Most everyone knows the story: a bad man married to a good woman, a woman who dares to stand against him and do right. But let’s speculate a little—and it really isn’t much speculation at all.
1 Sam 25:4 calls Nabal “a churlish and evil” man, or, in the ESV, “harsh and badly behaved.” That is not the half of it. Look at the way those two words were translated in other places. “Churlish” is also “obstinate, hard, heavy, rough, stubborn, and cruel.” “Evil” is “grievous, hurtful, and wicked.” This man wasn’t just a grouch, he was mean and cruel, and it came from a wicked heart.
Now imagine a “beautiful and discerning woman” married to such a man. It almost had to be an arranged marriage—she certainly didn’t fall in love with him. Since he is extremely rich and she is still in prime childbearing age (we find out later), he is probably older than she. This is also a time when no one would have said anything about physical abuse. As you keep reading in chapter 25, the man’s servants are clearly terrified of him. I do not doubt for a moment that they had all suffered physical punishments from him, probably many unjust. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Abigail hadn’t suffered the same. God’s Law protected women from men in every way possible, but for a man like this the Law meant nothing.
So along comes David’s army, men who had protected Nabal’s servants from passing raiders by the way, which means his livestock--his wealth--were also protected, and David is now in need of provisions for several hundred men. Surely this “very rich” man who was already in the middle of a celebration time when the food would be plenteous, v 4, 8, could spare some for them.
David carefully instructed his men exactly how to approach Nabal. If you have one of the newer translations you will miss this. ESV says they “greeted” him, v 5. But that word is one that means far more than saying hello. It can also be translated salute, praise, thank, congratulate, even kneel. All those words involve respect and honor. Yet Nabal drives them off with exactly the opposite attitudes—disrespect, dishonor, and ingratitude for their service to him. “Who is this David?” he asks, accusing him of rebellion (v 10, 11), though Abigail knew exactly who he was (v 28, 30), the anointed of God.
Abigail knows nothing about this event, but Nabal’s servants know plenty about her. They come running, afraid for their lives for the way their master has treated a warrior and his army. And Abigail saves the day, gathering up as much as she can and sending it on to David, riding up herself to reason with him and beg for their lives. When she asks David to remember her, she isn’t asking him to save her from her lot in life. She goes back to the man and the responsibilities she sees as hers.
Now think about this. What would happen today if something similar occurred to a beautiful young woman, stuck in a loveless marriage to a horrible man, a cruel man who probably beat his servants and maybe her as well? Do you think she would have had any concern for anyone else?
Abigail was not so wound up in her own misery that she couldn’t see the misery of others. She probably cared for the servants her husband abused. She didn’t whine about not deserving this kind of life. She didn’t expect everyone to wait on her hand and foot or bend over backwards for her because she was mistreated, nor did she fall into a useless heap of flesh because life was “unfair.” She just “dealt with it.” Instead of being a drama queen focused only on her own problems, she looked for ways to help others as the opportunity arose. She did not allow her misery to blind her to the needs of others.
We could talk about her “going behind her husband’s back,” but let’s quickly notice this—she saved his life too, at least until God came into the picture and took it Himself. “Looking to the good of others,” we call that nowadays and label it the highest form of love. Abigail did this for everyone, including the undeserving, and regardless of who did and did not do it for her.
Abigail understood this, and so should we: it’s not about me, it’s about Him.
[Doing] nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others, Phil 2:3,4.