Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 25 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/13/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 25
“Blessed be the LORD, Who has Pleaded the Cause of my Reproach”
As a pastor, when I preach through a book in the Bible, I am constantly noticing little details that I hadn’t before. And so when I came to today’s passage it finally hit me that the placement of this story in 1 Samuel is very intentional. Before when I studied this chapter, I never really thought of how it related to the surrounding context. But now it seems so clear. You see, this chapter sits in between two chapters where David spares Saul’s life. Chapters 24 and 26 both describe a time where David will not kill Saul when he is given a perfect chance to do so. Instead, David says in those chapters that he’ll leave such vengeance to the LORD. And so in the middle of those two chapters is this story of Abigail and her husband Nabal. And we see that the same kind of theme is present here. So we have three chapters in a row that deal with the idea that we should not take personal vengeance against our enemies into our own hands. As it says in Romans 12:19, we are told not to avenge ourselves, but rather that God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And so last chapter we talked about how David had to wait for God to bring this about on Saul. Next chapter we’ll see David again commendably waiting for God to judge between him and Saul, and to grant him justice over Saul. And so this chapter again brings up the same sort of issue, and yet here there is a difference. In this chapter, David struggles to do the right thing. He’ll need Abigail to help him to do what he does so well in the two surrounding chapters.
And so our first point today will be to see David’s desire for blood and vengeance. This is a sinful desire here of David. It would be wrong for him to act this out. Let me help paint the picture here and make sure we all understand what’s going on. Basically, David and his men continue to be on the run from King Saul. They make their way to this area of Carmel, which is south of Ziph, so they are probably trying to continue to put some distance between themselves and Saul. Well, as they are here, they come into contact with the shepherds of Nabal. David and his men evidently spend some extended period of time there, with those shepherds, and at the same time provide protection for the shepherds. We see that this was something helpful to those shepherds, per verse 16. It describes David’s men as a wall of protection night and day for the shepherds.
Well, as a particular feast day comes up, David sends some of his men to go and meet this Nabal, of whom they’ve been protecting their shepherds and flocks. As they meet, it basically seems like a form of negotiation that David is then conducting through his men. Basically, he’s trying to negotiate with Nabal for him to provide some food to David and his men. The approach of David at this point seems like typical negotiation-type language back then, and appears very polite, which would be appropriate given the circumstances. And yet in turn Nabal answers harshly. Now, to be fair, Nabal wasn’t per se necessarily obligated to give David’s men anything. Presumably Nabal didn’t request David’s protective services or anything like that. But look at Nabal’s response in verse 10. Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master.
In other words, Nabal answers David’s polite request and returns the kindness David’s men had already shown with a great insult, and won’t help the men. Verse 14 confirms this, saying that Nabal reviled David; and David describes in verse 39 that what Nabal did to him was a reproach. This of course, goes along with Nabal’s overall character. We learn in this passage a few things about Nabal. On the one hand he is rich. He has been blessed with much financial prosperity. On the other hand, his name literally means “Fool” and he sure acts like it; even his wife says so, calling him a scoundrel! Verse 3 says that he is harsh and evil in his doings. And so we see him acting in line with his character here. Certainly Nabal is being unkind to David. He’s not showing love or hospitality to a sojourner, despite God’s repeat concern in the law for the care of sojourners. Furthermore, David in verse 21 says that his insults and actions are Nabal giving evil to David, when David had shown him good. Proverbs 17:13 speaks against such treatment. Of course we can add to all this that since God had given Nabal riches, he should have been generous, but was not.
And so basically Nabal reproaches David in all this, and David is offended and sets off to kill the house of Nabal in his anger. But that would have been wrong of David. He would have been guilty of their blood and in his taking of vengeance with his own hand. In fact this passage makes the point three times. Verses 26, 31, and 33, all make the point that David would have been guilty here of blood and taking vengeance here with his own hands. Both David and Abigail acknowledge this. David should have done what Proverbs 20:22 says. “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.” To make matters worse, David takes a rash vow in verse 22 in the name of the LORD to take this personal vengeance. Thankfully, we see that he eventually recognized that this is a time where he should break his evil vow. But of course the sense you get in verse 13 is that his whole response to Nabal here was induced by too quickly acting in anger after being offended. That’s typically going to lead to trouble when you act too quickly in your anger and don’t do the discernment and analysis that you typically need to do in such circumstances.
