Vacation Bible School begins tomorrow. We'll be looking at famous Bible characters who were real heroes. People like David and Jesus and disciples like Peter and Paul. But there's one we don't often hear about. And her name is Abigail.
First Reading: Our first reading introduces us to the characters in this biblical drama! A mean man called Nabal, his wonderful wife Abigail, and how things went wrong with future King David.
Read: 1 Samuel 25: 2-13 “Setting the Scene”
A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife's name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings--he was a Calebite. While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. So he sent ten young men and said to them, "Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: 'Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! "'Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.'" When David's men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David's name. Then they waited. Nabal answered David's servants, "Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?" David's men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, "Each of you strap on your sword!" So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.
Part One – DIFFICULT PEOPLE!
Like it or not, in life, we come across people, who are well... “Difficult” to deal with. They can be young or old, rich or poor, strangers or family. In our first reading the difficult person is a rich middle aged man, who lives in a place called Maon and whose name is Nabal. Mean, mean Nabal is scriptures verdict upon him.
Here's a bit of the story we didn't read... to set the scene a little more. Some of Nabal's workers had been in the land where David's shepherds used to work. Now David, when he was younger, had been a shepherd himself, and David knew what a hard job it could be. The days could be long and tiring and hot. Sheep could be stupid and needed a lot of looking after. So when some of Nabal's workers, who were shepherds, were working near some of David's workers, who were also shepherds, David told his men to be kind to them.
And they were. They looked after them. Shared their food and drink with them. Protected them from enemies nearby. Trusted them not to take anything that wasn't theirs. It had been a a good and satisfying experience working with them. Now, the tables had turned. It was sheep shearing time, a very busy time in a shepherds life, and David's men were working near Nabal's men.
So David sends a message to Nabal. “Hey, Nabal. Remember when your shepherds, were working near my shepherds. Well, we treated them right. Please treat my men the same! We just heard in our reading that “He sent ten young men and said to them, "Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: 'Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! "'Now that it is sheep-shearing time.... be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.'"
How does Mean Mean Nabal react to David's men? He's horrible. “Who is this David person? And who is his father Jesse? I don't care how he treated my servants. I'm not giving his men bread and water. Why should I? I'm Nabal. I'm important. So important. I don't have to share anything with David... whoever he may be!
Well.. “Whoever he maybe David” was somebody destined to be King of all Israel and you didn't speak to David like that. When David hears what Nabal has said about him, he's mad. Really mad. David puts an army together. Tells his army, “Strap on your swords, we are going to teach meanie Nabal a lesson!” Uh-Oh. Trouble coming!
I'll be honest with you. I don't understand why people like Nabal can be so difficult. I don't understand how they get it into their head that they are so important. And that the rules that apply to everybody else somehow don't apply to them. Maybe they get so used to bossing other people around that they think they treat anybody that way.
But I just hope, one day, that they wise up and realize, that in particular before God, we are none of us THAT important. Because in life, often, what goes around comes around, and we reap the consequences of our actions, no matter how important we mistakenly believe we are. “Meanie Nabal” was about to discover that!
Right now, is a good to take a pause before we move on with the story, and move into that part of our service we call “Our prayer of confession.” Because I suspect we have all at some time or other fallen into behavior not unlike Nabal.
Isn't God awesome? Always offering a chance to be forgiven and start over again.
The story continues....
Second Reading: 1 Samuel 25:14-31 The Courage of Abigail
One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal's wife, "David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him." Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, "Go on ahead; I'll follow you." But she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, "It's been useless--all my watching over this fellow's property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!" When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: "Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name--his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. And now, my lord, as surely as the LORD your God lives and as you live, since the LORD has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you. "Please forgive your servant's presumption. The LORD your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the LORD's battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the LORD your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. When the LORD has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the LORD your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant."
Part Two – FINDING COURAGE
You may recall from our first reading that while Nabal is described as“surly and mean in his dealings” his wife Abigail was described as “an intelligent and beautiful woman.” But she was a lot more than just clever and good looking. We'll be celebrating in VBS that she was also courageous.
One of the servants explains to her how David had been offended and was on his way with a whole company of soldiers to attack them, because Nabal had been so outrageously disrespectful towards him. The servant has tried to do something, but he says of meanie Nabal “He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”
So Abigail does something very brave. She decides to take action without consulting her husband. Now... in our day.. that might not seem such a big thing to do. But back then? It was unheard of! Particularly if you were the wife of somebody as powerful and mean as Nabal. One can only imagine what he might have done had he found out what Abigail was up to!
What was she up to? Well she's gathering together supplies to offer David and his men in the hope that doing so will change their mind about attacking them. That was a huge risk to take. Not only was it going against her husband, but there was absolutely no guarantee that David would even listen to the plea of a woman like her, the wife of somebody who was now his enemy.
She loads up donkeys full of good stuff and approaches David. She can tell how mad he is. He's absolutely fuming! He's raging..."It's been useless--all my watching over this fellow's property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!" What was she to do?
