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Bailey Sadler Class

SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Summer 2019

 

Study Theme:  Living by Faith; Women Who Trusted God

What This Lesson Is About:

 

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus for this week’s study is on our need to ask God to give us the wisdom and discernment to intervene in conflict situations.

 

 

June 02

Rehab: Courageous Faith

 

 

June 09

Deborah: Encouraging Faith

 

 

June 16

Hannah: Faith That Prays

 

X

June 23

Abigail: Intervening Faith

 

 

June 30

The Poor Widow: Faith That Gives

 

 

July 07

The Samaritan Woman: Faith Worth Sharing

 

 

 

LIFE IMPACT:

Honor Christ by stepping in to help resolve conflict.

 

FOCAL PASSAGE:

1 Samuel 25:2-3,14-17,23-28,32-35

 

LESSON OUTLINE:

I.    

II.

III.

Be a person others can trust when help is needed (1 Sam. 25:2-3,14-17)

Humbly encourage others to do the right thing (1 Sam. 25:23-28)

Keep a Christ-centered perspective when resolving conflict (1 Sam. 25:32-35)

 

THE SETTING:  

 

As noted in the last session, the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel tell the story of transitions in the life of Israel. Samuel represented God’s agent of change during this stretch of the nation’s history. As a priest, he spoke to the people on behalf of God; as a judge, he taught them to live according to God’s ways.

But the people wanted something different. Looking around, they saw other nations with powerful leaders. For the first time, Israel longed for a human king to lead them. Despite his initial reservations, Samuel followed God’s direction and prepared the people for a monarchy.

But Israel’s grand new experiment came with mixed results. The first king, Saul, looked the part on the outside, but he struggled with major character flaws on the inside. Instead of trusting God, Saul tended to go his own way. Eventually, God removed His hand from Saul’s life and instructed Samuel to anoint a new king.

The new king was a teenager named David, though he would not sit on the throne for several years. While David once served as a trusted aide to Saul, the current king’s attitude toward his replacement eroded quickly. Eventually, David was forced to live on the run in the wilderness to avoid Saul’s relentless efforts to kill him.

During this time, David drew loyal men to himself. To meet the needs of this growing group, David and his men sometimes offered protection to shepherds in return for supplies. But one wealthy man named Nabal insulted David by refusing to acknowledge his help. Only intervention by Nabal’s wise wife, Abigail, averted violence between David and Nabal.

After Nabal’s death, David took Abigail as his wife. And 1 Samuel ends with Saul’s power continuing to decline and David preparing to take the throne God had promised him.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

By almost anyone’s measure, Alfred Nobel was a genius. In addition to being a successful inventor and businessman, Nobel also wrote poetry and drama. He even spoke several languages fluently. Whether it was science or the arts, Nobel was interested in learning more about it.1

That’s why, in his last will and testament, Nobel ordered that most of his vast fortune be divided into pools. Each of those pools would be invested and the earnings were to be used to fund special prizes for excellence in fields like medicine, chemistry, physics, and literature.

But Nobel had another passion that went beyond science or literature. He was deeply interested in ways to promote peace between nations. So, his will stipulated one more award, a prize for “the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”2

Since 1901, 104 people and 27 organizations have received Nobel Peace Prizes. Winners include groups like the International Red Cross—a three-time winner—and individuals like former President Jimmy Carter, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and missionary/humanitarian Mother Teresa.3

Centuries earlier, Jesus blessed those who worked for peace (Matt 5:9). Centuries before that, a young woman personally illustrated what it means to resolve conflict and work to bring peace to a dangerous situation. Her name was Abigail, and she risked her life by inserting herself between her foolish husband and a military leader he had offended.

We serve a God of peace, but we live in a world where conflicts can arise at any moment. As His hands and feet in this world, we’re called to promote peace whenever possible. That’s not easy to do, but Abigail’s example gives us a solid road map for becoming an agent of God’s peace in an angry and chaotic world.

1 “Alfred Nobel’s life,” NobelPrize.org, Nov. 8, 2018, https://www.nobelprize.org/ alfred-nobel/biographical-information/.

2 “Alfred Nobel’s will,” NobelPrize.org, Nov. 8, 2018, https://www.nobelprize.org/ alfred-nobel/alfred-nobels-will-2/.

3 “All Nobel Peace Prizes,” NobelPrize.org, Nov. 8, 2018, https://www.nobelprize. org/prizes/lists/all-nobel-peace-prizes/.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 


I.

Be a person others can trust when help is needed (1 Sam. 25:2-3,14-17)

2 A man in Maon had a business in Carmel; he was a very rich man with three thousand sheep and one thousand goats and was shearing his sheep in Carmel. 3 The man’s name was Nabal, and his wife’s name, Abigail. The woman was intelligent and beautiful, but the man, a Calebite, was harsh and evil in his dealings.


14 One of Nabal’s young men informed Abigail, Nabal’s wife: “Look, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, but he screamed at them. 15 The men treated us very well. When we were in the field, we weren’t harassed and nothing of ours was missing the whole time we were living among them. 16 They were a wall around us, both day and night, the entire time we were with them herding the sheep. 17 Now consider carefully what you should do, because there is certain to be trouble for our master and his entire family. He is such a worthless fool nobody can talk to him!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1.   What is the setting for this week’s study? (See The Setting, pg. 1.)

  2.   Who was Nabal and what do you know about him? (See Digging Deeper.)

  3.   How would you describe the difference between Nabal and Abigail?

  4.   What was the dangerous mistake Nabal was about to make? (Bible Reader's Companion in Digging Deeper & also see Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “For all his . . . “ & “David and his men . . . “ )

  5.   How would you describe the attitude of Nabal toward David and his men? (See 1 Sam. 25:1-9; vv. 15-16.)

  6.   What happened between the end of verse 3 and the beginning of verse 14?

  7.   Who did one of Nabal’s servants approach when the conflict was about to erupt?

  8.   How did the servant assess the relationship he and others had with David and his men?

  9.   What did he urge Abigail to do? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “The servant begged . . . “ )

10.   Why do you think David responded the way he did?

11.   When you’re facing conflict how would you decide whom to ask for help?

12.   As you think about Nabal and Abigail, which one do you consider you are most like?  Why?

 

Lasting Lessons in 1 Samuel 25:2-3,14-17:

1. Wealth in this world does not equal wisdom in our actions.

2. God expects us to act with integrity instead of living with arrogance.

3. Wisdom over time leads people to trust us when conflict arises.

4. Our goal should be to respond intelligently, not harshly, toward the people God brings along our paths.

 

II.

Humbly encourage others to do the right thing (1 Sam. 25:23-28)

23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off the donkey and knelt down with her face to the ground and paid homage to David.24 She knelt at his feet and said, “The guilt is mine, my lord, but please let your servant speak to you directly. Listen to the words of your servant. 25 My lord should pay no attention to this worthless fool Nabal, for he lives up to his name: His name means ‘stupid,’ and stupidity is all he knows. I, your servant, didn’t see my lord’s young men whom you sent. 26 Now my lord, as surely as the Lord lives and as you yourself live—it is the Lord who kept you from participating in bloodshed and avenging yourself by your own hand—may your enemies and those who intend to harm my lord be like Nabal. 27 Let this gift your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. 28 Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the Lord is certain to make a lasting dynasty for my lord because he fights the Lord’s battles. Throughout your life, may evil not be found in you.

  1.   What happened between the end of verse 17 and the start of verse 23?

  2.   What part does humility play when you’re involved in resolving conflict?

  3.   How would you describe Abigail’s attitude as she prepared to meet David?

  4.   How would you describe what she did as she prepared to come face-to-face with David? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “She started by . . . “ )

  5.   Do you think Abigail was doing the right thing in meeting with David? Explain your answer!

   6.      How would you describe Abigail’s sign of humble respect as she met David? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “In God’s timing . . . ,” & “In addition to . . . ” )

  7.   How would you explain the content of Abigail’s speech to David? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, In an economy . . . “ & “She also . . . “ )

  8.   What was Nabal’s violation of the Torah law? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “Nabal had violated . . . “ )

  9.   How would you describe one more contrast between Nabal and Abigail? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, Abigail also . . . )

10.   How would you explain why she chose the words she used when she met with David? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 6,  “Again, her words . . . “ )

11.   What would you have done and/or said different if you had been in Abigail’s shoes?

12.   How would you explain what David had riding on his reaction to this situation? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 6, “As God’s anointed . . . “ )


Lasting Lessons in 1 Samuel 25:23-28:

1. Resolving conflict often involves seeing what should have been done and making it right.

2. Genuine humility is a powerful tool when seeking to defuse tension. 

3. Giving individuals space to calm down can help them regain proper perspective.

4. Always confront conflict with the truth, encouraging each party to do the right thing.

 

III.

Keep a Christ-centered perspective when resolving conflict (1 Sam. 25:32-35)

32 Then David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! 33 May your discernment be blessed, and may you be blessed. Today you kept me from participating in bloodshed and avenging myself by my own hand. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the Lord God of Israel lives, who prevented me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, Nabal wouldn’t have had any males left by morning light.” 35 Then David accepted what she had brought him and said, “Go home in peace. See, I have heard what you said and have granted your request.”

