Michal and Abigail: Women of Courage

Last week we talked about how David and Saul are at war with each other, and how Saul is basically willing to destroy Israel to get to David. Today we’re still going to talk about this on-going battle but we’re going to change our focus. Instead of focusing on the men, we’re going to focus on two incredibly brave women who were caught in the crossfire of this war and still did what they thought was best.

We’ve talked before about how being a woman in the ancient world was not an easy thing, if anything a woman’s position was precarious, completely dependent on the men in her life. And if they disappeared, she was destitute, not even allowed to earn a living to survive without them. Women needed men to survive, and men did not always treat them kindly. If a woman defied the men in her life—whether a husband or a father, she could risk horrible things happening to her, from being beaten to being disowned and cast out. So for a woman to ever stand up to a father or husband was a braver act than many of us can even imagine.

I want you to keep that in mind as we discuss two women: Michal and Abigail.

First we’ll talk about Michal, and to do that we need to back up to before this whole open war between David and Saul even started. This story takes place during the time period where David still lived in court, and was greatly esteemed by all, except Saul who was beginning to grow jealous of David and was passively trying to plan David’s death.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 18:17-19.

 17 Then Saul said to David, “Here is my elder daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife; only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles.” For Saul thought, “I will not raise a hand against him; let the Philistines deal with him.” 18 David said to Saul, “Who am I and who are my kinsfolk, my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” 19 But at the time when Saul’s daughter Merab should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite as a wife.

Because of David’s many victories, Saul basically promised David his eldest daughter in marriage. But Saul was basically trying to get David killed in battle by the Philistines at this point, so he didn’t really think David would actually live to marry Merab. So in the meantime, Saul married Merab off to some other woman.

David for his part, well it’s not like he was in love with Merab or anything. What he cared about was the great honor of becoming son-in-law to the king, basically being related to the king. And in regards to that honor he was humble, and all like “Who am I that I deserve this?”

This is kind of weird for us as modern people because we’d think David would care more about the girl he was marrying than the position that the marriage conferred to him, but that was not the case. Marriage back then wasn’t really about love, and for a king marriage was almost always about alliances and politics.

Alright someone please read 1 Samuel 18:20-23.

20 Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. Saul was told, and the thing pleased him. 21 Saul thought, “Let me give her to him that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David a second time,[a] “You shall now be my son-in-law.” 22 Saul commanded his servants, “Speak to David in private and say, ‘See, the king is delighted with you, and all his servants love you; now then, become the king’s son-in-law.’” 23 So Saul’s servants reported these words to David in private. And David said, “Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man and of no repute?”

Saul promised Merab to David, but then he married Merab off to someone else so he still needed to give David a daughter. Turns out his other daughter, Michal, actually loved David. And Saul was like “Great! I’ll give her to David, if David survives my evil scheme, which he won’t! Ha!” So Saul tells David that he’ll be his son-in-law—again—and then he also instructed the servants to tell him private and be like “See the king really loves you” When we all know the king really hate shim. But David is still humble, and like “What did I do to deserve this great honor?”

Someone please read 1 Samuel 18:24-29.

24 The servants of Saul told him, “This is what David said.” 25 Then Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, ‘The king desires no marriage present except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged on the king’s enemies.’” Now Saul planned to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. 26 When his servants told David these words, David was well pleased to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, 27 David rose and went, along with his men, and killed one hundred[a] of the Philistines; and David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Saul gave him his daughter Michal as a wife. 28 But when Saul realized that the Lord was with David, and that Saul’s daughter Michal loved him, 29 Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy from that time forward.

So the servants report back to Saul David’s humbleness, and Saul is like “I can use this. He doesn’t think he deserves it? Well I’ll give him a task where he can earn the honor but it’ll be an impossible task and he’ll never succeed and he’ll die and I will never have to worry about stupid David ever again.”

So Saul tells David he has to kill 100 Philistines and bring back proof to earn Michal’s hand in marriage. Then to Saul’s surprise, David does it and lives through it. So Saul really has no choice but to go through with his promise and let him marry Michal. This just makes Saul hate David even more, because Saul realizes God is with David—and that’s what makes David a threat. Not that people think he’s a hero or that people like him, but Saul can see the writing on the wall now that God has chosen David.

Fast forward a bit. David is still at court, and everyone is realizing that Saul wants to kill David. Another successful battle against the Philistines happens, where David comes back victorious and Saul is so mad he wants to kill David. Someone please read 1 Samuel 19:11-17.

11 Saul sent messengers to David’s house to keep watch over him, planning to kill him in the morning. David’s wife Michal told him, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through the window; he fled away and escaped. 13 Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed; she put a net of goats’ hair on its head, and covered it with the clothes. 14 When Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” 15 Then Saul sent the messengers to see David for themselves. He said, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” 16 When the messengers came in, the idol was in the bed, with the covering of goats’ hair on its head. 17 Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me like this, and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go; why should I kill you?’”

