A GREAT number of Israelites from all over Canaan came to attend Samuel's funeral at Ramah, where the old prophet was buried with appropriate honors. (I Samuel 25:1.) David wasn't among those who attended. He knew that he would be risking his life to go where Saul was. Instead, he moved his men on southward to the Paran Desert, farther away from Ramah and Gibeah. There his small army moved from place to place, not staying in one spot very long because of the necessity of obtaining food as well as the need to keep Saul guessing David's location.
The Shepherds' Friend
Food wasn't always easy to get. Much of it consisted of wild game, but there were necessities that had to be acquired through other people. David sent bands of mounted men to help farmers with their crops, sheepherders with their flocks and cattlemen with their herds, obtaining food and supplies for their services. Often those services entailed offering protection from Arabs who plundered for a living. One group of David's men came upon a small number of herdsmen who were looking after an unusually large flock of sheep, and who were in constant fear of attacks. The herdsmen were relieved and thankful when they learned that it was David's men who had come to them. "If you are afraid of Arab raids, we'll stay with you until you take your sheep back to the owner," the head of David's group told the herdsmen. In the days that followed, the small group of David's soldiers successfully drove away several bands of Arabs who never expected that they would meet professional fighting men. Many sheep probably would have been lost if the defenders hadn't been there. When finally the herdsmen took the flock back to the town of Carmel in south Judah for shearing, David's men went on the drive with them for further protection. Then they returned south to where most of their fellow soldiers were camped. The owner of the protected flock was a man named Nabal. He owned several thousand sheep and goats, and was considered wealthy for a man of that time and region. Regardless of his possessions and his beautiful and intelligent wife, Nabal was a sullen, unfriendly, ill-tempered man whose main interest was in increasing his wealth. (I Samuel 25:2-3.) When it was reported to David how Nabal's sheep had been saved from marauders, he picked ten of his men to go to Carmel to remind Nabal what had happened, and to diplomatically ask for a modest reward for sparing him such a great loss. The ten men were very courteous to Nabal. They carefully explained that he would have fewer sheep to shear if their fellow soldiers hadn't been on hand to protect the flock. Of course Nabal had already heard the story from his men, but he didn't wish to admit it. (I Samuel 25:4-9.)
The King of Selfishness
"You say you were sent from some fellow by the name of David, who is the son of Jesse?" Nabal questioned them sarcastically, trying to create the impression that he had never heard of such men. "Who are David and Jesse? Am I supposed to know them? And why should I believe that you have been sent by this David? There are many hungry servants on the move who have run away from their master. Why have you come to me?" "Our leader is the one who killed Goliath, the Philistine giant," the spokesman for the ten men patiently explained. "He is in need of food for his soldiers, and he feels that you might be willing to help him in return for the favor a few of his men did for you in saving your sheep." "Ah! Now it comes out!" Nabal scoffed. "You're hoping to talk me out of the bread, water and fresh mutton I have to furnish for my shearers! Well, I don't know you, and I'm not giving anything to strangers!" (I Samuel 25:10-11.) "Our leader will be so disappointed in you that probably he'll be back with us to see you again," said one of David's men. This remark enraged Nabal, who forgot for the moment that he wasn't supposed to know who David was. "Tell your beggarly David that if he comes around here I'll have King Saul and his army here to meet him!" he stormed. "Now get out of here before I set all my herdsmen and shearers on you!" David wasn't pleased when he heard of Nabal's attitude, and he decided that the unsociable rancher needed a lesson in courtesy. Leaving two hundred men to guard the camp, he led the other four hundred on a march back to Carmel. One of Nabal's herdsmen was afraid that something like this would happen. He went to Abigail, Nabal's wife, and told her how angry and disdainful her husband had been with David's men. "His stubbornness and ill temper could lead to trouble," the herdsman explained. "He refuses to acknowledge what David's men did to save his sheep, though they were like a walled fortress around us. But Nabal says he doesn't believe that wandering outlaws could be honest or helpful. His rudeness and insulting manner could result in David showing up here with enough troops to take over the whole ranch!" (I Samuel 25:12-17.) Fearing what David might do, Abigail decided to try to meet him before he could reach Carmel. While her husband was busy overseeing the sheepshearing, she had some of her servants load donkeys with food, and sent the servants and the loaded animals off on the main trail leading southward. They didn't carry enough provisions to feed a small army. But Abigail hoped there would be enough to show appreciation for what David's men had done. There were two hundred loaves of bread, two goatskins of wine, five dressed sheep, at least ten gallons of parched corn, a hundred large clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs. Abigail watched until the servants and animals were safely at a distance, and then mounted a donkey and set out after them. She caught up with them on the other side of a hill that commanded a far view of the region to the south. From there, to both her relief and anxiety, she saw hundreds of men approaching across the semi-arid, rolling plain! (I Samuel 25:18-20.)