  1.   How would you explain the impact of Abigail’s quick action in meeting David? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 6, “Abigail’s wisdom . . . “ )

  2.   How would you explain David’s attitude toward Abigail because of what she had done? (Adv. Comm., pg. 6, “But he could . . . “ )

  3.   How would you explain the content of the three-fold blessing from David? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 6, Upon reflection . . .,“ “David also blessed . . ., & “Finally, David blessed . . . “ )

  4.   How would you explain what happened to Nabal? (See 1 Sam. 25:37; also Adv. Comm., pg. 6, From there, events . . . “ )

  5.   What lesson can we learn from David’s response to Abigail?

  6.   How would you explain David’s response to Nabal’s death? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 6, “When word got . . . “ )

  7.   What do you think is the responsibility of a Christian when conflict arises? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 6,  “We live in a  . . . “ )

  8.   What has your understanding of Abigail’s example of conflict resolution done for you? Explain your answer!

  9.   Why can we leave insults and injuries in God’s hands?

10.   How can you honor Christ when you step in to help resolve conflict?

11.   Do you need to know you can trust God to help you know when to intervene in conflict situations? If so, why?

12.   How would you explain the importance of seeking God’s guidance before taking any action in a conflict situation?

 

Lasting Lessons in:  1 Samuel 25: 32-35:

1. We should always work to resolve conflict in a way that honors Christ.

2. When we see conflict resolved peacefully, we should respond with gratitude toward God and toward His agents of peace. 

3. Ultimately, we can leave insults and injuries in God’s hands because He will be faithful to respond.

 

CONCLUSION:

  Deciding to intervene in a conflict situation between others can be a difficult decision.  It is much easier not to get involved or to let someone else do it.  Certainly, we need to exercise caution before thrusting ourselves into a conflict.  However, as with Abigail, when the conflict has potential to affect us, those near us, or the innocent, we need to be willing to step forward.  When such intervention is carried out with grace and love, problems can be solved, relationships restored, further hurt prevented, and God glorified.  The ability comes from being in right relationship with God.  Acting in that way is one way to live like Christ.  As you reflect on this lesson, respond to the following questions:

·   Would you consider yourself a person people turn to when a conflict needs to be resolved? Why or why not?

·   When have you been part of the solution to a conflict? When have you been part of the problem? How can you become better at handling conflict God’s way?

·   When you think of peacemakers among your friends and family, who comes to mind? What makes that person so effective? What can you learn from their example?

·   Think about the way the writer described Abigail’s character. How can you nurture those qualities in your life? How can they help you resolve conflict in a way that honors Christ?

·   Are you aware of some conflicts among people you know, situations in your community or struggles in your church in which your intervention might be used of the Lord?

·   What prevents you from stepping in to bring about peace and to help find a solution to the conflict?

·   Are your reasons for not risking involvement really greater than the results of failing to do so?

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.

 

Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 

FOCAL PASSAGE: 

Focal Passage from KJV translation of God’s Word: 1 Samuel 25:2-3,14-17,23-28,32-35

King James Version:

1 Samuel 25:2-3:

2 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. 3 Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman 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.


1 Samuel 25:14-17:

14 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 on them. 15 But the men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we any thing, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields: 16 they were a wall unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. 17 Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.


1 Samuel 25:23-28:

Abigail intercedes for Nabal

23 And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, 24 and fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid. 25 Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. 26 Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the Lord hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal. 27 And now this blessing which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it even be given unto the young men that follow my lord. 28 I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the Lord, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days.


1 Samuel 25:32-35:

32 And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: 33 and blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand. 34 For in very deed, as the Lord God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall. 35 So David received of her hand that which she had brought him, and said unto her, Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person.

 

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: “Advanced Bible Study Commentary,” Bible Study For Life Commentary,and “The Pulpit Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

 

Lesson Outline — Abigail: Intervening Faith” — 1 Samuel 25:2-3,14-17,23-28,32-35

I.

II.

III.

Be a person others can trust when help is needed (1 Sam. 25:2-3,14-17)

Humbly encourage others to do the right thing (1 Sam. 25:23-28)

Keep a Christ-centered perspective when resolving conflict (1 Sam. 25:32-35)

COMMENTARY:

Advanced Bible Study Commentary: 1 Samuel 25:2-3,14-17,23-28,32-35

I. Be a person others can trust when help is needed (1 Sam. 25:2-3,14-17)

In ancient Israel, wealth was not measured by the same standards we use today. Instead of cash, cars, and houses, the Israelites looked at livestock. Sheep and cattle were the status symbols of that day. The more flocks an individual owned, the more power and prestige he possessed in the community. By that standard, Nabal, a businessman living in the region of Maon, was doing really well. The biblical writer pointed out that he had three thousand sheep and one thousand goats. He did not have quite as much as Job, who had owned seven thousand sheep and goats, along with camels, oxen, and donkeys during the days of the patriarchs (Job 1:1-3), but Nabal still enjoyed great success.

Along with all his animals—and even his hired servants— Nabal had another blessing that he might not have recognized. He had a wife named Abigail. The writer emphasized that Abigail was both intelligent and beautiful. She was attractive on the outside, but she also had internal qualities that made her stand out from the crowd.

The writer noted that Nabal was harsh and evil. He was mean to others, which likely included Abigail. But he wasn’t just rude or abrasive; he was wicked. This implies he cheated others instead of showing integrity in his dealings.

For all his bluster, Nabal was about to cross one man who would stand his ground: David. Samuel had died, and the future king was on the run from King Saul, living in the desert area of Paran (1 Sam. 25:1). Apparently, Nabal’s workers pastured their flocks near the desert, before taking them about a mile down the road to the nearby town of Carmel for shearing.4  In the desert, the flocks and the workers would have been natural targets for thieves and robbers. Also, the space his livestock covered would have been more than hired men could cover at one time. So, they relied on the small army David had gathered around himself for protection.

David and his men had worked to protect Nabal’s men and property during the feeding season. The unwritten understanding was that Nabal would show his appreciation by providing supplies and resources when the sheep came in to be sheared. Instead, he insulted David and his men, refusing to acknowledge the service they had provided (vv. 4-11). To make matters worse, Nabal was a “Calebite,” which meant he was from the tribe of Judah. Since David was from the same tribe, the two men had a “family connection” of sorts. It’s even possible that Nabal’s ancestors had helped found David’s hometown of Bethlehem (1 Chron. 2:50-51).5

Traditionally, shearing sheep took place two times a year— in the spring and the fall. Since wool was a valuable commodity in ancient Israel, it became a season of great celebration and feasting. But Nabal’s insolence had turned the celebration into a crisis. In response, David commanded his men to prepare for a fight. With four hundred men at his side, David began marching toward Nabal, intent on avenging the man’s insult and ingratitude. Fortunately for everyone involved, this is where Abigail and her wisdom enter the picture.

Once word got out that David was on the move, one of Nabal’s servants ran to find Abigail. Apparently, her discernment was as well known among the hired help as Nabal’s foolishness. It’s even possible that Nabal’s servants had come to Abigail on other occasions to fix the messes their master had created. So, he came to the one person who could negotiate a solution to the coming conflict.

The servant recounted the events of the day to Abigail. While he faithfully related the foolishness of Nabal, he also emphasized the integrity of David and his men. Rather than taking advantage of Nabal’s men earlier when they were with the sheep in the field, David had created a virtual wall of security around them. The servant wisely recognized that David had every right to be angry—and possibly to retaliate. And he certainly wanted Abigail to understand the gravity of the situation. Nabal, his family, his servants, and his property were in serious danger.

The servant begged Abigail to consider carefully what needed to be done. The term worthless fool is a verbal play on Nabal’s name, which means “foolish.” It revealed the servant’s lack of faith in Nabal’s ability to overcome his arrogance and do what was right. But it was also a vote of confidence in Abigail’s ability to quiet the storm. He knew she could be counted on to provide an appropriate response.

As believers, we must consider if we are more like Nabal or Abigail when potential conflicts arise. We either stoke the fire and risk serious damage, or people see us as a calming influence in a chaotic circumstance. God calls us to be peacemakers, which means we need to be the ones people believe can heal hurts—not open new wounds.

4 E. Ray Clendenen and Jeremy Royal Howard, The Old Testament, vol. 1 in The Bible Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 2017), 364.

5 Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7 in The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 1996), 246.

II. Humbly encourage others to do the right thing (1 Sam. 25:23-28)

Wise people don’t always have all the answers. But they know where to turn when they need a plan. Abigail didn’t panic at the servant’s report. Instead, she used her God-given discernment to develop the best plan of action (vv. 18-19).

She started by doing what her foolish husband should have done in the first place. She loaded up a donkey with supplies and rations. Her gift was probably not large enough to feed all of David’s men, but hopefully it was enough to let David know her intentions were sincere. She sent the servant with those provisions ahead of her to meet David—with a promise that she was right behind him.

In God’s timing, Abigail reached the angry leader before he had a chance to reach her husband. And, in contrast to her husband’s arrogance and sarcasm, she responded with humility and grace. Abigail dismounted her donkey and knelt with her face to the ground. This was a sign of humble respect. Even if she did not know that David was the king-inwaiting, she understood what he had done for her husband’s servants. So, she responded appropriately.

In addition to bowing in humility, Abigail also knelt at his feet. While she had something that she needed to say to David, she made sure that he understood her attitude toward him. These nonverbal actions actually spoke volumes and began the process of calming David’s rage. They also opened the door for her to be heard once she did start speaking.

In an economy of words, she was able to intercede for her husband, affirm David’s future success, and convince David to avoid taking matters into his own hands. She began by confessing what David already knew—that her husband was a worthless fool. She attempted to accept some of the blame for what happened. Since “his name means ‘stupid,’ and stupidity is all he knows,” she should have been more aware of what was going on. He had simply lived up to his name, but she could have been more careful to solve the problem before it even began.

She also pled with David to do the right thing. She subtly reminded him that their meeting was not an accident. It was a God-ordained moment to bring a peaceful end to a conflict. She noted that it was the Lord Himself who had stepped in and kept you from participating in bloodshed. David was set on avenging himself in his own strength. They both knew that there was a better way.

Nabal had violated the Torah law by withholding good from David and his men. However, David would also be guilty if he continued with his plan to exact revenge on Nabal. The law was clear about matters of vengeance. In his final song to Israelites, Moses had reminded the people that revenge belongs solely to God (Deut. 32:35).

