I Samuel 25–27. David at His Best and Worst.
Key Notes: David narrowly esceaped needless vengeance. Ziphites again betrayed David. David embarrassed Saul by an exceptional act of daring. David went with the Philistines. He appeared to be rading for the Philistines.
This lesson allows us to think with David, seeing his strengths and weaknesses. We will see God at work. We can find some wisdom for ourselves.
25:1 Samuel died, the beloved prophet-priest of Israel. We have followed his life from birth to death. Like many other Bible figures, he had only moments in the spotlight but in his case, they were critical to the future of Israel. He had anointed Israel’s first, and then its great king.
25:2–13 Nabal was a rich sheep-rancher who lived in the south of Judah opposite the Dead Sea and had his herds near Carmel in the desert. Being rich, he could afford to be mean and bad-tempered as he had probably not been when he married Abigail, the beautiful and wise.
David sent ten of his men to Nabal to ask a favor. Could he give them some food for a feast-day? David’s men had been good to the shearers. As one of Nabal’s men later reported, David had been a wall around them day and night while they were occupied with the intense mechanical part of their husbandry, sheering sheep. They had been protected from the ever-present threat of the Philistines, as well as marauding thieves and wild animals.
David was variously accused of a “shake-down”, a protection racket, or blackmail. None of those words are fair. It was more like begging, playing the flute on the street and hoping that someone would give you a quarter. David had been good to Nabal’s men without asking for anything in advance. But they were hungry and Nabal had plenty.
David’s ten men sat down and waited for Nabal to respond. The answer was not what they had hoped. Who is David? Just another of those servants breaking away from their masters, coming from who knows where. Why should I waste my provisions on a nobody?
But surely Nabal knew David, as his wife Abigail did. He had been in the wilderness of Maon (23:24) near where Nabal lived. David was insulted and then outraged, He vowed to kill Nabal and every one of his servants. He headed out with 400 men intent on slaughter. He had his reasons, but to any neutral observer, the story of this event would be viewed as an atrocity. The Law is quite clear.
“When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but keeps to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks abroad with his staff, he that struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.” (Ex.21:18–19)
“…eye for eye, tooth for tooth….” (Ex.21:24)
“O Lord, Thou God of vengeance,
Thou God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth;
Render to the proud their deserts! (Psa.94:1–2)
“The wicked go astray from the womb
they err from their birth, speaking lies.
They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
Like the deaf adder that stops its ear.” (Psa.58:3–5)
“The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
Men will say, Surely there is a reward for the righteous,
Surely there is a God who judges on earth.” (Psa.58:10–11, a psalm of David)
But this is no ordinary man. This is the future king. Nobody can hit him and get away with it. He forgot himself and he forgot God. But help was on the way. God will save him from himself.
25:14–35 A servant told Abigail how well Nabal’s men had been treated and recommended that she do something independent of Nabal. She moved. A caravan of donkeys loaded with makings of a feast went out, preceded by Nabal’s servants and followed by Abigail on her own beast. She met David sputtering with rage.
She made obeisance before David and then made a lyrical speech. She accepted guilt although she knew nothing of the incident. She disowned her husband’s folly and said he would be punished—but not by David taking vengeance in his own hands. David’s house is secure. He fights the Lord’s battles. Evil will not be found in him. His life is bound up in the care of the Lord while his enemies are discarded. He will not be found guilty of shedding innocent blood.
25:32–43 David turned around a hundred-eighty degrees. He blessed Abigail for her wisdom and remarked on how close he had come to disaster. He took the gift and sent her away in peace.
The next morning, after Nabal was sober, she told him the story of how she rescued them from David. He had a stroke and died ten days later. When Nabal was dead, David was grateful that God had judged Nabal and prevented him from doing evil. He sent servants to Abigail to ask her to marry him. Her second speech was as humble and gracious as the first. She would be a servant to his servants.
Now David had two wives: Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail. Michal had been given to Palti of Laish and more will be heard of her unhappy life later.
Abigail is one of the wise women of the OT, with Rahab, Debra, and Hannah. They shine as stars among many other lesser lights in an often dark world.
26:1–12 David was betrayed a second time by the Ziphites. Saul came with five times more men than David and camped along the road. Now David spied on Saul and pursued him. In each of his three confrontations with Saul, David became more bold. Abishai agreed to go with David into Saul’s camp. God put Saul and his army into a deep sleep. David and Abishai walked into the circle of 3000 men surrounding Saul, sleeping in the open. He took his spear stuck in the ground near his head, and his water bottle and walked back out. Abishai would have gladly killed Saul with one stroke of his own spear but David, as before, would not touch the Lord’s anointed. He had reproached himself before for cutting the trim from Saul’s robe (24:5), a small but threatening gesture.
26:13–20 They walked out and David went up the mountain, putting distance between them and the army. He bantered with Abner about his poor protection of the king. Death was the penalty for failing to defend the king. He showed them his trophies. Saul awoke and called to David, “my son.” David complained he had committed no crime. No doubt Saul had political support in hounding David but such men should be cursed. He trusted that God would defend him. As an exile, he had no share in worship and was basically expected to be a pagan. Saul was hunting him like a game-bird.
26:21–25 Saul was abject in his apology. He had been a fool. David threw Saul’s spear back and prayed that God would regard his life as precious as he had regarded Saul’s.
27:1–12 But when he went away, David did not think God would regard his life as precious. He was afraid for his life and fled to the Philistines for refuge. He took his six-hundred with him, as well as their families. Achish, head of the city of Gath, was favorable to David and gave him the city of Ziklag in the Negev as his residence. From there, David sent out raiding parties. David told Achish that he was raiding Israelite tribes in the Negev (or friends of Israel like the Kenites). No one survived to tell Achish otherwise, and he was sure that David had made himself cordially hated by Israel. He would serve Achish forever.
No sooner had David done a daring, even heroic act of confronting Saul, disgracing him in front of his army without touching him, then he collapsed in fear of his life. He knew that God protected him in a miraculous way. Then he decided he would have to do something drastic and devious to protect himself. He lied to cover his tracks.
What David did was distasteful, mean-spirited, duplicitous. This does not look like the work of a godly man. Yet the tribes he attacked were among those that Israel had not originally conquered. God had said He would drive them out. (Josh.13:1–7). So David is doing the work that Joshua and Israel failed to do 400 years before. Moreover, once David was in Philistine territory, Saul stopped chasing him (27:4). He had a measure of relief.
But then he was headed for a battle between the Philistines and the armies of Israel as a double-agent and potentially terrible embarrassment or even death. Once again, God will protect him against himself.
David had a fabulous career. He defeated the giant, Goliath, and the armies of the Philistines. He eluded attempted murder nine times with an agile body and a quick mind. He acquired a private army. He was saved from vengeance against Nabal. And then he did a dramatic and daring psychological attack on Saul. How could a man of God be so brilliant one moment and so crass the next? Everyone prophesied that he was Israel’s next king, confirming God’s call. His future was assured. He had nothing to fear.
It is possible that David finally had an emotional collapse like Elijah after he won the battle with the prophets of Baal (I K.18). More likely, David simply stopped trusting God and went with his own understanding.. On one occasion, David sought God’s will before he acted. (23:2,4). Yet when Nabal insulted him, he was ready to kill. For heroic deeds, you need God’s help? In ordinary affairs you take care of yourself? What of our affairs is so insignificant that we need not bring it before God?
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.” Prov.3:5–7)
It is amazing to see God at work in I Samuel. In all things God is working together for good to those who love Him and keep His commandments.