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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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1 SAMUEL 25

DRASTIC CHANGES IN DAVID'S SITUATION

The changes referred to in our title of this chapter include (1) the death of the prophet Samuel, David's truest friend and ally; (2) the increasing difficulty of providing supplies for his growing band of followers; (3) the renewal of Saul's efforts to hunt him down and kill him; (4) his withdrawal to the wilderness of Paran; and (5) his acquisition of Nabal's estate through marriage to Abigail.

THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF SAMUEL


 
Verses 1, 2
And Samuel died; and all Israel gathered themselves together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah. And David arose, and went down to the wilderness of Paran. And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel.

Critical scholars complain that this verse is an insertion by some later hand, but there is no solid evidence whatever to back up such opinions. Keil remarked that, "The death of Samuel is inserted here, because it occurred at that time."F1 Also, present-day scholars of the highest rank confirm that understanding. "Chronologically, Samuel died while David and his men were at Engedi,"F2 and this accounts for the fact that, immediately, "David thought that he needed to move farther to the southwest in the fear that Samuel's death might give Saul new stimulus to try to get rid of him."F3

They buried him in his house at Ramah…
The meaning of this is uncertain because in 2 Chr. 3:20, it is recorded that Manasseh was buried in his house; but the parallel passage in 2 Kings 21:18, states that the burial was in the garden of his house. Furthermore, the burial of a dead body in Samuel's house would have made the place ceremonially unclean in perpetuity. In the light of these reasons, we believe that Samuel was buried in the garden or the courtyard of his residence.

1 Sam. 25:1-2

DAVID WITHDRAWS TO THE WILDERNESS OF PARAN

Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran. 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. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel…

To the wilderness of Paran
(1 Sam. 25:1b). In a wide sense, the wilderness of Paran extended all the way to the wilderness of Beersheba and eastward to the mountains of Judah.F4 This makes it unnecessary to follow such renditions as those of the Jerusalem Bible and the New International Version which render the passage: The wilderness of Maon. The wilderness of Maon was on the edge of the much larger wilderness of Paran; and it should be noted that the text does not say that David entered the wilderness of Paran, but that, he went down to it. This he did when he was in the wilderness of Maon. Since this smaller wilderness adjoined the much larger wilderness of Paran, David was in a position to retreat farther out of Saul's reach if necessary.

Nabal is introduced here, though not by name, as a very rich man whose residence was in Carmel, but whose great flocks of sheep and goats were in the wilderness of Maon. "Carmel is the modern Kermel, between Ziph and Maon."F5 Of course, this is a different Carmel from Mount Carmel on the Mediterranean coast.

NABAL AND ABIGAIL ARE IDENTIFIED


 
Verse 3
Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail; and the woman was of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb.

Nabal
means obstinate fool,F6 and Abigail means, the joy of her father.F7 It seems most unlikely that any parent would have named a son Nabal, and the name may therefore be explained as an epithet assigned to him by his contemporaries who so judged his character.

He was a Calebite
The Calebites were attached to the tribe of Judah; and since Judah would be the tribe most loyal to David, it was extremely important that David should have been rescued in this chapter from his temptation to slaughter Nabal and all his house. If David had indeed done such a thing, it could have alienated the whole tribe of Judah. The big thing in this chapter is the manner in which God saved David from that terrible mistake.

Nabal had evidently inherited the great estate of his ancestor Caleb, but he did not inherit the type of character that belonged to his distinguished ancestor.

DAVID REQUESTS PROVISIONS FROM NABAL


 
Verses 4-8
And David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. And David sent ten young men, and David said unto the young men, Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name: and thus shall ye say to him that liveth [in prosperity], Peace be unto thee, and peace be to thy house, and peace be unto all that thou hast. And now I have heard that thou hast shearers: thy shepherds have now been with us, and we did them no hurt, neither was there aught missing unto them, all the while they were in Carmel. Ask thy young men, and they will tell thee: wherefore let the young men find favor in thine eyes; for we come in a good day: give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thy hand, unto thy servants, and to thy son David.

