Authority to Represent Family:
in Abigail-Nabal Interactions
Authority to represent family requires access to family resources and capability to mobilize the resources as needed. Abigail used such authority to mediate a dispute and forestall potential attack against her family. They faced possible attack from David and his men as retribution for her husband denying their request for assistance. She recognized the men deserved what they requested and her husband was indisposed to help. She mobilized and delivered the supplies and persuaded them against attacking her family.
The biblical account of interactions between David and Abigail provide information about two marital relationships: Abigail was married to Nabal in the first part of the account, was introduced to David in the process of mediating a potential dispute between David and her family, and eventually married David when she became available to remarry after the death of Nabal. The account provides opportunity to learn from a specific event in Abigail-Nabal marriage and from the courtship of Abigail and David that led to their marriage after Nabal’s death. We focus on the lesson from Abigail-Nabal marriage in this study and reserve a follow-on study to examine Abigail-David courtship.
Nabal was a wealthy farmer in Carmel (the same city we encountered Elisha in Interactions Among Shunammite Couple). He had thousands of sheep and goats and several shepherds and servants in his service. The event from his marriage that is of interest in this study occurred during the period that David was a fugitive from Saul, leading an approximately 600 strong fugitive army through wilderness refuges (Please see David and Saul Close Encounters for more information). David requested food from Nabal during sheep shearing and expected Nabal to honor the request because his men assisted Nabal’s shepherds during encounters in the wilderness. However, Nabal rejected the request with contempt, hurling insults at David and his men. A quick-thinking servant sensed an impending retributive attack against Nabal from David and counseled Nabal’s wife Abigail to intervene.
She took the servant’s counsel to heart, mobilized resources, and set out to intercept David and his men that, in fact, were on their way to attack Nabal’s household. Abigail used her understanding and respect for David’s mission in Israel at the time to persuade him that an attack against Nabal would be inconsistent with, and demeaning to, David’s character and Godliness. She was successful. David accepted her gifts, appreciated her intervention, and turned around with his men.
In this study, we focus on Abigail mobilizing family resources in an emergency to protect her family from an impending disaster. Modern day couples live in societies several times more complex than did Abigail and Nabal. However, the principles that enabled her to save her family are applicable today even if the details are more complicated. She had unrestricted access to family resources and was sufficiently knowledgeable to mobilize the resources as needed to address a family emergency. Her husband was indisposed to help as we discuss presently. Therefore, her family’s fate depended on her authority to represent the family. As we discuss herein, the authority to represent family consists of two aspects: access to family resources and capability to mobilize and deploy the resources as needed.
Nabal’s family faced potential attack because Nabal treated David and his men with contempt regarding their request for food during sheep shearing festivities. The emergency was the product of a combination of human characteristics and events such as marriage of incompatibles, Nabal and Abigail; nonapproachability of Nabal; and impulsive reactions, first from Nabal and later from David.
Marriage of Incompatibles
The bible describes Abigail as “a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance” and Nabal as “harsh and evil in his doings” [1 Samuel 25:3]. A surprise, indeed, that the two became man and wife. Their marriage already was in trouble as the events of interest in this study developed. Their communication appeared broken (as we discuss in more detail presently) and they thought little of each other. For example, Abigail’s disdain for Nabal was evident as she introduced herself to David [1 Samuel 25:25]: “Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent.”
We don’t know how long they had been married prior to this incident. But we can see that it had been long enough for her to realize she could no longer tolerate any thought of a man the bible describes as “harsh and evil in his doings.” But why did she marry the man in the first place? Did she marry him believing he would change enough for her to live with him? In that case, she made a mistake. He didn’t change. The result is a woman described as having “good understanding and beautiful appearance” found herself living with a man she now described to a stranger as “his name means Fool, and folly goes with him.”
Nonapproachability of Nabal
Nabal made himself nonapproachable to his wife and other members of his household. One evidence is he did not know that David and his men helped his shepherds in the field.
His shepherds could not tell him because he had shown them they could not talk to him: “For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him” [1 Samuel 25:17]. Yet David and his men were like a free army around his shepherds and flock when they shared a wilderness area together. The servants could not tell him, as one of them explained to his wife [1 Samuel 25:15–16]: “Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them.”
Based on Nabal’s actions, we can surmise he didn’t know that David cared for his workers and flock. Listen to his reaction to their food request, when David’s men greeted him and presented their request during sheep shearing festivities [1 Samuel 25:10–11]: “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?”
