One of the things we all know from experience is you can be sailing along doing pretty well in your Christian life, then something happens, and the pagan, sin-dominated person you thought had been left behind suddenly takes over.
You have probably seen it when driving. Someone honks at you, drives too slow, or cuts you off and suddenly the adrenaline kicks in and you are ready to run the person off the road! This phenomenon is so common it has been named “road rage”.
Think about how you respond if someone does or says something that hurts the feelings of your child. The parent in you immediately (and often forcefully) rises to the defense of your child. (If you don’t believe me, go to a school or summer sporting event and watch the people in the stands.)
This morning as we look at 1 Samuel 25 we see David in one of these situations. Let me give you the quick summary of the chapter: David watched the sheep of a wealthy sheep-holder. At harvest David asked for some kind of compensation for him and his men. The man who owned the operation refused. David became furious and determined to kill the entire household. The wife unbeknownst to her husband raced out to meet David with a small truckload of provisions and begged David to reconsider. David relented. The wife returned home to find a drunken husband and told him what happened the next morning after he sobered up. The man had a stroke and ten days later he died. David then married the widow.
You may be thinking what in the world does this story have to do with my life? I hope you will be surprised at how practical this passage is for our lives.
Before we get into the story in detail let me remind you of an important fact: though the Bible records events truthfully it does not mean the Bible prescribes the actions it records. In other words, just because we read of armies slaughtering entire towns (things that actually happened) does not mean God wants us to do such things. The fact that we read of men with multiple wives does not mean God approves of such actions. We must always read the Bible in such a way that our conclusions are consistent with what is taught throughout the Bible. People have justified slavery, bombing abortion clinics, and even the withholding of medical care because they did not follow this simple principle.
1 Samuel 25 begins with a footnote. Samuel died. Most likely neither Saul nor David attended the funeral. Saul had been feuding with Samuel. David knew that his presence would put himself and everyone present in danger from Saul.
David and his men were camped in the area where a rich sheep-herder kept his animals (we are told he had 1000 goats and 3000 sheep). The man’s name was Nabal and he was a Calebite. This meant he was a member of an esteemed family in Judah that apparently helped establish Bethlehem (1 Chr 2:51) David’s hometown. David and Nabal had some common roots.
It was a common occurrence for nomadic tribes and various guerilla fighters to attack these flocks and steal animals for themselves for food. David and his men not only did not bother the sheep-herders, they actually protected them from these marauders. Listen to the testimony of one of the Shepherds,
these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them. [vv. 15-16]
Because of the common thievery men could incur great losses to their livestock. According to the custom of the day, if someone helped protect your sheep (keeping you from losses) you would thank them by giving them a bonus. Maybe you could think of it as a “tip” you would give a waitress for good service. An appropriate tip might be an animal or two for their own enjoyment or they might invite them to join them for the big party they had at shearing time.
When the shearing season began David sent ten young men to visit Nabal as his representatives. They were to introduce themselves as those who had helped guard the flocks and ask if the owner might graciously extend favor to them by sharing some of his abundance. It was a common, courteous, and reasonable request.
Nabal (who seems to be a real piece of work) not only refused to give the men food, he insulted David and spoke about him (and his family) with contempt.
When the men returned to David with their “tail between their legs”, David was furious. He summoned four hundred of the men and told them to “put on their swords (they were not intending to march in a parade!). On the way to Nabal’s homestead David said,
“Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good. 22 God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.” [ESV has I believe, the best translation of what David said]
Let’s start drawing some lessons from the story.
A Person after God’s Heart is Not Perfect
David had shown great patience with Saul. He showed him mercy and waited on God’s timing even though Saul was trying to kill him. However, now when Nabal refused to give him food and insulted him David is ready to kill the man and every male who is associated with him! David overreacted. He was short-sighted. He was quick to judgment. He let his anger and frustration get the best of him.
If David carried out his intentions, many innocent people would be caught in the crossfire. That’s always what happens when sin takes hold in our life. It is never “just me” who must bear the consequences of our actions. When sin is involved there is always collateral damage. A life is bruised, a relationship is destroyed, a church is split, a person is left discouraged, a witness is destroyed, or a soul is lost.
We’ve all been there. We detect an edge in someone’s voice and we bristle with anger. We interpret a facial expression as a put down and our fangs come out and we respond. We feel pushed by someone when we are already busy and preoccupied and we snap at the person. We interpret some omission as a person’s way of insulting us and we are hot with fury. We don’t plan it . . . it just happens.
It doesn’t matter how long we have been a Christian, it doesn’t matter how many victories we have won, we can still trip over the smallest sin. We need God’s strength and help every day. Paul’s words to the Corinthians fit here: “let anyone who things he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12)
Why is terrorism so dangerous and troubling? It’s because the terrorist could be anyone! They could be hiding anywhere. Someone who looks innocent and upstanding could have a bomb strapped to them or have deadly chemicals they plan to release. The moment we let our guard down we are in trouble.
The same is true in our spiritual lives. We don’t know what temptation might cause us to stumble. If we get lazy, let down our guard, or start to coast, we make ourselves vulnerable. Satan, the spiritual terrorist is looking for any opening.
- A pornographic website
- A “can’t miss” wager
- A lingering bitterness
- An “innocent” flirtation
- A “little” lie
These are all things that can send us rushing down the wrong road and headed for trouble. We must stay focused.