The Way of a Good Woman
David's anger, kindled by Nabal's churlish conduct, was out of control almost from the moment he had commanded two thirds of his army to follow him to Carmel. He had made it known to his officers that he wouldn't leave a man alive at Nabal's ranch, thus temporarily lowering himself, by a vengeful state of mind, below Nabal's level of character. By the time he was nearing Carmel he calmed down a little, and began to reconsider his cruel purpose. Just then Abigail appeared. She hurried ahead of her servants, dismounted from her donkey and bowed her head to the ground before David, who preceded his men by a few yards. "I know why you are here, sir," she said to David. "I am Nabal's wife, and I can understand how you must feel toward him because of how he has treated your men. He is one who is by nature unsociable, and who can't communicate with others without troubling them. If you will allow me to speak on, I would like to make an apology for him." "Your husband must account for his own shortcomings and make his own apologies,' David solemnly informed Abigail, "but I am interested in what you have to say." "Thank you, sir," Abigail continued. "I didn't know about how your men were insulted by my husband until a servant reported it to me. Now it is my desire to try to make amends by bringing this gift of food here on these donkeys. It isn't much, but I trust that it will help you realize that we are thankful for what your men have done. I hope that it will help remind you, if you are planning to destroy my husband and his men, that it isn't according to your usual fair way of settling matters. For your sake, as well as ours, I trust that you will be merciful to us. I know that your life lately is a perilous one because of being constantly pursued. You are pressed to deal harshly with your enemies, but I know also that God must be your real protection against those who oppose you. One day soon you will be king of Israel. I hope that you won't have to recall how you and your men took the lives of my husband and his men for the mere sake of vengeance. If I am able now to persuade you to be merciful, and if God is pleased by it, please remember, when you are king, that I was a help to you." (I Samuel 25:21-31.) David was both surprised and pleased by Abigail's understanding words, sincerity and beauty. Here was reason enough to call off the expedition. The gallant move was understood by David's men. "May God bless you for meeting me here," David cordially addressed Abigail. "I'm happy that I've heard what you have to say to cause me to realize how rash I've been in this matter. If it weren't for your efforts to divert me from my purpose, my soldiers would probably be punishing all the men on your ranch by now. And thank you for bringing food to us. We greatly appreciate it. I shall not forget you for this great favor." (Verses 32-34.)
The End of an Ingrate
David's men happily accepted the proffered and needed food while David and Abigail continued in conversation. David told her to return in peace to her home, and promised that he would take his men back to their camp. He parted from her with obvious reluctance, having been suddenly and strongly impressed by her appearance and personality. (I Samuel 25:35.) When Abigail returned home with her servants, she found it filled with sheepherders and their women. Because this was the season of his main income, Nabal had been drinking most of the day. By evening he was in a somewhat drunken condition. But with him it was in some ways an improvement in his character, inasmuch as he became happier, more generous and more sociable. As a result, he invited all his workers and their wives and various other women to a party that turned out to be unusually boisterous. Abigail said nothing that night about David to her husband. Next morning, when he had recovered his full facilities, she informed him of how close he had come to losing his ranch and his life. "If I had been only a half hour late in what I did, you wouldn't be here listening to me now," Abigail explained. At first Nabal wouldn't believe his wife, but after he questioned the servants who accompanied her to meet David, he became so emotionally upset that he became very ill. His fears, frustrations and gnawing hatreds were too much for his heart, and he died about ten days later. (I Samuel 25:36-38.) When David heard of Nabal's death, he knew that it all had come about through God's planning. He was very thankful that he had been spared from carrying out his own rash plan of vengeance.
