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The fool, the hot-head and the peace-maker 


There is much to learn from the Old Testament, as the 1 Samuel story involving Nabal, David and Abigail shows, writes Colin Sedgwick


I would guess that many Christians rarely, if ever, read the Old Testament. All right, well-known passages like Psalm 23 and Isaiah 53 may be exceptions, but in general they find it hard to grapple with and distant from their everyday lives.

This is a shame, because along with the difficult parts there is much to fire our imaginations, and much which we can learn from. I’ve been thinking about 1 Samuel 25, and I invite you to join me in it. Yes, it’s nearly fifty verses, but is that really so long that we can’t find a few minutes to think about it?

It’s a story which features three main figures: Nabal the fool; David the hot-head; and Abigail the peace-maker. And though these events took place some three thousand years ago, make no mistake, there are still Nabals, Davids and Abigails around today. (Why, you may even be one of them…)

David has been anointed by Samuel as Israel’s future king, but Saul is still on the throne, and is doing his best to kill David. So David has become, in effect, an outlaw, on the run from Saul with a large group of supporters.

But where is he to find provisions for his men? Answer: he operates what looks a little bit like a protection racket, offering his “services” to local land-owners and expecting food in exchange. And this is how he meets Nabal, a “very wealthy” farmer.

Unfortunately, when he sends some of his men to ask for supplies, Nabal proves to be what his name apparently means: he is a fool – loutish, boorish, churlish, take your pick – and he responds to David’s request with flat rejection: “Why should I take my bread and water… and give it to men who come from who knows where?” Push off, David – we don’t want your sort round here.

David’s response is immediate. He tells his men to strap on their swords and get ready for a nice juicy bit of wholesale slaughter: “not one male of all who belong to Nabal” will be left alive. I think that qualifies for the description hot-headed, don’t you?

Nabal has a wife called Abigail, “an intelligent and beautiful woman”. You might wonder how she ever came to be married to Nabal, but of course, given the culture of the time, she might not have had much say in the matter.

Anyway, it turns out that God’s providence is at work here, because Abigail gets wind of what David is planning to do, and goes to extravagant lengths to calm him down. Especially, she puts it to him that if he carries out his massacre he will put himself badly in the wrong with God: but if David follows her advice “…my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed…”

David, to his credit, sees at once the sense of what Abigail says: “May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed and from avenging myself…”
(This, incidentally, is one of the attractive features of David’s character. True, he could be hot-headed, but he was also quick to recognise his faults and humble himself: a perfect example of this is his response to the prophet Nathan’s rebuke after he had Uriah the Hittite killed and committed adultery with his wife Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12).)

To round off the story… Nabal is felled by what today might be diagnosed as a stroke, and Abigail becomes one of David’s wives. I’m not sure you could exactly say that “they all lived happily ever after”, but at least for the moment commonsense prevails and a major crisis is averted.

Well, what about it? Do you see yourself anywhere there?

I trust none of us are Nabals: ill-mannered, oafish and clearly out of step with God and what he is doing. But, let’s be honest, it’s not impossible. As Jesus said: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (or, putting it more bluntly, if the cap fits, wear it).

I suspect that “hot-headed” might well describe some of us: like David, tending to act quickly without stopping to think and pray things through. So much hurt, harm and danger could be avoided if only we would train ourselves to put our brains into gear before we open our mouths or start swinging our fists.

What about “peace-makers”? Well, we all know the words of Jesus: “Blessed” are they. But do we put them into practice?

Things for us all to think about. But whatever, thanks be to God for the Abigails, both female and male, of this world! 


Original image | Rob Bye | Unsplash | edited with befunky.com

Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry. He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com

Baptist Times, 06/09/2017
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