And so in our first point we’ve seen David’s sinful desire for blood and vengeance. Let’s turn now to our second point and see how David’s sin is restrained here. Well, as we continue to look at the story, we see that Abigail, Nabal’s wife, learns of what’s gone on, and she immediately acts to intervene. Look at what she does to restrain David from sinning here. First we see that Abigail proposes substitutionary atonement! This is verse 28. She comes to David as David is on the way to attack, and humbly asks him to put Nabal’s sin on herself. She falls to her knees before David and says, ” On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be!” I love the sentiment of her, but of course, this is not something David would have done, I’m sure. But it’s a good ice-breaker here for sure, and certainly reminds us of the spirit of God in Christ!
The second thing that she does is begin to make some intercession to David. She makes a couple points. On the one hand she acknowledges Nabal’s fault in this, verse 25. Then she also says that she hadn’t known about David’s request; in other words inferring she would have treated them kindly. But then her second main point of intercession is that God is at this moment restraining David from sinning in this matter. In other words, she points to the bloodguilt and vengeance David would be taking. Basically this is her way to plead that David not do such an evil thing. She goes on to talk of David’s current plight with Saul and yet again comes back to this in verse 31, that David ought not to do such sinning here.
So that’s her intercession. But Abigail also further seeks to restrain David by the offering of a gift. She amply provides food for David and his men, which was of course his original request. And then in verse 28 she asks for forgiveness. Note that in light of her earlier call for substitutionary atonement, she actually specifically asks for forgiveness for herself, not for Nabal. So, in her mind she really is trying to take on Nabal’s sin and then to atone for it.
Well, Abigail’s efforts to restrain David from sinning work! In verse 35 we see that he receives her gifts and tells her that he has heeded her voice. We see that he also blesses her in the name of the LORD for how she restrained him, and he acknowledges the evil he would have otherwise done, verses 32-33. And so, praise the LORD! And I say, “Praise the LORD,” because that’s what we need to recognize here. Yes, on the one hand, Abigail is the one who restrains David from sinning here. But the passage also shows us that it was actually God at work behind all this to restrain David. Abigail acknowledges this in verse 26. David also acknowledges this in verses 32 and 34, saying first that God sent Abigail to him, and then saying that God restrained him from doing the evil he was going to do. So don’t miss the point here. Why did David not commit this evil here? It was ultimately because of God’s intervention. God restrained David’s evil here. This was a wonderful grace of God to David. And so, “Praise the LORD”!
Let’s move now to our third point. There is a lesson here about how God brings salvation to his people. And so I want to talk about David’s salvation and ours. It’s interesting that when we talked about David’s desire for avenging himself, our translation uses that language of him wanting to avenge himself. Though that’s the general idea here, the actual Hebrew word used there is actually the word of salvation. Instead of saying that David was trying to avenge himself with his own hand, you could literally say that David was trying to “save” himself with his own hand. That’s an interesting thing to think about then. David wanted to save himself, instead of waiting for God to save him. But in great grace, God intervened in David’s life by sending Abigail to restrain him. This resulted in David waiting on the LORD instead to save him with regard to Nabal. And God did bring salvation in that regard; rather quickly actually. As we read at the end, Abigail tells Nabal what happened; he some way or another goes critically faint at what almost transpired; and in ten days God strikes Nabal dead. And David recognizes that this was from the LORD too. Verse 39, David says, “Blessed be the LORD, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept His servant from evil! For the LORD has returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head.”
The irony here in this story is that this lesson is something David otherwise already knows. Remember, in the chapter before and the chapter afterwards, he does not take vengeance into his own hands with Saul. He waits on the LORD instead. So, David knows this lesson. But with those chapters with Saul, David has to keep waiting for the salvation. Saul still is alive after both chapters. And so this chapter then proves that God can save in the sense of “vengeance is mine”, because he strikes Nabal dead. Yet in the chapters before and after we don’t see it yet with Saul. David just has to believe it. And he does believe it! And so this chapter confirms David’s faith and should encourage David in his continued patience with regard to Saul And so the irony is that this chapter confirms that it is right to wait on the LORD, but God confirms this truth when David himself was about to fail in this very thing; even though this very spirit of waiting is something that he expresses so well in the surrounding chapters!
And so this passage shows us how God saved David from Nabal. But this passage also shows us how God saved David from himself. God saved David even from his own inconsistency. God sent Abigail to save David from himself. You know, Abigail might have thought she was going to save Nabal. But Nabal ultimately dies here. And so she actually was used not to save Nabal, but to save David. Isn’t that amazing?
