This is Abigail’s world. Foolish men fueled by ego and testosterone have uttered angry words and provoked deadly aggressive action. A soft answer or a diplomatic word might have defused the tense situation, but the men involved were not in the mood. And now their compounded stupidity and pride threaten to destroy her world. Faced with this imminent threat, some women would have dissolved in tears, or run to her husband. Others perhaps would simply have escaped into denial. Married to a man of immense ego, nasty temperament, and vile tongue, she might have become depressed and despairing, have essentially given up.Not Abigail. She is made of sterner stuff. The occasion calls for decisive action, and she acts decisively.
Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves of bread, two bottles of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five seahs of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys. She said to her young men, “Go on before me. Behold, I am coming after you.” But she didn’t tell her husband, Nabal.
The sheer size of the peace offering—for that is exactly what it is—tells us several things. First of all, it gives a further glimpse into Nabal’s wealth. As we shall see, Abigail can assemble this massive amount of provender without Nabal noticing it, or reducing his own celebratory feast. Second, baking two hundred loaves of bread by hand would take quite a while, no matter how many servants were employed in the task. Either David’s approach took enough time that she could prepare all this food before she went out to meet him, or it was on hand in preparation for the shearing feast. Given the urgency with which she moved, it seems more likely the latter. So David and his men are about to enjoy at least some of Nabal’s shearing feast. And the reader gets a hearty serving of irony.
This procedure, sending servants ahead with gifts, is structured to echo the way Jacob approached Esau, who was also leading four hundred armed men. The gifts, it was hoped, would soften the heart of the wronged one, so that he would be inclined to let the petitioner live—and not exact too strong a punishment.
Now David had said, “Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained to him. He has returned me evil for good.
God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if I leave of all that belongs to him by the morning light so much as one who urinates on a wall.”
Yet again, for added emphasis, we hear the echo of David’s original words, this time from his own mouth, and accompanied by the verdict: “He has returned me evil for good.”
As punishment, David intends to kill every male—he uses the graphic expression, “one who urinates on a wall”—in Nabal’s camp. Which is, as a matter of fact, what a strong force of cross-border raiders would have done had David not prevented it. In other words, “Nabal does not acknowledge he has been protected? Let him find out what would have happened without protection.”
David’s vow is based on a standard form found elsewhere, which goes like this: “God do to [My name], and more also, if I___________.” We see this, for example, when David mourns over the death of Abner:
All the people came to urge David to eat bread while it was yet day; but David swore, saying, “God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or anything else, until the sun goes down.”
In this standard form, the penalty for breaking the vow is that God will do more to the one making the vow if the vower fails to fulfill it. But notice David’s vow to take revenge on Nabal; the penalty for breaking it falls on “the enemies of David,” not on David himself. This may indicate a reluctance to carry out the raid on a fellow Israelite; after all, David has already been anointed King.
Nabal, for all his obnoxious behavior, would become one of David’s subjects. It may also explain how Abigail has time to assemble all the food and intercept him before he can carry out his threat. If he had moved immediately and in haste, it’s difficult to see how she could have accomplished that in the time available.
The language of the vow, the seeming tardiness of his advance—these possibly indicate that David feels it necessary to make an example of Nabal, but is not eager to kill his own people. Perhaps the shepherd’s instincts concerning an unruly member of his flock.
As she rode on her donkey, and came down by the covert of the mountain, that behold, David and his men came down toward her, and she met them.
When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got off of her donkey, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground. She fell at his feet, and said, “On me, my lord, on me be the blame! Please let your servant speak in your ears. Hear the words of your servant. Please don’t let my lord pay attention to this worthless fellow, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him; but I, your servant, didn’t see my lord’s young men, whom you sent.”
This sequence of events continues to follow Jacob’s entreaty of Esau. Abigail “falls on her face,” that is, she kneels before David, her forehead touching the ground. She follows this with a somewhat twisted argument. “Let the blame fall on me; hear my plea; ignore my worthless husband; I didn’t see your messengers.” So, “Blame me, but it’s not my fault.”
No doubt the food she had sent ahead, her attitude, her characterization of her husband as a ‘worthless fellow,’ which resonated with David’s experience of the man, and not least her “beautiful face;” had a positive effect. But all these are arguments that any woman might have used for self-preservation. It is the next part of Abigail’s extended speech that raises her appeal to a much higher level.