Shakespeare famously asked, “What’s in a name?” Well, it seems quite a lot.
The parents named their son Nabal, which means ‘fool! (Well, thanks Mom and Dad!) In this case it turned out to be prophetic. We can read the story of Nabal, ‘the fool,’ in 1 Samuel 25. (Extracts from the Bible text in large italics)
Nabal was a very rich farmer, married to a clever and beautiful wife Abigail. He was known to be a miser, mean and badly behaved! He was a fool. She was the opposite.
“There was a wealthy man from Maon who owned property near the town of Carmel. He had 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats, and it was sheep-shearing time. This man’s name was Nabal, and his wife, Abigail, was a sensible and beautiful woman. But Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, was crude and mean in all his dealings.”
King David was in the desert nearby and heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep. Shearing time for sheep and goats was like harvest time for farmers. This is when they get paid for the work they’ve done. They have plenty, they will usually celebrate with a feast, and this is when they are normally most generous.
David sent a small delegation with a polite message to Nabal, asking if they could join the celebrations, and reminding him of the protection David’s men had given Nabal’s employees. It was a feast day, and traditionally a time when you could share with those in need.
“Peace and prosperity to you, your family, and everything you own! I am told that it is sheep-shearing time. While your shepherds stayed among us near Carmel, we never harmed them, and nothing was ever stolen from them. Ask your own men, and they will tell you this is true. So, would you be kind to us, since we have come at a time of celebration? Please share any provisions you might have on hand with us and with your friend David.”
Nabal replied scathingly, “Who does this guy David think he is? Those men he sent are most likely runaway slaves.” Nabal will have nothing of it. Not only does he refuse to give David anything for the feast, he insults David publicly, denies knowing him, and calls David’s integrity into question, implying he is rebelling against Saul.
“Who is this fellow David?” Nabal sneered to the young men. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?”
David was angry and out for blood. He sent 400 of his men towards Nabal’s farm, armed to the teeth; they were not in a good mood.
One of Nabal’s employees, however, was a quick thinker and went to Nabal’s wife Abigail and warned her. The employee explained …
“David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, but he screamed insults at them. These men have been very good to us, and we never suffered any harm from them. Nothing was stolen from us the whole time they were with us. In fact, day and night they were like a wall of protection to us and the sheep. You need to know this and figure out what to do, for there is going to be trouble for our master and his whole family. He’s so ill-tempered that no one can even talk to him!”
Abigail wasted no time She quickly gathered a large amount of food, packed it on donkeys and sent them on to meet David. She didn’t tell her husband Nabal what she was doing!
She travelled to meet up with David to plead forgiveness for her husband, even taking the blame for the ill-treatment of David’s men on herself!
“She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say. I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests. But I never even saw the young men you sent.”
The wise Abigail apologized for Nabal’s behavior. David was thankful to Abigail for what she did, thereby preventing David from shedding blood.
Meanwhile, back at the farmhouse, there was a big party going on and Nabal was as drunk as a lord.
“In the morning when Nabal was sober, his wife told him what had happened. As a result he had a stroke, and he lay paralyzed on his bed like a stone. About ten days later, the LORD struck him, and he died”
Nabal was truly a fool for not being generous and not showing the customary hospitality to David. He was only thinking of his own interests. He was more than a fool for not listening to his wife Abigail, who was much wiser than he was!
If David was not taking what he wanted by brute force, how did he support himself and his men? I think the answer lies in what he had done for Nabal up until this point. He protected honest farmers, herders, and villagers from outlaws, and in return they gave him and his men the food they needed. Ever heard of Barzillai? Maybe not. We don’t meet him until the second book of Samuel, but his history with David went back to these same days before he became king.
“He was very old—eighty years of age—and very wealthy. He was the one who had provided food for the king during his stay in Mahanaim. ‘Come across with me and live in Jerusalem,’ the king said to Barzillai. ‘I will take care of you there.’” (2 Sam 19:32)
Barzillai invested in the King. The King invested in him. Nabal did not invest in the King. His end was tragic.
Show hospitality. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
Invest in the King. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20,21
Listen to your wife! “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
Next: The chief advisor to the king ... who wouldn't believe God could change an economy.