Saturday, May 21, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 73, The Death Of Samuel/A Man Named Nabal Treats David And His Men Cruelly

Chapter 25 opens with the death of Samuel the prophet.

"Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah." (1 Samuel 25:1a) This is the end of the era of the judges and the end of the ministry of a great man of God. I think when the Bible says all Israel mourned for him, it's likely even the wicked King Saul was sad to say goodbye to him, for the two men respected each other a great deal at one time and were colleagues and even friends. They parted on bad terms and never made up, a situation which the Scriptures told us Samuel mourned for the rest of his days. 

Other than Samuel's own family members, I think the person who mourned him most was David. After all, the prophet was the man who sought him in Bethlehem and anointed him king upon guidance from the Lord. This is the man with whom David sought shelter when he escaped Gibeah as Saul's men surrounded his house to arrest him. Samuel has been a spiritual guide, father figure, and friend to David. I think his grief over Samuel's death is very deep. 

After Samuel dies, David and his men move even further away from the nation's current capital of Gibeah. Some scholars speculate this is because David can no longer resort to Samuel for help and fears that the lack of Samuel's restraining influence in the region might embolden someone to betray his location to Saul. "Then David moved down into the Desert of Paran." (1 Samuel 25:1b) This must have been an especially trying time for David. His good friend and mentor is gone, not to mention that Samuel was the man who knew better than anyone else that David is meant to be the king of Israel. David may be more vulnerable to doubt and discouragement without the reassuring presence of Samuel in his life. Not only that, but he keeps having to move farther and farther away from everything that is familiar to him, which can be very demoralizing. For example, do you have a favorite place to pray? Do you have a particular place in your house where you like to study the Bible? We might suppose that while David was still living at home he had a "prayer closet", so to speak, whether it was in his house or somewhere out in the fields or woods. Having to always be on the move, lodging in strange places in the forests and caves, could easily interfere with his ability to quiet his mind and focus it on the Lord. 

As if all this isn't troubling enough, a wicked man is about to treat David and his men cruelly. He will reward their goodness with evil. "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." (1 Samuel 25:2) The rich man isn't shearing these thousands of animals alone. In fact, he's probably not doing any of the work himself. He has a large number of servants to do it for him. Sheep-shearing time is much like harvest time: it includes long days of hard work along with long evening celebrations and feasts. It is intended to be a time of rejoicing and thankfulness and, if this rich man had been in the right spirit of thankfulness toward the Lord, he would not behave the way we will find him behaving. 

"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." (1 Samuel 25:3) We'll be told further on in Chapter 25 that his name means "fool". The word that's translated as "fool" in the Bible doesn't mean what it means today. In our day it's a term used for someone who is silly, thoughtless, impulsive, wasteful, and prone to getting themselves into messes. In the Bible this word is used for someone who is spiritually reprobate and morally bankrupt. It's hard to imagine anyone's parents giving them a name that means "fool" and this leads me to believe it's his nickname, not the name on his birth certificate. It's the name he's earned by his behavior. Abigail, by contrast, is beautiful of spirit as well as beautiful of face; we'll find this out when we meet her later in the chapter. The marriage between Nabal and Abigail was probably an arranged marriage because a godly and kind and thoughtful woman wouldn't willingly join herself in matrimony to a spiritually reprobate man who is dishonest in his business dealings. 

"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 is 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.'" (1 Samuel 25:4-8) David and his men have been in the wilderness for quite some time, camped in the general area where Nabal's shepherds grazed the sheep. During all that time, David and his men foraged for their own food and didn't ask for anything from the shepherds and they also protected the shepherds and the sheep from the raiding Philistines and from bands of robbers. David, who was once a shepherd himself, respects the work of a shepherd and has compassion on the sheep. It comes naturally to him to want to watch over flocks. He and his men provided protection, probably for months, and never asked for even one morsel of bread.

But sheep-shearing time is a time of celebration and generosity. An overabundance is usually provided for the workers, their families, and all the townspeople. David feels it's a good time to ask for some basic supplies from a man who has more than he'll ever need. And we must keep in mind that David isn't asking for charity. He and his men performed a valuable service for Nabal. As often as the Philistines have been sending raiding parties into Israel, ruining the crops and absconding with livestock, Nabal almost certainly would have suffered losses before sheep-shearing time arrived. The fact that David feels he has a right to ask Nabal for help indicates that if it had not been for his help Nabal would have far fewer sheep to shear.

Nabal does not receive David's request in the right spirit. "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?'" (1 Samuel 25:9-11) 

Nabal owes a debt to David but pretends not to even know who he is. He has to have been well aware that David and his men provided protection for the shepherds. The shrewd and penny-pinching Nabal is not the type of man who wouldn't continually keep himself up to date on everything going on with his business ventures. I think he's probably heard a lot of good things about David regarding his interactions with the shepherds. Plus Nabal had to have heard about David long before he began camping in the area of Carmel. All Israel knows who David is: that he killed Goliath, that he led many victorious military exploits, that he married the daughter of the king. It becomes clear to us that Nabal is lying when he pretends not to know the identity of David when he adds, "Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days." This is a reference to David's parting from King Saul. He's saying, "Why would I owe anything to this wanderer and his band of misfits? He's a rebellious servant who has wronged his master and is on the run as a result. Who does he think he is to ask for food and water from me? Did I request his help with my shepherds and sheep? Did I go out and hire him and his men to watch over my workers and my livestock? Perhaps he did prevent me from incurring loss but I didn't ask him to do anything for me. It's not my fault if he voluntarily showed up and started watching over what belongs to me. I don't owe him a single crumb and it's not my fault if he and his men starve to death in the wilderness. If they have nothing to eat and drink, that's their problem. Maybe they should have thought of that before betraying their king."

"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 on his as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies." (1 Samuel 25:12-13) We know it's "about to get real", as the saying goes, when men start strapping on their weapons. In tomorrow's passage we'll find David vowing to kill Nabal and every male of his family in retaliation for his cruel treatment. But the intelligent and godly Abigail will hear of the violence afoot and come out to calm him down. David will heed the words of this woman who is beautiful of face and beautiful of spirit. She will get his attention like no one else can in this pivotal moment. While David has been absent from Gibeah, Saul has unlawfully decreed a divorce between David and Michal and has given Michal in marriage to another man. The woman who keeps David from carrying out a great slaughter in Chapter 25 will become his wife when Nabal dies not by David's hand but as a result of his hard-drinking and unhealthy-eating lifestyle. The woman who endured many unpleasant days of marriage with the ungodly and hateful Nabal will, because of her wise counsel in Chapter 25, become the wife of a man who loves the Lord and who will value her as a person. Her circumstances improve for the better because she is faithful to the Lord.

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