I Samuel 25

1. Then Samuel died; and the Israelites gathered together and lamented for him, and buried him at his home in Ramah. And David arose and went down to the Wilderness of Paran.

Here we have the sad note that Samuel, that great prophet, priest, and judge of Israel, died. Of course, this eventually happens to and is the fate of all men, for we are all dying in Adam. Thank God that, as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive, and so we have a life after this one. This life we are now living is indeed not all there is.

Now this book is the book of Samuel, and Samuel has been the author of the early chapters. What happens here, then, when the book itself records Samuel’s death? Surely the LORD did not have him write the historical record of his own death and of the events that took place after his death. Yet this is no problem, for as we have seen from I Chronicles 29:29, this book had three authors, listed in that verse as Samuel the seer, Nathan the prophet, and Gad the seer. Therefore it is doubtless true that one of them took over writing the book at this point, probably Nathan, since he is listed first. (He may not have taken over just here, but may have started writing the record a few chapters before this as well. There is really no way to tell when one author ends and another begins, since the book is written as a seamless whole.)

So Samuel dies, and the Israelites gather together to mourn and lament for him. This mourning apparently takes place at his hometown of Ramah, and that is where they bury him. Then we read of David arising, which seems to indicate that David was included in this gathering to mourn Samuel. How could he dare to do this, when he was a fugitive from Saul? Perhaps he had more freedom for a time, riding on his new-found favor with the king bought in the last chapter? At any rate, after the time of national mourning for their last and perhaps greatest judge, David arises and goes to the wilderness of Paran. Paran means “Place of Caverns,” and since David and his company often lived in caves, this would be a logical place for him to dwell. This wilderness appears to have been south of Israel. Since Judah was the southernmost tribe, he is just across the border from his country, probably still in land that was originally promised to Israel by the LORD, though not land they had necessarily taken to possess.

2. Now there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel, and the man was very rich. He had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. And he was shearing his sheep in Carmel.

Now we are introduced to a new character from Maon. Maon means “Habitation,” and was a town in Judah south of Hebron. This man’s goods were in Carmel, which means “God’s Garden-land,” and was a lush mountain range to the north. This man was very rich, as is illustrated by the fact that he had an enormous flock of sheep and goats, which was a sign of one’s wealth at the time. Now the sheep shearing time has come, and he is attending the sheering of his flocks in Carmel.

3. The name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. And she was a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance; but the man was harsh and evil in his doings. He was of the house of Caleb.

The man spoken of in the last verse is named Nabal, which means “Fool.” This was a hard name to have, and yet this man certainly lived up to it (or should we say, down to it!). His wife is named Abigail, which means “My Father is Joy.” Apparently she had a good father, but alas for her, she has not such a good husband!

This woman Abigail has good understanding, or as we may put it in English, just plain good sense. She is also beautiful in appearance. Yet Nabal is not a good match for her, for he is harsh and calamitous in his dealings. It is not that he is of a bad family, for he is of a good house: that of Caleb, the one faithful spy from the days of Israel in the wilderness who stood alongside Joshua on Jehovah’s side. Caleb means “Dog,” but here was a man who lived above the reputation his name would have given him. Nabal, sadly, did not do this, but lived as his name would give us to expect. This goes to show us that, while family may count for something, a person still chooses his own way, and a bad man can come from a good family, as Nabal did.

4. When David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep,

David, still dwelling in the wilderness, hears a report from his informants that it is Nabal’s shearing time. David’s connection to and interest in this man is explained in upcoming verses.

5. David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name.

David sends ten young men out of his followers to greet Nabal. He commands them to go up to Carmel. Remember, Carmel is in the mountains, so it would certainly be traveling up to get there from the wilderness. Then, he orders them to greet Nabal in David’s name. Notice that these men were not David, but only his messengers. What did it mean, then, to greet him in David’s name? It meant that they were to greet him on David’s behalf, and with his permission and authority to do so. That is what it means to do something in someone’s name.

In our day, we like to end our prayers with some statement like, “In Jesus’ name.” This is fine, yet some seem to get the idea that this is a magic formula that should get them whatever they want. Yet this is not what doing something in someone’s name means. The reality is that Jesus Christ has given us permission and authority to pray, and so whenever we pray, we do so under His authority and with His permission. Yet He did not give us authority to get whatever we ask for. We cannot demand whatever we want in His name, for He gives us no such authority.

6. And thus you shall say to him who lives in prosperity: ‘Peace be to you, peace to your house, and peace to all that you have!

