Abigail’s Impossible Husband
By David Wright
Marrying Brad was a terrible mistake. When Tia was dating him, she relished his striking looks, intelligence, and sense of humor. She found him exciting. But sometimes he almost frightened her.
Brad grew up in a home plagued by drunkenness and physical abuse. He told Tia that he had never tasted alcohol and never would. Brad did not want to subject his children to the humiliation of an addicted parent. He was telling the truth too. He hated the very thought of liquor and left it strictly alone.
But unresolved anger occasionally burned through the cracks in Brad’s pleasing exterior. After accepting his marriage proposal, Tia noticed with considerable anxiety that his temper was hot, quick, and unreasoning. One afternoon, for instance, she played a little joke on him when he answered her knock on his apartment door. Assuming a worried expression, she said, “I hope you have good insurance. I accidentally bumped into your new truck.” Brad’s face turned cold and his dark eyes blazed. Even after learning that Tia was only joking, he remained sullen for the rest of the evening. He even threatened that if Tia ever again teased him about something so serious, “somebody might get hurt.”
That night Tia seriously considered ending her relationship with Brad, but the next day he acted as if nothing had happened. He was as cheerful and engaging as ever. He even bought her an expensive diamond necklace. Tia decided to overlook Brad’s disconcerting behavior. Yes, he definitely had some rough edges, but in time she would smooth them.
Tia realized her mistake almost immediately after exchanging vows with Brad. As soon as they returned from their honeymoon, he dropped the charming façade and began to control her. He demanded that everything in the house always be in its place and expected dinner to be on the table the moment he arrived home from work. When she failed to meet his unrealistic expectations, he screamed insults at her.
When Tia gave birth to Leanne, matters worsened. Brad was infuriated by the baby’s cries. He demanded that Tia keep the child quiet. To avoid confrontation, she complied with his wishes. Every time Leanne whimpered, Tia scooped her up and took her to a different room.
One Saturday morning Brad went too far – even for longsuffering Tia. She was washing dishes, and six-month-old Leanne was in her swing crying for a bottle. Before Tia could dry her hands, Brad jerked the baby up and brutally slapped her bare thigh.
Tia screamed and raced into the den, snatching Leanne out of Brad’s trembling hands. “Tia,” he stammered, “I am so sorry.” She was not listening. She grabbed her purse, rushed out to the SUV parked in the driveway, and sped off without taking time to fasten the wailing baby into her seat.
Tia’s miserable marriage is not unlike that of Abigail, wife of Nabal (1 Sam. 25:3). Nabal foolishly provokes a confrontation with young David, future king of Israel, and Abigail is caught in the middle. A failure on her part to act quickly and wisely will mean death for her husband and every male servant in her large household.
Abigail was a young woman of “beautiful appearance” (1 Sam. 25:3). Her husband, an extremely wealthy man, probably arranged their marriage with her family for this reason. Abigail pleased Nabal’s eyes and flattered his ego. But there was certainly nothing in Nabal’s character to commend him to his lovely wife.
Abigail was no flighty girl with a pretty face. On the contrary, “she was a woman of good understanding” (1 Sam. 25:3). Her heart was as beautiful as her physical appearance. The Old Testament writers shared an understanding of what wisdom meant. This was especially evident in books such as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The thesis of this wisdom literature was that true understanding meant revering God and obeying his commandments. In Job 28, for example, the author said that the fear of God “is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding” (v. 28). Solomon introduced Proverbs with the claim that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7) and concluded Ecclesiastes with the encouragement to “fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (12:13).
So the biblical description of Abigail as “a woman of good understanding” pointed not only to her good judgment but also to her devotion to God. She loved the Lord and obeyed his will. She was one of the godly women of ancient times who possessed “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:4-5).
Physical and spiritual beauty failed to protect Abigail from the heartache of ongoing conflict with her husband. “Nabal” meant “fool,” a name that suited him perfectly. He was arrogant and rude, “surly and mean in his dealings” (1 Sam. 25:3, NIV).
Although the biblical narrative focused on Nabal’s abuse of David, the man surely mistreated Abigail too. He was capable of becoming “very drunk” (1 Sam. 25:36). He was “such a scoundrel” that no one could reason with him (v. 17). He was a man who returned “evil for good” (v. 21). No doubt, these despicable traits spoiled any pleasure Abigail might have enjoyed as the wife of a wealthy man.
While pleasing irascible Nabal was impossible, Abigail submitted to him, making the best of a bad situation. However, her husband’s insulting behavior toward David provoked a crisis. At the time, David was evading the pursuit of murderous King Saul. The young warrior had become immensely popular a few years before by killing the champion of Gath. Saul had put the handsome youth over his bodyguard and given him his daughter Michal as wife.
But Saul’s insane jealousy led to David’s fall from royal favor. The young man barely escaped with his life. In time, disenfranchised men from all over Israel gathered to him. He had a raiding army of 600 men at his command. Being short on supplies and knowing that rich Nabal was shearing sheep, David instructed his men to guard the animals until the task of shearing was finished. David’s protection was so complete that his men “were a wall” around Nabal’s shearers day and night (1 Sam. 25:16).