She gets off her donkey and bows down before him. She tells David... “Don't pay any attention to Nabal... do you know what Nabal's name means sir? It means “Idiot” or “Fool” and he's living up to his name right now! Don't waste your time dealing with a loser like him! Don't spill innocent blood on the account of such an idiot.”
Then she talks to David of how she knew that God was on the side of right, and that David was always doing the right thing and how God would always bless David. She even hints that she thought one day David would be King! This vengeful killing of Nabal wouldn't be helpful. If David was acting out of anger then he would regret what he did. If he left Nabal alone she says; “My lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed.”
Wow! That was brave! Telling somebody you thought would one day be the King how to think? Advising him to change his plans? Abigail's courage just jumped up another notch. If you didn't do things without consulting your husband, even less did you go around telling future royalty how to think! It could all go very wrong very quickly. We'll find out in the next reading how things turn out.
The source of Abigail's courage was that she trusted in God. She knew that it wasn't right that her servants and family should be destroyed because of the actions of one stupid person. A very rich, powerful person though he was, meanie Nabal wasn't greater than God... and God was on the side of right. She knew also that God had blessed David and felt that David was somebody who could be trusted to do the right thing.
It's not easy to stand up against powerful people. It's not easy to call out a bully or challenge somebody who is doing wrong, especially when everybody else seems to let them get away with it and go along with it. It's never easy to come out of your comfort zone and risk your own reputation. But that's what Abigail did. She did the right thing because she trusted that God was on the side of right.
She must have been a person of prayer. Prayer strengthens us to do the right thing. One of the songs we are going to learn this week tells us “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.” The chorus teaches us about God; the God who is on the side of right. “You are the everlasting God, You do not faint, You won't grow weary, You're the defender of the weak, You comfort those in need, You lift us up on wings like eagles.”
Third Reading:1 Samuel 25:32-42 Abigail's Vindication
David said to Abigail, "Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me.
May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak." Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, "Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request." When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak. Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the LORD struck Nabal and he died. When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, "Praise be to the LORD, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal's wrongdoing down on his own head." Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, "David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife." She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, "I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord's servants." Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David's messengers and became his wife.
Part Three – THE GOD WHO LISTENS
Things turn out pretty well for Abigail. David is amazed by Abigail's courage and wisdom. He thanks God for her. He tells her that if she hadn't come along, he would have killed every man belonging to Nabal... and done so out of anger, which wouldn't have been right. He thanks God that he had taken the time to listen to what Abigail had to say instead of striking her down. The “LORD, the God of Israel, ...has kept me from harming you.” He sees how the courage of Abigail had been an action that was rooted in her faith in God.
But now Abigail had to go home. When she gets there, it's not good. Nabal has thrown a party, is acting like he was the king, completely oblivious to the fate Abigail's actions had just saved him from. He really was living up to his name of being a “fool.”
When he's sobered up, in the morning Abigail explains what had happened. Nabal does not take it well. He has a heart attack and dies a few days later! It's a shame that he only realizes what an idiot he's been when it was to late!
I guess Abigail really made an impression on David when she went out to meet him with those donkeys and supplies. Now free from mean old Nabal, she receives a proposal of marriage from David. She seems happy to accept the offer and rides off to start a new life. And they all live happily ever after. Well they do in storybooks, but for David and Abigail there were crazy days ahead. Abigail is kidnapped by enemy forces. David rushes to save her.... but … no that's for another time! For VBS purposes our story about the courage of Abigail has been told! What can we learn from it?
I wish I could promise every lady here that if they do the right thing they will be free from all the difficult people in their lives and end up marrying a man destined to be the most powerful king the nation has ever seen... but, for so many reasons, that's not going to happen.
The perspective this lesson does offer to us is that when we listen to God and seek to do the right thing, God honors our decisions. Faithfulness takes courage. As we wait upon the Lord we find ourselves strengthened to do the things God calls us to do.
And you know.. it's often the little things that make the big difference. They may not be as dramatic as saving our whole neighborhood from destruction by a vengeful army, but it's living faithfully every day, in all that we seek to do, that builds us up and bless peoples lives.
There are those occasions when we are called to take direct action. I believe God is able to prepare us for such times and grace us with whatever we need to get through them. But such moments tend to be the exception, not the stuff of everyday life! This story is a call for us to build up our lives through faithfulness, so that we are always ready to act when God has need of us.
Such was the same thing Jesus taught His disciples. They spent a lot of time learning and listening, learning how to pray, listening to His teaching. It wasn't all action, but day by day discovery of God's ways and desires for their lives.
Let us pray that this years VBS will be an opportunity for everybody involved, organizers, students, teachers and helpers, to learn more about what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in today's world! May we live up to the theme of being “Hero Central – a place to “Discover Your Strength in God!” To God's name be all glory. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.