20 March 2014

Beauty & the Beast -- The Truth Revealed!

Tale as old as time . . .

Naaaaah, we're not going back that far.  This true story really only goes back about three thousand years. However, this story doesn't involve dancing furniture and a decaying rose. What it does involve is a very beautiful young lady, her brutish husband, and an up-and-coming king. This story is found in 1 Samuel 25. The future king is David, anointed of God to replace King Saul upon his death. David and his 600 men are in hiding from Saul, and are in need of provisions. The "Beast," Nabal (whose name actually means "foolish"), is a very wealthy farmer with a large stock of sheep and goats--and lots of provisions. And the "Beauty" is named Abigail, Nabal's wife. Scripture introduces her in the narrative as both "discerning and beautiful."

"Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved . . ." --1 Sa 25.3

It was shearing time, which was both a time of work and feasting, so there would have been lots of food to go around. David makes a very polite request for provisions for his men and points out that these same men have been assisting Nabal's shepherds in the field--to which the shepherds will attest. Nabal might have been justified to simply refuse David's request, but he takes his refusal a step further. He sends David's men back with a message that belittles David and poorly feigns ignorance of his identity as the next King of Israel. David doesn't receive Nabal's response very well. He took 400 of his troops to introduce himself to Nabal --with the sword. David and his small army was going to kill Nabal and every last man in his household. Call this one of David's more impulsive moments.

"Now David had said, 'Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good. God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him." --1 Sa 25.21-22

Back at Nabal's house, one of the shepherd's informed Abigail of the interaction between her husband and David's men and warned her that trouble was coming. This is where Abigail's true beauty shines through. She recognized that her husband's foolishness was about to cost him his life, and that in the taking of his life the future king of Israel was going to sin against God. She takes food that had already been prepared for the festivities--not enough to feed an army of 600 men, but enough to show that she means business--and prepares a literal "peace offering." She sends the food on ahead, and then follows close behind. Oh, and one more detail--She didn't tell her husband (more about that later).

Abigail descends the mountain on the back of a donkey, and meets David and his army in the way. Immediately upon identifying David, she dismounts and bows to the ground before him. She then proceeds to present an argument to David that seems counter-intuitive in our age.
On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. --1 Sa 25.24–25

In essence: "Blame me, not my idiot of a husband. If I had seen your men, you would have received the rations you requested. If anybody should die, let it be me." Doesn't sound like much of a self-preservation speech--especially since it technically wasn't her fault at all! But that didn't matter. Abigail first attempts to allay David's anger. Then she reminds him why he technically shouldn't kill her (after all, she did bring the provisions with her), and lets him know that she is well aware of who he is and Whom he serves.

Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. --1 Sa 25.28-29

Finally, Abigail makes her case not just for Nabal's life, but for David's innocence.

And when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself. And when the LORD has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.” --1 Sa 25.30-31
In a blazing moment of clarity, David comes to his senses and realizes the mistake he is about to make. He accepts Abigail's gift, and these two characters part ways. When Abigail gets home, she finds Nabal in full party mode, feasting and drinking like a king--totally oblivious to how close he and all his servants had just come to utter annihilation. She decides to wait until the next morning when he is sober before letting him know what had almost happened.

In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And about ten days later the LORD struck Nabal, and he died. --1 Sa 25.37-38

Whoa! Surprise ending! Upon hearing what had happened, Nabal's heart quit, and then ten days later God struck him dead. David, upon hearing what happened to Nabal, gives thanks to God for avenging him of Nabal's insult, and for keeping him from the unjust slaughter he almost committed. David also remembers the woman God used to keep him from killing Nabal and his household. He sent his servants to Nabal's house to present his marriage proposal to this wise lady who was now widowed from her churlish husband. Abigail accepted the proposal, and gladly accompanied the servants back to David where she became his wife. Thus the wise and beautiful woman was delivered by God from her brutish, beastly husband and married the man who would later be described as "a man after God's own heart" and the next king of Israel!

Wait! Isn't this supposed to end with happily ever after?

Not exactly like the more familiar story with the title above--okay, it's nothing like the other story!  It's way better--and TRUE! And so are the lessons that are presented! Let's talk about what we can take away from this awesome story.

1.  David was hot-headed. This story is sandwiched between two separate accounts where David has the opportunity to kill King Saul, thereby ending the hiding and launching him to the throne. However David refuses to take the life of the king whom God had anointed before him. In between these two instances of demonstrating godly character, he almost blew it. In a fit of temper, he made an oath to kill a man and all the males in his household over an insult and was fully prepared and advancing to carry it out. Had Abigail not intervened, David would have ascended the throne with unjust blood on his hands. Had Abigail not stepped into the scene when she did, his character would have been called into question as a man truly fit to lead God's chosen people. Whereas Saul had no good reason up to this point to hunt David and kill him, this would have justified the search and David's death. David's temper nearly cost him very dearly. Instead, he heeded wise counsel, cooled down, and allowed God to handle the situation.

2.  Nabal was a jerk. He was seen as a fool by all who knew him, including his servants and even his wife. We don't know what kind of husband he was, and it doesn't look like he was a father. All we really know is that he had no regard for treating others fairly and no regard for authority (as word had clearly spread to his area about who David was and that he would be the next king--check out Abigail's plea!). There is probably much that we don't know about this character's "back-story," but God determined that it wasn't important for us to know. God values life even more than we do, and God ended Nabal's only ten days later. 

3.  Abigail was wise. She was marked by true beauty, both inside and out according to Scripture. She is very clearly seen as a key figure in this story. The Bible describes her glowingly, leaving no negative comments about her in the entire narrative. She was a quick thinker, from the moment she learned of Nabal's mistreatment of David's messengers. She was a planner, as she had food already prepared and knew how much she could spare for this purpose (Had she just sent everything, we wouldn't have found Nabal feasting when she returned.). Even though her comments to David about Nabal were less than flattering, she demonstrated that she cared for her husband by taking steps to counteract his foolishness--she could have simply gone to "run errands" while David rid her of Nabal once and for all. This act also saved all of the other men of Nabal's household. He probably didn't deserve Abigail's intervention, but she stepped in anyway. By accepting the blame for Nabal's foolishness even though she had done nothing wrong--even offering to die in his place--she even offers a glimpse of Christ taking our sin upon Himself, although He was sinless, and dying in our place.

Finally, Abigail demonstrated the epitome of respect and godly submission throughout this story. Had she first talked through the situation with Nabal, he would most likely have prevented her from stepping in to help, and he would have most certainly died by David's sword. She chose instead to take the steps necessary to try and deliver her husband in spite of himself. She also had the discernment to talk to Nabal once he was sober, so that he could fully understand what had nearly happened. She demonstrated this to David by addressing him as though he were already the king, and granting his request to the best of her ability. Abigail also recognized what David didn't, and acted to prevent her future king from committing murder. As she accepts his marriage proposal, she presents herself to David's servants as "a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord." (1 Sa 25.41) Here, as throughout this story, Abigail presents a beautiful humility that is truly a rare find, but one that again emulates that of our Savior.

Not a tale as old as time, but definitely a true story that bears repeating!

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