The voices of women are everywhere – loud and clear and powerful. The debate on women’s rights and equality is heated and on-going. Modern society has forcefully expanded the rights of women, even to the point of choosing to be a man. Personally I had never wished to be a man, but I have had the privilege to grow up in a relatively “safe” Western community – with basic respect for a woman.
How would I have reacted to a Middle-Eastern society where women are cruelly oppressed? Maybe there are a few women who look admiringly to the privileges of men. In her autobiography, Infidel: My Life Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes how she had to submit to her younger brother and how he could make her life hell. He did, until his mother taught him a good lesson, but in actual fact his mother was also supposed to be submissive to him. Ayaan grew up in Somalian and Saudi Arabian Islamic tradition. She later fled to the Netherlands to find help from Western gynecologists for the consequences of FGM.
Long before the establishment of Islam we read of remarkable women in the Bible, who could manipulate their harsh, domineering environment with strong inner-conviction of right and wrong and deep trust in God. Deborah lived in the Early Iron Age and enjoyed the status and respect of her nation as judge and leader. (Judges 4) Huldah, the prophetess, was consulted by kings and palace officials (2 Kings 22:14) and the woman described in Proverbs 31 could serve as a role model for even the most forward-thinking modern woman today.
God originally planned for a man to have one wife and for a woman to be a man’s equal. Together they represent mankind – as it was ordained from the beginning. (Genesis 1:27) A woman was never supposed to be submissive to a man except to her own husband which symbolized the perfect love-relationship of Christ and his Bride (the Church). It is the miraculous team-idea of heaven on earth – a man submissive to Christ ruling his house in unconditional love and humility to form the backbone of society. A marriage and a family are a God-idea. The oppression of women is a pagan tradition and executed in the most horrible ways.
During the time of David – the Middle Iron-Age, a thousand years before Christ – we read of an astonishing woman.
Abigail is one brave woman. She is alert, efficient and beautiful and she uses all her talents to sway the murderous intention of a king. Her “instruments” of persuasion is legendary –a mixture of food and friendliness with a substantial portion of humility and willingness to serve. She rewrites an entire episode of history with speedy decisions, clear-sighted intervention and action on a surprisingly grand scale.
Abigail is on her knees before a furious, angry, insulted, offended David out to take revenge. He is set on murder, to take what he wants with his four hundred men worked up into a frenzy of looting and destruction. Between David and the consequences of his ugliness in character of that moment and a better way, is one woman on her knees. She restores his sense of beauty. She brings David back to the God that should be his first concern – not his own hurt pride.
David does good work in the wilderness while fleeing Saul’s persecution. He finds he is not alone there. It is a hide-out for many criminals who are also on the run. There are quite a number of bandits, robbers and even murderers.
And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him. (1 Samuel 22:2)
He brings a band of four hundred men, which later grows to six hundred, together and trains them into a small army. They find purpose and dignity with David and build a loyalty towards him. In a particular part of the wilderness, Nabal’s herdsmen are exposed to the outlaws of the wilderness. David provides protection for them. They testify of David and his men:
But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, nor did we miss anything as long as we accompanied them, when we were in the fields. They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep. (1 Samuel 25:16)
In the ruthless canyons of lawlessness, David established law and order. Nabal’s people benefited from David’s trial and tribulation. The shearing season comes, which is usually accompanied by feasting when the harvest is done. The workers and owners partake in a banquet lasting several days. David and his men are in the neighbourhood and he sends a messenger to ask some food for his men. It is a reasonable request within the traditions of hospitality of the region and for the protection David provided for most of the year.
Nabal not only refuses his request; he insults David. He labels him as one of those servants who has broken away from his master (1 Samuel 25:10). Nabal is a fool (it is the meaning of his name). He seems to be very unreasonable, jumping to conclusions and then shouts his anger in the faces of those around him. His servants do not respect him. They approach Abigail.
David is outraged. He is in a position to take revenge and he shall. Nabal’s unreasonable words provoke David to the very brutality that Nabal speaks of.
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 Samuel 25:22)
David now almost becomes Saul. His pride has been hurt, his position as protector insulted and he will take his revenge on the person who perpetrated this outrage to his person.
