Saying Something Without Saying It
The account of Abigail, Nabal, and David is one of the most intriguing passages in Scripture. What’s also intriguing is it’s location.
As scholars point out, the account is sandwiched between two similar episodes of David sparing the life of King Saul (1 Samuel 24 and 1 Samuel 26). Given the numerous amount of literary connections between all three accounts, it seems wise to see this episode as an instance of Hebrew “narrative analogy.”1
That is, the author(s) is/are making a point by placing this account here — without stating it explicitly.2 In a way, Saul “is Nabal’s alter ego”.3 They both refuse to acknowledge David (unlike their respective family members),4 repay him evil for good, and act like a fool (cf. 1 Sam 26:21; nabal is Hebrew for “fool”, “foolish”).5
The account presents a clear contrast between good (טוֹב| ṭôb) and evil (רַע | raʿ), which is harder to pick up on in English. These two Hebrew words are translated variously but, in fact, they each appear seven times (good: ṭôb; 1 Sam 25:3, 8, 15, 21, 30-31, 36 and evil: raʿ; 1 Sam 25:3, 17, 21, 26, 34, 39).6
Moreover, there is also a contrast between wisdom (i.e., Abigail) and folly (i.e., Nabal). In short, readers who are wise like the beautiful Abigail, who is of good understanding, will side with David. Those who are evil and foolish, like Nabal, will side with Saul.
- The LORDs providential hand is clearly working through these events (1 Sam 25:32; Baldwin, 164) – God works through all things (Rom 8:28; Tsumura, 576, 594)
- Though Samuel died (Firth, 272), David wisely recognizes the godly wisdom of Abigail and takes her advice; a lesser man would have rejected her (Baldwin, 164)
- Despite David’s flaws, God protects him from personal vengeance and bloodguilt, preparing him for the throne of Israel (Baldwin, 164)
- Temptation vs. Divine Providence (Vannoy, 224). Satan attempts to lead us astray (1 Pet 5:8; Vannoy, 227) often when we’re vulnerable (Vannoy, 227)
- The relationship between David and Nabal is paralleled with the relationship between David and Saul (Vannoy, 224). In both cases, David deals with injustice. But he must wait for the LORD’s justice, not take it into his own hands (Vannoy, 225; Firth, 273)
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Rom 12:17-19, NIV; Vannoy, 227 cf. Pr 25:21-22; Rom 12:20-21; Firth, 271)
- No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Cor 10:13, NIV; Vannoy, 227)
- Baldwin, Joyce G. 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 8. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
- Bergen, Robert D. 1, 2 Samuel. Vol. 7. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996.
- Evans, Mary J. 1 & 2 Samuel. Edited by W. Ward Gasque, Robert L. Hubbard Jr., and Robert K. Johnston. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012.
- Evans, Mary J. The Message of Samuel: Personalities, Potential, Politics and Power. Edited by Alec Motyer and Derek Tidball. The Bible Speaks Today. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.
- Firth, David G. 1 & 2 Samuel. Edited by David W. Baker and Gordon J. Wenham. Vol. 8. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. Nottingham, England; Downers Grove, IL: Apollos; InterVarsity Press, 2009.
- Klein, Ralph W. 1 Samuel. Vol. 10. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1983.
- Longman, Tremper, III. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Proverbs. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
- Matthews, Victor Harold, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
- Payne, David F. “1 and 2 Samuel.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 296–333. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
- Tsumura, David. The First Book of Samuel. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.
- Vannoy, J. Robert. Cornerstone Biblical Commentarya: 1-2 Samuel. Vol. 4. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009.
- Walton, John H. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament): Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.
- Wolf, Herbert M. “1-2 Samuel.” In The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, edited by Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012.
- Youngblood, Ronald F. “1, 2 Samuel.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel–2 Kings (Revised Edition), edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.