Don’t be a Fool Like Me!

Selections from I Samuel 25.

Once again, I did not write this. It just appeared on my computer screen. I must have some problem with my WordPress or computer!

Good morning. My name is Nabal, and I’ve been asked to tell you my story as it appears in First Samuel. I’m going to read a small portion of chapter 25 before I tell you the entire story. It might help to give you a little bit of background: The first king of Israel was named “Saul.” Saul started out well, but he disobeyed God. Therefore, God had David anointed to be king (I Samuel 16). David didn’t become king right away. It took a long time. David first came to public prominence when he killed the giant, Goliath of Gath (I Samuel 17). After David killed Goliath, he became a servant of Saul and sang to Saul when an evil spirit came upon him.

Over time, David was so successful as a soldier that Saul became jealous of him (I Samuel 18). Eventually, Saul tried to kill David (I Samuel 19). David fled, and for many years lived in the wilderness with a band of men (I Samuel 20ff). During those years, David lived as a kind of Robin Hood-like figure. During this time, on and off, Saul chased David around the countryside and tried to kill him. David spared Saul’s life on more than one occasion (I Samuel 24, 26). On one occasion, David lived near my home.

This is how the story is told by the writer of First Samuel:

Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David moved down into the Desert of Paran.  A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite. While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep.So, he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name.Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!  “‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing.Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore, be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’” When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited.  Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days.Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”  David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” (I Samuel 25:1-12).

Let us prayGod of Wisdom: Today, we ask that from this story and the words of Jesus we might become wise, not necessarily as this world defines wisdom, but in the true wisdom that comes from above.

Introducing Nabal

As I mentioned at the beginning, my name is “Nabal,” at least that’s the name that everyone knows me by (I Samuel 25:25). In my native language, Hebrew, Nabal means “Fool.” Since it’s unlikely that anyone would actually named their child “Fool,” I probably had another birth name. But, that was a long time ago. For most of my life, I was known as “Nabal the Fool,” and because of the story I am about to tell you, I am afraid I will have that name for all eternity. [1]

I lived around the year 1000 B.C. in the land you call “Israel.” [2]Our land was called Israel during my time too. A few years before I was born, my people entered the Land of Promise. My forbearers received an allotment of land near Mount Caramel, where the Prophet Elijah would eventually confront the priests of Baal (I Kings 18:20).  Over a few generations, we became wealthy. Your Bible remarks that I was so wealthy that I had 1,000 thousand goats and 3,000 sheep. That was a lot of sheep and goats in my day! I had a lovely home and a beautiful and intelligent wife. Unfortunately, I was ill-tempered and mistreated everyone around me.

During the reign of King Saul, the time of our judges was nearly over. In fact, the last judge, Samuel died right at the beginning of the end of my life story (I Samuel 25:1). For most of my life, Israel was attacked constantly under the leadership of the judges. That all changed when Saul became king. I was happy with Saul as king because I felt safer, and he was good for business.

In your day, you don’t study wisdom literature very much. [3]  But, in my day, we did. We had a whole class of people called “Wise Men.” Eventually, they would write the book of Proverbs in your Bible. In our culture, Wisdom was valued and respected. To the north of us, those who lived in the land of the Chaldeans also respected wisdom—that is where the Wise Men in your New Testament came from (Matthew 2:1-12). To the south of us, Egypt was renowned for its Proverbs. In fact, a portion of your book of proverbs is based upon wisdom written in Egypt! [4]

The reason I’m mentioning this is to let you know that I was without an excuse for my foolishness. I lived in a culture where people respected the wisdom of their elders and of the past. We believed that wisdom was a gift from God (Proverbs 1:7; 8:12-31; 9:10; 15:33). Therefore, I knew it was a mistake to speak harshly to my servants, and especially to someone like David! I knew that a soft answer turns away anger but a harsh answer causes anger (Proverbs 15:1).

Over the 3000 years since my death, I’ve had the opportunity to study wisdom literature. Over and over again, the Bible describes two ways of life: the way of life, characterized by wisdom, and the way of death, characterized by foolishness. Sometimes, the two ways are described as two women who fight for the souls of people (Proverbs 9). Unfortunately, I followed Lady Foolishness not Lady Wisdom—and I paid the price for my decision.

My Encounter with David

This is where we get to the heart of my story. As I said, I was a wealthy man. Some months before my encounter with David, David came to live in our area (I Samuel 25:4ff). He protected my people from outlaws and bandits and never once took any advantage of my herdsmen. I knew that he had guarded my herdsman when they were out in the fields protecting my flock.

This is important. In my culture, if a person did you a favor you owe them hospitality. This is still true in the Middle East today! It’s one of the best parts of Middle Eastern culture. When David sent his men to ask me to give them a little lamb meat for the holidays, not only did I owe this to him as an act of kindness, I owed it to him as an act of hospitality in the culture in which I lived (vv. 6-8).

Unfortunately, this is where the worst part of my personality ruined my life. Instead of giving a little food to David in response to his kindness to me, I sent away his messengers with harsh words (vv. 10-11). I’m afraid that my greed got the best of me. (I was a pretty greedy person at heart.) When David heard this, he became extremely angry and determined that he would kill me, my sons, and all my male servants (vv. 12-13). It would have been a disaster for our family. Worst of all, as I knew, David was perfectly capable of doing this. What was I thinking?

