Abigail and David

The Sunday school class I’m co-teaching is doing a unit on King David. We used the stories from the book From Long Ago and Many Lands about David and Saul, and David and Jonathan — which are pretty much guy stories. So for tomorrow’s Sunday school class, I decided to do the story from 1 Samuel 25.2-42, which features the quick-thinking and clever woman Abigail. It’s still a rough draft….

Long before he became a king, when David was still running from Saul, afraid that Saul would kill him, he and his six hundred followers travelled to the wilderness of Paran.

In Carmel, which was near the wilderness of Paran, there lived a rich man named Nabal, who owned three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. Nabal was married to a woman named Abigail, who was clever and beautiful. Nabal himself, however, was rude and ill-natured; his name meant “The Fool.”

In the wilderness, David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep. He decided to send ten young men to Nabal. David said to them, “Go to Carmel, find Nabal, and give him my greetings. Say to him, ‘Peace be upon your peace be upon your household, peace to all you have.’ Tell him that we have been living here among his shepherds, and we have not attacked them, nor have we stolen anything from them;– we have only the best intentions towards him and all those who work for him. You will arrive at his household on a feast day, and ask him if he would please give whatever food and drink he might have on hand to me and all of us.” David knew that anyone who lived in that land would feel compelled by the laws of hospitality to give at least some food to a band of men living in the wilderness.

David’s ten young men went to see Nabal the Fool, and they politely passed on David’s greetings, and his request for hospitality. But Nabal spoke to them harshly. “Who is this David?” he said. “There are many servants who try to run away from their masters. Why should I take bread and meat and water away from the people who have been shearing my sheep, and give it to people who come from I know not where?”

When the ten young men came back to David and told him what had happened, he told four hundred of his men to strap on their swords. “I protected his shepherds and everything else Nabal had in the wilderness, but for this good I did he returned to me only evil,” said David. “Now we will go and kill every male in his household.” They followed David towards Nabals’ house, while the remaining two hundred men stayed to guard the animals and the camp.

Meanwhile, one of the young men who worked for Nabal went to tell Abigail, Nabal’s wife, what had happened. The young mand said that David had sent messengers to bring greetings to Nabal, but Nabal had only hurled insults at them. But, the young man said, when they had been out in the fields with Nabal’s sheep, David’s men had been good to them, and had even helped to protect them. And now David had decided to attack the household of Nabal, because Nabal was so bad-natured that no one can talk to him.

Abigail thought quickly. She ran and got two hundred loaves of bread, five sheep that had been butchered, one hundred clusters of raisins, two hundred cakes of figs, some grain, and some wine. She got her young men to load everything onto donkeys, and, without telling Nabal where she was going, she went along the mountain along the way she knew David would be taking.

When Abigail saw David, she got down from her donkey and hurried towards him. She fell to her knees, and bowed down before him. “The guilt is mine alone,” she said. “My lord, please don’t take the words of ill-natured Nabal seriously. He is what his name says he is, a fool. I should have seen the young men you sent to our household, and then none of this would have happened.

“Now that I am here, there is no need to take vengeance, there is no need to shed blood. Please take all this food I have brought to you from Nabal’s household, and give it to your men.”

David listened to Abigail, and then said, “Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you. If you hadn’t come to meet me, by the end of this morning my men and I would have killed every male in your household, and I would have incurred bloodguilt. Only Adonai, the God of the Israelites, is allowed to take vengeance. You have saved me from trying to take vengeance into my own hands.”

David and his men took everything Abigail brought to them. “See, I have done what you asked,” David said to her. “Go in peace.”

So Abigail went back to Nabal’s house. He was holding a feast, and he was very drunk, and acting very merry. Abigail waited until the next morning to tell him what had happened: that he had mortally insulted a band of six hundred warriors, warriors who had protected his shepherds, six hundred men to whom he at least owed ordinary hospitality. She told him how she had brought food to David and his men, and had intercepted them.

Nabal realized what a fool he had been, and his heart died within him. He became like a stone, and ten days later he died.

When David heard that Nabal had died, he sent messengers to Abigail, and asked her to marry him. And she agreed that she would marry him, and went off to live with David.

Part of a work in progress, stories for liberal religious kids.

4 thoughts on “Abigail and David

  1. Heather

    I’ve just started reading Howard Zinn’s People’s History (prompted by his recent death). Read the first chapter today about Christopher Columbus, and somehow that chapter echoes for me with this post. Wonder what you think about teaching kids about “heroes.” Is it OK to just talk about the good things (David wrote poetry, faced down a giant to protect his people, etc.) while they’re young, and let them encounter the flaws later? After reading that chapter today, I’m kind of angry about all the happy-go-lucky “Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria” stuff I learned about as a kid on “Columbus Day.”

  2. Dan

    Heather @ 1 — I don’t have a firm answer to your question. But David is such a complex character, I don’t think you can present him as flawless without warping who he really was. The classic Sunday school tells kids about David and Goliath; I think it’s much more interesting for children to learn about David and Saul’s complex relationship (esp. if we can tell them that Saul was probably depressive, and maybe talk a little about mental illness), and talk about David and Jonathan’s friendship; and I like this story about David and Abigail, not only because there’s a strong female figure (not enough of those in religion), but also because David realizes how stupid he would have been had he gone to kill Nabal and all Nabal’s men.

    When I told this story in Sunday school today, one child remarked, “That’s a weird story.” It provoked some interesting discussion. I also liked the way we have done a three-week unit on David — we started with the simply moralistic story of David and Goliath; moved to David and Saul; and finished up with Abigail and David — moving towards greater moral complexity. But I don’t think I would teach school-aged children about David and Bathsheba. so I’m not sure where the exact boundaries might be….

  3. Heather

    Thanks, Dan. Reading about the good work that UU RE folks do makes me wish I’d grown up UU. Makes me think about having a kid just so it can go to RE in a UU congregation. More do-able? Keep learning, and find a way to participate. Do you have any RE book recommendations?

  4. Dan

    Heather @ 3 — I have lots of RE book recommendations. Email me and tell me more specifically what you’re looking for — danharper AT uucpa DOT org

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