Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to the men coming from who knows where?
With an insulting dismissal, Nabal confirmed he was a foolish, shortsighted and contemptible man. In a time when hospitable treatment of others was a duty, and those in need of food and shelter had a right to request it, Nabal flouted the courtesies expected of a rich man.
A sacred duty
“It was believed to be a sacred duty to receive, feed, lodge and protect any traveler who might stop at one’s door” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “Hospitality”). Hospitality is rooted in scripture: The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God (Lev.19:34).
In the time of Nabal “any lack of civility or kindness to a guest meets severe reprobation” (Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, “Hospitality”). This proved true for Nabal because his selfishness ended in death. Were it not for the bravery of his wife Abigail, Nabal would have died by the sword rather than from heart failure.
The arrogance of a very rich man
Nabal was a rich man. He had three thousand sheep, a thousand goats and many servants. David and his men resided in the wilderness where Nabal pastured his sheep. Without taking anything for themselves, they protected Nabal’s sheep and herdsmen. At the festive time of sheep shearing, David expected some hospitable acknowledgment of their efforts. As strangers who aided Nabal’s business, David requested a donation of food for himself and his men. David’s appeal was “the epitome of courtesy” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 755), asking only for what Nabal might spare (I Samuel 25:8).
Nabal had plenty to spare–cash from selling wool and provisions for the shearing festivities. And Nabal knew David, at least by reputation. His shepherds commended David’s men. These men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep ear them (I Samuel 25:15-16).
Stung by Nabal’s arrogance, David prepared to avenge himself. Having been informed of her husband’s rash behavior, Abigail acted without hesitation and averted David’s anger. At the time, did she understand the power of hospitality to change someone’s perspective? Was she a practiced giver-of-hospitality? Did she know by nature the essentials necessary to turn David from revenge?
She delivered a large gift of food accompanied by an attitude of humility and self-sacrifice. David was “stopped in his tracks” by the size of her offering: dressed sheep, two hundred loaves of bread, wine, bushels of roasted grain, hundreds of cakes of dried fruit. Abigail also met David’s needs for respect and appreciation. She spoke to him of God’s purpose (I Samuel 25:26-31) and that placed her generosity in the best context. ♦ Mary Hendren
Abigail’s actions still resonate today as examples of courage, wisdom, and artful hospitality.