David sends them to speak to one who was living well, when at the same time David and his men were living as fugitives with daily difficulties and hardships. They are to speak to him, and to wish peace to Nabal, to his household, and to all that he has. Indeed, Nabal had peace. It was David and his men who lacked in this regard, at least as far as their nation and people were concerned, since they were outcasts in Israel. Yet David is generous enough to wish peace to one who was in far better circumstances than he himself was.

7. Now I have heard that you have shearers. Your shepherds were with us, and we did not hurt them, nor was there anything missing from them all the while they were in Carmel.

David’s message explains that he has heard of Nabal’s shearers. He reveals to Nabal the fact that David’s shepherds had been with Nabal’s shepherds for a time while David and his men were back in Carmel. His men had not only not hurt any of Nabal’s men, but they had also watched over and protected them, making sure that they lost nothing all the time they were with David’s shepherds in Carmel. Indeed, David and his men had been most friendly and helpful to Nabal’s men.

8. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and to your son David.’”

David urges Nabal, if he wants to corroborate this story since he was not present to see it, to ask and find out from his own young shepherds that this is true. In light of this, David now asks favor for his own young men. When they had protected the shepherds of Nabal in the wilderness, they had asked for no payment or reward. Yet now David’s needs are great, considering the time of year and the number of followers he has, and so a little help from a man whom he had helped before would be very timely. David hopes that Nabal, in this time of blessing and feasting at the sheep shearing, can spare some gift for him and his men. They probably needed supplies and provisions, yet David asks for nothing specific, hoping to be able to trust in the generosity of Nabal, as well as his gratitude for David’s previous acts of friendship.

9. So when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in the name of David, and waited.

David’s young messengers come to Carmel to Nabal. Getting an interview with him, they faithfully repeat his words to Nabal, speaking to him in David’s name, and then wait for his reply to their master.

10. Then Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, “Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master.

David was a man who knew the Scriptures, so perhaps he remembered Nabal’s noble forefather and hoped that his descendant would be like him. However, Nabal is not such a man Caleb was, nor as David hoped him to be. Instead, he scoffs at David’s message, asking who this son of Jesse thinks he is? He insultingly compares him to a run-away slave, breaking away from his master. Of course, David is no such thing, but Nabal is one who is willing to jump to conclusions without any facts to back him up, particularly when listening to David’s men would have meant having to give up some of his wealth to another man.

11. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?”

Nabal claims no knowledge of David and his men, who they are or where they are from. Of course, he could have easily checked up on this, as David suggested. Yet he did not check up on it, perhaps not wanting to find out the answer. So long as he does not know anything, he does not feel that he is responsible for anything. Therefore, he refuses to give them any gift at all from his bread or water or meat that he has prepared for the celebration of his shearers. This was a curt and insulting dismissal indeed!

12. So David’s young men turned on their heels and went back; and they came and told him all these words.

David’s messengers, finding themselves unwelcome and Nabal unwilling to repay them with anything, turn right around and go back to David, reporting back to him all the words of this mean and stingy man.

13. Then David said to his men, “Every man gird on his sword.” So every man girded on his sword, and David also girded on his sword. And about four hundred men went with David, and two hundred stayed with the supplies.

David hears this answer and is incensed. He commands his men to gird on their swords, thus preparing for battle. He too arms himself, and goes on the way to Carmel with four hundred of his men to pay Nabal a visit. Two hundred of his six hundred men stay behind, however, to guard their supplies. They did not take all these things with them, since this was to be a quick raid, and then they would be returning to their home in the caves.

14. Now one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, “Look, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master; and he reviled them.

While David is preparing for war against Nabal, one of Nabal’s young men servants tells his wife Abigail about what happened. He tells her of the messengers David sent with a friendly greeting to their master, and how Nabal had responded with mockery.

15. But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, nor did we miss anything as long as we accompanied them, when we were in the fields.

He informs Abigail how good David’s men had been to Nabal’s servants in the fields. They had suffered no hurt, nor experienced any loss as long as they were with the company of David.

16. They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep.

He tells how David’s men had guarded and protected them from harm. David had been a military commander, remember, and if the men who joined him were not all initially trained militarily, David had probably seen to it afterwards. Therefore, these were men who knew how to fight, and no one without a much larger force would have wanted to tackle them. As long as they looked after the servants of Nabal, it was like having a wall of protection around them both night and day as they were keeping their sheep. Notice that David had done this for them with no payment nor promise of reward. It seems likely that even if Nabal had declined courteously to give David a gift for doing this, David would have accepted his refusal graciously. Yet for Nabal to mock him and rail on him after all the good he had done for him was more than David could take!

