In November 1985, Weekly World News reported that there was a very wealthy married couple in Switzerland who got into an argument. It started when the husband cancelled a vacation. His wife expressed her “disappointment” by pouring baking soda into her husband’s fish tank, killing his entire collection of rare tropical fish.
The husband responded by grabbing some of his wife’s diamond jewelry and throwing it into the garbage disposal. She proceeded to lug his stereo equipment to their pool and throw it in. He threw bleach into her closet and ruined all her clothes. She threw yellow paint on his blue Ferrari. He kicked a hole in her Picasso painting. She sank his sailboat. At that point, their daughter arrived and called the police.
But, when the police arrived, they said they couldn’t do anything because it isn’t illegal to destroy your own property. Eventually, the family lawyer was able to establish a truce between those two fools — a husband and wife who were in a downward spiral of pride, revenge, and destruction.
Now, I share that story with you to prepare you for another story about two other fools who were in a similar downward spiral. The two men in this biblical account were David and Nabal. But in this story, it wasn’t a daughter who intervened—it was Nabal’s wife, a godly woman named Abigail. Her intervention saved her husband’s life and David’s reputation.
Before we get to that story, though, I want to talk with you a bit about the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And we all know the Golden Rule because we all grew up with it. Even if you didn’t go to church, you probably had parents who taught you to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And the Golden Rule is a wonderful rule…. until you are mistreated by others.
Because as soon as we are mistreated, we want to change the Golden Rule so that it reads — Do unto others as others have done unto you. Whenever people mistreat you or they mistreat someone you love, the natural response is to want to treat them the same way, isn’t it? It just feels like it’s the right thing to do – to treat other people the way they have mistreated you.
Andy Stanley has pointed out, though, that the problem with getting even with people is this — getting even makes you even with someone you don’t even like. And why would you want to be even with someone that you don’t hold in high regard? Why would you want to be like that person that you don’t like? Because when you get even, you’re acting just like that person you don’t like.
So, let’s turn now to the story of David. You recall that, as a young man, David killed Goliath. He was anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. But the current king, King Saul, was very jealous of David and saw him as a competitor, a threat to his throne. And so, he chased David with his armies and tried to kill him.
We pick up in I Samuel 25:1, “Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran.” To get away from King Saul, David moved to Paran, an area far, far to the south. We would call it “no man’s land” because it was too far away for the government to have any authority. Anyone living there had to fend for themselves. It was like the “wild west” of ancient Israel.
By this time, David had attracted about 600 men, most of whom, for one reason or another, didn’t like King Saul. And under David’s leadership, this band of rogues had become a disciplined fighting force. In fact, out in the wilderness, they became the self-appointed peacekeepers and lawmen of the region. They were like John Wayne and his gang of good guys — protecting all the people from robbers and thieves.
And every rancher in the region was thankful for their presence. They knew that without David and his men out there patrolling, they would be out of business. In fact, there was an unspoken agreement that while these peacekeepers would not demand payment for their services, the owners of these flocks and herds would voluntarily offer compensation out of gratitude. It was kinda like tipping a waitress who has done a good job serving your meal.
David and his men provided excellent protection. None of the flocks or herds in the area were harmed. Not a single sheep or cow was stolen. So, David and his men expected to be “tipped” for their service. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Verse 2, “And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats.” (I Samuel 25:2)
This was a huge flock. This guy was really wealthy. He owned more livestock than the Cartwrights. His ranch was bigger than the Ponderosa. And if you don’t recognize these references, talk to an old person after church.
“Now the name of the man was Nabal…” and the end of verse 3 tells us that Nabal “was harsh and badly behaved.” (I Samuel 25:3). The New Living Translation says he was “crude and mean.”
The Hebrew word “Nabal” actually means “fool.” I doubt if that was Nabal’s given name. Surely, no mother would name their baby “Fool.” It was more likely a nickname that had been given to him — a name people used behind his back, because of the foolish things he constantly did. And, as we’re going to see, Nabal deserved this nickname.
But he was very fortunate to have been married to a beautiful woman. “The name of his wife [was] Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful.” (I Samuel 25:3). That word “beautiful” may be an understatement. Abigail was stunning. In fact, according to Jewish tradition, Abigail is regarded as one of the four most beautiful women who have ever lived or ever will live.
And it’s obvious that Abigail’s beauty was more than just skin deep. She had a beautiful spirit. She was smart, charming, gracious, kind, and courageous. Nabal definitely married “up.” He landed a wife who was way out of his league. I mean, Abigail was everything Nabal was not.
You may be wondering, “Why would a woman like that take a fool to be her husband?” But, keep in mind that, in those days, marriage was often a business arrangement between fathers. Most likely, Abigail was a good catch because she was so beautiful, and Nabal was seen to be a good catch because he was a wealthy man, and the two were brought together. But it had a be a very miserable life for Abigail.