One of David's many disappointments during his time of banishment was to learn that Michal, his wife, had been given by Saul in marriage to another man. It wasn't unexpected, therefore, that David should allow himself to become more and more interested in Abigail. A few weeks after her husband's death he sent several of his ablest soldiers to Carmel with a message for the young woman. Abigail was pleased to receive them, but she was disappointed because David wasn't with them. "We're here to take you back to our camp," one of the soldiers told her. "David wants to marry you." The startled Abigail was both elated and distressed. Although this blunt, assumption-type proposal was common in those times, Abigail would have been much happier if David could have come in person to ask her to be his wife. She was for a moment tempted to ask why David should take it for granted that she would agree to marry him, but she controlled herself because such an attitude might have appeared too arrogant for a woman — and because she wanted to marry David. "I am pleased and honored that your leader has sent for me," she told the soldiers as she bowed her head to the ground. "Let me instruct my servants, and then allow me to wash your feet." Abigail's willingness to be so humble as to wash her guests' feet was sufficient. David's men declined with thanks because they knew their leader wouldn't approve. They patiently settled down to what they thought would be a wait of several hours, but were surprised not much later when Abigail emerged from her quarters with five handmaids carrying clothes and supplies. The six women mounted burros and departed with the soldiers for David's camp. There David and Abigail were married, and there was a great celebration. Abigail had appointed one of her most trusted and capable men to supervise her sheep ranch in her absence, but she returned to it from time to time. Later, when David and his men moved northward to a rugged region not far south of Hebron, Abigail probably spent most of her time on her property, which undoubtedly furnished much food for David's small army. (I Samuel 25:39-42.) The Bible mentions another marriage of David to a woman named Ahinoam, but when the marriage took place isn't indicated. Perhaps the two marriages overlapped, as it was not uncommon back then to have more than one wife at a time. (I Samuel 25:43-44.) David had to learn the hard way that having more than one wife at a time was not God's way. When the inhabitants of the country south of Hebron saw David returning to their territory, they again sent men to Saul to report what was going on. This time Saul didn't delay as he had before when informed of David's presence there. He chose three thousand of his best soldiers to go after David's six hundred, unaware that David's lookouts watched him come into the area, and saw where his troops camped the first night out. (I Samuel 26:1-4.)
David Is Still Merciful
When David learned where Saul was, he came to a spot before dusk where he could look down on Saul's camp. After determining how he might reach Saul's rest area, he asked for someone to volunteer to go with him. Abishai, one of his nephews (I Chronicles 2:13-16), offered to go, and the two men quietly crept to the trench where Saul slept with a few of his officers, including Abner, the commander-in-chief. (I Samuel 26:5-7.) "There he is!" Abishai whispered to David. "God has given you this chance to destroy the king of Israel!" "I have no desire to destroy him," David whispered back. "Then let me do it for you,' Abishai pleaded. "I'll run my spear into him with such force that no other blow will be necessary to do away with him instantly." "No!" David said, seizing Abishai's arm. "Saul was ordained by God to be king of Israel. If you kill him, God will surely punish you. If Saul is to die, let God take him. His time will come, and probably in battle with the Philistines. For now, let's be content to take his spear and his canteen." David and Abishai successfully left Saul's camp and returned to the hill where the other men waited. The daring feat of getting in and out of the camp was possible only because God caused Saul and his men to fall into a deep sleep. (I Samuel 26:8-12.) Just before sunrise David shouted loudly down to the three thousand slumbering men. His voice carried strongly on the quiet morning air, awakening Saul's army like a call to arms. "You there, Abner!" David yelled to the commander-in-chief as soon as he could dimly see figures moving about. "Answer me, so that I'll know you're listening!" "This is the commander-in-chief!" Abner shouted back. "Who is it that dares disturb the king?" "You have the reputation of being the bravest and most alert officer in the Israelite army!" David yelled. "Then why weren't you on your toes last night? Why did you allow some intruder to get so near Saul that he could have killed the king while he slept?" "What are you talking about?" Abner indignantly roared back. "There were no intruders in this camp last night!" "Denying a fact makes you even more guilty!" David went on needling the officer, who was growing angrier and more puzzled. "For trying to hide your carelessness, the king could have you executed! Explain, if you can, what happened to Saul's spear and canteen!" (I Samuel 26:13-16.) Aides scrambled madly to try to find the spear and canteen which Saul hadn't realized were missing till the moment David mentioned them. Abner stared perplexedly at Saul, who stared in bewilderment at the small hole in the ground where he knew he had jammed his spear before he had gone to sleep. He began to realize that something had been going on that was making his fighting force look ridiculous.