Human vengeance is usually motivated by anger and selfishness. But God’s vengeance is righteous and holy. As a result, He expects His people to leave the retribution to Him. Eventually, in His way, He will make all things right. This was the spiritual message Abigail was bringing to David along with the physical supplies and the verbal apology. Each played its essential part in defusing the conflict. The apology calmed David’s anger, while the supplies removed any reason to continue the march on Nabal. And the spiritual warning reminded David of his responsibility as a God-fearing leader.

Abigail also demonstrated one more contrast between herself and Nabal. She recognized David’s position as king— even though he was not officially on the throne yet. Where Nabal essentially had accused David of rebelling against Saul (v. 10), Abigail looked forward to David’s lasting dynasty. The honor that would eventually be given to him was just another reason to leave Nabal’s stupidity in God’s hands—and to protect David and his reputation from evil.

Again, her words were carefully chosen to move David’s heart and influence his actions. David certainly had the motivation and the military might to fulfill his initial plan. He could destroy Nabal for his stupidity and disrespect, but Abigail urged him to look at the big picture. David had been called to fight the Lord’s battles, raising the question of whether or not reacting to Nabal’s foolishness qualified.

As God’s anointed king, David also had His provision and protection. Anyone who set out to injure or humiliate him was bound to fail as long as David remained faithful to God’s plan. Unnecessary violence would only place a blot on his legacy moving forward. So, it was better to let God deal with Nabal as He saw fit.

III. Keep a Christ-centered perspective when resolving conflict (1 Sam. 25:32-35)

Abigail’s wisdom and humility had the desired effect on David. Her ability to mix boldness with humility may have surprised the rising king. But he could not deny that he had learned something from her. Her actions didn’t just impact her family’s life; they affected the course of David’s life as well.

Upon reflection, David spoke a three-fold blessing. First, he blessed God for His intervention. He recognized that Abigail had spoken correctly about God’s hand in the situation. The Lord God of Israel had sent her to meet him; this same God was the only One who had the right to deal with Nabal.

David also blessed Abigail for being perceptive—May your discernment be blessed—and for acting as God’s agent of peace in the conflict. One reason David was so grateful for Abigail’s actions is that he realized what could have happened if she had not stepped in. Without her intervention, Nabal wouldn’t have had any males left to carry on his name. David also noted that his anger might have caused him to lash out at innocent people like Abigail herself. David had been committed to righting the wrong in his own strength. But God stopped him through the influence of a wise and honorable woman.

Finally, David blessed Abigail herself: may you be blessed, he said to her, for she had helped to bring about the end of the conflict. In response to Abigail’s requests, David accepted what she had brought. While her gifts may not have supplied his entire army, he recognized the symbolic meaning behind the supplies. He urged Abigail to go home in peace, and assured her he would not strike against Nabal. He had heard her plea, had seen God’s hand at work, and had committed himself to doing as she had asked. He would take what God had provided and leave the rest in His hands.

From there, events moved quickly, as the biblical writer gave his readers insight into “the rest of the story.” Back home, Nabal was still living it up at the sheep-shearing festival—until he found out what happened. When he heard how Abigail had saved his life, he didn’t get angry. Instead, Scripture says “his heart died and he became a stone” (1 Sam. 25:37). He most likely suffered some kind of stroke or seizure that left him paralyzed or in a coma. But the sudden illness clearly was no coincidence. The writer made it clear that in less than two weeks, Nabal was dead because God had struck him. David had rightly left the situation in God’s hands, and the Lord had responded on his behalf.

When word got back to David about Nabal’s death, he did two things. First, he praised God for restraining him from any rash behaviors. Second, he took Abigail as his wife.

We live in a world marked by conflict. The devastating effects of sin will always push individuals and nations toward chaos and violence. Since we are called to be God’s peacemakers whenever possible, this means our job never really ends.

Understanding and applying Abigail’s example will not eliminate every conflict in our world, but it will help us deal effectively with the ones we can solve—and do it in a way that honors Christ. He needs to be the center of everything we do, including our efforts to bring peace to tense situations.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Bible Study For Life Commentary: 1 Samuel 25:2-3,14-17,23-28,32-35

I. Be a person others can trust when help is needed (1 Sam. 25:2-3,14-17)

Verses 2-3. The first verse of 1 Samuel 25 sets the time frame for this event in David’s life. Our focus in this lesson is on Abigail. The biblical writer described Abigail as intelligent and beautiful (v. 3). In the context of this passage she is asked to intervene to keep David from killing her foolish husband, Nabal (vv. 25-26). Abigail honored the Lord by stepping in to resolve conflict.

Nabal and Abigail lived in Maon, about seven to eight miles south of Hebron, a central city in the tribal area of Judah settled by Caleb, one of the spies Moses had sent to spy out the land of Canaan, and his descendants. Nabal’s servants were shearing sheep in Carmel, about a mile north of Maon. These twice-yearly sheep-shearing festivals occurred in the spring and early fall. These festivals were usually times of feasting and good-will toward all who had helped protect the sheep—as David and his men had.

Sandwiched between two events where David refused to kill God’s anointed, King Saul, Israel’s first king (1 Sam. 24; 26), 1 Samuel 25 focuses on the story of David’s fury against Nabal, having every intention to kill him and his men. Nabal was a very rich man who had three thousand sheep and one thousand goats. Nabal’s name meant foolish, likely both in the intellectual and ethical senses. In stark contrast stood his wife, Abigail, whose name means “my father rejoices” or “my father is joy.”

The biblical writer listed two characteristics of Abigail in verse 3; she was intelligent and beautiful. The Hebrew word translated intelligent also means “sensible,” “prudent,” and “discreet.” This first character trait of Abigail mentioned sets the stage for quite a few others we will discover. In contrast to his ancestor Caleb, Nabal was harsh and evil in his dealings—both qualities absent from God and His servants.

Verses 4-13 explains the confrontation between Nabal and David, how Nabal rejected David’s good greeting and request to join in the sheep-shearing celebration. Although David’s men had protected Nabal’s sheep and his servants, Nabal was true to his name and acted evilly in his dealings with David’s servants. When David heard Nabal’s response to his request, he left two hundred of his men to guard their supplies and took four hundred swordsmen with him to kill Nabal and his men (25:22).

Verse 14. One of Nabal’s young men told Abigail about the confrontation between Nabal and David’s messengers and how Nabal screamed at David’s servants. Why did this young man approach Abigail? Likely he knew about Abigail’s character traits. We’ve already seen that Abigail was intelligent. For this young man to approach her, she must have been both knowledgeable about her husband as well as trustworthy. Perhaps this young man had seen how she had acted in previous situations. Likely he reasoned that she could talk some sense into Nabal, if anyone could.

Verses 15-16. The young man explained to Abigail that David’s men had treated them very well. He listed various ways David’s men had protected them as well as Nabal’s sheep. These examples included: (1) Nabal’s men were not harassed, (2) nothing of theirs was missing, and (3) David’s men formed a wall around them. This wall protected them from wild animals as well as robbers and thieves. David’s request for his men to join in Nabal’s feast seemed reasonable. The young man also reported the consistency and comprehensive nature of David’s men by using phrases such as “when we were in the field … the whole time” and “both day and night, the entire time we were with them herding the sheep.”

Verse 17. The tone shifts in this verse. Rather than describing what had happened, this young man addressed Abigail directly, “Now consider carefully what you should do.” This young man provided the rationale for his request to Abigail: “because there is certain to be trouble for our master and his entire family.” The word trouble may have been an understatement. Verse 22 indicates this trouble was that David was planning to kill Nabal and his men. This Hebrew word is also translated “evil,” “harm,” and “disaster.”

In contrast to Abigail, this young man said that Nabal was “such a worthless fool nobody can talk to him!” Nabal deserved this reputation based on his previous words and actions. Likely this young man not only feared for his life, but for the lives of all those around him. However, as the Bible will reveal in the following verses, Abigail’s character traits resulted in her actions honoring the Lord in resolving conflict.

II. Humbly encourage others to do the right thing (1 Sam. 25:23-28)

Verse 23. Verses 18-20 detail Abigail’s plans to meet David. From verse 18, we can surmise that Abigail was also generous, conciliatory, and decisive. To help remove David’s righteous anger over Nabal’s evil treatment, Abigail traveled to meet David and brought gifts of food and wine to him. Abigail stepped in to help resolve the conflict between Nabal and David by trying to mitigate David’s anger expressed in verses 21-22. Abigail humbly encouraged David to do the right thing.

As soon as Abigail saw David, she quickly got off the donkey she had been riding. Likely the adverb quickly also refers to the fact Abigail knelt down with her face to the ground. That Abigail knelt down indicated the traditional position of an inferior person recognizing the presence of a superior person. Further, that her face was to the ground intensified the action of kneeling down. Taken together, Abigail’s actions revealed great respect for David.

Previously we have seen some of Abigail’s character traits (intelligent, knowledgeable, trustworthy, generous, conciliatory, and decisive); now this verse reveals she also was humble, respectful, brave, and bold also. In Israelite society, for a wife to kneel before anyone but her husband was an unusual act of bravery and boldness.

Verse 24. Abigail remained in the physical position of respect as she knelt at David’s feet. This position usually indicated that the kneeler wanted mercy from the person he or she kneeled before. Only then did she begin to speak. This verse begins the longest speech of any woman in the Old Testament, 153 words in Hebrew (vv. 24-31). Old Testament scholar Robert Bergan summarized Abigail’s speech in the following way. “Abigail did three remarkable things: (1) she successfully interceded in behalf of her husband, (2) she prophetically revealed David’s destiny as the founder of a dynasty and vanquisher of enemies, and (3) she prevented David from bringing judgment down on himself through an egregious violation of the Torah.”1 The word Torah refers to the commands and teachings in the first five books of the Bible. Abigail’s speech revealed another character trait: she was eloquent.