When the work was finished, Nabal threw a party for his servants. David sent 10 of his young men with a gracious request for a share in the abundant provisions. His messengers wished Nabal peace and then asked, “Let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and to your son David” (1 Sam. 25:8).
Nabal scoffed at this humble appeal. “Who is David,” he asked “and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?” (1 Sam. 25:10-11). Nabal meant his pretended ignorance as an insult. He was suggesting that David and his followers were worthless nobodies. But he knew exactly who David was. All Israel knew that God had promised David the throne, and most people relished his military prowess and sympathized with his plight. But not Nabal. He was incapable of sympathy. He thought only of himself.
When David received word of Nabal’s scorn, he armed himself with a sword and gathered 400 fierce warriors for an immediate attack. He bitterly complained that Nabal had repaid him “evil for good.” David swore an oath to avenge the insolent fellow’s wrong: “May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light” (1 Sam. 25:21-22).
Abigail learned what was happening from an alarmed servant. The young man hurriedly explained to her that David had “sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master; and he reviled them. But the men were very good to us” (1 Sam. 25:14-15). “Consider what you will do,” the servant pleaded, “for harm is determined against our master and against all his household” (v. 17).
Abigail had an important decision to make. She could either submit to Nabal’s wishes and imperil the lives of numerous people, or she could disregard her husband’s decision and do what seemed right. An internal battle had raged within Abigail ever since she married Nabal, but now her conflict with him was about to come into the open. His foolishness had pushed her toward a line that she simply could not cross.
Nabal’s wife sprang into action. She “took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys” (1 Sam. 25:18). Then she hurried away to intercept David and his angry men.
When Abigail met David, she quickly dismounted from her donkey and “fell at his feet” (1 Sam. 25:24). She humbly begged David to blame her for the wickedness of her husband and offered the ample provisions to appease his anger. She wisely reminded him that one day, Nabal’s insults notwithstanding, he would be king over all Israel. Did he want to take the throne with innocent blood staining his hands? Would it not be better to let the Lord avenge the wrongs David had suffered?
Abigail’s generosity, wisdom, and beauty combined to soften David’s heart. He praised God for sending her to meet him. “Blessed is your advice and blessed are you,” David told her, “because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand” (1 Sam. 25:33). After gratefully receiving the gifts Abigail had brought, David dismissed her in peace. “See,” he said, “I have heeded your voice and respected your person” (v. 35).
Abigail had done the right thing, but her heart was heavy with dread as she made her slow way back home. She had openly defied her husband’s authority. To protect the men in her large household, Abigail had been brutally honest with David about Nabal’s character. “Let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal,” she had pleaded. “For as his name is, so is he, Nabal is his name, and folly is with him!” (1 Sam. 25:25). Nabal would be furious with her and would refuse to acknowledge that his conduct had created any real danger. She planned to tell him right away, to get it over with, but he was in no condition to understand her. Abigail found Nabal feasting like a dissipated king. He had consumed more alcohol than food. He was so drunk that she decided to wait until morning.
It was a long night for Abigail, but finally the new day arrived. When she bravely told her now sober husband what she had done, “his heart died within him, and he became like a stone” (1 Sam. 25:37). Probably, Nabal was so angry with Abigail that he had a heart attack. Ten days later the Lord “struck Nabal, and he died” (v. 38).
The author of 1 Samuel in no way reproaches Abigail for defying her husband. On the contrary, she is portrayed as a woman of virtue and worth. David himself recognizes her excellent character. After the death of Nabal, he sends his servants to propose marriage to Abigail. She accepts the offer in her characteristically humble way. “Here is your maidservant,” she tells David’s messengers, “a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord” (25:41).
But how is Abigail’s disobedience to Nabal to be reconciled with the biblical model of submission? The apostle Peter instructs wives to “be submissive to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1). That this command appears in the New Testament in no way excuses Abigail. In fact, the conduct of a famous Old Testament woman serves as Peter’s illustration. “In former times,” he writes, “the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves [with the beauty of a gentle spirit], being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (vs. 5-6).
Of course, excusing Abigail is unnecessary, for she has done nothing amiss. Moses teaches a biblical principle relevant to this good woman’s dilemma. He asks his people: “Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Deut. 10:12-13). “For your good” is an important phrase. The conduct God requires is always in the best interest of his people. The Lord commands a wife to submit to her husband’s authority because he wants to bless and protect her and to create a safe and healthy environment for her children.
In some cases, though, yielding to a husband’s will may compromise the happiness and safety of everyone in the home—including the husband himself. I thought of this on a mission trip in 2005. The Church of Christ in Parsons, Tennessee, sent me and the deacon over missions to a Caribbean island for a short visit. Our goal was to meet the few Christians on the island and interview a preacher interested in becoming a missionary there. On the first night of our stay, we gathered with the church for a worship service. The meeting place was Anita and Roberto’s front yard their [names have been changed to protect privacy].
