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David & Nabal

For the last couple of months as we’ve been going through the book of 1 Samuel, our Sunday morning messages have revolved primarily around the conflict between King Saul and his son-in-law David. This conflict started off as merely a little bit of jealousy, but it grew to become fear and paranoia, as Saul become convinced that David was conspiring against him to take his throne and to overthrow his kingdom. Eventually, David had to flee from Saul, running for his life as Saul relentlessly tried to capture and kill him. Now of course, David had no desire to undermine or overthrow Saul – even though God had promised David that he would one day be king. In fact, in just the last chapter, we saw that David had the perfect opportunity to kill Saul if he had wanted to, but he refused to do it.

1 Samuel chapter 24 tells us that as Saul was hunting for David, he went into a certain cave for a bathroom break, and would’t you know it – David and his men were hiding in the back of that very cave! Now if David truly were trying to kill Saul, he could very easily have done so in that moment – but he refused to harm Saul – and instead, he merely crept up and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Well, when Saul left the cave, David hollered after him from a safe distance and showed him the the fabric that he had cut off – proving to Saul that David could have killed him, but didn’t. This deeply convicted Saul who finally admitted that David was a better man than he and that David would indeed be a great king over Israel.

Now at that point, Saul humbly returned home, but David remained out in the wilderness with his men – which leads us to today’s story. It seems that Saul isn’t the only source of trouble for David. Even with Saul temporarily out of the picture, we’re going to see today, that David still has to deal with difficult people. And for anyone who’s had to deal with difficult people, (which I’m pretty sure is all of us) I think there might just be some valuable lessons for us all in today’s story.

Our study of 1 Samuel now brings us to chapter 25 and it begins like this:

Now Samuel died, and all Israel gathered for his funeral. They buried him at his house in Ramah. Then David moved down to the wilderness of Maon. 2 There was a wealthy man from Maon who owned property near the town of Carmel. He had 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats, and it was sheep-shearing time. 3 This man’s name was Nabal, and his wife, Abigail, was a sensible and beautiful woman. But Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, was crude and mean in all his dealings.

1 Samuel 25:1b-3

The chapter begins with a brief mention of Samuel’s death and burial. We haven’t heard much about the prophet Samuel recently, but it was Samuel who had anointed both Saul and then later David as kings of Israel. We also know that Samuel had been a key supporter of David… In fact, according to chapter 19, David even went to live with Samuel for a while when he first fled from Saul. So no doubt, Samuel’s death would have a been a difficult loss for David. And while the Bible doesn’t specifically say so, this sense of loss and grief could end up being a factor in some of David’s decisions later on in the story. So maybe just log that bit of information away in your mind for the time being and we’ll touch on that again in a little while.

But after Samuel’s death, David and his men returned to the wilderness of Maon – they had been there previously – back when Saul almost caught David at the place now called the Rock of escape (you’ll remember we talked about that a few weeks ago.)

But now in Maon, we are introduced to two other characters in this story. We have Nabal – who was a wealthy sheep farmer and was known for being crude and mean in all his dealings. And then we have his wife, Abigail, who was known for being sensible and beautiful! 

These two characters seem to be quite a contrast to each other. I guess it’s true that opposites attract – although I suppose that this was likely an arranged marriage so that probably wasn’t a factor in how they got together.  Of course, we’re not given that information, but either way, what’s important to our story is that Nabal had a reputation for being crude and mean in all his dealings while his wife, Abigail, had a reputation for being beautiful and sensible.

And just as a side note – have you ever considered what characteristics you’re known for? If you were one of the characters in these Biblical stories, how would the writers describe you? What two words would they use to convey your character? Would they describe you as sensible and beautiful? Or crude and mean in all your dealings? Would they say you’re generous and kind? Loud and obnoxious? Patient and gentle?

Proverbs 22:1 tells us:

A good name is more desirable than great riches;

    to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Proverbs 22:1 NIV

Likewise, Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 7:1 that:

“A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume.”

Ecclesiastes 7:1a

Of course, this is true even from a worldly perspective. It’s much better to be esteemed and respected than it is to be thought of as a jerk. That’s just a basic principle of life.

But a good reputation is especially important for us as Christians. In the New Testament – Paul gives us a similar exhortation. He writes:

“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” Philippians 1:27a

You see, we need to remember that we are ambassadors of Christ – we are citizens of heaven living as His representatives here on earth. And as such, we need to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of his Name and worthy of the Gospel that we are trying to share with the world around us. The things we do, the words we say, the character traits we display as we interact with our kids, with our neighbors, with our coworkers – they all reflect on our Lord and on our message of the Gospel.

