Returning Good for Evil

Weekly World News is a tabloid newspaper, not exactly known for telling the truth.  But, in November 1985, they reported that there was a wealthy couple in Switzerland who got into an argument 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 then threw his stereo equipment into the pool.  He threw bleach into her closet and ruined all her clothes.  She threw yellow paint all over 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 showed up, 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.  And whether that story is true or not, it’s not too far from the reality of what happens far too often.

            And it’s not just in our day and time.  The Bible tells a story about two other fools who were in a similar downward spiral.  The two men in this story were David and Nabal.  But this time, it wasn’t a daughter who intervened — it was Nabal’s wife, a godly woman by the name of 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 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 mistreat 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 respect?  Why would you want to be like a person that you don’t like?  Because when you get even, you’re acting just like that person.

            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 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 control.  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 David’s men did not demand payment for their services, the owners of the flocks and herds would offer compensation out of gratitude.  It was like tipping a waitress who’s 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 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.

            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 married a woman 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 usually arranged. Abigail was a good catch because she was so beautiful, and Nabal was viewed as a good catch because he was a wealthy man, and the two were brought together.  But it had a be a miserable life for Abigail.

            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 festive time, a lot of partying, a lot of drinking.  It was a time when sheep herders gathered up all their wool to see just how wealthy they were.  It was a time to pay all the workers.  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’ve made a profit, part of the reason is because of the protection of our men throughout the year because we’ve been out there in the wilderness keeping the wild animals and the robbers away.  Ask your servants, they’ll tell you that’s what happened.  So, is there anything you can share with us?  Since we’ve been so good to you, would you be kind to us?”

            Verse 9, “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 question “Who is this David?” was an 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?

            “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 should I give him anything?  I didn’t ask for his protection and I don’t owe him anything.”  Nabal was a 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) 

            Let me make this clear — this was not David’s finest moment.  David has not yet matured into the man of God that we later know him to be.  He has 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 said, he did 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 stewed over it, the angrier he got.

            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 said 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 shows us just how foolish this guy was, and how well-known he was for his stupidity and pride.  The servant said, “I can’t talk with him, because there’s no reasoning with him.” 

            Now, think about 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, and that’s not such a bad thing.  The source of my constant misery will soon be gone.   I will finally be free of this evil man!”

            But no, 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 — 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, she gathered up a large amount of food, put it on donkeys and sent it to David and his men who were winding their way down the mountain, coming into the valley where Nabal’s ranch was.    

            As they got closer and closer, we get to listen in on part of the conversation that David had with his men.

            He 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.” (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 then Abigail meets up with him 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.  But here is this wealthy, influential  woman showing humility and bowing down before David. 

            Verse 24, “She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord.” (I Samuel 24:24, NLT).  Even though Abigail had nothing to do with what happened, she willingly offered to take the guilt.  She said, “It’s my fault.  I’m the one who’s to blame.  Punish me.”  Which, incidentally is the same thing that Jesus said for us – “I’ll take the blame.  Punish me.”

            She goes on to say, “I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests.”  (I Samuel 25:25, NLT)

            And then, Abigail begins to talk to David about the man that she hopes he will become.  She looks past what David is about to do and speaks to his future, and this is so powerful.

            “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, since the Lord has kept you from murdering and taking vengeance into your own hands…” (I Samuel 25:26, NLT)

            Abigail says, “You haven’t done anything wrong yet.  God is giving you a chance to do what is right before you make a huge mistake.”

            Verse 28, “Please forgive me if I have offended you in any way. The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles.”  (I Samuel 25:28, NLT)

            Abigail says, “God is doing something great with you. God has a plan for your life.  And so, don’t fight your battles, you need to fight God’s battles.”

            Then she says, “Even when you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch!” (I Samuel 25:29, NLT)

            Let me explain that imagery.  This Hebrew word for “pouch” or “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 a pouch, and you would wrap cords around it to make sure it’s secure and then you would tuck it away in your belt.  

            So, Abigail tells David that his life is wrapped up in God’s pouch.  God will take care of him.  David doesn’t need to lash out at everyone who does him wrong.  God will protect him.  She encourages David to do what he did when he faced Goliath — to let God fight his battles.

            And then Abigail speaks to David’s future.  “When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel, don’t let this be a blemish on your record. Then your conscience won’t have to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance.” (I Samuel 25:30-31, NLT)

            Abigail asks David the question that we all need to ask ourselves – 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.  I think one fool is enough.  I think God expects more from you.” 

            And here’s David’s response:

            Verse 32, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today!  Thank God for your good sense!  Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands…Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.” (I Samuel 25:32-33,35, NLT)

            So, Abigail goes home.  When she gets there, 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 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 Nabal was sober, his wife told him what had happened. As a result he had a stroke, and he lay paralyzed on his bed like a stone.  About ten days later, the Lord struck him, and he died.” (I Samuel 25:37-38, NLT)

            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, “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)

            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 many 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 returned evil for good.  David protected his animals and he said, “Tough, 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 the day and age in which they were living.

            But Abigail saw things in a completely different way and she encouraged David to return good for evil.

            Nabal was wicked and nobody wants to be like him. 

            David was normal. I mean, that’s just what most people do. 

            But Abigail is amazing in her response.  Her response is amazing, her judgment is amazing.  She’s just an amazing woman.

            Which made her stand out.  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 grab our swords and deal with this fool.”

            But Abigail was so ahead of her time because when Jesus showed up, he turned everything 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)

            Peter said the same thing in I Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil with evil.”  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’re 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 said to repay evil with blessing “because to this you were called.”  In other words, if you’re a Christian, Peter says, this is what Jesus has called us to do.  We know we’re going to be mistreated from time to time.  After all, they crucified Jesus.  What did you expect?  How did you expect to be treated?

            But Peter got this crazy idea of responding to evil with good, from Jesus. He got it from listening to what Jesus taught.  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 will 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 was just a few minutes from a different kind of story and Abigail stopped him and looked to his future and she said, “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 acted just like those people I didn’t even like.”  It’s may be normal, but it’s not Christ-like.

            And then here’s the third question.  What would it look like for you to return good for evil?  Think about how you’ve been mistreated.  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 situation to return good for evil?  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 for Christians, this is how our story intersects with the story of salvation.  This is our best opportunity to be like our Father in heaven.  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.

            Getting even may be what everybody expects you to do, but returning good for evil will take you from predictable to remarkable.  It will set you apart.  Maybe 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 story, you can always someone who will say, “That’s what you ought to do.” 

            But, here’s what Abigail would tell us.  Don’t settle for getting even.  Getting even just makes you like that other person.  And don’t settle for being like everyone else.  As you write the 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’ll 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 all called to do.


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