Anita was the first Christian convert on the island, but her alcoholic husband had never obeyed the gospel. The environment in their yard was far from conducive to worship. Mosquitoes swarmed. Car horns honked in the street only a few feet from our chairs. Dogs ran through the circle of worshipers, barking and chasing each other. But the most distracting thing was Roberto’s behavior.
He came to the assembly in the same condition as feasting Nabal — “very drunk.” To make matters worse, he drained at least two cans of beer during my message. Plainly, Anita had no boundaries in her marriage with Roberto. He did whatever he wanted, and she found a way to put up with it.
Anita had the biblical right to insist on being treated with more respect. By letting Roberto do anything he wished, Anita was enabling him. His behavior was setting a deplorable example for their child, devouring their meager income, shaming him in public, endangering his health, and separating him from life in God. If Anita had found the courage of Abigail and set some boundaries in her relationship with Roberto, he might have changed his self-destructive behavior.
Tia is in a panic. She drives recklessly fast for several blocks before realizing that her excessive speed may jeopardize the safety of the sweet baby clutched in her left arm. After checking the rearview mirror to make sure that Brad is not following, Tia turns off the road and parks behind an abandoned building.
She rocks Leanne, soothes her, cries with her. After calming down a bit, Tia fastens the baby in her seat and restarts her vehicle. She needs help, and the preacher’s wife seems to be the perfect person to ask. Tia can be at her friend’s home in less than 15 minutes.
Phyllis answers her doorbell almost immediately. At 62, she is still slim and graceful. She knows the Bible well, and Tia always enjoys her fascinating Sunday morning ladies’ class. Phyllis greets her visitor with a bright smile, which quickly fades when she sees the tears staining Tia’s cheeks.
Phyllis leads Tia into her comfortable kitchen and seats her at the old oak table. She listens attentively as Tia pours out her painful story. Phyllis gently asks questions to understand the younger woman’s situation better. After Tia has talked for an hour, Phyllis offers her a cup of coffee. By this time, Leanne has fallen asleep and is lying on a pallet at her mother’s feet.
Tia sips the hot coffee, looks down at the plump face of her sleeping child, and bursts into fresh tears. “What am I going to do?” she cries. “I can’t live with Brad anymore. The Bible says that the only acceptable reason for divorce is adultery, but Brad has never even flirted with another woman. How can I live with a man who frightens me and hurts my baby?”
Phyllis picks up her Bible and opens it to the seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians. “Listen to this, Tia. Paul says that ‘a wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.'”
Phyllis looks up from her Bible and gazes at Tia for a moment before continuing. “You are right about having no biblical grounds for divorce. You are also right in your refusal to keep living with an abusive husband. Paul tells a woman not to leave her husband, but he recognizes that some situations may demand a temporary or even permanent separation.”
“I think permanent separation would be best in my case,” Tia says.
“Maybe not. Brad needs help, Tia. I gather that his own childhood was a nightmare. He still has a lot of emotional baggage. Christian counseling could make a big difference.”
“But how can I make him get counseling, Phyllis?”
“You can’t make him of course. But by insisting on his respecting you, you can make counseling look like an extremely attractive option.”
“What do you mean, Phyllis?”
Phyllis leans forward in her chair, her blue eyes full of concern. “Right now Brad is feeling terribly guilty. He’s afraid of losing you. He will buy you an expensive present and promise to never be such a fool again. But instead of returning home on his terms, you must set firm boundaries. Tell him that you’ll be living with your parents or sister until he goes to counseling, learns to manage his anger, and stops trying to control you. Tell him that you’ll come home only when you and your baby can be physically and emotionally safe.”
Abigail’s Impossible Husband
Abigail, a lovely and wise young woman, married foolish Nabal. When couples in her culture were betrothed to each other, how important were the bride’s preferences? Did women of the Bible fall in love and marry, or were their marriages arranged by parents? Support your answer.
2. Tia, a fictional character in this chapter, marries Brad in spite of strong reservations. Discuss the warning signs in a man’s conduct that point to future marital problems. Should a concerned young woman share her fears with older Christian women? Should she listen to them if they recommend that her dating relationship be ended? Do you think it would ever be appropriate for friends to voice their concerns without being asked? Why or why not?
3. In this chapter the author maintains that Abigail does nothing amiss when she disobeys Nabal. Do you agree or disagree? Why? Does the Bible teach that a woman is to submit not only to her husband but also to God? What should a wife do when the will of God and the desires of her husband conflict?
4. Based on the teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, Phyllis tells Tia that she may separate from Brad but must never divorce him unless he commits adultery. What do you think of this advice? Do some abusive people seek counseling, learn self-control, and become good spouses and parents? Why might God have chosen not to permit divorce on the grounds of abuse? If the Lord did allow divorce for this reason, how many people would interpret “abuse” far more loosely than he intended?
5. Abigail sets boundaries with Nabal. Some things she simply will not allow. In a good marriage, what limits are set in regard to financial accountability, child discipline, personal respect, and sexual intimacy?