We continue in verse 4, “David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep.” (I Samuel 25:4)
Sheep shearing was basically the shepherd’s equivalent of harvest time for farmers. This was a very festive time, a lot of parting, a lot of drinking. It was a time when sheep herders gathered up all their wool and they saw just how wealthy they were. It was a time to pay everyone their wages. And it was an appropriate time for David to ask for some payment for his men.
“So David sent ten young men. And David said to the young men, ‘Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name.
“‘And thus you shall greet him: “Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.
“‘I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel.
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 you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.”’” (I Samuel 25:5-8)
Basically, David was saying, “Nabal, if you have a profit, part of the reason that you have a profit is due to the protection of our men throughout the year because we out there in the wilderness keeping the wild animals and the robbers away. Ask your servants, they’ll tell you. So, is there anything you can share with us? Since we were good to you, would you be good to us? Since we were kind to you, would you be kind to us?”
“When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited.
And Nabal answered David’s servants, ‘Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters.
Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” (I Samuel 25:9-11)
Nabal’s response demonstrates his true nature. His question “Who is this David?” provides an immediate insult. Who wouldn’t know about the hero who just a few years before had brought victory to Israel by defeating Goliath? How could Nabal even pretend not to know about this great warrior when thousands of women were singing his praises?
He even suggests that David was a traitor to the king, a rebel. Who is this David guy? He’s just a rogue. He’s an outlaw. He’s a fugitive. And besides that, I didn’t ask for his help. Why would I give anything to him? I didn’t ask for his protection and I don’t owe him anything. Nabal was an absolute fool.
Verse 12: “So David’s young men turned away and came back and told him all this.
And David said to his men, ‘Every man strap on his sword!’ And every man of them strapped on his sword. David also strapped on his sword.” (I Samuel 25:12-13)
This is not David’s best moment. We need to keep in mind that David has not yet matured into the man of God that we later know him to be. David is still growing, still forming. He’s got a bad temper, and Nabal’s response gets him all riled up.
Or maybe it’s just that he has reached his breaking point. He has been insulted time and again by King Saul, and he can’t do anything about that because Saul is the king. But he doesn’t have to put up with more trash talk from this fool. So, David straps on his sword and he begins his journey to find Nabal and get even.
And I’m sure that as David thought about what Nabal had said, he began to do what we all tend to do. He began to justify in his mind what he’s about to do. “This guy deserves what’s coming to him. How dare he talk to my men that way. After all I’ve done for him.” And the longer David turns this over in his mind, the angrier he gets.
Fortunately, there are some other people in this story.
Verse 14, “But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, ‘Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them.’” (I Samuel 25:14). The New Living Translation says, “he screamed insults at them.”
This servant saw what happened. And he knew that Nabal was being unfair because he said to Abigail, “Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them.
They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.” (I Samuel 25:15-16)
He said David and his men protected us, they took care of us and our flocks. And then the servant says to Abigail, “See what you can do about this.”
“Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.” (I Samuel 25:17)
The way this servant talked about Nabal to his wife shows us just how foolish this guy was, and how well-known he was for his stupidity and pride. He said, “I can’t talk with him, because there’s no reasoning with him.” Perhaps you’ve had to deal with somebody like that in your life.
Now, think of how Abigail could have responded to this. She could have thought to herself, “David is on his way to kill my fool of a husband. Y ay! The source of my constant misery will soon be gone. I will finally be free of this evil man!”
But instead of letting things proceed, Abigail showed her integrity. She chose to protect her husband, not because he deserved it — not because he was good, but because she was good. And she was acting just like God did — who loved us and sent his Son to die in our place — not because we are good—but because he is good.
In spite of how bad a husband Nabal was, Abigail chose to do the right thing. In verse 18, Abigail gathered up a large amount of food, put it on donkeys and sent it to David and his men.
Verse 19 says, “But she did not tell her husband Nabal.” Smart woman.
“And as she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, behold, David and his men came down toward her, and she met them.” (I Samuel 25:20)
David and his men were winding their way down the mountain, coming into the valley where Nabal’s ranch was. David was probably getting angrier and angrier as he thought about what Nabal had said. And we get to listen in on part of the conversation that David had with his men.
“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.” (I Samuel 25:21-22)
“We took care of this guy for months and months, and how does he repay me? He paid me back evil for good. So, he’s going to get what he deserves.”
But Abigail arrives and notice what she does. “When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground.” (I Samuel 25:23)
Abigail is the wife of a wealthy man. David is a fugitive. It may be just a matter of time before the king’s men catch up with David, and execute him. And here is this very wealthy woman married to this very influential person, but she shows humility and bows down before David.