Don’t miss how important this was. David essentially would have been acting here inconsistent to his attitude as a man after God’s own heart. He would have acted so inconsistent to the great heart that he shows in the preceding and following chapter. In a moment of unrighteous anger and with circumstances that were different enough to cloud his judgment, David starts to act in a way so inconsistent to his otherwise convictions. But God restrains him via Abigail; to save him from himself. And so why was this so important for David to have his inconsistency restrained here? Well, the import of this is seen in verses 30-31. Look there. Notice what Abigail warns David about. She says to him, “And it shall come to pass, when the LORD has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself.” In other words, her point is this one action of inconsistency could have forever tarnished David’s career as king, even before it started. Who knows, this might have even ended David’s career before it began! David might have suddenly went from a falsely persecuted hero of Israel to some angry vigilante who self declared himself as judge, jury, and executioner. Could David have ever recovered from such a single failing? Well, we don’t know. We know God can do some great acts of forgiveness and healing. In fact, later in somewhat similar circumstances God will not restrain David from taking Bathsheba and spilling the blood of her husband Uriah, who (Uriah) incidentally was no fool, but a very honorable national hero. God was able to bring forgiveness and healing then, so we know that even in great sins God can bring great mercy. Yet, it would be hard to imagine David ever rising to the throne in the first place if he gone ahead with his vengeance slaughter of Nabal and all Nabal’s men.
How sad that would have especially been when we all know that this would not have been typical for David’s character, as we see in the surrounding two chapters. And so God stopped this from happening. God saved David from himself and from his inconsistency. So David would ultimately live on and be vindicated by God even over Saul. And David would take the throne and reign as a man after God’s own heart. Praise the LORD for how he saved David from himself and his own inconsistency here.
Well, I hope this is all something you can relate to. We too can struggle with living inconsistent to our Christian views and values. How much we see this struggle today among people in the public view. We continue today to see too many people who otherwise apparently are godly Christians who have their labors and reputation scarred for life because they act inconsistent with what they otherwise espouse and demonstrate in their lives. And so there is hope here that our LORD can provide the grace of restraint when we are tempted to act inconsistently. Yes, we know as we see later with David and Bathsheba, and even with many of the Christians in the public view today that we just mentioned, that sometimes he allows us to fall into such sins of inconsistency. As we mentioned, God can provide grace and healing in those circumstances too and we’ll talk more about that when we get there in 2 Samuel. But for today, be reminded of the need for God’s grace. Grace to forgive us in our failings and sins. But also grace to restrain us from ourselves.
And like how God sent Abigail to bring this to David, he has sent Jesus Christ to ultimately bring it for all his people. You know in this passage, it’s really Abigail and not David who is chiefly a type of Christ. Christ truly provides substitutionary atonement for all our foolish sins, even the ones that are inconsistent from our normal character. And Christ even now intercedes on our behalf to God, that we would be forgiven and that we would receive help from above. And when we find ourselves in some way or another restrained from sinning, we rejoice that this too is a work of Christ in our lives. And we continue then to look to the Spirit of Christ to be at work in our hearts. That we would continue by his help to fight and wage war even against ourselves. For we are reminded in this passage that we need to be saved not only from the external enemies of the Sauls and the Nabals, but even from ourselves, and from all our inconsistencies, not to mention from all our evils and foolishnesses.
And that’s the point brothers and sisters. Whether God in this life restrains you from your sins, or he allows you to commit them and learn from them, remember this lesson. That you need the grace of God. That you need God to save you. You wouldn’t want to try to save yourself. You can’t save yourself, especially when you need to be saved from yourself. Look to God to save you. Wait for him to save you. That means we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ. That means we seek to live for him here and now. That means that when we try to live a consistent Christian life, in the struggles we pray for restraining grace. And in our failings, we trust in his sufficient grace. And we keep waiting. We wait in faith that he will complete the work within us. That he will save us from his and our enemies, and even from ourselves.
Well, I leave us with this final point of application. God used Abigail in David’s life to bring about this restraint of sin. God continues to use fellow Christians in each other’s lives to help restrain sin. We call it fellowship. See that God might use you this way in someone else’s life; to restrain them. See that God might use someone else like this in your life; to restrain you! Seek this fellowship. Seek it in both official and unofficial channels, so to speak. In other words, we have many official fellowship times at church. Make use of them for this purpose. But also seek such fellowship with our church members even outside of the official church meetings. Spend time with each other, get to know each other and one another’s needs. Make some prayer partners, and accountability partners. Don’t live your Christian life alone. We have been given one another as part of the grace God gives to bring about restraint of sin. Praise the LORD!
And so we close with the doxology David gives in verse 39. “Blessed be the LORD, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach!” This the LORD has done for us and will continue to do for us. And so we agree with David, “Blessed be the LORD, who has pleaded the cause of our reproach!” Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.