We need to be careful to live in a manner worthy of the name of Jesus. As Christians, we want to be an accurate representation of our Lord and of the kingdom of Heaven. We want to be a living representation of the Gospel.

So what kind of reputation do you have? How well do you reflect the character of Jesus? How well do you represent Gospel to your friends and to your neighbours and to your co-workers? This is one of our primary responsibilities as Christians, and so it’s important that we do it well! As Paul says… “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.”

I’d encourage you to reflect on that verse this week – are you living as a citizen of heaven? Do you conduct yourself in a manner worth of the Gospel?

I’ll let you ponder that for a while as we get back to our story. But now that we’ve met these new characters and we know their reputations, (we know how they conduct themselves) let’s keep reading and see how this story plays out. Verse four continues:

4 When David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep, 5 he sent ten of his young men to Carmel with this message for Nabal: 6 “Peace and prosperity to you, your family, and everything you own! 7 I am told that it is sheep-shearing time. While your shepherds stayed among us near Carmel, we never harmed them, and nothing was ever stolen from them. 8 Ask your own men, and they will tell you this is true. So would you be kind to us, since we have come at a time of celebration? Please share any provisions you might have on hand with us and with your friend David.” 9 David’s young men gave this message to Nabal in David’s name, and they waited for a reply. 1 Samuel 25:4-9

So as we just read, it’s sheep-shearing time! This would have a been a time of great feasting and celebration! We might liken this to our thanksgiving! It’s a time when the harvest is in and God’s abundant provision is celebrated!

And so in this passage, basically, David is requesting, that as Nabal feasts and celebrates how wonderfully God has blessed Him, that he share some of his abundance with David and his men. After all, David had been very kind to Nabal in providing protection for Nabal’s shepherds and his sheep while they were among them near Carmel. 

Remember, at this time in Israel’s history, the Philistines often sent raiding parties into Israelite territory to steal crops and livestock! That’s actually what saved David back at the Rock of Escape – the Philistines had raided Israel and Saul had to go fight them off. So David points out to Nabal that while his shepherd were among David’s men – nothing was stolen and no harm came to them. They had provided a valuable service for Nabal – and had potentially saved him from a great loss!

And of course, David is not demanding payment for this. This isn’t extortion or some kind of protection racket… David’s request comes across as a very humble request – he even refers to himself as “your friend David” in verse 8. Other translations put that as “your son David” – implying that David is giving Nabal the kind of honour and respect that you’d give to a father-figure. 

And so David’s request for provisions here does not come across as a demand from the future king, but it’s presented much more as a humble and friendly request from a neighbor. David is just looking for a little bit of hospitality.

And of course, in that culture, hospitality was incredibly important, so I’m sure David was fully expecting Nabal to express his thanks for all David had done and that Nabal would send those ten young men back to David with a generous portion of Nabal’s feast!

However, you’ll recall that Nabal was known for being crude and mean in all his dealings – and that’s exactly what we see in his response to David’s request. It says in verse 10.

10 “Who is this fellow David?” Nabal sneered to the young men. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. 11 Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?”

1 Samuel 25:10-11

Clearly this was not the kind of response that David was expecting! It seems that Nabal is living up to his reputation of being crude and mean in all his dealings!

Now at first glance, it almost comes across as if Nabal didn’t even seem to know who David was because he says “Who is this fellow David?… “ and later, “Why should I give my food to outlaws who come from who knows where?”

But I don’t think it’s a matter of Nabal not knowing who David was. After David’s victory over Goliath and his continual success against the Philistines, David had become very well-known throughout the entire land of Israel. 1 Samuel chapter 18 tells us….

 But all Israel and Judah loved David because he was so successful at leading his troops into battle…. Every time the commanders of the Philistines attacked, David was more successful against them than all the rest of Saul’s officers. So David’s name became very famous.

1 Samuel 18:16, 30

David was pretty much legendary – so I find it pretty hard to imagine that Nabal wouldn’t know who David was. And actually, from Nabal’s response, we see that clearly, he DID KNOW exactly who David was.

For example, somehow he knows that David is the son of Jesse (even though we don’t see that information anywhere in David’s message.) But yet Nabal said “Who does this son of Jesse think he is?” Obviously Nabal knows at least little bit about David and his family.