The first words out of Abigail’s mouth, “the guilt is mine,” assumed the blame for her husband’s words. This acceptance of blame was part of the culture in which the family, clan, and tribe shared a corporate responsibility for the words and actions of its members. As a sign of respect, eight times in verses 23-28 Abigail referred to David as my lord, (or my lord’s). Abigail continued this respect by asking “please let your servant speak to you directly.” Abigail then became more firm in requesting that David listen to the words she would speak. Using the term your servant to refer to herself was another sign of respect.

Verse 25. Abigail got directly to the point. She placed blame where it belonged: on her husband. First, Abigail asked David to pay no attention to Nabal whom she described as a worthless fool. Further, she told David her husband lived up to his name (more literally translated “for as his name is, so he is”). Using a word-play on Nabal’s name, Abigail reminded David about the meaning of Nabal’s name: “His name means ‘stupid,’ and stupidity is all he knows.” Abigail then informed David of her true involvement in Nabal’s words and actions: “I, your servant, didn’t see my lord’s young men whom you sent.”

Verse 26. Seven times in the remainder of Abigail’s speech, she used the covenant name for God, Lord (or Lord’s). This reveals another character trait about Abigail; she was pious. After addressing David as my lord, Abigail used words similar to an oath before getting to her main thought. She said: “it is the Lord who kept you from participating in bloodshed and avenging yourself by your own hand.” Perhaps her statement reminded David of his own actions in 1 Samuel 24 when he refused to kill King Saul. Abigail may have been protecting David’s reputation, preparing him for his role as king of Israel (1 Sam. 25:28). In the final words in verse 26, Abigail voiced a hope that David’s enemies be as stupid or foolish as her husband by failing to succeed with their evil plans.

Verses 27-28. Abigail referred to her generous gift of food (v. 18) and encouraged David to give it his men. She asked that David forgive her offense—though it is difficult to find an offense she committed except being brutally honest about her husband. By Abigail’s saying “the Lord is certain to make a lasting dynasty for my lord,” we recognize her prophetic insight. Abigail gave the reason for her prophecy: because David fights the Lord’s battles. She concluded by offering a prayer about David’s righteousness: “Throughout your life, may evil not be found in you.” This would be another helpful quality for a king of Israel. Abigail’s actions in these two verses reveal additional character traits. She was selfless, prophetic, hopeful, and encouraging. These character traits Abigail possessed would be helpful for each of us.

III. Keep a Christ-centered perspective when resolving conflict (1 Sam. 25:32-35)

Verses 32-33. Abigail continued her speech through verse 31. In verses 29-31, Abigail described God’s intervention in David’s life, protecting him, guiding him, and preparing him to be king of Israel. As a conclusion to her speech, Abigail asked David to remember her as the Lord did good things for him. Verses 32-35 lead us to apply the focus of Abigail and David’s encounter: keep a God-centered perspective in resolving conflict.

David began speaking to Abigail with a three-fold blessing. David’s blessing God means David recognized God as the source of power and praised Him for His actions benefiting David. Old Testament writers used the Hebrew word translated blessed over three hundred times, most often in Psalms and Genesis. The word comes from a Hebrew term meaning “bend the knee” or “kneel.”

David’s first blessing recognized God’s part in directing David’s encounter with Nabal and Abigail. David said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” By using God’s covenant name, Lord, His generic name, God, and His special beloved nation, Israel, David focused on the grand scope of the actions rather than the minor details of what had transpired. Using the words “who sent you to meet me today,” David acknowledged God’s part in guiding Abigail’s actions.

David’s second blessing recognized Abigail’s discernment. This word refers to the ability to weigh different options and choose the correct one. Discernment is a part of wisdom. In addition to the character traits of Abigail mentioned previously, we can add three more: discerning, wise, and protective.

David’s third blessing was on Abigail herself. Both the second and third blessings are couched in the language of prayer, a request David made to God on Abigail’s behalf. The second half of verse 33 provides the reason for this requested blessing, “Today you kept me from participating in bloodshed and avenging myself by my own hand.” Here David was referring to his plan to avenge himself by killing Nabal and all his males. This plan was first described in verse 22 and is repeated in verse 34. David’s avenging himself by his own hand would have been sinful because God is the only appropriate avenger (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 32:35). We can read about God’s judgment on Nabal in later verses (1 Sam. 25:37-38) as well as David’s response (v. 39). Both David and Abigail were able to keep a God-centered perspective in resolving conflict; this honored God and resulted in benefits for both of them as well.

Verse 34. David framed his words in a similar way that others used for taking an oath. The words, “as surely as … lives,” convey the idea of certainty based on an authority, in this case, the Lord God of Israel. The next few words, “who prevented me from harming you,” point to God’s actions in protecting David, but also in protecting Abigail and the men in her house. Had Abigail delayed her actions and not been decisive in approaching David, the situation would have had negative results for Abigail, David, Nabal, his men, and perhaps even for all of Israel. The remaining part of this verse reveals David had planned to execute judgment that very night.

Verse 35. David accepted what Abigail had brought him and his six hundred men: two hundred loaves of bread, two clay jars of wine, five butchered sheep, a bushel of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of pressed figs (v. 18). David then told Abigail “Go home.” David directed Abigail to return home “in peace.” The Hebrew word shalom, translated “peace” meant much more than the absence of conflict. Peace referred to a sense of well-being, a sense of rightness within a person, as well as right relationships with God and people. In Israelite society, to ask a person about peace was to ask something like this: “Is it well with you?” Likely David was focusing on his relationship with Abigail.

Finally, David told Abigail he had understood her message and had granted her request. Hebrew is a concrete language, frequently substituting physical objects for abstract nouns. For example, “smelling” a sacrifice meant “accepting it.” Literally David’s words here are translated as “I have lifted [up] your face,” indicating he granted Abigail’s request. May we, too, follow Abigail’s actions in keeping a God-centered perspective in resolving conflicts.

 Upon hearing what Abigail had done, Nabal’s “heart died” and “he became a stone” (v. 37). “About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal dead” (v. 38).

Abigail’s character is described in this way: she was, generous (v. 18), conciliatory (vv. 18-19,24-31), decisive (vv. 18,23), humble (v. 23), eloquent (vv. 24-31), pious and discerning (vv. 26,28-31). As a result of Abigail’s character, beauty, and wealth—and upon the death of her husband Nabal—she became David’s wife (1 Sam. 25:36-42).

1. Robert D. Bergen, 1,2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 249.

SOURCE: Bible Studies For Life: Life Ventures Leaders Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234

The Pulpit Commentary – (1 Sam. 25:2-3,14-17,23-28,32-35)

I. Be a person others can trust when help is needed (1 Sam. 25:2-3,14-17)

Verse 2:  A man in Maon. Though strictly by descent belonging to Maon (for which see on 1 Samuel 23:24), his possessions — rather, “his business,” “occupation” (see Genesis 47:3, and Ecclesiastes 4:3, where it is translated work) — were in Carmel, the small town just north of Maon, where Saul set up a trophy at the end of the Amalekite war (1 Samuel 15:12), and to which Abigail belonged (1 Samuel 27:3). He is described as very great because of his wealth arising from his large flocks of sheep and goats, which fed upon the pasture land which forms the elevated plateau of Carmel, where he was shearing his sheep, usually a time of lavish hospitality (2 Samuel 13:23, 24).

Verse 3:  Nabal, the word rendered fool in Psalm 14:1; literally, “flat,” “vapid.” Abigail means “one who is the cause (father) of joy,” i.e. one who gives joy. She, with her bright understanding and beautiful person (the Hebrew word takes in much more than the countenance; see 1 Samuel 16:18, where it is rendered comely person), is in contrast with the coarse, churlish man who was her husband. His name was either one which he had acquired by his conduct, or if given him by his parents shows that they were clownish people. He was of the house of Caleb. The written text has, “he was according to his heart,” celibbo, i.e. a self-willed man, or one whose rude exterior answered to his inner nature; but there are linguistic difficulties in the way of this reading, and the Kri is probably right in correcting calibbi, a Calebite, a descendant of Caleb, who had large possessions assigned him in the neighbourhood of Hebron (Joshua 15:13-19), which is only ten miles northwest of Carmel. The versions support the Kri, though the Syriac and Septuagint render doglike — one who, like a dog, though he has plenty, yet grudges others. The meaning of the name Caleb is literally “a dog.”


Verses 14-17: — One of the young men. Hebrew, “a lad of the lads,” i.e. one of the servants (see on the word 1 Samuel 1:24); when used in this sense it has no reference to age (see 1 Samuel 2:17). This man was probably some old and confidential servitor. To salute. Hebrew, “to bless” (see 1 Samuel 13:10; 2 Kings 4:29). He railed on them. Literally, “flew upon them like a bird of prey.” We were not hurt. Literally, “not put to shame” (see on ver. 7). The language of a people always bears witness to their character, and it is a mark of the high spirit of the Israelites that they thought less of the loss than of the disgrace of an injury. As long as we were conversant with them. Hebrew, “as long as we went about with them.” In the fields. Really, “in the field,” the wilderness, the common pasture land. A wall. I.e. a sure protection both against wild beasts and Amalekite and other plunderers. A son of Belial. A worthless, bad man (see on 1 Samuel 1:16), so coarse and violent that it is hopeless to expostulate with him.