Saul sends messengers to basically run a stake out around David’s house, so that in the morning Saul can kill David. But once again, everyone in Saul’s court pretty much knows at this point that Saul wants to kill David, and Michal can see it as well. She basically tells David that he will be killed in the morning if they don’t do something that night. So she helps him escape through the window.

Remember Michal is David’s wife but she’s also Saul’s daughter. Without David there to protect her, she could easily fall under her father’s wrath. But she still hatches this plan to help her husband escape and then she covers for him as long as she can. She basically pulls a Ferris Bueller, and makes it look like there is someone sleeping in the bed. When the messengers come to take him away, she’s just like “HE’s sick!” When Saul demands the messengers see this proof for himself, they of course see that they have been tricked.

Saul goes to his daughter and demands to know why she would side against him and with David. Once again, Michal is in a very precarious position here. Her father has decided her husband is an enemy. Her father is the king of Israel. If she says the wrong thing it could mean her own death.

So she lies and basically says David threatened her life.

Michal saved David’s life here, even though doing so essentially betrayed her father.

Now we’re going to fast forward to talk about another woman who also defied the man in her life. This story takes place while David is in the wilderness, hiding out from Saul.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 25:2-4.

2 There was a man in Maon, whose property was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. 3 Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was clever and beautiful, but the man was surly and mean; he was a Calebite. 4 David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep.

So the setup here is we have this man named Nabal and he’s married to a woman named Abigail. Nabal is described as surly and mean—and wealthy—while Abigail is described as clever and beautiful. Nabal is also described as a Calebite, which just means he’s a descendent of Caleb. He’s still an Israelite.

David is basically hanging out in the wilderness near here and he hears that Nabal is out in the field shearing his sheep.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 25:5-8.

5 So David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. 6 Thus you shall salute him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 7 I hear that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they were in Carmel. 8 Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your sight; for we have come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’”

David sends some of his troops down to Nabal, and he tells them exactly what to say to Nabal. They are to great him respectfully. David then implies that his army has been protecting Nabal and his property, and that Nabal should be aware of both this and who David is. And then because it’s a feast day, and Nabal should therefore be feeling generous, David asks the favor of basically food and supplies for his army.

Let’s see how Nabal responds to this request. Someone please read 1 Samuel 25:9-13.

9 When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David; and then they waited. 10 But Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters. 11 Shall I take my bread and my water and the meat that I have butchered for my shearers, and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” 12 So David’s young men turned away, and came back and told him all this. 13 David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every one of them strapped on his sword; David also strapped on his sword; and about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.

When the young men approach Nabal he basically feigns ignorance and is like “David? I don’t know any David. I just see some random strangers who are trying to get a handout. No thank you. You guys go away.”

When the men report this back to David he is furious—like ridiculously angry to the point where he let’s his anger get away with him. Because David knows Nabal should know him, and that they’ve been doing this service of protecting Nabal’s land, and he basically wants to kill Nabal. So he orders his troops to suit up, and readies four hundred men to go down and basically destroy Nabal.

This is not actually a good response to this. David is letting his temper get away from him.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 25:14-20.

14 But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them. 15 Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were with them; 16 they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. 17 Now therefore know this and consider what you should do; for evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.”

18 Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys 19 and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 As she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them.

So someone tells Abigail what’s happening, that David came sent men to Nabal and that Nabal basically insulted them. The man reminds Abigail that it was David’s men who protected them and never harmed them, but Nabal is so ill natured that they’re afraid David will do something rash and bring badness upon their house. And while Nabal might deserve it, the rest of them don’t.

Abigail then does what seems reasonable, she wants to placate David and his men. So she packs up food and drinks and animals and loads it all up on some carts for her men to take to David. But she also goes with them.  The Bibel then points out that she did not tell her husband.

She is acting in complete defiance of her husband’s wishes. Sure Nabal didn’t directly tell her to do anything, but she knows what Nabal said to David’s men. She knows Nabal doesn’t want to give David or his men anything. She also knows that’s a stupid decision that puts them all in danger from this army that’s basically sitting on their doorstep. By defying her husband, she might save her people, but possibly at the cost of herself. For when she comes back Nabal might punish her. She knows this. But she does it anyway. Because her people’s lives mean more to her.

But going before David is also dangerous because David may not listen to her. And a lesser man might kill her to exact his vengeance against Nabal. We don’t know if Abigail has met David before, we don’t know if she knows what kind of man he is, so she may have no idea what sort of reception she may receive.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 25:21-22.

21 Now David had said, “Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; but he has returned me evil for good. 22 God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”

Meanwhile David is all angsty, basically despairing that he ever protected these ungrateful people. But because David is a man of action his angst isn’t just words. He’s planning on basically going down to Nabal’s town and killing all the men.