And just as an interesting little rabbit trail, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but it seems that whenever someone has a negative view of David, they call him “the son of Jesse” – like it’s a derogative term. We see Saul frequently use that line when he’s mad at David. For example: 

    • When Saul talks to Jonathan he says, “As long as that son of Jesse is alive, you’ll never be king.” ~ Saul to Jonathan
    • Or when Saul talks to his officers he says, “Has that son of Jesse promised every one of you fields and vineyards?” ~ Saul to his officers
    • Later, when Saul accuses Ahimelech the priest of conspiracy, he says… “Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me?” ~ Saul to Ahimelech

Every time Saul is upset about David, he calls him the ‘son of Jesse’. And Saul’s henchman, Doeg, picks up on Saul’s language and he also calls David the “son of Jesse” when he reports that he saw David with Ahimelech. 

“When I was at Nob, I saw the son of Jesse talking to the priest…” ~ Doeg to Saul

And now, as we get this negative response from Nabal…

“Who is this fellow David? Who does this son of Jesse think he is?” ~ Nabal

So I wonder, is this just some kind of linguistic coincidence? Maybe, but I kinda doubt it. I suspect that Nabal both knew who David was and for whatever reason, already had a negative view of him.

What’s more, Nabal also says in verse 10 how “Many servants these days are running away from their masters”, referring to how David was fleeing from Saul. 

So clearly Nabal knew exactly who David was, and he knew David’s situation, but he had no desire to help him. Either he didn’t support David as the up and coming king, or more likely, he was just plain selfish. In verse 11 he says….

Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?” 1 Samuel 25:11

Notice his language…. My bread. My water. My meat. I think he’s just so wrapped up in himself (like king Saul) that he’s got no thought for anyone else. This is all his stuff and he doesn’t want to share with anyone! He’s just greedy and selfish – plain and simple.

You know, when we first read about Nabal being described as crude and mean – we talked briefly about the importance of having a good name and a good reputation. No one wants the reputation of being greedy and selfish.

If you know anyone like that – you know how off-putting greed and selfishness is. That’s not attractive to anyone.

And that’s why, as ambassadors of Christ, we should be just the opposite! Christians should be known for their generosity. After all, isn’t our God generous? Of course, He is! Our God has blessed us with so much – both in spiritual blessings and in physical blessings! I think we have the responsibility to mimic Him and generously use whatever blessings we have to bless others! Christians should be the best tippers, we should pay the most generous wages, we should make the greatest contributions to charities – and all that stuff!

In fact, Paul instructs Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17….

17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others! We need to use all that He has given us (physical blessings and spiritual blessings) to do good to others.

Jim Eliot – the famous missionary pilot who was martyred in Ecuador in the 1950s famously said…

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

 ~ Jim Eliot

Let me say that again, “A person is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose!”

We take nothing with us when we die – so why not use all that we have to impact others for eternity?! Whether that be our money, our homes, our time, our very lives! We are no fools to generously give it all for Christ! Don’t be like Nabal – selfish and greedy – Instead, be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. Don’t store up your treasure in your bank accounts or in your homes or where-ever else you might put it, but store up your treasure in heaven as a good foundation for the future!

But of course, that was certainly not Nabal’s perspective. He was not about to share anything with David or his men and he sent David’s young men away empty-handed. The story continues in verse 12.

12 So David’s young men returned and told him what Nabal had said. 13 “Get your swords!” was David’s reply as he strapped on his own. Then 400 men started off with David, and 200 remained behind to guard their equipment.

1 Samuel 25:12-13

Now, I have to admit, I’m a little surprised by this. To me this seems like a bit of an over-reaction! Certainly Nabal was ungrateful, rude and selfish – but did that really warrant killing the guy? That seems a little extreme. But yet, that’s exactly what David is about to do. He grabs his sword and instructs his men to do likewise! It seems that David is about to murder a man simply because he was rude and selfish! This extreme response really seems out of character for David.

Remember, this is the David who just spared Saul’s life in the previous chapter after Saul had been relentlessly trying to kill him. So if David was willing to over-look Saul’s many repeated attempts to take his life then, why couldn’t David overlook this one insult from Nabal now?

And this is where I wondered if maybe Samuel’s death was somehow a factor in David’s over-reaction. Certainly it wasn’t the only factor, but I wonder, was David just so emotionally worn down and vulnerable at this point in his life, that this one little incident was enough to push him over the edge? Was this the final straw that caused him to snap and make this rash and foolish choice?

Of course, we don’t see that direct connection in these verses, but it’s certainly possible. David had been on quite the roller coaster ride recently. He had just had that mountaintop experience as he spared Saul’s life back at that cave – I’m sure that was a spiritual and emotional high for David! But then that was followed by this great low in David life, as he grieved the loss of Samuel – this great man of God who had been like a spiritual father to him. I’m sure that put David in a low and vulnerable spot.