I. Humbly encourage others to do the right thing (1 Sam. 25:23-28)

Verses 23-25:  Abigail... fell before David on her face. This very abject obeisance may have been grounded on her belief in David's future kingship, or it may simply mark the inferior position held by women in those days (see ver. 41). Her whole address is couched in very humble terms. David (1 Samuel 24:8) only stooped with his face to the ground before Saul. Upon me. Abigail represents herself as the person really guilty, on whom the iniquity, i.e. the punishment of the offence, must fall. Nabal is a mere son of Belial, a worthless, bad man, whose name Nabal, i.e. fool, is a sign that folly is with him, and accompanies all his acts. As a fool he is scarcely accountable for his doings, and Abigail, whose wont and business it was to set things to rights, saw not the young men, and so was unable to save them from her husband's rudeness.

Verses 26, 27:  Abigail begins her appeal by affirming that it was Jehovah who thus made her come to prevent bloodshed; she next propitiates David with the prayer that his enemies may be as Nabal, insignificant fools; and finally asks him to accept her present, not for himself, — that would be too great an honour, — but as good enough only for his followers. The first of these affirmations is obscured by the rendering in the A.V., and should be translated, “And now, my lord (an ordinary title of respect, like our sir), as Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, so true is it that Jehovah hath withholden thee from blood guiltiness, and from saving thyself with thine own hand; and now let thine enemies,” etc. The same words recur in vers. 31, 33. Blessing. I.e. gift, present (see 1 Samuel 30:26). This beautiful term shows the deep religiousness of the Hebrew mind. The gift is something that comes not from the donor, but from God, in answer to the donor's prayer.

Verse 28:  Forgive the trespass of thine handmaid. Reverting to her words in ver. 24, that the blame and punishment must rest on her, she now prays for forgiveness; but the intermediate words in ver. 26, emphasised in ver. 31, have raised her request to a higher level. Her prayer rests on the ground that she was saving David from a sin, and that in his thirst for vengeance he was bringing upon himself guilt. If the form of Abigail's address was most humble, the matter of it was brave and noble. A sure house. I.e. permanent prosperity (see on 1 Samuel 2:35). Because my lord fighteth. Hebrew, “will fight.” David was not fighting these battles now because he was not yet enthroned as the theocratic king. It was Saul's business at present to fight “Jehovah's battles,” either in person or by his officers (1 Samuel 18:17). The words, therefore, distinctly look forward to the time when David as king will have the duty imposed upon him of protecting Jehovah's covenant people. Evil hath not been found in thee. Hebrew, “shall not be found in thee,” i.e. when the time comes for thee to take the kingdom no one shall be able to allege against thee any offence by which thou hast lost thy title to the kingly office; nor afterwards as king shalt thou be guilty of any breach of thy duty to Jehovah, Israel's supreme Ruler, so as to incur rejection as Saul has done.

III. Keep a Christ-centered perspective when resolving conflict (1 Sam. 25:32-35)

Verses 32-35:  David, in his thankful acknowledgment of Abigail's remonstrance, sees in it the hand of Jehovah the God of Israel, who had sent her, i.e. stirred her up to come. He commends also her advice, literally, her “taste,” i.e. wisdom, discretion. It is the word rendered behaviour in 1 Samuel 21:13. But for this prudent conduct on her part in thus coming to meet him on the way, he solemnly assures her on oath that nothing could have saved Nabal and every male in his household from death. Finally, he accepts her present and dismisses her with the assurance that all was forgiven.

SOURCE:  The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 16: Mark & Luke; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

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DIGGING DEEPER: Key Word(s)

NABAL(nay’ bal) name meaning, “fool” or “rude, ill-bred.” See Abigail.

ABIGAIL (ab’ ih gayihl) Personal name meaning, “my father rejoiced.” 1. Wife of David after being wife of Nabal. She was praised for wisdom in contrast to Nabal, her arrogant and overbearing husband, who was a large landowner and successful shepherd. Nabal held a feast for his sheep shearers while David was hiding from Saul in the wilderness of Paran. David and his six hundred men were camped near the town of Maon. He heard about Nabal’s feast and requested some food. Nabal, in a drunken state, refused the request and insulted David’s ten messengers. In anger, David determined to kill all of Nabal’s household. Abigail anticipated David’s reaction and loaded a convoy of donkeys with food to feed all of David’s men. As soon as she met David, she impressed him with her beauty, humility, praise, and advice (1 Sam. 25:32-33). After Nabal became sober and heard about David’s plans to kill him, he had a heart attack. Following Nabal’s death, David married Abigail, the second of his eight wives. They lived first at Gath and then at Hebron, where Abigail gave birth to Chileab, who is also called Daniel. Later, Abigail was taken captive by the Amalekites when they captured Ziklag, but David rescued her (1 Samuel 30:1-18).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

AVENGE; AVENGER:

Avenge.—The general idea connected with this word is that of inflicting punishment upon the wrongdoer. Since emphasis may be placed upon the deed itself, the wrongdoer, or the injured party, the verb is found an intransitive (only Leviticus 19:18; see below), transitive (2 Samuel 4:8 et al.); and also active (Deut. 32:43), passive (Jeremiah 5:9) and reflexive (Esther 8:13). In 1 Samuel 25:26ff avenge is translated from ‏יָשַע‎, yāshaʿ, "to save" (Revised Version margin, "thine own hand saving thee"), in Hosea 1:4 from ‏פָּקַד‎, pāḳadh, "to visit," and in 2 Samuel 18:19ff from ‏שָׁפַט‎, shāphaṭ, "to judge," but the usual Hebrew word is ‏נָקַם‎, nāḳam, or derivatives, "to avenge." The translation in the Revised Version (British and American) differs in some places from King James Version: Numbers 31:3 (Revised Version (British and American) "execute Yahweh's vengeance"; compare 2 Samuel 22:48; Psalm 18:47; Leviticus 26:25); Leviticus 19:18 (Revised Version (British and American) "tak vengeance"); Judges 5:2 (Revised Version (British and American) "for that the leaders took the lead in Israel" from ‏פָּרַע‎, pāraʿ, "to be free, to lead"). In the New Testament avenge is translated from the Greek ἐκδικέω, ekdikéō, "to do justice," "to protect" (Luke 18:3ff et al.) and the King James Version Rev. 18:20, κρίνω, krínō, "to judge" (Revised Version (British and American) "God hath judged your judgment").

Avenger.—That is, the person who inflicts punishment upon the evil-doer for a wrong experienced by himself (from ‏נָקַם‎, nāḳam, "to avenge"; Psalm 8:2 et al.) or by someone else from ‏גָּאַל‎, ʾal, "to redeem"; Numbers 35:12ff et al.). In the New Testament avenger occurs only once; "the Lord is an avenger in all things" (1 Thes. 4:6). It was the duty of the nearest relative to execute vengeance upon the murderer of his kin: he became the ʾēl. With reference to the protective legislation and custom,

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

 

VENGEANCE:  The English word vengeance is a principal translation of several Hebrew words related to the stem nqm and of ekdikeo (and cognates) in the Septuagint (or earliest Greek Old Testament) and in the New Testament. Behind the Hebrew usage of nqm stands a sense of the solidarity and integrity of the community which, having been damaged by an offense, must be restored by some deed of retaliation or punishment. The range of meaning of the motif, however, extends beyond “vengeance” and/or “punishment” to a sense of “deliverance.”

Human revenge against an enemy or enemies is demonstrated in a broad range of circumstances in the Old Testament documents (Gen. 4:23-24; Jer. 20:10). Samson’s reaction to his enemies (Judg. 15:7) is so described. Vengeance might be punishment directed toward another who has committed adultery with one’s wife (Prov. 6:32-34) or toward a whole ethnic group such as the Philistines (1 Sam. 18:25). On occasion, the enemies of the people of God are described as acting vengefully (Ezek. 25:12,15,17). In the context of loving one’s neighbor, human revenge toward fellow Hebrews was forbidden (Lev. 19:17-18; compare Deut. 32:35), but nqm may be used of legitimate punishment for a wrong (Ex. 21:20; compare Ex. 21:23-25; Lev. 24:19; Deut. 19:21).

As an activity of God on behalf of His people, nqm is sometimes best understood as retribution (Judg. 11:36). David was often the recipient of such favor (2 Sam. 4:8; 22:48; Ps. 18:47). The motif occurs in this sense in the prayers of Jeremiah (Jer. 11:20; 15:15; 20:12) and of the psalmist (Pss. 58:10; 79:10; 94:1). Note that deliverance is involved in several of these instances. The wrath of God was exhibited toward Babylon (Jer. 51:6,11,36; Isa. 47:3; Ezek. 24:7-9). In the song of Moses, such retribution is attributed to God alone (Deut. 32:35,41,43). Yet, the wrath of God might be extended toward the people of Israel because of their sin (Lev. 26:25).

Nqm has a sense of eschatological deliverance. This can be combined with an expression of God’s wrath against Israel’s enemies (Isa. 34:8). The parallel Isaianic phrases “day of vengeance” and “year of my redemption” have the same import (63:4; compare 61:1-3).

In the New Testament, the motif of “vengeance” (ekdikeo and cognates) occurs on relatively few occasions. Of the evangelists, Luke alone uses both the verb and the noun. In Jesus’ parable of the unjust judge, a widow’s persistent request for vindication from her enemy is grudgingly granted. Luke displayed the parable as a worst-case model of God’s vindication (“deliverance”) of His people (Luke 18:1-8). In another teaching of Jesus, “vengeance” has an eschatological dimension which is reflective of Isaiah 63:4 (Luke 21:22). A further Lukan example is found in Stephen’s speech this time retribution (Acts 7:24).

Paul forbade human vengeance much in the way of Deuteronomy 32:35 (compare Lev. 19:18), asserting that the Lord is the Avenger of wrong (Rom. 12:19; 1 Thess. 4:6-7). In the Corinthian correspondence, Paul used both noun and verb in the sense of “punishment.” The usage seems designed to bring about repentance (2 Cor. 7:10-11; 10:5-6). On one occasion, Paul wrote of the ruler of a state as a servant of God, “a revenger to execute wrath upon him who doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4). Once, he wrote of the eschatological wrath (judgment) of God (2 Thess. 1:7-8; compare Isa. 66:15; Ps. 79:6).