David’s Encounter with Abigail

One problem with having a bad temper and treating people harshly, especially when you are a leader, is that, eventually, people become scared of you. This was true of my servants (v. 17). Because they were afraid of me, one my servants went to see my wife Abigail (v. 14). As I mentioned earlier, I had a wonderful wife who I did not appreciate. Her name was “Abigail,” which means “joy of her father.”  Abigail’s father loved her, and I think he was probably was sorry she married me. Abigail was beautiful. More importantly, Abigail was gentle, smart and wise. If I had been a wiser man, I would have listened to my wife more than I did. [5]

When my servants went to see Abigail, they told her of David’s kindness to our shepherds, and the debt we owed him for his kindness (vv. 15-16). My wife immediately recognized the danger to our family (v. 18). Therefore, she made arrangements to go to David with a generous gift. She took 200 loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep, an entire bushel of grain, and 100 roasted cakes of raisin and 200 cakes of figs, which are sort of like your “Fig Newtons”  (v. 19).  It was a gift fit for a king, and it  shows just how wealthy I was. David was so impressed with my wife, and wise enough to listen to her good advice. Therefore, he did not kill me (vv. 22-35).

God’s Judgment on Me

Last week, you heard from my distant relative Adam. He was the first of our people to sin and act selfishly. You learned that sin has consequences that can harm your life. My story reveals that stupidity, ignorance, and foolishness also have consequences. In my case, the consequence was terrible. This is why Proverbs and wisdom literature generally calls the Way of Foolishness, the Path of Death. In my case, it was literally the path to my death.

I didn’t mention it earlier, but I had a bit of a drinking problem (vv. 36). At the very moment that my wife was saving the life of my family and servants, I was busy hosting a giant party for my friends. When she returned home, I had had too much to drink, so she did not tell me what had transpired. When she told me the next day, I had a heart attack! Ten days later I died.

God’s Blessing on Abigail

When she visited David, Abigail interceded on my behalf in the most diplomatic and wise way (vv. 26-31). She pointed out that it was beneath David, who would one day be King of Israel, to kill someone like me. David listened to Abigail, blessed her for the advice, and followed it (vv. 32-35). In so doing, he showed that he had a kind of wisdom not necessarily common among warriors and men of violence. Out in the wilderness, chased by Saul, God was molding David into the king he would one day be. When he heard that I had died, he recognized that God had judged me for treating him with contempt. (v. 40). [6]

In my culture, it would have been common for my wife Abigail to fall into poverty as a result of my death. David, of course, knew this. Therefore, he invited Abigail to become his wife, somewhat like Boaz, his great-grandfather, asked Ruth to become his wife years earlier (Ruth). Abigail agreed, and so she became a queen. She was not David’s favorite wife, Bathsheba was. However, my wife was his wisest and best wife (I think). She and David had a son named Daniel, perhaps a forbearer of the prophet my the same name! (II Samuel 3:3).

As a result of my behavior, my family disappeared from history. David, however, became a great king, the greatest of all of Israel’s kings. Abigail became the wife of the greatest king of Israel. Eventually, one of the children of David would become the messiah of Israel. You know him as Jesus.

Jesus and My Story

Jesus grew up in a Jewish household; and, of course, he probably knew my story. Later, when he was a man, he told a story of a man just like me. The story appears in Luke. It goes something like this: Once upon a time there was a rich man who was blessed with a large farm with fertile soil. One year, his land produced a wonderful crop. The crop was so large that he needed additional storage barns for the crop. This man decided to tear down his existing barns and build larger ones.

In these new storage barns, he intended to store all the grain he had produced. When this project was finished, decided that he would retire from farming and take life easy, because he had enough to last for many, many years. He said to himself that he would “eat, drink, and be merry” for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, that very night he died. Jesus said that this is exactly how it is for anyone who is rich in the things of this world but not rich in the things of God (Luke 12:13-21).

As I have reflected upon my life, and upon this story from the New Testament, I see that I was very much like the Rich Fool. I had everything a man could possibly have. I had good parents. They left me a good inheritance. I expanded on that inheritance. (Despite all of my faults, I was a good businessman). I had a wise and wonderful wife. She was more beautiful and smarter than the wives of any of my friends. She was a true “Proverbs 31 wife.” I had every earthly blessing a man could ask for.

Unfortunately, I had two character flaws: (1) I was greedy and (2) I did not know how to control my tongue, both of which are condemned by Scripture. [7] Perhaps in your day and time you would say I had a low self-image, and therefore created a False Self that was angry and defensive in the extreme. Or, you might just say that I was a jerk to everyone around me. My servants feared me. My friends called me a fool behind my back. My wife was constantly covering up my mistakes.

In the end, I wasted the gifts that God had given me. I never became the man God made me to be. I hope you won’t make the same mistake.

Amen

Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved


[1]For more information, see Bill T. Arnold, “First and Second Samuel” in The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2003). This sermon was informed by this commentary’s treatment of the story.

[2] David’s kingdom was formed  around this time. Saul may have ruled from about 1050 to around 1025 B.C.

[3]For an introduction to Jewish Wisdom literature for Christians, see G. Christopher Scruggs, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ-Followers (Eugene, OR: Wiph & Stock 2014).

[4]See, Derek Kidner, An Introduction to Wisdom Literature: The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes(Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 32 &44ff. 

[5] See, “Abigail” at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abigail(Downloaded, September 13, 2018).

[6]One feature of this story is the comparison between Nabal and David. David, though just as impulsive by nature as Nabal, stops when Abigail speaks to him, listens, and follows her advice. This is made more important by the fact that Abigail was a woman, and a person like David would not necessarily have followed her advice in that culture.

[7] This is the meaning of the Parable of the Rich Fool. See on greed: Psalms 10:3; Romans 1:29; I Corinthians 5:10; Mark 7:21-22; and Matthew 15:19-20. As to controlling the tongue, see:  Proverbs 10:19; 15:5; 12:6-7, 13-14, 18-19; 15:1-2, 28; 17:19; 18:1-8,  27-28;  21:23; Matthew 15:11, I Peter 3:10; Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:29; Titus 3:1-2; James 1:19-26.

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