And of course, Satan always attacks us when we are at our weakest. It says in 1 Peter 5:8….

8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

Lions don’t attack the strongest ones in the herd, do they? No, they attack the weakest ones. The ones that are alone and vulnerable. The ones that are maybe sick or wounded. 

And Satan does the same thing. He times his attacks for when we are weak, when we are alone, when we are vulnerable, and when we are wounded.

That was even his strategy for Jesus. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil, it was when he was alone in the wilderness, physically weak and hungry after fasting for 40 days. That was the prime time for Satan to make his attack.

And so I think it’s probably safe to assume that Satan took advantage of David’s vulnerability at this point in his life and used it as an opportunity to tempt David to do wrong.

And as we can see, it seems that David took the bait. Apparently David missed Peter’s memo about staying alert and watching out for our great enemy, the devil. In his moment of weakness, David foolishly chose to completely over-react and do something that he would likely regret later.

And what strikes me in all of this is that, if David – the man after God’s own heart – could so quickly fall prey to the devil’s schemes, how much more vigilant do you and I need to be?

How many times do I over-react when someone offends me? How many times does a simple comment fill me with anger or bitterness or hurt? How many times do I then hold a grudge against that person or harbour some kind of resentment towards them? For me, the answer is too often!

Like David, it’s so easy to over-react when someone says or does something to offend us. And we see that happening like crazy in the world around us – everyone is offended by everything it seems! It’s gotten to the point of being ridiculous!

But it’s so easy to do when the only person you’re thinking about is yourself! When all you think about is me me me, you’re going to be constantly offended! 

In that respect, David is really being no different than Nabal or even Saul right now. He’s only thinking about himself. He’s thinking about how his feelings are hurt, how he deserves better treatment, how unjust and unfair this whole situation was to him!

Those are all the same kind of thoughts we have when we’re offended. We’re just thinking about ourselves! And it’s that kind of selfishness that makes it so easy for Satan to bait and hook us.

And so one of the ways that we can stay alert and watch out for the schemes of the devil, is always to ask ourselves, who am I thinking about here? Am I only concerned about me, or am I concerned for the other person?

Because, you know what? The minute you start thinking about the other person, thinking through why they may have said or done what they did – as you have compassion on that person, trying to see things from their point of view, most often, their offence doesn’t seem to be nearly as significant as it once did. It’s becomes a lot easier just to brush it aside and not let it bother you.

For a small example, let’s say that I’m driving down the highway and someone completely cuts me off. Now I can react in one of two ways – I can get all offended – thinking about what a jerk that person is to cut me off. They almost made me spill my coffee – I might have gotten into an accident! Boy what an idiot!

Or, I could stop and consider, well, maybe that was a teenage driver just learning to drive and perhaps this was their first time on highway 2! They’re probably scared half-to-death and probably don’t even realize that they cut me off! Suddenly, as I consider the other person and stop thinking about myself and start thinking about them suddenly, their offence doesn’t seem to be such a big deal anymore. It becomes a lot easier just to brush it off and move on. And there is a lot of wisdom in that.

Proverbs 19:11 says…

Good sense makes one slow to anger,

    and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 19:11 ESV

I really like that last part of that verse – It is our glory to over-look an offence. In other words, It’s to our credit – it shows our good character – to over-look the offending words or actions of another.

After all, isn’t that the character of God – to over-look an offence? Psalm 145 verse 8 says…

8 The Lord is merciful and compassionate,

    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

9 The Lord is good to everyone.

    He showers compassion on all his creation.

Psalm 145:8-9

God is the master of over-looking our offences. In fact, it was his compassion and mercy for us that lead Jesus to die on the cross so that we could be forgiven. God didn’t just over-look the offence of our sin, he took the punishment for it so that we could experience salvation and life!

In the same way, we ought to have compassion and mercy on those who offend us. Colossians 3:13 says…

13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.  Colossians 3:13

So this morning I’d just encourage you to remember this verse this week, because I’m sure you will have opportunity to put it into practice. There will be offences in your life this week. There always are. There will be times when people do things or say things that hurt you. Sinful people will do and say sinful things. And Satan will use those opportunities to tempt you to do wrong.

But just as Christ had compassion and forgave you, so too, you must have compassion and forgive others.

As for David, we’ll have to come back next week to see how this all plays out! We haven’t even talked about Abigail yet, so I’m sure she’ll be a key player in resolving this story. And we’ll just see if David extends compassion and forgiveness to Nabal or whether he carries out his threat of murdering a selfish, but otherwise innocent man.

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