17. Now therefore, know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him.”

The servant now calls upon Abigail to know and consider what she will do in light of this. He wants her to think carefully, and then to make some wise move to circumvent the calamity her husband is bringing against himself, for this servant is sure that David will plan some calamity against Nabal for this insult, and all his household will be swept up in it. Only Abigail can do anything about this, since her husband is such a son of worthlessness that no one can talk to him to warn him of what he has done, and what the likely consequences of it will be.

While the New King James uses the word “scoundrel” here, the Hebrew reads “a son of Belial.” Remember that in the Hebrew mindset, the son was the one who represented the father and showed forth the character of the father. Belial was not the devil, as perhaps many have thought, but was simply a Hebrew word meaning “worthlessness.” So what the servant says about Nabal is that he is a son of worthlessness, or that his character is that of a worthless man. This was a very negative assessment of his master, but from what we read of Nabal, it was an accurate one.

18. Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys.

Abigail is a wise woman, unlike her husband, and can see what the consequences of Nabal’s hubristic actions are likely to be. Therefore, she quickly gathers a rich gift of provisions, including two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already prepared for eating, five seahs (1.67 ephahs) of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of dried grapes, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loads these provisions on donkeys in preparation for carrying them to David.

19. And she said to her servants, “Go on before me; see, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

She sends her servants ahead. No doubt this was with the provisions, so that her gifts would precede her to pacify David before he even reached her. This same strategy is one that Jacob used when going to meet his brother Esau, as we learn in Genesis 32:13-21. Then she follows after them. She does all this without telling Nabal her husband. No doubt she knew that he would not approve, since he had stubbornly refused to do anything for David, in spite of all David had done for him, and he would doubtless have tried to hinder her from carrying out her purpose.

20. So it was, as she rode on the donkey, that she went down under cover of the hill; and there were David and his men, coming down toward her, and she met them.

This verse paints the picture for us. She is riding on a donkey through hilly country. She rides down a hill, and the hills in front of her are blocking her view of what is ahead. Then, over the next hill come David and his men, riding down toward her. She meets them in the valley.

21. Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good.

David has been fuming to himself and fueling his anger as he and his men have ridden toward the shearing-place of Nabal. He remembers how he took pains to watch over Nabal’s servants and all their animals and goods while they were with his men in the wilderness. He saw to it that nothing was missing of all that belonged to him, though he and his men could have easily overpowered Nabal’s servants and taken whatever they wished. Now in spite of this kindness he has been insulted instead of rewarded. He supposes that his labors for Nabal were work both unrewarded and unappreciated, as Nabal has returned his good deed with an evil one.

22. May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light.”

David swears using this Hebrew oath. We have seen it in I Samuel 3:17, when Eli swore in Samuel with this oath, and in I Samuel 14:44, when Saul swore this oath. Eli swore Samuel by it and Saul swore himself, yet in this case David says, “May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also.” Therefore, he does not swear this oath against himself, but against the enemies of David. Then, his oath is to destroy every man in Nabal’s household. The Hebrew reads “any who urinates against the wall,” which of course is a reference to males, as they are the ones who urinate in this manner. The New King James has rather prudishly ignored this colorful description, and changed it to the generic “male.”

Though it is a bit of a sidetrack, I would point out here that this is a description, not a command. I have actually heard of a pastor who railed against people who make rules that one has to sit down to urinate, since the Bible says that men should urinate against the wall, and so it is against God to make a rule against urinating standing up! This is, of course, foolish. It is always a mistake to take as commands things that the Bible describes only.

It would also be worth noting here, in light of the prudishness of the New King James, that when it comes to things like this the Bible cannot win in the light of its critics. When David speaks graphically here, some are sure to dislike it and take offense. To this I would say that if God offends you, that is just too bad, but you will have to be offended. When people were offended by Christ’s figure of eating his flesh and drinking His blood, He just repeated it all the more strongly. I think we make a mistake when we back off on what the Bible says merely to spare sensibilities. On the other hand, when the Bible does use euphemisms like “he lay with her,” there are those who will criticize the Bible for being prudish and not speaking plainly. To those who wish to be critical, it is like what Christ said about the children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying, “We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not weep.” (Luke 7:32) No matter what the Bible does, some are sure to criticize it. Therefore, it is best to just repeat what it says, and let the carping critics do their worst.