Monday, December 15, 2008

Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal's wife (1Sam 25)

Here in chapter 25, Samuel dies, but for some reason, we're only given a short note on the matter.

So then we come to the matter of Nabal and Abigail. Nabal is sort of an odd character, mostly because of his name, which means essentially "fool" in Hebrew. It's unlikely that anyone would actually name their son "fool", but the possibility exists (especially since Nabal is a Calebite, which makes him sort of foreign) that the name means something else in another language.

David comes to be in the area near Nabal's land when it happens to be sheep-shearing time, generally a rather festive occasion. David sends a message to Nabal, asking if he could spare any provisions for his men in the midst of the celebrations. The nature of this request could be seen in two different ways, and there's a bit of evidence for either. The more generous view would be that David and his men, when they had been here before, had acted as protectors for Nabal's flock from foreign invaders or whatever sorts of things might come and attack a flock of sheep. As Nabal's men say, "They were a wall unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep."

The possibility also exists that this is a sort of mob-like protection racket. David's constant reminder that he has kept his men from bothering Nabal's men and from taking any sheep seems possibly suggestive of this, and can't be completely dismissed. The truth may be a mix of the two.

Well, Nabal responds to David's men with "Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master." Nabal is not only denying that David has done him any good turn, but he is insulting David by suggesting that he is nothing, or less than nothing: a runaway rebellious slave to Saul. David is insulted enough that he orders his men to gear up for battle, and vows that he will kill "any that pisseth against the wall." This is indeed just about everything that SAB claims it to be, but I think there is a misinterpretation nonetheless. It's harsh, coarse language, and a promise of violence and intolerance, but it's not an indication that David has anything against a certain manner of relieving oneself, rather it's a crude way of saying, "I'm not going to leave a single man alive." After all, it's not women or young children who "pisseth against the wall" is it?

In the meantime, one of Nabal's men has gone to his wife Abigail, and told her what Nabal said, and how he fears violence will come to them because of Nabal's words. Abigail gathers up a generous amount of food, and takes it to David personally, keeping it a secret from her husband for the time being. She comes to David and bows down before him, making an eloquent plea for David to reconsider, suggesting that David should leave justice in the hand of God, using language reminiscent of David's famous fight with Goliath. Note that Abigail also ends her speech with "...but when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid." I was reading that some have suggested that somehow Abigail may have been implying that she might do away with Nabal, and then everything that was Nabal's (including, especially, Abigail) would belong to David.

Indeed, the very next morning, when Nabal is probably well hung over, Abigail tells Nabal about all the food she gave away, and how David and his men nearly came to kill everyone. Nabal appears to have a stroke, and dies ten days later. Yes, the text does say "the LORD smote Nabal," but I think it's possible (but not necessarily so) that this is figurative speech beyond the fact that in some sense, God is responsible for the death of everyone.

David marries Abigail, and also some woman named Ahinoam about whom we are told just about nothing.

Saul, meanwhile, has given David's first wife Michal to a man named Phalti. Most this shuffling around of Michal is cruel to her and unlawful for Saul, but has political undertones. Michal, being the daughter of the current king, may confer some royal status on David, and Saul wishes to take that away.

7 comments:

marauder said...

Most likely the appellation "fool" is used by the author for editorial intent. Hebrew writing has a way of hitting the reader on the head with humor that's lost in translation. We miss the puns in Genesis 2, for instance, when God calls the man Adam because he was taken from the earth; and when Adam calls his wife "woman," because she came from man. The Hebrew for woman sounds much like the Hebrew for man, which sounds much like the Hebrew for earth.

In the case of Nabal, his name is merely a descriptor for the reader, to tell you what sort of behavior to expect from him. A little more sophisticated, perhaps, than the scene in "Spaceballs," when Dark Helmet discovers that all the officers on the ship are Assholes, but the same essential principle.

Brucker said...

Gen 2:7
ground = adamah
man = adam

Gen 2:23
Man = iysh
Woman = ishshah

Gen 3:20
Eve = Chavvah
living = chay

I don't really get why a person would actually be named "Fool", though.

Anonymous said...

What do you think of Abigail as an example of a virtuous and submissive and kind wife. Did she respect her husband? There are many women married to fools - did she handle this situation as a wise amazing woman? She is never mentioned again and David had no children by her.

Brucker said...

It's never been completely clear to me what one is supposed to think about Abigail. The only clearly positive thing she's done is save the lives of a number of men, which is definitely very good, but then, she's saving them from David, which is, well, weird since he's supposed to be a good guy. One wonders why David is really acting this way.

I wouldn't say that Abigail is the model of submissiveness, but on the other hand, the situation clearly called for her to do something. Yeah, the Bible does say that wives are to be submissive to their husbands (and vice versa!) but there are higher moral callings.

james said...

I came across this post while studying in 1 Chronicles about looking up more information on Abigail and in 1 Chr 3:1 Abigail is mentioned there as the mother of David's second son Daniel. So just a correction to the above that She is not mentioned again and never had any children.

Brucker said...

Thanks, I should have noted that.

David Learn said...

Why should a person be named "fool?" Why not?

Seriously, it's creative license. It seems unlikely to me that Nabal was this man's actual name. The writers of the Hebrew scriptures regularly engaged in word-play and used names as aids to storytelling. Think of Hosea's children "No Glory" and "Not my People"; or, better yet, think of Ruth.

You know the story, of course. Sweet and God-is-my-King leave Israel because there is a famine in the land, and go to Moab with their two children, Sick and Dying. While they are in Moab, Sick and Dying get married to Friend and Back-of-the-Neck.

Surprisingly, God-is-my-King dies in this pagan country, followed soon by Sick and Dying. Back-of-the-Neck stays behind, but Friend returns to Israel with Sweet who has become Bitter because of her experiences in Moab.

In Israel, they are just getting settled when Swift arrives and, as kinsman redeemer, restores their fortunes and brings them happiness as Worshipper is born, replacing the grief over losing Sick and Dying.

The names are so obvious in their meaning that it's pretty easy to believe that even if the story is historical, the names were added later, to underscore the lessons.