The author of Hebrews also cited the Deuteronomic prohibition against human vengeance (Heb. 10:30; Deut. 32:35; compare Rom. 12:19; Lev. 19:18), and the author of 1 Peter referred to human governors as persons sent by God to punish evildoers (1 Pet. 2:14; compare Rom. 13:4).

In Hebraic fashion, the author of Revelation viewed God as the Avenger who vindicates His people against their enemies (Rev. 6:10; 19:2). Both of these usages have eschatological overtones (compare Isa. 63:1-6).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Bible Reader's Companion

1 SAMUEL 25 Outline

Chapter summary. Samuel dies, and David leads his men to the wilderness country of Maon, near a great ranch owned by the wealthy Nabal, whose name means "fool" (25:1-3). At sheepshearing time David sends a delegation to ask politely for a small portion of food for his men, in view of their past favors to Nabal's herdsmen (vv. 1-9; cf. vv. 15-16). Nabal ridicules David and sends them away with nothing. Furious, David orders his men to get weapons, and leads them against the feasting Nabal (vv. 10-13). But Nabal's terrified men appeal to Abigail, their master's beautiful and intelligent wife (vv. 14-17). Abigail acts quickly and intercepts the increasingly angry David with a generous gift of food (vv. 18-22). She apologizes humbly for her surly husband, and wisely points out that revenge against Nabal would be unwise for one who hopes to be the future ruler of Judah (vv. 23-34). David's anger subsides, and he leads his men home. When Abigail tells Nabal, Nabal has a stroke, and David invites the wiling widow to join him as his wife (vv. 35-43).

Key verses. 25:30-31: A man of faith seeks no vengeance.

Personal application. Diffuse others' anger, and your own.

Key concepts. Women »pp. 163, 394. Vengeance »p. 428.

INSIGHT

Nabal's wealth (25:2). Compare with Job, the richest of his time, with 7,000 sheep (Job 1:2).

A polite request (25:4-8). David's request was modest, polite, and appropriate. David's reference to himself as "your son" showed both humility and respect.

Anger rehearsed (25:12-13, 21-22). David's reaction to the insult was understandable. The more he thought about what Nabal had said, the angrier he became, and the more justified he felt in taking revenge. All of us know times when some incident serves as the last straw. How much we need the perspective that Abigail brought to David at that time!

Abigail's solution (25:18-32). David's anger was understandable, but not justified. Abigail showed great sensitivity in helping David with his anger. Note: *She brought David food, and in this acted to correct the situation that had made David angry. Where an injustice has been committed, we must try to correct it. *She asked David for forgiveness. This is a godly alternative to striking out in an attempt to obtain revenge. *She pointed out the consequences of acting in anger. David would be guilty of shedding blood needlessly. And later, when David became king, his action might erode the confidence and support of the people of Judah. *She also urged David to leave vengeance in God's hands. God, who rights all wrongs, would care for David—and take care of all David's enemies. Impressed by the words of this bold and yet humble woman, David blessed her for keeping him from acting hastily.

Nabal "becomes like a stone" (25:37). This is a common Aramaic idiom meaning he had a heart attack or stroke and became paralyzed.

Nabal and Saul. Some commentators note a similarity between Nabal and Saul. Each is hostile to a loyal and honest David. Each goes against the advice of family and retainers. Each ultimately is struck down by God, not by David. Samuel even told Saul he acted foolishly, using the same Hebrew letters that make up Nabal's name (13:13). The evil each did David returned to condemn him. What a lesson for us. Let's let our enemies' own acts condemn them, rather than take revenge.

David's marriage to Abigail (25:40-43). David's marriage to Abigail was legitimate in that culture even though David had another wife. The marriage undoubtedly reflected David's respect for this unusual and beautiful woman.

Michal (25:44). There is no cause/effect relationship between Saul's marriage of Michal to Paltiel and David's marriage to Abigail. The author is writing about marriages and simply notes this event, so significant later (2 Sam. 3:13-16).

SOURCE: Bible Reader's Companion by Lawrence O. Richards; © 1991, 2004 by Cook Communications Ministries. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

 

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:

David’s Wives

By Ken Cox 

Ken Cox is a speaker and freelance writer living in New Boston, Texas.

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HE BIBLE TELLS OF DAVID having eight wives.  It tells more about three of the wives, Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba, than the other wives.  Only in genealogical accounts or isolated verses do we read about the other five spouses, Ahinoam, Maacah, Haggith, Abiral, and Eglah and their children.  The accounts of the lives of David’s children provide insight into the trunmoil the wives within David’s court endured.  Theirs ws not a simple home life; instead it was a royal household filled with the drama of sexual abuse, revenge killings, and attempted usurpations of power.  David successfully ruled the people of Israel but could not manage his own home.1

In spite of the Torah forbidding the practice for kiings, David did have multiple wives (Deut. 17:17).  Ancient monarchs commonly married, typically taking foreign wives, in order to seal treaties, expand borders, and create alliances with the leaders of the homelands from which those wives came.2

Michal, a daughter of Israel’s initial monarch, Saul, was david’s first wife.  David, though a famous giant-killer and soldier, humbl declined the offer of Saul’s oldest daughter, Merab.  Acknowledging that he was merely a shepherd’s son, he stated he was unsuitable for such an important favor from the king (1 Sam. 18:17-18).  After learning that his younger daughter Michal loved David, King Saul, driven by jealousy of David’s successful conquests, used the romance in an attempt to get David killed (vv. 20-21,25).  Saul requested the forshins of 100 Philistines as a suitable bride price for Michal.  David enthusiastically surpassed the request by providing 100 evidences of conquest, survived Saul’s plot,and married Michal (vv. 26-27).

Increasingly jealous, King Saul ordered assassins to David and Michal’s home.  Michal warned David of her father’s intention, set up an idol in their bed as a decoy for the executioners, and abetted David’s escape through a palace window when the executioners arrived (19:11-18).  While David was absent from Saul’s court and was a fugitive avoiding the king’s vindictive rage, Saul gave Michal to another man for marriage (25:44).  After David rose to the monarchy, he demanded Michal’s return as his wife (2 Sam. 3:14).  When Michal returned to David, her husband, Paltiel, pitifully wept and followed his wife until forced to return home (vv. 15-16).

Michal’s marriage came to an unhappy end after a spat with David.  David danced exuberantly in a procession as the ark entered Jerusalem.  After spying his whirling dance in a scanty aphod, Michal scolded David for behavior she deemed inappropriate (6:15,20).  David vehemently disagreed, insisting his worshipful dancing was from a heart devoted to God.  After their squabble, the Bible simply says that Michal died childless (v. 23).

David met his wife Abigail as he southt revenge on Nabal, her husband.  Nabal had insulted David and his men by refusing to send them a token of food and drink during a sheep-shearing festival.  Nabal’s huge herd had been safe from thieves because of David’s protective warriors.  Instead of rewarding David’s men, Nabal insolently refused to show them appreciation.  Insulted, David rallied some of his armed troops.  Learning of the incident, Apigail anticipated David’s planned retaliation and prepared to make amends.  As they were descending the mountain passes surrounding Carmel on their mission of revenge, David’s men encountered the lovely Abigail leading a procession of donkeys loaded with gifts of food and wine.  Abigail humbly pleaded for forgiveness for her foolish husband and her endangered household.  She called upon David’s faith and envisioned the righteous reign of the brave future monarch.  David graciously received Abigail’s words of faith and gifts and granted her request for forgiveness (1 Sam. 25:2-35).

Abigail did not tell Nabal of his escape from death until he had sobered up from the sheep-shearing festivities.  When informed, he suffered a seizure and then died 10 days later.  After hearing of Nabal’s death, David sent some of his men to Abigail with a proposal of marriage, which she accepted (vv. 36-42).

Ahinoam if Jezreel is the mother of Amnon, David’s firstborn (1 Sam. 3:2).  In a sordid episode, Amnon, enthralled by the beauty of his half-sister, Tamar, lured her into his bedroom while pretending to be sick.  After raping her, he commanded his servants to forcefully remove her from his home because he now despised her (13:1-18).  David was angered but took no action to punish Amnon (v. 21).  Tamar’s brother, Absalom, was inraged by the rape of his sister and plotted retaliation.  Absalom took revenge by luring Amnon to a celebration where he had his half-brother murdered (vv. 23-29). 

Absalom fled to Geshur and remained in exile for three years (v. 38) until he schemed his way back to Jerusalem and eventually rejoined the court of David.  Later, the handsome and charismatic Absalom plotted to usurp David’s throne and triggered a civil war that resulted in his death (14:25; 15:6; 18:9-15).  David deeply mourned the deaths of Amnon (2 Sam. 13:36-37) and Absalom (18:33).

Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail were taken hostage when the Amalekites attacked, burned, and plundered Ziklag, David’s base camp.  David tracked down and defeated the marauding Amalekites, recovered all the stolen goods, and rescued Ahinoam and Abigail (1 Sam. 30:1-20).

Before establishing his capital in Jerusalem, David settled in Hebron for the first seven-and-a-half years of his monarchy (1 Sam. 2:11).  In Hebron David married Maacah, mother or Absalom and Tamar.  He also married Haggith, Adonijah’s mother; and Abital, mother of Shephatiah; and Eglah, mother of Ithream (2 Sam. 3:2-5).

 We have only the names of wives Abital and Eglah; the Bible does not mention them in recorded scandals of the royal court.  Haggith’s son, Adonijah, though, did attempt to extablish himself as king.

