. Moreover, women were supposed to revere and respect their husbands as the leaders, and certainly not say anything bad about them. But here was a Bible women who went behind her husband’s back and did something she knew he wouldn’t approve of.  And she even announces her husband’s faults to David:

“My lord should not pay attention to this wicked man Nabal. He simply lives up to his name! His name means ‘fool,’ and he is indeed foolish!” 1 Samuel 25:25 (NIV)

Despite defying her husband and saying negative things about him, Abigail is commended for her actions. Furthermore, David recognises that Abigail was sent by God.

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day . . .” 1 Samuel 25:32-33 (NIV)

In fact, Abigail is an ideal wife. She didn’t submit to her husband’s stupidity; rather she protected her husband and his interests. She took the initiative when he was unable or unwilling to act, and she even apologised for his rude behaviour.[7]

I think much of the church has a faulty idea of submission in marriage. Biblical submission is not about blind obedience or subservience. Healthy submission is characterised by loyalty, humility, and consideration, and it seeks the greater good. Ideally it should be mutual and reciprocal, rather than one-sided, with both husband and wife helping and serving each other.

Abigail was a smart, strong, young woman who helped her husband by going against his wishes. She initiates a potentially dangerous meeting with David, and speaks with great diplomacy and insight. God used Abigail to help David and encourage him with her prophetic words. Abigail was a remarkable woman.


Endnotes

[1] Abigail is described as having “good (tov) understanding (se.khel)” in 1 Samuel 25:3.  Solomon is described with the same Hebrew word (se.khel) in 2 Chronicles 2:12, as is Zechariah in 1 Chronicles 26:14, the Levites in 2 Chronicles 30:22, and Sherebiah in Ezra 8:18.

[2] I wonder why Abigail’s parents arranged such a marriage for their daughter.

[3] Footnote of 1 Samuel 25 from the NET Bible.

[4] “Whatever his reasons for initially helping Nabal’s shepherds, David’s assistance constituted an act of unsolicited generosity for which some reciprocal action of goodwill on Nabal’s part was only to be expected in a traditional culture.”
Joy Osgood “1 & 2 Samuel”, The IVP Women’s Commentary, eds: Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary Beth Evans (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2002) 167.

[5] No children are mentioned in 1 Samuel chapter 25. Abigail may have been a young, new wife and had not yet conceived.

[6] According to the Megillah (one of the tractates of the Talmud), the rabbis regard Abigail as one of seven prophetesses who prophesied to Israel. The other six female prophets are: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, and Esther. (See Megillah 14a and 14b.) The rabbis do not include Noadiah (Neh. 6:14) and Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3) among the seven prophetesses.

[7] Adele Berlin, “Abigail: Bible”, Encyclopedia, Jewish Women’s Archive 

Further Reading

“Abigail: An Old Testament Type of Christ” here


Related Articles

A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba
A Suitable Helper
6 Women who Protected Moses
Protecting the Weaker Sex
Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:1-6
Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry
Articles on Submission in Marriage