ABIGAIL: THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
I Samuel 25
There was a man… [who] was very wealthy; he owned 3000 sheep and 1000 goats. At the time, he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. The man’s name was Naval, and his wife’s name was Avigail. The woman was intelligent and beautiful, but the man, a Calebite, was a hard man and an evildoer.
David was in the wilderness when he heard that Naval was shearing his sheep. David dispatched ten young men, and David instructed the young men, “Go up to Carmel. When you come to Naval, greet him in my name. Say as follows: ‘To life! Greetings to you and to your household and to all that is yours! I hear that you are now doing your shearing. As you know, your shepherds have been with us; we did not harm them, and nothing of theirs was missing all the time they were in Carmel. Ask your young men and they will tell you. So receive these young men graciously, for we have come on a festive occasion. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can.’”
David’s young men went and delivered this message to Naval in the name of David. When they stopped speaking, Naval answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many slaves nowadays who run away from their masters. Should I then take my bread and my water, and the meat that I slaughtered for my own shearers, and give them to men who come from I don’t know where?”
Thereupon David’s young men retraced their steps; and when they got back, they told him all this. And David said to his men, “Gird on your swords.” Each girded on his sword; David too girded on his sword. About 400 men went up after David, while 200 remained with the gear.
One of [Naval’s] young men told Avigail, Naval’s wife, that David had sent messengers from the wilderness to greet their master, and that he had spurned them. “But the men had been very friendly to us; we were not harmed, nor did we miss anything all the time that we went about with them while we were in the open. They were a wall about us both by night and by day all the time that we were with them tending the flocks. So consider carefully what you should do, for harm threatens our master and all his household; he is such a nasty fellow that no one can speak to him.”
Avigail quickly got together 200 loaves of bread, two jars of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of parched corn, 100 cakes of raisin, and 200 cakes of pressed figs. She loaded them on donkeys, and she told her young men, “Go on ahead of me, and I’ll follow you”; but she did not tell her husband Naval.
She was riding on the donkey and going down a trail on the hill, when David and his men appeared, coming down toward her; and she met them.— Now David had been saying, “It was all for nothing that I protected that fellow’s possessions in the wilderness, and that nothing he owned is missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God do thus and more to the enemies of David if, by the light of morning, I leave a single male of his.”—
When Avigail saw David, she quickly dismounted from the donkey and threw herself face down before David, bowing to the ground. Prostrate at his feet, she pleaded, “Let the blame be mine, my lord, but let your handmaid speak to you; hear your maid’s plea. Please, my lord, pay no attention to that wretched fellow Naval. For he is just what his name says: His name means ‘boor’ and he is a boor. “Your handmaid did not see the young men whom my lord sent. I swear, my lord, as ADONAI lives and as you live—ADONAI who has kept you from seeking redress by blood with your own hands—let your enemies and all who would harm my lord fare like Naval!
Here is the present which your maidservant has brought to my lord; let it be given to the young men who are the followers of my lord. Please pardon your maid’s boldness. For ADONAI will grant my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of ADONAI, and no wrong is ever to be found in you. And if anyone sets out to pursue you and seek your life, the life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life in the care of ADONAI; but He will fling away the lives of your enemies as from the hollow of a sling. And when the LORD has accomplished for my lord all the good He has promised you, and has appointed you ruler of Israel, do not let this be a cause of stumbling and of faltering courage to my lord that you have shed blood needlessly and that my lord sought redress with his own hands. And when ADONAI has prospered my lord, remember your maid.”
David said to Avigail, “Praised be ADONAI, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed be your prudence, and blessed be you yourself for restraining me from seeking redress in blood by my own hands. For as sure as ADONAI, the God of Israel, lives—who has kept me from harming you—had you not come quickly to meet me, not a single male of Naval’s line would have been left by daybreak.” David then accepted from her what she had brought him, and he said to her, “Go up to your home safely. See, I have heeded your plea and respected your wish.”
When Avigail came home to Naval, he was having a feast in his house, a feast fit for a king; Naval was in a merry mood and very drunk, so she did not tell him anything at all until daybreak. The next morning, when Naval had slept off the wine, his wife told him everything that had happened; and his courage died within him, and he became like a stone. About ten days later ADONAI struck Naval and he died.
When David heard that Naval was dead, he said, “Praised be ADONAI who championed my cause against the insults of Naval and held back His servant from wrongdoing; the LORD has brought Naval’s wrongdoing down on his own head.” David sent messengers to propose marriage to Avigail, to take her as his wife.
When David’s servants came to Avigail at Carmel and told her that David had sent them to her to make her his wife, she immediately bowed low with her face to the ground and said, “Your handmaid is ready to be your maidservant, to wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” Then Avigail rose quickly and mounted a donkey, and with five of her maids in attendance she followed David’s messengers; and she became his wife.
- One of the key points Avigail makes to David is essentially “don’t do terrible things in order to defeat a terrible man,” -- or don’t become that which you despise in order to stop the very things you are disdainful of. This tension continues to exist today, showing up on both a personal and a national level. For example, when our country enters a war to stop the killing? Or when have you ever found yourself justifying an unethical or immoral or even illegal act by judging it “the lesser of two evils”?
- How do you manage this tension?
Avigail takes a tremendous personal risk (likely putting her life on the line) by undermining her husband and hiding her actions from him. This is the defining moment of her character. The text offers a few clues about her motives but so much is unsaid. Write a midrash about Avigail’s life prior to this moment.
How do you understand her decision to do this?
What happened in her past that led to this act? Is this the first time she has been so boldly subversive? How do you imagine her relationship with Naval and why she seems to be willing to risk everything in order to do right by David and his men?
In thinking about Avigail’s motives, you might find it useful to consider your own experiences: Have you ever reached a point where you were willing to risk very severe consequences in order to do what you believe is right? If so, why were you willing to go there?