Although growing weaker with age, David failed to pronounce a successor to his throne.  In this power vacuum the handsome Adonijah assembled chariots, horses, and an entourage of 50 men (1 Kings 1:5-6).  He enlisted the support of General Joab and Abiathar the priest and declared a celegration and coronation for himself (vv. 7-9).  Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba worked together to inform King David of Adonijah’s treachery—and to remind David that he had formerly chosen Solomon as king (vv. 11-40).  His plan failed, Adonijah’s fled for safety and took hold of the horns of the altar.  Solomon promised not to harm Adonijah if he proved to be worthy (vv. 49-53).

Adonijah’s death came when he strategized to take abishag, David’s young concubine, as his wife.  Possessing the king’s concubine would establish a claim to the throne.3  Adonijah enlisted Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, in his conspiracy by requesting that she ask Solomon to give Abishag to him as his wife.  Recognizing the threat, Solomon immediately executed his half-brother Adonijah (2:25).

After moving to Jerusalem, David added his eighth wife, Bathsheba.  David spotted the beautiful—albeir married—Bathsheba as she bathed one night in Jerusalem.  After sleeping with Bathsheba, David sought to cover up his adultery and Bathsheba’s resultant pregnancy by bringing her husband, Uriah, home from battle.  Aftger refusing to be with his wife while his comrades were in the field, David ordered Uriah’s death by placing him in harm’s way when he rejoined the army (2 Sam. 11:1-25).  Bathsheba was not guilty in the affair with David, as she was not free to refuse the king’s amorous advances.4  In Jerusalem, David had 13 more sons.5

Bathsheba rose to prominence in the court.  Nathan became her ally in Adonijah’s power play.  For Solomon to treat Bathsheba so kindly when she requested Abishag for Adonijah reveals his (Solomon’s) deep respect for his mother.  Bathsheba might be the inspiration for Solomon’s virtuous woman passage in the Book of Proverbs.6

From David’s wives, God’s promise was fulfilled.  God pledged to David that a son from his family line would reign from an eternal throne (7:13).  David desired to build a house for God.  Instead, God built a lineage for him (vv. 11-16).  Indeed, centures later, Matthew includes Bathsheba in Jesus’ genealogy because she played a role as David’s wife in the coming of the long-awaited Messiah (Matt. 1:6).                                                                                                                                                              

1.  “David” in Holman Bible Dictionary,gen. ed. T.C. Butler, (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 340.

2.  J. Bright, A History of Israel, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Westinister Press, 1981), 212-13.

3.  C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, “The First Book of Kings,”  Commentary on the Old Testament (K&D), vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 32.

4.  E. Deen, All the Women of the Bible (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955), 114.

5.  C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, “The First Book of Chronicles” in K&D, 78

6.  Deen, All The Women of the Bible, 116-17.

SOURCE:  Biblical Illustrator; Lifeway Christian Resources Of The Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234, Summer 2016.

What is Greed?

By Lynn O. Traylor

Lynn O. Traylor is Pastor, Westport Baptist Church, Westport, Kentucky.

THERE’S A SAYING that when a person is rich, either God gets a partner or the person loses their soul.  Perhaps nothing else illustrates our relationship to God as does our attitude toward possessions and wealth.  The reasons why this is true lie in our feelings about what we think should be ours and how far we go to lay claim to those things.  An illustration of this truth is found in the parable of the rich man of Luke 12:13-21 and in the widow’s offering described in Luke 21:1-4.  Taken together, these passages help inform our thinking about what our relationship to possessions ought to be.  In the first passage, Jesus’ reponse to a demand that He referee a dispute between two brothers over the division of an inheritance (12:13) became the occasion for a parable (vv. 16-21) focusing on the deeper issue of greed.  The second passage offers Jesus’ commentary on a selfless attitude completely lacking of greed.

What is greed?  In general terms, greed is a longing to accumulate possessions, a desire to acquire without limit.1 Jesus warned His audience to “guard against all kinds of greed” (12:15, NIV), using a word (Greek, pleonexias, also translated as “covetousness”) that literally means “having more.”  The term was used before Jesus’ time to refer to a craving for increasing one’s possessions, often by taking advantage of someone.2 In the New Testament, this word often refers to a lifestyle of striving revealed in a “continual lust for more” (Eph. 4:19) that can become idolatry (Col. 3:5). The idolatrous nature of greed is stressed in Jesus’ principled warning of Luke 12:15: “You all take notice and guard yourselves from every kind of greediness, because life is not in the abundance of a person’s acquiring things” (my translation).  The warning is based on Jesus’ principle that life is not to be judged on how much we claim to own.  This principle is affirmed in two major ways.

First is the practical truth that none of us really possesses anything.  Through we may spend time, energy, and earnings to make purchases we then label ours, this claim is just that, a claim.  The elusiveness of our ownership becomes clear when we’re unable to hold on to what we claim.  This truth is evident in the thinking of the rich fool (12:16-20), who believed that an abundant harvest provided him the luxury to “take life easy” (v. 19), only to find the abundance in which he trusted was about to pass on to others as his life ended (v. 20).  Ironically, a deceptive quality of greed is the belief that we may acquire possessions, when in reality our possessions tend to acquire us.  Rather than being able to “take life easy” in the security of his wealth, the man in Jesus’ parable was plotting how he could best store and keep his things!  The language of verse 20 allows for a translation that reads: “You fool! Tonight all these things are demanding your very life from you; now who really owns whom?”3 In desiring to be the owner of many things, the rich man’s things had come to own him, even occupying his thoughts at night.

A spiritual affirmation of Jesus’ principle not to measure life by our possessions is also clear in the parable.  Looking only at the abundance of the harvest, the rich man gave no thought to the laborers who gathered the grain or the divine favor that made the bounty possible.  His self-sufficient attitude allowed no room for expressing gratitude to others or to God, but in reality replaced God with self as the source and measure of well-being and life.4 When we choose our own definition for life and base that definition on what we can get and consume, we move away from the recognition of God as the One who creates and sustains life.  In so doing, we literally spend our lives “gathering up treasures only to ourselves and giving nothing to God” (v.21, my translation).

Another troubling characteristic of greed is that it has no limit.  Since the security we pursue in our greediness is based on what we claim belongs to us, we tend to guard and preserve what we’ve gained.  Worse than the fear of losing what we’ve gained is the anxiety that what we’ve gotten might not be enough for us in the future, thus urging us to acquire even more.5 Since we can never experience true security through our possessions, it becomes harder and harder to be content with what we have, and the desire to get more continues.

The attitude of the widow in Luke 21:1-4 (also in Mark 12:43-44) stands in sharp contrast to that of the rich man of Jesus’ parable.  Her willingness to give to the temple treasury shows a fervent commitment to participate in worship.  Though everyone gave publicly to the temple treasury, the “two very small copper coins” )Greek, lepta due, about one-fourth of one cent) the widow gave was valued by Jesus to be worth more than all the gifts the rich had given combined.  Clearly, Jesus was commenting on her attitude in giving, not on the amount she gave.  Rather than clinging to what little she had, she gave even while living in poverty (Greek hyster_matos, “to be in want”).  Her generosity not only put the offerings of the rich to shame, but showed a determination to worship that was not based on present circumstances or on how much she had.

In addition to the hoarding of wealth seen in Jesus’ parable, examples of greed in the first century can also be found in social and criminal activities.  Rabbinical writings from this period suggest may rabbis held profession such as herdsmen, camel drivers, and shepherds in disregard because they provided an easy opportunity for dishonesty through theft of the herd or goods being transported or in trespassing on another’s property when grazing.  Some rabbis also looked down on shopkeepers, physicians, and butchers as being inclined to cheat others.6 More flagrant in their greed were the Roman-supported tax collectors, well-known for collecting more than what was required.  The business of lending money with interest, though condemned (Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 23:19), continued to be practiced and lent itself to abuse.  Jesus’ references to persons imprisoned for their indebtedness to others (Matt. 5:25-26; 18:23-25; Luke 12:58-59) points to a socially supported system that could be exploited for greedy purposes.

Criminal acts fueled by greed were also common.  In Jerusalem, some persons made their sole living through games of chance such as gambling with dice or racing pigeons.7 References to theft and robbery are present throughout the Gospels, and the fact that Jesus frequently mentioned the subject in His teachings (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 10:30-36; Luke 12:39; John 10:8-10) suggests it was commonplace.

Religious institutions weren’t exempt from the temptations of greed.  Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (Luke 19:45-46) was a condemnation of the practice of selling and trading animals for sacrifice in a place intended for prayer and may have been one factor in His later noticing a poor widow (with an uncertain future at best) who gave all she had to live on in an offering to the temple treasury.  Other than Jesus’ words to His disciples, no other reaction to her gift is mentioned.

The tendency for us to seek security through getting more seems to be a universal temptation.  When our family entertained out-of-town guest some years ago, they were quite taken by my daughter, a toddler at the time.  Affectionately, they gave her a dollar as a memento of their visit.  Hoping to prompt my daughter to respond politely to their kindness, I asker her, “Now , what do you tell them?”  She quickly answered, “Gimme another!”  Even to a toddler, having more somehow seemed better.

As in Jesus’ day, we experience the effects of greed as individuals and as a society.  The self-centered nature of greed is evident in the ever-increasing focus on our right to own and acquire what we desire, of the clouding our relationships with each other.  In addition to crimes such as burglary and robbery, numerous examples of white-collar crime, computer theft, and con games remind us of the sophisticated greediness present in our society, causing us to distrust our neighbors even as we seek to somehow profit from them.8 Games of chance and gambling thrive nationally through an appeal to our desire for more.  Driving much of this is the idolatrous deception that in acquiring more, we will achieve happiness.  This deception pushes us further and further away from the worship of God to a worship of things, making Jesus’ warning to avoid the snare of greed as valid now as in the first century.