A Person with God’s Heart is Teachable
The servants of Nabal who heard the encounter between Nabal and David’s men enlist the help of Nabal’s wife, Abigail. When she heard what happened with David’s men, she sprang into action. We are told,
She quickly gathered 200 loaves of bread, two wineskins full of wine, five sheep that had been slaughtered, nearly a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 fig cakes. She packed them on donkeys (25:18 NLT)
This seems like a huge amount of food to just “whip up”. However, remember this was the harvest celebration. A big bash was planned. It is likely Abby raided the catering truck and took these food items to David.
David meets Abigail and the provisions on the road and the first thing Abby does is ask for David’s forgiveness. She took the blame for Nabal’s actions! Basically she said Nabal is a fool and she should have been keeping a better eye on him.
Abby then urged David to rethink his plan of vengeance. She reminds him that if he carries out his intentions he would be guilty of murdering innocent people which would be wrong and it would ruin his reputation as a man of integrity.
The key verses are 32-33. David thanked God for the good sense of Abigail. Once again David gives us a clue as to what it means to live with the heart of God. The person with the heart of God is teachable; they are open to the Lord’s guidance from wherever it comes. David was open enough to hear God’s wisdom from a stranger, a woman, and even from the wife of the man he was intending to kill!
Contrast David and Saul. Saul was angry with the priests of Nob because Saul felt they were aiding and abetting the fugitive, David. He commanded his men to kill the priests. They refused because they were God’s representatives. Saul didn’t care. He refused to listen to wisdom. He asked a foreigner (Doeg) to do the killing and he obliged. David was also furious but when Abigail spoke words of wisdom David didn’t resent them, he listened.
We all get in trouble when we become so headstrong that we no longer listen. We become like a brute beast that has no sense. There is no talking to us. In these times we are in great danger! The person living with God’s heart is always listening for God’s leading OR His rebuke.
Have you noticed that those times when you listen to the caring rebuke of others usually turns out much better than the times when you keep plowing ahead leaving a wake of destruction? Our job is to be open. When others try to reason with us we need to ask ourselves some simple questions,
1. Have I lost perspective? Am I out of control?
2. Is the other person right in what they are saying?
3. Will my intended actions make the situation better or worse?
A Person with God’s Heart Has the Lord has his Defender
In the New Testament God tells us “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”. God calls us to trust Him to right the wrongs of life. There are some good reasons for this command.
- First, God has all the information. He sees what is unseen. He sees a person’s heart. He knows a person’s true intention. He knows when there is simply a misunderstanding. He knows who will repent and who will not.
- Second, God knows that we are seldom content with justice. We want someone to hurt more than we did. We want to win. We almost always respond disproportionately to a situation.
- Third, God’s goal is redemptive, ours is punitive. God wants to restore sinful people; we want to destroy them. Each of us has run to the Lord for mercy and grace. God desires to extend the same kind of grace to others that we ourselves have received. We somehow feel we are more deserving of His mercy.
David dared to put the matter into God’s hand. He gratefully took the food and went home. He resolved once again to put the matter into God’s hands.
Justice was not long in coming. When Abigail arrived home the party was well under way. Her husband was drunk. There was no talking to him in that state. I suspect Abigail had learned that lesson long ago.
The next morning after Nabal had sobered up; Abigail told Nabal what had happened (another bold move by Abigail). When Nabal heard the news he had a stroke! The stroke may have been caused by his fury at what Abigail had done. It could have been brought on by fear at the thought of how close he had come to being killed by David.
Nabal lingered for 10 days in a coma and then died. When David heard the news he gave thanks to God. He celebrated the fact that God had upheld his cause and brought about justice. David then sent for Abigail (the wealthy widow) and they were married. Abigail and her estate helped ease the burden on David and his men.
God defends those who belong to Him. It is not always so dramatic. However, we do know that God will vindicate us. He will show where we have been wronged (of course he will also show where we have wronged others). We must learn to rest in the truth that God will always do what is right.
I was driving to Macomb one day following a couple in a Ford Explorer. I don’t know what happened but the woman drifted to the shoulder. She over corrected and went across the road. She struggled to regain control of the car and I think for a brief second the car was on only two wheels. I slowed down and hoped for the best. The vehicle ran off the road and fortunately ran into the guard rail as it headed for the ravine almost certain to turn over. (The couple was shaken but they were OK).
The Christian life can be just like that vehicle. We are traveling along in life and suddenly we drift off the road. That brief lapse can set in motion a sequence of events that can create all kinds of damage. Often there are those who wish to help us but in our embarrassment or pride we refuse and we only make things worse. Our passage today reminds us of some important lessons,
1. We are warned that we must keep watch over our soul. We have all had the experience of looking away for just a second in our car and we drift over onto the shoulder of the road. Just as a driver must keep his eyes and mind on the road, so we must keep our eyes on Jesus. When we let our guard down, when we become lackadaisical about our spiritual life, when we become distracted by other things, we become a hazard to ourselves and often to others. Take some time today to refocus your mind and your heart on Jesus.
2. We are encouraged to listen to those who are trying to warn us about some excess in our life. Pay attention to those who warn you of things you don’t yet see. These people are better friends than you realize. They may be God’s agents sent to keep you from crashing.
3. Third, we are reminded to let God do what only God can do. Vengeance is God’s job. So let me ask you, is there some situation in your life where you need to let go of some bitterness or resentment and let God deal with the situation? Are you stewing when you should be surrendering.
The point we are making is this: we will all have weak moments. We will all drive off the side of the road on occasion. The key is to minimize those times by reminding ourselves to keep our eyes on the road, and in those times when we do drift, the goal is to get back on the road and in control as soon as possible.