“She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt.” Even though Abigail had nothing to do with what took place, she willingly offered herself as the culprit. She said, “It’s my fault. I’m the one who’s to blame.” Which, incidentally is the exact same thing that Jesus said for us – “I’ll take the blame.”
She goes on, “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.” (I Samuel 25:24-25)
Abigail says, “Please don’t pay attention to my husband. He is exactly what his name means, he’s a fool.” And then, Abigail begins to treat David as if he is already the man that she hopes he will be. This is not manipulation. But Abigail begins to speak to David’s potential. She begins to look past what he’s about to do and speak to his future, and this is so powerful.
“Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand…” (I Samuel 25:26)
Notice what Abigail is doing here. She says, “Since the Lord has kept you from avenging yourselves. David, you’re not going to do what you’re planning to do, because the Lord has kept you from doing this horrible thing.” She is giving David credit for being a better man than he actually is.
“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.” (I Samuel 25:28)
Abigail speaks to David’s future. She says, “God is up to something great in you. God has a plan for your life. And in his plan, you don’t fight your battles, you fight God’s battles. David, you’re not a wrongdoer. You’re a good man.”
Then she says, “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.” (I Samuel 25:29)
Let me explain that imagery. This Hebrew word for “bundle” is the word that’s used for a wallet or a purse. In those days, you would take something valuable, generally money, and you would put it in your wallet or purse, and you would wrap cords around it to make sure it’s secure and then you would tuck it away in your belt.
So, basically, Abigail is saying that even though someone is trying to steal your life, like a thief would steal a coin, even though someone is trying to steal your life, your life is tucked away safely in God’s wallet. Your life is buried in the bottom of a woman’s purse.
I can relate to that imagery. Because anytime Sueanne says to me, “Oh, it’s in my purse”, I know that I’m going to be digging for a long, long time. Whatever is in there is buried and hidden. So, Abigail uses this incredible imagery. David, your life is secure because of God. Your life is bound up and hidden in God’s wallet, and he’s got you tucked away safely.
“And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.”
Abigail takes David back to that moment when he was a teenager, facing Goliath. God will hurl your enemies away from you just like you hurled those stones from your sling. And all of a sudden, David is back in that moment when he was completely dependent upon God. Abigail is reminding David to do what he did when he faced Goliath — to let God fight his battles.
And then Abigail speaks to David’s future. “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.” (I Samuel 25:30-31)
Abigail asks David the question that we all need to ask ourselves – David, what’s the story that you want to tell down the road? Later on in life, when you’re looking back at this incident, what story do you want to tell? Because here’s what’s going to happen – God is going to keep all of his promises to you, and he will make you king of Israel. When you’re king, do you really want to have on your conscience any needless bloodshed or the knowledge that you avenged yourself? Because I don’t think you want that as your story. Do you?
Abigail is so wise in what she says. Basically, she says, “Look David, there’s one fool in this story—my husband. Isn’t one fool enough? I think God expects more from you, David.” She is absolutely brilliant in what she says.
And here’s David’s response:
And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!…Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.” (I Samuel 25:32-33,35)
David says, “You’re right. There won’t be any bloodshed today. I’m not going to kill your husband or anyone else.”
So, Abigail goes home. When she arrives, her husband is still enjoying his “harvest party”, oblivious to anything that’s gone on. In fact, he’s enjoying it a bit too much. He’s very drunk, and so she waits until the next morning when he’s sobered up to tell him about what happened and how close he came to dying.
“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.” (I Samuel 25:37)
We would say today he had a heart attack or a stroke.
“And about ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.” (I Samuel 25:38)
What Nabal did when he insulted David was wrong, but David didn’t need to get revenge. God was completely capable of making sure that Nabal got what he deserved.
And then at the end of verse 39, we read, “Then David sent and spoke to Abigail, to take her as his wife.” (I Samuel 25:39). David knew a good woman when he saw one.
“And Abigail hurried and rose and mounted a donkey…She followed the messengers of David and became his wife.” (I Samuel 25:42)
I suppose you could say that they lived “happily ever after”, but Abigail became one of David’s many wives. And nobody lives happily ever after when you become one of somebody’s wives, but that’s another story for another time.
So, in summary, here’s what we have. We have three characters. And we have three very different attitudes. First of all, we have Nabal who returns evil for good. Because David took care of his stuff and he said, hey, I’m not going to share with you.
And then we have David who wants to return evil for evil, which makes sense, especially in this day and age in which they live.
But Abigail sees things in a completely different way and essentially, she returns good for evil.
Nabal is wicked and nobody wants to be like him.
David is predictable. I mean, that’s just what most people do.