To some people of our generation, it might appear that David's method of supporting his small army was an illegal "protection racket." But the situation mentioned here was not that at all. David's expectations of supplies from Nabal were fully justified according to the customs and standards of that time and circumstance. "Even Nabal's servants and his own wife felt that David was due some compensation for the protection which he had provided for Nabal's flocks and shepherds."F8

"This type of `protection money' is regularly levied at the present day by the Bedouins living on the borders of the desert and the cultivated land. In return for gifts they guarantee the protection of life and property in those notoriously insecure districts."F9

Nabal's vast flocks of sheep and goats would doubtless have been confiscated by roving bands of outlaws had it not been for David's protection. After all, we learned in 1 Sam. 23 that such marauders even attacked walled towns (Keilah); and without David's wall of protection around Nabal's flocks (1 Samuel 25:16), there can be little doubt that Nabal's flocks would have been taken away from him. The man's stupidity in failing to recognize this is amazing. The fact that David sent ten men to bring back the gift indicates that he certainly expected Nabal to come through with a very generous contribution.

NABAL'S OUTRAGEOUS TREATMENT REGARDING DAVID'S REQUEST


 
Verses 9-13
And when David's young men came, they spake to Nabal according to all those words in the name of David, and ceased. And Nabal answered David's servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there are many servants now-a-days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men of whom I know not whence they are? So David's young men turned on their way, and went back, and came and told him according to all these words. And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the baggage.

Shall I take my bread and my water.and give it ..…
(1 Samuel 25:11)? Nabal's mention of water in this verse does not please some critics who insist that the word should be wine. Based upon the Septuagint (LXX) rendition of the place, which is followed by the Jerusalem Bible and the New International Version, H. P. Smith changed the verse, making it read, Must I take my bread and my wine ... etc.F10 This is precisely the type of meddling with the text which this writer finds frequently unacceptable. Yes, there's no doubt that Nabal had plenty of wine and that he drank enough of it that it required a whole day and night for him to become sober; and it is a fact that wine was usually used at such feasts instead of water. But none of these things nullifies the message Nabal sent back to David, which, in effect, declared that, he would not even give David and his men a drink of water, much less any other things he mentioned. The text tells us what Nabal said, not what the customary beverage was at such feasts.

Every man gird on his sword
(1 Samuel 25:13). 1 Sam. 25:22, below, tells us what David had in mind. He planned to murder Nabal and every male member of his whole establishment. This contemplated action on David's part was sinful. Henry pointed out that only a few days ago David had spared Saul's life. Saul was David's bitterest enemy; from him David expected nothing except hatred, or even death; and now, because of a few hard, ugly words, David felt that nothing but the blood of a whole family must be shed to avenge the affront. Lord, what is man? What is in the best of them when God leaves them to themselves to try themF11

ABIGAIL LEARNS OF THE DANGEROUS SITUATION


 
Verses 14-17
But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal's wife, saying, Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed at them. But the men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we anything, as long as we went with them, when we were in the fields: they were a wall unto us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his house: for he is such a worthless fellow, that one cannot speak to him.

This passage reveals that David and his men indeed had guarded Nabal's flocks of sheep for a long while, giving them marvelous protection. "We know of raids on two walled towns in this south country, one by the Philistines (1 Samuel 23:1-5) and one by the Amalekites (1 Samuel 30:1-2). How much more, then, must the shepherds in the open country have been in constant danger from marauders, unless they had someone like David to be a wall of protection to them."F12

It is also of interest that Nabal's ill-natured disposition was such that his employees were afraid to talk with him; so they appealed to Abigail.

