Was Nabal treated unfairly?
1 Samuel 25:5-38 And David sent out ten young men, and David said unto the young men, Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name: And thus shall ye say to him that liveth in prosperity, Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast. And now I have heard that thou hast shearers: now thy shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not, neither was there ought missing unto them, all the while they were in Carmel. Ask thy young men, and they will show thee. Wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes: for we come in a good day: give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand unto thy servants, and to thy son David. And when David's young men came, they spake to Nabal according to all those words in the name of David, and ceased. And Nabal answered David's servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be? So David's young men turned their way, and went again, and came and told him all those sayings. And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the stuff. But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal's wife, saying, Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed on them.
But the men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we any thing, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields: They were a wall unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him. Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal. And it was so, as she rode on the ass, that she came down by the covert on the hill, and, behold, David and his men came down against her; and she met them. Now David had said, Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him: and he hath requited me evil for good. So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall. And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, And fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the LORD hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal. And now this blessing which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it even be given unto the young men that follow my lord. I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the LORD, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days. Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the LORD thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the LORD shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel; That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid. And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand. For in very deed, as the LORD God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall. So David received of her hand that which she had brought him, and said unto her, Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person. And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light. But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And it came to pass about ten days after, that the LORD smote Nabal, that he died.

One Skeptic refers to Nabal as an "industrious man" who was "protecting what he rightfully owned" but was punished by God for doing so. This argument alone is misleading: God's only action here was to cause Nabal to die. Given his condition (apparently some sort of stroke), one might justly describe this as an act of mercy; indeed, it would be of greater good to all parties concerned. More on that on a moment.

Our first question: Was David being unreasonable?

The answer is actually of little moment, since no one claims that David was the perfect person. However, such an objection shows little cognizance of the realities of life in the Ancient Near East.

The notation that Nabal was a Calebite is important. This was an esteemed family in Judah, responsible for the founding of David's birthplace, Bethlehem (1 Chr. 2:51). Nabal and David were kinsmen -- and David was looking out for his own. During shearing season, the sheep would be especially vulnerable as the herdsmen and workers were closely occupied with their tasks.

In light of marauding Philistine bands that were stealing livestock (1 Samuel 23:5), David's protective cover (which he would of course have been providing to more than just Nabal's flock) was not a luxury, it was a necessity.

Now note well what Nabal does. David is probably the most famous member of their tribe at this time. Turning down his request for compensation is akin in this context to telling your state senator to go jump in the mud after he has just secured funding for your neighborhood watch program.

Nabal's name literally means "fool" -- while it is doubtful someone named their child "fool," it is likely that this is an intentional misspelling of Nabal's actual name, of the sort we discuss in the subsection, "Is Nebuchadnezzar's name spelled incorrectly by Daniel?" (link below) Why would Nabal do this? The servants of Nabal testify that David was indeed a big help. Was there perhaps some jealousy of David's standing involved?

We cannot know. Either way, Nabal delivered a deadly insult, comparing David to a runaway slave. Note that in an honor and shame oriented society, this was not just something that could be brushed off.

Given this, David's reaction is to some extent understandable -- but not necessarily justified. There were certainly other options available, and he would hardly have made himself popular by slaughtering a kinsman. Yet, Nabal did owe him recompense, and Abigail recognized this. (Those who say that the Bible treats women badly should note well that Abigail comes off as the smartest and kindest person in the whole story.)

David is placated, but then it is time to break the news to Nabal, who becomes paralyzed as a result -- Scrooge might have reacted similarly had Bob Crachit given all his money away. How surly indeed Nabal must have been to value his possessions so highly. Is this "industriousness"? Note that Nabal, who has servants to do his work for him, feasts and gets drunk, while the people doing the hard work, like David, must ask for sustenance.

God strikes Nabal dead -- is that unfair? Not at all. Each of us has deserved the penalty of death numerous times over for our sin; God's mercy is what permits us to live. (Arguments by outrage notwithstanding.) In social context, however, God's actions were merciful not just to Nabal, but to Abigail, who as a practical widow and a woman who was childless (she has only one child recorded, by David -- 2 Sam. 3:3) would become socially vulnerable. Nabal's death allowed David to take the role of kinsman-redeemer (Deut. 25) for her protection.

-JPH

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