Which isn’t a very nice thing, is it? Sure Nabal isn’t really paying David his due, but killing everyone seems a little bit like an overreaction, doesn’t it?

Alright someone please read 1 Samuel 25:23-31.

23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and alighted from the donkey, and fell before David on her face, bowing to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said, “Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 25 My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal[a] is his name, and folly is with him; but I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.

26 “Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, since the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from taking vengeance with your own hand, now let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be like Nabal. 27 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. 28 Please forgive the trespass of your servant; for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord; and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. 29 If anyone should rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 When the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel, 31 my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.”

Abigail reaches David and basically she begs. She bows to the ground and pleads with him. She admits her husband is stupid, and that she didn’t see the men when they were origianlly sent. So now she comes to beg for her people. She begs him to forgive Nabal because she comes bringing everything David has asked for and more. She also then affirms that she knows he should be king, and that she believes God will make him king, and that when that happens he’ll not want to look back on this and feel guilty or bad.

She begs for the life of every person she is responsible for. Because David is so mad that he actually is planning to go on a murderous rampage through her property.

Let’s see how David reacts to her pleas. Someone please read 1 Samuel 25:32-35.

32 David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! 33 Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from bloodguilt and from avenging myself by my own hand! 34 For as surely as the Lord the God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there would not have been left to Nabal so much as one male.” 35 Then David received from her hand what she had brought him; he said to her, “Go up to your house in peace; see, I have heeded your voice, and I have granted your petition.”

Her words make David realize what he was about to do was more than a little crazy. And he thanks God for sending her to him to stop him from killing everyone, and he thanks God for her—her good sense to defy her husband and come after him. Because if she hadn’t come after him and begged him, his anger would have gotten the better of him and he would have killed all those people.

This is actually something of a character flaw in David, we’re going to see over and over. When he thinks he’s been wrong, or when he thinks something is his, he’s not afraid to take it by force. He doesn’t do this most of the time, but here and in a later story we see it. He gets so wrapped up in what is rightfully his and his rage, that he can’t see the truth right in front of him that what he’s doing is wrong, until someone else points it out to him. In this case, it’s Abigail.

So David tells her to go home in peace, and that he will not harm her or any member of her house—even her no-good husband.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 25:36-38.

 36 Abigail came to Nabal; he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she told him nothing at all until the morning light. 37 In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him; he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.

Abigail comes home and Nabal is holding this huge feast, feasting on all the food he wouldn’t give David and his men. When Abigail gets there she sees he’s drunk, so she doesn’t tell him what she did. Possibly because in a drunken state he won’t remember anything she tells him anyway. But also possibly because in a drunken state he might overreact to her words.

So in the morning, she tells him, and he like goes catatonic. Possibly Nabal is an old man, and with the news he has some sort of stroke, we don’t know. We just know that for ten days he basically doesn’t move or do anything. And then he dies.

Now Abigail is left without a husband. We have no idea at this point if she has a son or anything. Nabal was very rich, but his estate won’t go to Abigail, it’ll go to a mail relative unless Abigail has a son to inherit it.

So what is to happen to Abigail?

Someone please read 1 Samuel 25:39-44.

39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has judged the case of Nabal’s insult to me, and has kept back his servant from evil; the Lord has returned the evildoing of Nabal upon his own head.” Then David sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife. 40 When David’s servants came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” 41 She rose and bowed down, with her face to the ground, and said, “Your servant is a slave to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” 42 Abigail got up hurriedly and rode away on a donkey; her five maids attended her. She went after the messengers of David and became his wife.

43 David also married Ahinoam of Jezreel; both of them became his wives. 44 Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Palti son of Laish, who was from Gallim.

David hears Nabal is dead and is basically like “Hah! I get it, God! I shouldn’t take vengeance with my own hands because you are more than capable of doing that for me.” And then David is like “Hey that Abigail was pretty awesome. I think I’ll marry her.”

So Abigail becomes one of David’s wives. Which remember she wouldn’t have been able to inherit Nabal’s estate so this is really a best situation for her. Plus her old husband was pretty lame and David is pretty cool. The only downsides are David is still like being hunted down and she’s just one of David’s wives. At this point David has three. And that number is just going to increase.

This whole sage of David vs. Saul can seem like it’s a bunch of dudes doing stuff, but both of these stories illustrate that women are always around, and always affecting outcomes. Even when the Bible doesn’t highlight them. In this case, the Bible gives us insight into these two women and how they changed things. Michal saved David. Abigail saved every man on her property. Both women’s actions put themselves in danger from the men in their lives. Saul could have seen through Michal’s deception and had her killed for betraying him. David could have killed Abigail rather than listened to her. Nabal could have reacted in violence to her defiance of him. But still they acted, because they knew they had to do what was best to protect the people they loved and to do what was right in God’s eyes.