READ 1 SAMUEL 25.2 -42
So - coping in a crisis. Let’s consider this situation...a beautiful, intelligent woman married to a surly, stupid man. Oh - and he’s rich. It’s tempting at a first sight to think of Abigail as a gold digger. (After all, on the death of rich husband number one she marries God’s anointed king – not a bad outcome!) However, we do have to assume that her first marriage was arranged. (That would have been normal) and I don’t think she could have anticipated Nabal’s demise and David’s subsequent proposal. So we may need to re-think those gold digger assumptions.
Having said that, she certainly doesn’t seem overwhelmed with respect for Nabal, even if she does save his life. Hearing what he’s done – insulted David and his (not so) band of merry mercenaries and malcontents - she realises that they are in BIG trouble and goes to sort out the mess. With supplies, with persuasive words and let’s be honest, with her own life. (She could have been kidnapped, raped, even killed!)
David is on his way to slaughter the household. (Temper, temper!) And comes across a beautiful woman, riding a donkey with several weeks worth of shopping. It’s interesting that the writer tells us she was beautiful because the bible doesn’t comment on people’s physical appearance all that much. (Ponder that give our obsession with it!) When it does, it’s usually because that appearance plays a critical part in the story, or explains someone’s behaviour. (E.g. Esther was beautiful, Goliath was tall, King Eglon was fat.)
Well, we will learn as David’s story unfolds that he does have what you might call ‘an eye for the ladies’, and clearly Abigail catches that eye. So at some level God is using her appearance. (She may well be working it too, faced with imminent death I think most of us would flutter our eyelashes if we thought it would help!) Now I don’t know about you, but that sticks in my throat a bit. We all know that beautiful people stand a better chance of getting certain jobs, of being popular at school etc. (Tragically, research shows it!) And if we were honest, most of us would like to be classically beautiful. (Show me a woman who doesn’t want to change part of her appearance and I’ll show you a remarkable minority!) Abigail gets the guy at the end, a happy ‘chick flick ending’ but I don’t like the idea of beautiful people somehow being God’s favourites too.
I met a remarkable American woman who helped me think this through some years ago. She was a large woman, she mainly wore jeans and sweatshirts and a baseball cap. Maybe she had some issues, but we once got into a ‘How do you deal with your appearance?’ conversation. She suggested that if God did indeed ‘Knit us together in our mother’s womb’ (PS. 139) perhaps our physical appearance was part of his plan for our lives too.
I had got my head round the fact that my gifts, and perhaps my personality were from God. But the size of my bum? That was a new one! She said that she knew she had her build (pretty masculine) because God had called her to disciple young men and women. Had she been a ‘Barbie’ the lads would have fancied her and the girls been jealous or felt insecure. Her ability to serve God would have been disabled. As it was, she could get alongside people of both sexes with none of those sexual or relational complications.
That was a revelation to me! God makes some of us as gazelles; delicate and feminine, some of us are giraffes; tall and lanky; and some of us are lions. There is a place in his kingdom for all sorts of people, of all sorts of shapes and sizes. There is a danger that we don’t take responsibility for our weight or looking after our bodies, that’s not what I’m saying.
Abigail was a gazelle and her charms got put to good use, they averted a massacre. Even if we abhor the whole ‘low-cut-top-to-get-what-we-want’ thing, surely if her catching David’s eye saved a bunch of lives then that is a good cause!
She was also intelligent and diplomatic. She humbles herself, face down on the floor – showing him deference and acknowledging his power. She is VERY smooth in the little speech she gives. She tells the truth in a humble way, flatters David just a wee bit – without being sycophantic. She is wise, admits Nabal’s stupidity but appeals to David in God’s name, encouraging him to be the ‘bigger man’, to behave in a Godly way, to not sin because he’s angry - to take it out on her, a defenceless woman, if he wants retribution. She talks him down from the ledge he’s about to jump off.
Manipulative? Let’s be generous and call it smart negotiation - diplomacy. Had she simply been pretty, but said nothing I can’t help thinking that the story would have ended very differently. Beauty AND brains – God used all the gifts he’d given her.
Well, this is a crisis situation. A real crisis, not ‘the washing machine has broken down,’ or ‘I’ve run out of credit on my mobile’ type crisis. It is a matter of life and death.
How do you do in a crisis?
Perhaps like me if it’s a minor crisis you have a ten-minute flap and then calm down. Or if it’s serious you get that strange calm which wears off when the pressure lifts. Maybe you have faced life and death crises – maybe not.
Abigail is thoughtful, diplomatic and brave in the face of a genuine crisis. She doesn’t hide and hope it will go away. She doesn’t expect Nabal to dig them out of it (she’s shrewd enough to know that isn’t going to happen). She knows there is no reasoning with him. When the servant comes to her in a panic she makes a plan. Thinks about what to say, organises her servants and just does it.
The Bible has plenty of examples of men who wouldn’t back down; Herod, who didn’t want to execute John the Baptist but wasn’t willing to lose face; Artaxerxes, in the book of Esther, when Vashti his wife, defies him; Nebucahdnezzar throwing Daniel into the lion’s den; even Pilate, knowing Jesus innocence.
And David backs down. Actually, he is willing to accept the humiliation of Nabal’s attitude and the injustice of his behaviour – even in the face of his men. Abigail’s diplomacy and act of humility allows David to not lose face. Shrewd.
I don’t mean that we should be passive and not speak up. But to speak in a thoughtful, ‘I don’t need to prove anything’ type way. It’s very tempting to defend ourselves, to say ‘Well, it was nothing to do with me,’ to pass the buck. Abigail takes responsibility in a crisis, and God honours that. So does David.
Are we more like him than Abigail?
Emotionally, peacemakers are not the same as peace-keepers. Peace-keepers prevent conflict; they try to head off confrontation, to keep things calm. Peacemakers; they have to work hard to build relationships and trust. They negotiate, bring sides together, and restore broken things. Acknowledging conflict and hurt, suggesting solutions, giving people dignified ways out of corners.
Too often Christians, in an attempt to be ‘loving’, will avoid conflict. Real problems and issues get swept under the carpet and grumble away, going septic until they infect a much wider group than necessary. Division and disunity festers away because no one wants to rock the boat, cause offence or address painful issues.
Sometimes we need to be brave and tackle the issues straight out. To discuss what has happened, what is really going on; to resolve rather than ignore the problem and hope it will go away. Abigail got on her face before David to sort out the trouble she was in.
God’s people as problem solvers, peace makers, diplomats, face savers for others. A good role model?
I think so.
© Ruth Perrin -0001. Last revised on 30 November -0001
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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