But in this story is a woman to be reckoned with. Abigail got wind of the situation. She knew how David could react, very aware of the “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” -justice prevailing in the wilderness. She packs a magnificent feast onto pack animals (donkeys and mules) and move out to intercept David.
Then Abigail made haste and 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 Samuel 25:18)
Hats off to Abigail. What a woman! She can cater for an army. This is a picnic on steroids!
Her swift action prevents bloodshed and sin. She approached the hungry angry men with donkeys full of food – the way to a man’s heart (wink, wink).
Her humble attitude – falling on her knees when she saw him – stops David in his vengeful tracks. How is he going to get pass a woman on her knees, speaking words of truth, elevating him to his true status and reminding him of his calling before the Lord?
Abigail launches into a long speech from her knees. (1 Samuel 25:24-31) and asks David to listen to her. She is not searching for words. She makes a compelling argument. The matter is very clear in her mind and she speaks prophetically into David’s situation in a way that he cannot deny nor ignore.
She insults her own husband, calling him a scoundrel, stating very clearly that she does not agree with him, thus alluding to the fact that she also heard what his herdsmen said of David and his protection provided. She does not want David to be like her husband, because David is the prince of Israel and not worthy of common revenge. She is an informed citizen – wow!
She controls the whole situation from her knees – very significant.
Her natural sense of justice makes it reasonable to share the feast with the “neighbourhood watch”. She acts independently of her husband in a way that women of the time rarely did. She reminds David of his calling to fight the battles of the Lord and not his own. She prophecies that he will take up the position that God has anointed him for and then she asks him to remember her.
The revenge and hatred are all contained by the words of Abigail. She absorbs the hate and violence in her prophetic word:
“Forgive my presumption! But God is at work in my master, developing a rule solid and dependable. My master fights God’s battles! As long as you live no evil will stick to you.
If anyone stands in your way,
if anyone tries to get you out of the way,
Know this: Your God-honored life is tightly bound
in the bundle of God-protected life;
But the lives of your enemies will be hurled aside
as a stone is thrown from a sling. (1 Samuel 25:28-29, The Message)
David is swayed by her good argument. He is a man who listened to the reasoning of a woman – hats off to David too. David acknowledges his cause and the wrongful vengeance in his heart. It is as if her speech brings perception and balance back into the situation. The rude scoundrel Nabal is not punished for his stupidity and stinginess, but still God’s purpose is served.
David’s life is once again defined by God’s mercies, not the folly of his enemy.
This is a most important life-principle. We are in the wilderness to find out what God is doing and how we can harmonize with his plans. He brings us to a place of listening. Our listening is so deafened by the media and information overload, that we have to tread carefully and find the solitude and beauty in the wilderness of modern society in which we find ourselves. Do we need to know everything? Probably not, but it is a fact that we know so much more than our forefathers and we have to digest so much bad news that often has nothing to do with us. The only answer is to “hear” the trumpet sound and to “see” Jesus coming on the cloud. Run for the cloud, the refuge, the safe haven, the strong tower, the Shadow of the Almighty, the secret place under the Wing – you are at your best there – where your anger, offence and disappointment dissipate in the awareness of awe.
David compliments Abigail:
Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person.” (1 Samuel 25:35)
Abigail protects David. Her eye is on higher things. She intervenes boldly, convinced of a just cause. She humbles herself to the point of triumph.
The wilderness to which David returns shaped him in the tender mercies of God. He was reminded to fight the Lord’s battles. David stops and listens – a recipe for success.
He listens to Abigail, an unimportant marginal figure in a male-dominated world. She is outstandingly beautiful in contrast to a world of vengeance and materialism, where men fight for their stomachs. Their raw barbarian appetite plunges them into ugliness and bloodshed. The beauty that Abigail brings speaks splendour into their mindset and… everything changes.
The end of the story – well, what do you know. She returns home to a drunk, very high spirited husband, presiding over an equally drunken banquet. Wisely she does not confront him, but tells all that she had done, the next morning, no doubt to make him understand that she saved his life. There and then he got a heart attack (his heart died and became a stone within him). After ten days in a coma Nabal died. David hears and summons Abigail.
He took her as his wife, not letting an opportunity for a woman like that slip through his fingers.
We have the awesome opportunity to rewrite history from our knees before our Shepherd-King Jesus.