Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Are You an Abigail or a Nabal?

  • blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos
  • Updated Feb 26, 2015

There was a man in Maon who did business in Carmel. He was a very important man and owned three thousand sheep and one thousand goats…. The man’s name was Nabal, and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and attractive woman, but her husband was a hard man who did evil things… 1 Samuel 25:2-3 (CEB)

1 Samuel 25 recounts the story of Abigail and Nabal.

Abigail was an attractive, intelligent woman who was married to a cruel man.

The story begins to unfold as we read further in the chapter. David and his men were on the run from King Saul who was trying to kill David. Over the course of their travels, the men encountered Nabal and his servants. David’s men extended a special kindness to Nabal’s servants, protecting them and their flocks, making sure that nothing was ever missing.

As David and his troops moved toward Carmel, they decided to ask Nabal to return the kindness they had shown to his men. They asked for some food and supplies.

But Nabal answered David’s servants… “Why should I take my bread, my water, and the meat I’ve butchered for my shearers and give it to people who came here from who knows where?” 
1 Samuel 25:10-11 (CEB)

Nabal had a greedy, me first attitude. He was concerned with one person: himself. He was looking out for his #1 priority.

Nabal’s servants were horrified at his response! They quickly went to Abigail, asking her to intervene. They knew that David and his men were mighty warriors and that all of their lives were in danger. Somehow, they needed to appease David’s anger, to somehow cover Nabal’s self-centeredness.

When Abigail heard what her husband had done, she flew into action! She began baking cakes and bread, gathering sheep and wine. She prepared a feast and loaded it all on donkeys. She set out to meet David and his men. But, she didn’t tell Nabal what she was doing.

Finally, Abigail meets up with David. She jumps off her donkey, and falls at his feet.

Put the blame on me, my master! …  Here is a gift, which your servant has brought to my master. …Please forgive any offense by your servant. When the LORD has done good things for my master, please remember your servant.” 1 Samuel 25:24-31 (CEB)

Abigail is willing to take the blame for her husband’s sins, for his evil, for his failure to meet the basic needs of another. She takes the blame for actions that she was completely unaware of at first, actions that would have had dire consequences for her and her entire household.

David said to Abigail, “Bless the LORD God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! And bless you and your good judgment for preventing me from shedding blood and taking vengeance into my own hands today! …  Then David accepted everything she had brought for him. “Return home in peace,” he told her. “Be assured that I’ve heard your request and have agreed to it.” 1 Samuel 25:32-35 (CEB)

The more I write, the more Abigails and Nabals I encounter.

So many marriages pair up a kind, intelligent individual with a spouse who is difficult and does evil things. The “Abigail” can be the husband or the wife. The “Nabal” can be male or female.

The Abigail is often trusting to a fault, easily taken advantage of. Her kindness is often used to cover for the offending spouse, making sure that the reputation of the family is protected. The Nabal is frequently controlling, dominating, manipulative. He quickly finds fault with Abigail, and often blames every problem on her. He is concerned with self…and very little else.

It is an unhealthy situation. It is a dysfunctional relationship. It is an abusive marriage.

Perhaps the Abigail doesn’t recognize the extreme dysfunction. Perhaps she doesn’t recognize Nabal’s behaviors as abuse because it is not physical abuse. Perhaps she has begun to believe that it’s all her fault, that she is the problem in the marriage. Perhaps Nabal lords it over Abigail by using Ephesians 5:22 to remind her that he is the king and she must submit to him.

Often, the Nabal is an expert at outward appearances. He maintains a stellar reputation in the community. He treats his Abigail well…in public. But, only the Abigail knows what Nabal is like behind closed doors.

God never intended for marriage to be like the Nabals and Abigails of this world. In fact, in Old Testament times, women were a piece of property. They could be purchased and sold. However, Christ came and elevated women to an equal, required that men have a reason for divorce (unfaithfulness), not just because they are dissatisfied with their wives. In Galatians 3, Paul makes women equal with men by declaring there is no longer male nor female. The entire point of these passages is to elevate women to more than second-class citizens.

Unfortunately, the Nabals of this world want to continue to control their Abigails.

What can we learn from the story of Abigail and Nabal?

Abigail’s reputation was separate from her husband. One of the first thoughts I had when I found out about my husband’s divorce was a horror that somehow people might think that I had deceived them along with my husband. I eventually learned that no one blamed me, that my reputation withstood the onslaught of my husband’s poor choices. If you are an Abigail, people see you as separate from Nabal. They recognize your beauty, your heart. They recognize that you are not responsible for Nabal’s choices. Don’t beat yourself up with shame and guilt, believing that others blame you for your spouse’s behaviors.

Abigails become conditioned to take the blame. When Abigail approached David, she immediately took the blame for Nabal. I don’t know if she was trying to protect Nabal. I do know that she took action to protect herself and her entire household. She went into survival mode automatically. Nabals tend to blame all of their problems on someone else, rarely taking personal responsibility for their actions. 

I completely understand Abigail’s response. To this day, the failure of my marriage is all my fault according to my ex-husband. I have heard the stories of how I just woke up one morning and decided I no longer loved him. Everything that went wrong in our 17 year marriage was somehow my fault. It wasn’t until I got away from the situation that I gained clarity and began to understand that 1) it wasn’t my fault, and 2) I was often in survival mode, fighting to protect myself and my entire household.

God protected Abigail in spite of her husband. David not only accepted Abigail’s gift, but he blessed her. When she returned home, she waited until the appropriate time to tell Nabal what she did. When she told him about her encounter with David, he collapsed and died of heart failure (1 Samuel 25:37). But, Abigail was not left alone. You see, David swept in and married the beautiful young widow, securing her future as the king’s wife.

How many times have I seen God’s protective hand? How many times have I seen his provision in unbelievable ways? How many times have I seen him step in and be my defender? God has always protected me in spite of what my husband. He has given me rewards greater than I ever dreamed, blessed me far beyond what I could ever ask or imagine.

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage. Ephesians 5:21-28 (The Message)

As I read this passage, I see Abigail all throughout it. However, I don’t find Nabal anywhere. God never intended for one spouse to lord it over another. Marriage should make both spouses better, stronger. Marriage should bring out the best in both people.

Are you living with a Nabal? You do not have to subject yourself to his cruel treatment. You have a right—even a responsibility—to stand up to Nabal. Your words, your actions, can be exactly what sets you free. What will freedom look like? Perhaps God will get a hold of your Nabal and set him free, restore your marriage. No matter what the outcome, one thing is certain: God will protect you, provide for you. He will restore your life. He will give you clarity to see things from his perspective. He will step in and provide blessings you never dreamed possible.

Maybe you were married to a Nabal and you are still taking responsibility for his actions. Recognize that it is not your fault! Your Nabal was responsible for his decisions. Your Nabal was controlling, abusive. Your Nabal beat you into submission by keeping you afraid, isolating you from family and friends. Forgive yourself. Forgive him. Recognize the truth because the truth will set you free! (John 8:32)