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Stuart Chase - 14 May 2023

The Mediator (1 Samuel 25:1–44)

Our hidden figure for this study, Abigail, is set against the backdrop of a self-seeking man, who cared for no one but himself. This foolish man—Nabal—showed utter disdain to anyone who would not benefit him directly, but his wife—Abigail—who is our hidden figure, radiated godly wisdom as she interceded to safeguard her family and home. We will draw four lessons as we consider her story—lessons about: 1. Foiling Folly 2. Committed Convictions 3. Prolife Perspective 4. Modelling Mediation

Scripture References: 1 Samuel 25:1-44

From Series: "Hidden Figures"

Lessons from some of the lesser known characters in Scripture.

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In January 1908, just outside of Paris, a child playing along the banks of the Seine stumbled and fell into the river. His parents were nowhere to be seen, and the accident could have spelled tragedy, were it not for a Newfoundland living nearby. The giant dog heard the child’s cries for help and sprang into action. Without hesitation, the heroic canine leaped into the water and dragged the child to safety. The dog was hailed as a local hero and the child’s grateful parents both thanked the owner and presented the dog, as a token of their gratitude, a juicy beefsteak.

A few days later, the dog was called into action again when another child stumbled into the river. The precedent having been set, that child’s parents presented the dog with another steak.

Similar incidents began occurring with concerning frequency. While the dog was there to help on each occasion, residents began to fear that something nefarious was at play. They theorised that someone was pushing children into the river either to intentionally harm them or to cause distraction while a more heinous crime was being committed elsewhere. The community planned a covert neighbourhood watch to catch the criminal in the act.

You can probably guess what happened next. As it turns out, there was no criminal. Instead, the Newfoundland, who had learned that saving children earned him a steak, was looking for children playing near the river, pushing them into the water, and then jumping in to rescue them.

The story was reported in the 2 February 1908 edition of the New York Times, carrying the headline “Dog a Fake Hero.” Of course, the dog never intended to harm anyone, but neither was he really interested in saving people. His interest was selfish: He had learned the secret to a profitable source of beefy revenue.

The story makes us chuckle precisely because the culprit was a dog. It is far less funny when a human pursues self-interest to the detriment of others.

Our hidden figure for this study is set against the backdrop of such a self-seeking man, who cared for no one but himself. This foolish man—Nabal—showed utter disdain to anyone who would not benefit him directly, but his wife—Abigail—who is our hidden figure, radiated godly wisdom as she interceded to safeguard her family and home.

The Story

If you are unfamiliar with the story, it can be found in 1 Samuel 25, and I will offer here a summary of events there recorded.

The chapter opens with the death of Israel’s famed priest-prophet, Samuel (v. 1a). Verses 1b–3 introduce us to the primary characters in the narrative: King-on-the-run David; wealthy but foolish Nabal; and beautiful and discerning Abigail. David sent a small contingent of men to Nabal to ask for food (vv. 4–8) but Nabal, seeing no benefit in it for himself, refused (vv. 9–11). When the servants returned to David with news of Nabal’s refusal, the king uncharacteristically jumped straight to a wartime mentality (vv. 12–13). When one of Nabal’s servants told Abigail what had happened (vv. 14–17), she immediately sprang into action. Without informing her husband, she packed provisions and headed out to meet David and his small army (vv. 18–22). She pleaded with David to forgive her husband’s folly (vv. 23–31), which he agreed to do (vv. 32–35). Abigail found her self-indulgent husband partying it up when she got home and so waited till the next day to tell him what had happened. He appears to have had a cardiac event, which resulted in his death ten days later (vv. 36–38). David then married Abigail (vv. 39–42)—and also another woman (vv. 43–44)—bringing us to the end of the story.

The Lessons

Having surveyed the basic plotline of the chapter, what lessons do we learn from our hidden figure today? Let me suggest four in the time that remains.

Lesson 1: Foiling Folly

First, we learn from Abigail that folly does not have to win the day. The Bible warns us against foolish associations (1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 13:20) precisely because fools have a way of dragging us down with them. And while we should never minimise the power of folly to produce destruction, Abigail teaches us that folly’s destruction is not inevitable.

Abigail was married to the fool of fools (v. 25), but she did not get dragged down by his folly. She was, instead, “discerning” (v. 3). The word carries the idea of carefully evaluating a situation before taking action. It is the same word that was used to describe Joseph as he led Egypt through the seven years of great famine (Genesis 41:33, 39). It is the ability for which Solomon prayed and which God granted him (1 Kings 3:9, 11–12).

The difference between Abigail and Nabal was that she prized and strove for wisdom. Proverbs 17:24 captures it well: “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.” The idea is that those who are discerning keep their eyes firmly fixed on wisdom, allowing it to guide them, while the foolish miss the wisdom that is right in front of them because they are focused on “the ends of the earth.”

Abigail was discerning (v. 3), which means that she set her face toward wisdom. And she knew where to find wisdom: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10). Nabal’s folly was displayed by an alarming lack of reverence, while Abigail deeply feared God. She was like the blessed man (see vv. 32–33) in Psalm 1, whose delight was in the law of the LORD, on which she no doubt meditated day and night.

This kind of wisdom does not come naturally, particularly when the world surrounds us with its folly. Those who will be “discerning” must work hard at it. We must give ourselves to meditating frequently on God’s truth. If we will act in a manner that is honouring to God, as Abigail did in this chapter, it will begin by us giving ourselves to the truth of God’s word—to meditating day and night on God’s law.

