Abigail, Nabal, and David
Abigail is an interesting woman who we meet in 1 Samuel chapter 25. Like several women in the Old Testament, she 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. 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. Nabal’s name is a Hebrew word that means “foolish” or “senseless.” As an adjective, nabal is sometimes used in the Bible to describe people who behave in unethical and godless ways. It’s an apt name for Abigail’s husband who typifies such behaviour.
Nabal had not taken due notice of David and his men who 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 and even roared at them (1 Sam. 25:14). Nabal’s actions deeply insulted David, and David responded by preparing for a slaughter (1 Sam. 25:13, 22).
Abigail was the able mistress of an extensive household. A servant told her how Nabal has insulted and dishonoured David, and he informed her of the danger they now faced. Her servants, male and female, quickly helped her to execute a 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 dishonoured and were intent on revenge with their swords at the ready. Nevertheless, 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, she told Nabal everything that she had done. Thankfully, God spared her from Nabal’s wrath. Nabal immediately has some kind of heart attack and died ten days later from heart failure.
Abigail’s Prophetic Words
Because of his mean, stubborn, and perverse character, Nabal had failed to have a true appreciation of who David was. But Abigail knew who David was. She knew that he 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. Her speech is one of the longest speeches of a woman recorded in the Hebrew Bible. 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 an attraction to Abigail or if it was for political or economic 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.)
I remember being 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 leaders, and certainly not say anything bad about them. But here was a Bible woman 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.
I think much of the church has a faulty idea of submission in marriage. Healthy and godly 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 (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV).
Abigail was a smart, strong, young woman who helped her husband by going against his wishes, even though he did not live to enjoy the benefits of her actions. She initiated a potentially dangerous meeting with David and spoke with great diplomacy and insight. And God used Abigail to help David and encourage him with her prophetic words. Abigail was a remarkable woman with beauty, brains, and bravery.
 Abigail is described as having “good (tov) understanding/ intelligence (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.
 I wonder why Abigail’s parents arranged such a marriage for their daughter.
 See footnote of 1 Samuel 25 from the NET Bible.
 “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, Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary Beth Evans (eds) (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 167.
 No children are mentioned in 1 Samuel chapter 25. Abigail may have been a young new wife and had not yet conceived.
 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. (I’ve written about all the prophetesses in the Bible here.)
 Abigail is also mentioned in 1 Samuel 30:5. She was among many who were captured by the Amalekites when they raided Ziklag, but then retrieved by David and his men. Abigail did not have an easy life.
 Adele Berlin, “Abigail: Bible”, Encyclopedia, Jewish Women’s Archive
 Like Abigail, Rebekah (wife of Isaac) and Jael (wife of Heber) also went behind their husband’s backs and are praised for it. Rebekah went against her husband’s wishes and even tricked him when she secured the birthright for Jacob instead of Esau, and there is no hint of censure against her in the Bible. Jael’s husband Heber had made a covenant with the Jabin king of Hazor, a Canaanite (Judg. 4:17), but Jael sided with Israel and killed Jabin’s general Sisera.
© Margaret Mowczko 2013
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A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba
The Witch of Endor, the Dead Prophet, the Doomed King (In this article, I compare Abigail with the witch (or medium).
A Suitable Helper (In Hebrew)
6 Women who Protected Moses
Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:1-6
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry
A List of the Beautiful People in the Hebrew Bible
Every Female Prophet in the Bible
All my articles on Christian submission are here.