Abigail: the desert diplomat

1 Samuel 25: 1-44

Abigail ©MicahHayns

In 2014 Major General Kristin Lund of Norway was appointed as the first woman to serve as Force Commander in a United Nations peacekeeping operation. (1)

Our next woman, Abigail, was also a peacekeeper.

The whole story is written rather like a play within a play. The setting is in the desert at a time when the Israelites were desert tribes, Saul was still King, the prophet Samuel had just died, and David was gaining power as a tribal leader.

Abigail (meaning father’s joy) was married to Nabal (meaning fool or moron). They could not have been a more mismatched couple. Abigail was beautiful, intelligent and sensitive whereas Nabal was surly, mean and a drunkard. He had a large farm with 3000 sheep, 1000 goats and a property at the foot of Mount Carmel.

It was sheep shearing season, traditionally a time when communities would hold celebration feasts. David, whose men had protected Nabal’s farm, sent ten men to ask for some produce for the feast as payment. Nabal responded to their polite (although 10 men sounds pretty threatening) request by shouting at them and insulting the men, and David.

Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse?

1 Samuel 25.10

David was furious when he heard this and began to prepare to go to war against them. One of Nabal’s men saw what had happened and wisely realised that there was no point talking to his master as ‘he’s so ill-natured that no-one can speak to him’. Instead he went to Abigail and explained the dangerous situation.

Abigail lost no time.

She gathered a number of gifts (including managing to rustle up 200 cakes of figs and 100 cakes of raisins, which is pretty impressive), loaded up the donkeys and headed off to meet David.

Abigail throws herself at David’s feet. Minature from Rudolf von Ems’ World Chronicle, Codex bibl. 205, fol. 136 (14th Century)

She found him and his men on their way to battle. She got off her donkey, threw herself at David’s feet and then delivered a brilliant peacekeeping speech: a speech which appealed to David’s pride and was both theologically compelling and strategically sensible. She used winning peace making strategies, many typically used by women who don’t have power and strength on their side:

  • Flattery – ‘my Lord’
  • Humility – ‘let the blame be on me alone’
  • Explanation – ‘pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal – his name is Fool and folly goes with him’
  • Gift giving – ‘let this gift.. be given to the men who follow you’
  • Appeal to the conscience – ‘let no wrong-doing be found in you as long as you live’.

Abigail’s speech changed David’s heart and he called off his men.

May you be blessed for your good judgement and for keeping me from bloodshed this day

1 Samuel 25.33

What Abigail did that day was hugely risky. David could easily have killed her, and even after her meeting with him she then had to go back home to face the wrath of her husband. Once back she found him ‘in high spirits and very drunk’ and so she wisely decided to wait until he had sobered up to tell him what she had done.

A C14th depiction of Abigail tending Nabal by John de Teye (1361-1384)

He was so shocked ‘his heart failed him and became like stone’. (37)

It is likely that he had a stroke or a heart attack, and 10 days later he died.

Abigail’s story doesn’t end there as David, hearing of Nabal’s death, sends for her and she becomes his wife, and the mother of his second son (Daniel).

Reflection and Prayer

Abigail’s story is one of salvation.  She saves her household and herself from her boorish husband and from the ensuing army set to destroy them. She saved David from acting in a way that would lead to sin, and she secured peace in the region and a better life for herself and her people.

A very early role model for the female peacekeepers of the United Nations today?

As we remember Abigail let us pray for all those who are peacemakers in our communities, for those who do this on a global and national stage, but also for those who are involved in conflict mediation on a local level. Let us also remember women who are today living with partners who struggle with alcohol addiction, and who’s behaviour is unpredictable and violent. This must be particularly difficult during this difficult time.

O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments,
and also that by thee, we, being defended from the fear of all enemies,
may pass our time in rest and quietness;
through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. 
The Collect for Peace from the Book of Common Prayer

(1 and 2) https://unu.edu/publications/articles/why-un-needs-more-female-peacekeepers.html

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - http://www.zane-zimbabweanationalemergency.com | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

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