Do you feed on a steady diet of truth? Do you read (or listen to) your Bible? Do you prayerfully study it to uncover its deep wisdom? Do you expose yourself throughout the week to God’s truth, reading, listening to, and watching truth? The world assaults us on every side with its lies and its folly and if we are not giving ourselves to the truth, we will find ourselves far less like Abigail and far more like her foolish husband.

Lesson 2: Committed Convictions

Second, we learn from Abigail to be committed to our convictions even when that commitment invites friction. “Discerning and beautiful” Abigail was married to a man who was “harsh and badly behaved” and who was, as his name witness, a fool. Standing for what was right would surely invite tension in the home, but she was more committed to the truth than to comfort.

The word translated “harsh” is a strong word that evokes deep pain. It is used of God dealing “harshly” with the Egyptians in the ten plagues (Exodus 10:2; 1 Samuel 6:6). It is used of the men who “abused” the Levite’s concubine all night (Judges 19:25). It describes Saul’s fear that the Philistines would capture him and “mistreat” him with various acts of torture (1 Samuel 31:4; 1 Chronicles 10:4) and Zedekiah’s fear of the same at the hand of the Babylonians (Jeremiah 38:19). Those who are “harsh” inflict pain on the objects of their harshness.

Abigail knew that, by doing what she knew was right, there was the very real possibility of facing abusive repercussions from her foolish husband. But she was committed to her convictions and entrusted the outcome to God.

Let me offer an important caveat at this juncture: I am not suggesting that God always requires people to stay in abusive relationships. There may be great, God-honouring wisdom, after seeking counsel, in separating from an abusive situation. My point here is simply that Abigail would not compromise her convictions just to keep the peace in the home.

At the same time, observe that she carried out her convictions winsomely. She knew that her actions might invite tension, but she didn’t deliberately seek this tension. She went to David “but she did not tell her husband Nabal” (v. 19). She kept what she was going to do from him because, knowing that her husband was a “harsh” man, she saw no sense in inviting tension unnecessarily. Her discernment is further displayed in her delay in telling her husband what she had done when she got back home (v. 36). She knew that there was no point in angering him while he was under the influence of alcohol, and so she waited until he was in a better frame of mind before informing him of what had happened. She stood on her convictions even if it invited tension, but she did so without being the catalyst of the raised tension.

It shows great discernment when we try to diffuse situations rather than raising the temperature. Abigail was hardly in a unique situation in the history of God’s people. Many wives have found themselves married to foolish, even harsh, husbands, and many husbands to foolish, even harsh, wives. Abigail serves as a model for how to stand for truth when you are married to a fool. She shows us that we should not compromise our convictions, but also that there is little wisdom in making matters worse by raising the tension in the home. Stand for truth, but do so winsomely.

Lesson 3: Prolife Perspective

Third, Abigail teaches us something about a godly, prolife perspective. She might easily have been tempted to view David as her deliverer from a harsh husband. When she heard of what Nabal had done, she might have maintained her silence and allowed David to free her from an abusive marriage. After all, she was safe from David’s commitment to wipe out Nabal’s male lineage (v. 22).

But Abigail was “discerning” and was therefore able to look outward to the good of others and act on their behalf. She discerned that Nabal’s foolish and selfish actions would bring harm to the household and so she stepped in to stop it.

When we face abuse from others, it is not easy to look past our own noses. Abigail models for us concern for the greater good. It is always a good thing to ask whether our actions will help or harm others. When you face harshness in your marriage, how can you best respond, not only for your comfort, but also for the good of the children? When you face injustice in the church, how can you best respond in the interests of the entire congregation? When you face wrongdoing at work, will your response help or harm others who are also affected by the wrongdoing? Can you see past your own nose to the benefit of others?

Lesson 4: Modelling Mediation

As we bring our time in this text to a close, we dare not overlook and important theological truth. Commentators often wonder what should be done with the first part of v. 1, which records Samuel’s death. Even many Bibles set v. 1a as its own section. But, actually, Samuel’s death is integral to this story because Samuel was the priest-prophet who frequently interceded for and gave counsel to the kings of Israel. The chapter opens with Samuel’s death, which leaves us asking, who will mediate for David? Who will offer him the wisdom he needs to make righteous decisions? In this chapter, that person was Abigail.

Carefully notice the theme of intercession in her speech (which is, incidentally, one of the longest recorded speeches by a woman in the Bible). “On me alone, my Lord, be the guilt” (v. 24). “Please forgive the trespass of your servant” (v. 28). She was willing to take the guilt on herself so that others could be delivered.

Does that sound familiar? Does it remind you of a greater David, who took the guilt of others on his own shoulders so that they could be delivered from God’s eternal wrath?

Abigail taught David that he would not find deliverance in his own strength (v. 33). She taught him that he needed to trust the Lord to vindicate him. In her discernment, she helped David to stay right with God. She became to him Samuel after Samuel was dead.

Abigail, in a shadow form, reminds us that we cannot work salvation by our own hand (v. 33). We need someone to intercede for us so that we can be right with God. And as we look for a mediator, we need to be reminded that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). We have no hope of being right with God, or of escaping God’s eternal wrath, apart from Jesus Christ. He took our guilt on his own shoulders when he died on the cross so that we could be delivered from eternal punishment to eternal life, and he is the only one who can deliver us in this way. As you think of Abigail the mediator, will you entrust yourself to Christ the Mediator for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life?