1.   Stanford M. Lyman, The Seven Deadly Sins: Society and Evil (Dix Hills, N.Y.: General Hall, Inc., 1989), 232.

2.   Gerhard Delling, “pleonevkth. pleonektevw, pleonexiva” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, ed., G. W. Gromiley, trans. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1968), 6:266-274.

3.   R. Wayne Stacy, “Luke 12:13-212: The Parable of the Rich Fool,” Review and Expositor, 94 (1997), 285-291.

4.   Ibid.

5.   Ibid.

6.   Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 305.

7.   Ibid.

8.   Lyman, The Seven Deadly Sins, 265.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 2001-02

The Historical Setting for 1 & 2 Samuel

By Robert D. Bergen

Robert D. Bergen is professor of Old Testament and biblical languages at Hannibal-LaGrange College, Hannibal, Missouri.

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HE EVENTS  in the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel tool place in ancient Israel over a span of about 130 years, from the beginning of the eleventh century BC to the early part of the tenth century BC.  At that time the world’s approximately 50 million1 people lived in pre-industrial societies; their lives centered on agricultural tasks they preformed using primitive tools made mostly of wood and stone and some iron.

The International Scene

Not all civilizations were equal; those situated in warm climates on fertile land near large rivers had significant advantages over those that lacked these, especially if they were surrounded by mountains or deserts.  Such surroundings made an enemy’s attack difficult.  Cultural groups that possessed these favorable sets of circumstances were poised to be superpowers.  Within the Old Testament world three different cultural groups had these ideal natural circumstances: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.  Israel did not, because it lacked significant natural defenses and had no useful river—the Jordan River lies completely below sea level, and none of the other rivers in its territory have a dependable year-round flow.

Even though Israel has some significant natural disadvantages, it nevertheless managed to become the dominant military and cultural power along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea during the historical period described in 1—2 Samuel.  How did this happen?  Through a combination of events that took place in and outside of its borders.

Egypt, the once-mighty nation that had enslaved the Israelites and dominated north Africa and western Asia, was experiencing internal dissension that brought to an end what later historians would call the New Kingdom Period, a glorious phase of its existence that stretched over half a millennium—from about 1551-1070 BC.  Conflicts within Egypt during the time of Eli and Samuel caused that nation to slip into a more chaotic phase known as the Third Intermediate Period.  This phase of its history lasted more than four centuries, from about 1070-664 BC.2 Not until 925 BC, in the fifth year of King Rehoboam of Judah’s reign, was an Egyptian king strong enough to project his military strength against Israel (see 1 Kings 14:25).

Around 1200 BC, Assyria, whose capital city of Nineveh was located on the Tigris River, was expanding its territorial holdings to the west and north as it attacked the Hittites  in what is today modern Turkey.3 However, Assyria did not continue its expansion southward into Israel or the territories of Israel’s immediate neighbors.  Around 1100 BC, the Assyrian Empire began to decline, a situation that lasted about 75 years.  Babylon, situated on the banks of the Euphrates, would not play a significant role until the seventh century BC.4 As a result, neither of the ancient superpowers played a role in the events of 1—2 Samuel.

Israel’s most troublesome enemy at this time was the Philistines.  This people group had been present in Canaan even in the days of Abraham (Gen. 21:32), but did not become a military threat to Israel until the days of the judges.  The Philistines were responsible for the deaths of several important Israelite figures prior to and during the days of 1—2 Samuel.  Among those the Philistines killed were Samson (Judg. 16:21-30), the last of the major Israelite judges; the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas (1 Sam. 4:10-11); Saul, Israel’s first king (31:3-6); and Jonathan (v. 2), the crown prince in line to succeed Saul as king.  The Philistines were also the major enemy that David confronted during the early phase of his reign as Israel’s king.

The Cultural Setting

Cultural issues played a key role in shaping the events of 1—2 Samuel.  At that time and throughout Old Testament history, Israel was a patriarchal culture.  As such, men filled the leadership roles within their clans and exercised the primary social power within the culture.  Although women could not have more than one husband simultaneously (polyandry), men might have more than one wife at eh same time (polygamy; see 1 Sam. 1:2; 25:43; 2 Sam. 5:13; 12:8).  The cultural justification for this probably related to the need for families to have a male heir.  A man might take an additional wife if his first wife was childless (see 1 Sam. 1:2,4-8), and kings would have a harem to produce many potential heirs to the throne (2 Sam. 5:13-16).  Wives were highly valued for their ability to produce children (1 Sam. 1:4-7), but had limited rights.  For example, a vow a wife made to God was considered invalid unless her husband approved it (1 Sam. 1:11,23; see Num. 30:10-15).

The events of 1—2 Samuel took place in the archaeological periods known as Iron Age I and II (1200-800 BC).5 As the names imply, iron began to play a strategic role in society during this time.  Canaanites had used iron in weaponry for centuries prior to the days of Israel’s monarchy (see Josh. 17:16; Judg. 1:19; 4:3).  The Philistines likewise used iron in at least some of their weapons (1 Sam. 17:7).  Evidently, however, the Israelites, who were a relatively impoverished people group, neither had or used iron in their weapons in the earlier periods of their history.  Instead, they used bronze, a much softer metal alloy composed of copper and tin, which melts at a much lower temperature than iron.6 Bronze did not require sophisticated smelting techniques—technology that the Israelites lacked as late as the reign of King Saul (see 1 Sam. 13:19).

The Religious Setting

Israel was surrounded by cultures that possessed religious beliefs and practices quite different from the ones God gave at Mount Sinai.  Whereas Israel’s authorized religion was ethical monotheism centered on the worship of Yahweh, its neighbors were involved in polytheistic fertility cults involving the worship of gods and goddesses, most notably Baal and Ashtoreth (12:10).  They commonly revered several other gods, each one associated with some significant aspect of nature—heavenly bodies, weather phenomena, geographical features, diseases, or plant and animal life.  Additionally, many people also practiced a form of ancestor worship in which they would attempt to conjure up the dead and consult them for guidance (Deut. 18:11).  Some of Israel’s neighbors also practiced human sacrifice, causing their children to “pass through the fire” as food for their gods (see Lev. 18:21; Ezek. 23:37).

These practices proved enticing to many Israelites.  As a result, during the days of 1—2 Samuel many Israelites supplemented their worship of Yahweh with the worship of other gods.  Not surprisingly, they also became involved in pagan practices associated with these other religions.  One of the key events in 1—2 Samuel dealt with the Israelites’ struggle to worship only Yahweh (1 Sam. 7:3-4).  Sadly, even one of Israel’s kings became involved in pagan practices, with tragic results: King Saul hired a medium to conjure up a dead Israelite leader in an attempt to learn about the future (28:7-19).  As a result, Saul experienced the full force of God’s judgment (Lev. 20:6).

The Governmental Setting

One of the most important series of events in 1—2 Samuel involves Israel’s transition from tribal government to national government.  As 1 Samuel opens, no truly national political leader existed in Israel; executive decisions were made at the clan or tribal level by “elders,” the oldest male members of a clan.  Regional or national decisions might be made by a group of tribal elders (1 Sam. 4:3; 8:4), but never by one individual.

However, all that changed as the Philistines continued to threaten Israel and existing political leadership proved inadequate (8:3,20).  As a result, a council of elders came together to ask Samuel, the most famous prophet of the 11th century BC, to appoint a king over them, thus creating for the first time a monarchy in Israel.

Huge changes in Israelite culture resulted from the transition to monarchical rule.  Politically, the transition meant rule by a single person over all of Israel’s tribes and clans.  Psychologically it meant people had to think of the state as more important than their clans.  Religiously, it meant people would be tempted to trust in an earthly king and the nation’s military might more than in God (Ps. 20:7).  Militarily it meant Israel for the first time would have a permanent army.  Though Israel’s first standing military force consisted of only a few thousand men (1 Sam. 13:2), its existence had huge implications.  Industrially, an army required the development of a manufacturing complex to produce hardware for war (8:12).  Financially, this meant the development of a national taxation system to pay the expenses of the king and his army (v. 15).  Administratively, taxation meant the government had to create a system to collect, store, distribute, and account for the income.  This led to the construction of government warehouses, which meant more citizens would be taken from the family farms to participate in building and maintaining government projects (v. 16).

The Books of 1—2 Samuel chronicle one of the most fascinating and change-filled eras of Israelite history.  God’s sovereign work in world events of the period made it possible for Israel to rise to regional prominence as never before.  Internal transformations within the nation resulted in a new form of government—monarchy.  But in spite of political and social upheaval, in the midst of confrontations with other nations and religions, Israel demonstrated for all time the truth that obedience to the unchanging God results in lasting blessing.

1.   “Historical Estimates of World Population,” U.S. Census Bureau [online; accessed 5 August 2009].  Available from the Internet: http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/worldhis.htm.

2.   Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Egypt, Land of” in Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible  [ZPEB], gen. ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 2:231-32, 41-44.

3.   Howard G. Andersen, “Assyria” in ZPEB, 1:374-76.

4.   Jeremy Black, gen. ed., The Atlas of World History, 2nd ed. (New York: Covent Garden Books, 2005), 222.

5.   “Archaeological Periods of Palestine” in Holman Bible Handbook, gen. ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 71.

6.   The melting point of bronze is from 1,400-1,970 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the ratio of metals used); iron melts at 2, 795 degrees Fahrenheit.  Information on the properties of these metals is available from the Internet: www.matweb.com.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 36, No. 4; Summer 2010.

 

BIBLE CHARACTER TRIVIA

 

(23, 195) What is the Answer To & Where in The Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found: Whose ship had figures of the gods Castor and Pollux? Answer Next Week:

Last Week’s Question: When Elijah challenged the priests of Baal, what were they sacrificing to their god?  Answer: A bullock; 1 Kings 18:25.