ABIGAIL MOVES TO APPEASE DAVID'S ANGER


 
Verses 18-22
Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched grain, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. And she said unto her young men, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal. And it was so, as she rode on her ass, and came down by the covert of the mountain, that, behold, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them. Now David had said, Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him: and he hath returned me evil for good. God do so unto the enemies of David, and more also, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light so much as one man-child.

But she did not tell her husband
(1 Samuel 25:19). Nabal might have been still drunk; and if not, he would have prevented anything that Abigail planned to do.

She came down. David and his men came down toward her
(1 Samuel 25:20). This meeting between David and Abigail occurred in a valley, for both came `down' to the meeting place.

(See under 1 Sam. 25:13, above, for discussion of 1 Sam. 25:22.)

ABIGAIL'S MAGNIFICENT APPEAL TO DAVID


 
Verses 23-31
And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and alighted from her ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground. And she fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me be the iniquity; and let thy handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine ears, and hear thou the words of thy handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this worthless fellow, even Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thy handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. Now therefore, my lord, as Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing Jehovah hath withholden thee from bloodguiltiness, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now therefore let thine enemies, and them that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal. And now this present which thy servant hath brought unto my lord, let it be given unto the young men that follow my lord. Forgive, I pray thee, the trespass of thy handmaid: for Jehovah will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord fighteth the battles of Jehovah; and evil shall not be found in thee all thy days. And though men be risen up to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul, yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with Jehovah thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as from the hollow of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when Jehovah shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee prince over Israel, that this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood without cause, or that my lord hath avenged himself. And when Jehovah shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thy handmaid.

Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt
(1 Samuel 25:24). Abigail's action in these words took upon herself the guilt of her husband, hoping in this to save his life, and this in spite of Nabal's unworthiness. A more noble act of self-sacrificing love would be hard indeed to find.

Let not my lord regard this ill-natured fellow Nabal
(1 Samuel 25:25). This was exactly the same argument that David himself had used in his efforts to dissuade Saul from trying to kill David (1 Samuel 24:14). The argument was that Nabal was not important enough to warrant David's taking vengeance upon him; and besides, as Abigail pointed out, it was contrary to God's law for David so to do. Here again is evidence that the Pentateuch, from cover to cover (or throughout the whole roll), was known to well-informed Israelites centuries prior to the time which some critics erroneously claim as the time when it was written!

Seeing the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt
(1 Samuel 25:26). These words were an assertion by Abigail that David's projected murder of Nabal and his household was a violation of God's law; and, in context, they were a reproof of David's intentions. Concerning those intentions, our abbreviated account does not tell us how Nabal's young men knew that evil was determined against Nabal and his house (1 Samuel 25:17), nor how Abigail was certainly aware of it here. Abigail's skillful warning here had the desired effect.

"Never was such an admonition better given or better received. Abigail was a wise reprover of David's passion, and he gave an obedient ear to the reproof, according to his own principles, as he wrote, `Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness' (Ps. 141:5, KJV)."F13

My lord is fighting the battles of the Lord
(1 Samuel 25:28). There was a recognition here by Abigail that Saul, who should have been fighting the battles of the Lord was not doing so.

You enemies shall he (God) sling out as from the hollow of a sling
(1 Samuel 25:29). What a diplomatic reference this was! It was a sling, of course, that brought David to the attention of all Israel in his triumph over Goliath.

When the Lord has appointed you prince over Israel
(1 Samuel 25:30). Abigail, in this, recognized that God was Israel's true king, but that David would indeed rise to the throne of Israel as prince over God's people. The knowledge of God's intentions concerning David were, at this time, apparently known throughout Israel, or at least in Judah where Abigail resided.

No pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause
(1 Samuel 25:31). Abigail's wisdom here was surely inspired of God, because, David's shedding the blood of this well known Judahite (Nabal), Would have started a blood feud among the clans of Judah that would involve men that David would need on his way to the kingship. David had only Judah to back him in his claim upon the throne.F14

DAVID ACCEPTS ABIGAIL'S REPROOF AND THANKS HER


 
Verses 32-35
And David said to Abigail, Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel, who sent thee this day to meet me: and blessed be thy discretion, and blessed be thou, that hast kept me this day from bloodguiltiness, and from avenging myself with mine own hand. For in very deed, as Jehovah, the God of Israel, liveth, who hath withholden me from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light so much as one man-child. So David received of her hand that which she had brought him: and he said unto her, Go up in peace to thy house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person.

It is exactly in situations like this that the glorious character of David, in spite of his sins, shines in its true splendor. David humbly received the rebuke of this woman, thanked her and thanked God that she had come to meet him with such a plea. This is very much like the occasion in his later life when he responded to the condemnation of the prophet Nathan, following his murder of Uriah.

THE ACCOUNT OF THE SUDDEN DEATH OF NABAL


 
Verses 36-38
And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light. And it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, that his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And it came to pass about ten days after, that Jehovah smote Nabal, so that he died.

The best explanation of what happened here is perhaps that of Smith who wrote, "A stroke of paralysis is the natural explanation of this."F15 When Abigail informed Nabal of what she had done, it is easy to suppose that he flew into a violent rage and that the initial stroke of paralysis put him into a coma for ten days, at the expiration of which the final stroke ended his life.

The N.T. speaks of certain persons who were "twice dead" (Jude 1:12); but it appears here that Nabal was `thrice dead.' He was dead drunk, dead wrong, and dead physically!

DAVID'S MARRIAGE TO ABIGAIL


 
Verses 39-42
And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, Blessed be Jehovah, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept back his servant from evil: and the evil-doing of Nabal hath Jehovah returned upon his own head. And David sent and spake concerning Abigail, to take her to him to wife. And when the servants of David were come to Abigail to Carmel, they spake unto her, saying, David hath sent us unto thee, to take thee to him to wife. And she arose, and bowed herself with her face to the earth, and said, Behold, thy handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord. And Abigail hasted, and arose, and rode upon an ass, with five damsels of hers that followed her; and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife.

Abigail not only took her five maidens with her to David, but it is likely that all of the vast properties of her husband, or at least a substantial part of them, also became the property of David. The Bible is silent on this question; but as Dr. Dehoff said, "It is quite probable that David came into possession of Nabal's property."F16 Supportive of this supposition is that no son of Nabal is mentioned; and, even if there were other heirs to claim Nabal's estate, David was on the ground and had possession. It could have been that this was God's way of financing David's additional twenty-two years of waiting until the death of Saul. According to Josephus, Samuel's death came eighteen years after the beginning of Saul's reign.


 
Verses 43, 44
David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel; and they became both of them his wives. Now Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim.

When David later had the power he took Michal back (2 Samuel 3:14-15). It is not certain exactly who Ahinoam might have been, but one possibility is that she was one of the wives of Saul (2 Samuel 12:8). If so, the mention of her here is that of an event that came twenty-two years later. We reject that view for that reason. It appears that "Ahinoam was a woman from Jezreel whom David married after Saul gave Michal to Palti. She and Abigail appear to have been David's only wives prior to the beginning of his reign in Hebron."F17

The polygamy of David was one of his sins, of which there were many, but in the customs of the times such marriages were generally accepted.


Footnotes for 1 Samuel 25
1: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2b, p. 238.
2: John T. Willis, p. 242.
3: Ibid.
4: Albert Barnes, Samuel, p. 58
5: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 1011.
6: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 300.
7: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 413.
8: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 176.
9: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Samuel, p. 290.
10: International Critical Commentary, Samuel, p. 222.
11: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 415.
12: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 1013.
13: Matthew Henry's Commentary, op. cit., p. 419.
14: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Samuel, p. 290.
15: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 228.
16: GHDH, Vol. 2, p. 171.
17: Willis J. Beecher, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 85.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 25". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1sa&chapter=025>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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