But when you read this story, you can’t miss the fact that Abigail is remarkable in her response. Her response is remarkable, her judgment is remarkable, her approach is remarkable. She’s just remarkable and there’s a sense in which she is way, way ahead of her time.
Because, in the Old Testament, everyone lived by the motto, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” And so, I don’t think David’s men thought he was over-reacting at all. “Let’s get our swords strapped on and deal with this fool.”
But Abigail is so ahead of her time because when Jesus showed up, he turned all of that upside down. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “You’ve heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” That was the world David lived in. But Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44)
And then, listen to what Peter said. The Apostle Peter, who saw Jesus unjustly arrested, unjustly crucified. He saw Jesus, who was innocent and sinless, treated horribly and he saw Jesus’ response. He saw how Jesus returned good for evil. And Peter, who saw all of that, wrote these words to the Christians in the first century who were being unjustly treated.
He said, “Do not repay evil with evil.” (I Peter 3:9). But, Peter, look at what they did to me! I know, but don’t repay evil with evil. “But they deserve it!” Don’t repay evil with evil or insult with insult. What about on social media? What if someone insults me on Facebook? Especially on Facebook! Don’t repay evil with evil or insult with insult.
But “on the contrary, bless.” In other words, whenever you are mistreated, you don’t just ignore it and do nothing. You react in a positive way and you bless them. That’s what Peter taught. And that’s what Abigail did.
Peter sais to repay evil with blessing “because to this you were called.” In other words, if you’re a Christian, Peter says, this is what we’re called to. We know we’re going to be mistreated from time to time. After all, they crucified our leader. What do you expect? How did you expect to be treated?
But Peter got this crazy idea of returning good for evil from Jesus. He got it from listening to Jesus teach. He got it from watching Jesus practice it.
This is so powerful. If you’re a Christian, refusing to repay evil with evil may be one of the most Christ-like things that you ever do.
So, let me close with three questions.
The first question is this — Do you really want to be even with someone that you don’t even like? Do you really want to be like someone you don’t like? Then, why would you do what they do? Why would you act like a person you don’t like?
Second question — What is the story that you want to tell down the road? David is maybe just a few hundred yards away from a different kind of story and Abigail stops him and she speaks to his future and she says, “Do you really want this on your conscience? Is this really the story you want to tell? David, how did you become king? Well, I went around slaughtering innocent people until finally everybody was so scared of me, they made me king. Is that really the story you want to tell?”
And that’s a question that we all need to ask. We need to ask this question every time we face a decision because every event in your life becomes a part of your story. Do you really want your story to be, “I got even. I became just like the people I didn’t even like.” It’s predictable, but it’s not remarkable.
And then here’s the third question. What would it look like for you to return good for evil? When you think about how you’ve been mistreated. When the think about what your neighbors have done, your co-workers, your family members. When you think about how they have done you wrong, what would it look like in that specific situation to return good for evil. Or to use Peter’s words, what would it look like for you to be a blessing to someone who’s hurt you or offended you?
Not just do nothing. To do nothing is mercy. Here’s what you deserve, but I’m not going to give you what you deserve. That’s mercy. But to actually do something good in return that they don’t deserve. That’s grace.
And if you’re a Christian, this is how our story intersects with the story of salvation. This is our best opportunity to be like our Father in heaven. It’s how our story intersects with the greatest story ever told because the greatest story ever told is God returning good for evil, God giving his son for our sin. That’s the gospel, and if you’re a Christian, that’s your story.
You see, generosity and compassion is fairly common in America. Most everybody’s generous. Everybody knows you need to be compassionate, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m all for generosity and compassion, but in some ways, that’s expected,
But returning good for evil, that’s not expected. It takes you from predictable to remarkable. It sets you apart and for some of you, it will the thing that will set you free. Because until you return good for evil, that person that has mistreated you, controls you. And here’s how you know.
You’re like David on his donkey, headed down that ravine. Going over in your head all the ways you’ve been mistreated, all the ways that you’d like to get them back, all the things you’d like to do to give them what they deserve. And if you can find somebody who will listen to your sad story, you can someone who will say, “That’s what you ought to do.” And those thoughts will hold your mind captive.
And the only way to get free is to do for someone exactly what they do not deserve, because when that happens, you will be like your Father in heaven. So, here’s what Abigail would tell us. Don’t settle for getting even. Even just makes the like that other person. And don’t settle for predictable. As you write this next chapter in your story, make it remarkable. May your story be a story about how that you did something for others that they didn’t deserve. Because, when you do that, you will be just like your Father in heaven.
Now I realize that it’s so easy for me to stand up here and say that. Because you’re thinking, “Alan, you don’t know my situation.” And I don’t. And I have no right to tell you have you ought to react. But Jesus does. It’s what he taught, it’s what he practiced, and it’s what Peter said we’re called to do.