Impulsive Reaction from Nabal
After David’s messengers presented their request to Nabal [1 Samuel 25:7–9], one would have expected he would invite them to sit down and have something to eat and drink while he considered the request. Even if they appeared totally undeserving, he should have allowed himself sufficient time to think. His thinking would have included consulting with his wife. Such a request from his visitors presented a situation that a man should consult with his wife, or a woman with her husband, before discharging. The process of consulting with wife or husband provides opportunity to think and develop a response. Also, pausing to think provides opportunity for God’s guidance. Maybe trying to consult with his wife would have provided the quick-thinking servant an opportunity to talk to him or his wife as input to their consultation.
Instead, he lashed out, in a way that could only invite enmity against him and his family.
Impulsive Reaction from David
When David’s men returned and reported Nabal’s insult, he ordered four hundred to “strap on your sword” [1 Samuel 25:13] and follow him. Later, he explained their mission to them [1 Samuel 25:21–22]: “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” He reacted in anger, taking leave of his usual habit of consulting God first. However, he needed several hours’ travel to get to Nabal’s location. The lengthy travel provided opportunity for Nabal’s wife Abigail to meet him on the way and persuade him that his interest and personality would be hurt by attacking Nabal.
Successful Intervention by Abigail
Abigail intervened to forestall an attack from David after the possibility of an attack was relayed to her by a servant. The servant witnessed Nabal’s interaction with David’s messengers and recognized David and his men could resort to self help to take what Nabal had denied them. He informed Abigail and convinced her David and his men deserved what they requested. She decided to deliver a generous supply of food to David before he and his men arrive for any attack against her family. She wanted to forestall the attack by making up for the request that her husband had denied and persuading David not to attack her family.
She acted quickly in order to intercept David and his men before they arrive if they were already on the way [1 Samuel 25:18]: “Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys.” She did not tell her husband. We can surmise she assessed time was of the essence and she was unlikely to accomplish anything by debating the matter with her husband. He already denied David’s request and by doing so likely have invited David and his men as enemies against his family. Abigail assessed she needed to act alone quickly.
She acted quickly without seeking help from her husband because she had authority to represent her family in such matters. Authority to represent family requires access to family resources and capability to mobilize the resources as needed.
ACCESS Abigail had full access to the family food supply (e.g., bread, wine, livestock and meat, and cakes), transportation (e.g., donkeys) and services (e.g., donkey driver and other servants). She did not need her husband’s participation to take from any of these. Therefore, she could take what she needed to attend to a family emergency even when her husband was indisposed to help. The principle of access to family resources that worked so well for her and her family in this event is applicable today for modern-day couples. If a husband is indisposed to help (maybe because of illness, death, travel, or any other occurrence that makes him unavailable), will the wife have access to family resources (e.g., materials, services, finance, and transportation) to attend to a family emergency? Also, if a wife is indisposed to help, will the husband have access to family resources to attend to a family emergency?
CAPABILITY TO MOBILIZE In addition to having access, she had sufficient knowledge to mobilize the needed resources. For her at that time, capability to mobilize may have meant getting servants to retrieve the packages, load them on donkeys, and drive the donkeys. Generally, capability to mobilize family resources requires knowledge of what the family has, where they are kept, and how to access them. The capability may be difficult for modern-day couples because the resources are tied with activities of either the husband or wife in a way too complex for the other person to understand. Also, the wife or husband may not be interested enough to understand how family resources are associated with activities of the other person.
Abigail intervened successfully to save her family from impending attack, because she understood what was needed and had access and sufficient knowledge to mobilize family resources to attend to the emergency. The principles that guided her success are still applicable today. Authority to represent family requires access and sufficient knowledge to mobilize family resources as needed. Abigail exercised the authority to forestall an attack against her family.
Summary of What We Learned
The authority to represent family requires access to family resources and capability to mobilize the resources as needed. A wife needs such authority in the event her husband is indisposed to attend to a family emergency. Also, a husband needs the authority for similar reasons.
Abigail recognized her family faced potential attack from David and his men as retribution for her husband denying their request for assistance. She recognized the men deserved what they requested and her husband was indisposed to help. She mobilized and delivered the supplies in time to persuade them against attacking her family. She used her authority to mediate the dispute and forestall an impending attack against her family.