A view towards Bishopsteignton in mist. As the mist clears, everything becomes clearer

1 Samuel 24:1-22, 25:1-44

Saul and David in a cave.
Death of Samuel.
Nabal - David - Abigail.

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Saul and his army had just been diverted into chasing off some insurgent Philistines, but he is still determined to kill David.

Read 1 Samuel 24:1-2

1 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, ‘David is in the Desert of En Gedi.’ 2 So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.

Much of the land of Israel is based on limestone, and limestone cliffs fringe the western side of the Dead Sea. There are several springs along the coast, but most contain salt water; however there are two freshwater springs, the main one being at En Gedi.

Because of the nature of limestone, caves and cave systems can often be found, but the craggy nature of the cliffs also provide many hiding places – the fortress of Masada is thirteen miles to the south.

Caves at En Gedi

Read 1 Samuel 24:3-4

3 He came to the sheepfolds along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 The men said, ‘This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, “I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.”’ Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

This is the best of Sunday school stories!

As far as the rebels were concerned God had handed Saul to David on a plate. Now was his chance to claim the throne.

Read 1 Samuel 24:5-7

5 Afterwards, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.’ 7 With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

Saul was trying to kill David. What stopped David from killing Saul?

Saul had been anointed by God as King. Only God could revoke that and David knew he must be patient, but meanwhile he should treat Saul with the utmost respect.

Read 1 Samuel 24:8-15

8 Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, ‘My lord the king!’ When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 9 He said to Saul, ‘Why do you listen when men say, “David is bent on harming you”?

10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord gave you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, “I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.” 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life.

12 May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, “From evildoers come evil deeds,” so my hand will not touch you.

14 ‘Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.’

Before we look at Saul’s response, how many times does David involve the Lord in verses 14-15? Or is it actually prayer?

(May the Lord – may he – may he)

Read 1 Samuel 24:16-21

16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, ‘Is that your voice, David my son?’ And he wept aloud. 17 ‘You are more righteous than I,’ he said. ‘You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lord gave me into your hands, but you did not kill me.

19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. 20 I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. 21 Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.’

What was Saul’s real problem?

Look at 1 Samuel 18:12, 15, and 29.

Saul was actually afraid of David because he knew ‘that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands’ (see I Samuel 23:17)

So afraid, that he then asked David to swear that when he became king he would not ‘kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family’.

Read 1 Samuel 24:16-22

22 So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.

Saul can return to the palace, but it’s obvious that David and his rebel army wouldn’t actually be welcome. Matthew Henry comments that Saul was convinced, but not converted; David would still have to be on his guard.

Map: David flees

Read 1 Samuel 25:1

1 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.

(Just south of Israel’s border, the start of the Sinai Peninsular – effectively no-man’s land).

Samuel had been an amazing man of God and for that reason he was loved and respected throughout Israel. As ruler, judge, and prophet, but relying solely on the Lord, he had steered Israel back to the God they had been so quick to abandon.

David and his men were now in a desert and quickly running out of food, but David was aware of someone who had plenty, and may be persuaded to share some with him.

Read 1 Samuel 25:2-9

2 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. (Not the coastal Carmel, this was about twelve miles east-south-east of En Gedi) 3 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.

4 While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. 5 So he sent ten young men and said to them, ‘Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. 6 Say to him: “Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!

7 ‘“Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not ill-treat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. 8 Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favourable towards my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.”‘

9 When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited.

When David and his men were camped at En Gedi, as there were so many they would have had to spread out into the surrounding crags and gullies.

Nabal’s shepherds did not look after their animals in neat fields; rather they were nomads with flocks wandering wherever they could find food.

They were bound to have encountered David’s men who, rather than attacking them, had provided greater protection for them.

The time had come for sheep-shearing; there would be a round-up of all the flocks, and great celebrations would take place with more than enough for everyone. Hopefully Nabal would be happy to share his abundance with David and his men.

Read 1 Samuel 25:10-13

10 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. 11 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?’

12 David’s men turned round and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. 13 David said to his men, ‘Each of you strap on your sword!’ So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.

David is a Sunday-School hero, and at this point in the story young boys see no problem with Nabal getting what he deserved. But as their teacher how could we justify David’s actions?

We can understand his frustration, even desperation to find food for his men, but his actions are inexcusable. Did David enquire of the Lord? No.

Fortunately God is still on David’s side and will prevent his reckless action (v26). maybe what we should learn from this is not that the Lord will get us out of self-inflicted problems, but rather had we asked for guidance we might have avoided them altogether.

Read 1 Samuel 25:14-22

14 One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, ‘David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 15 Yet these men were very good to us. They did not ill-treat 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 the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. 17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.’

18 Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 Then she told her servants, ‘Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.’ But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

20 As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending towards her, and she met them. 21 David had just said, ‘It’s been useless – all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. 22 May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!’

Oh dear! Was that really the best way to involve God in this flawed venture? Fortunately the Lord had others he could use as a prophet to David – like Abigail.

Read 1 Samuel 25:23-31

23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said: ‘Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. 25 Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name – his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent.

26 And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. 27 And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.

28 ‘Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. 29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling.

30 When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, 31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.’

Look again at those last two verses. On a par with causing needless bloodshed, simply avenging himself would become a ‘staggering burden’ ‘on his conscience’. The Lord needed to keep repeating to David that he had to learn to trust him completely, that he would be ‘bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God’ (v29) and that ultimately he would fulfil every good thing he promised concerning him and would appoint him ruler over Israel (v30).

Read 1 Samuel 25:32-34

32 David said to Abigail, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.’

Note that David is well aware that ‘the Lord . . . has sent you’ and left to his own devices he would have taken his revenge and killed many innocent men.

Read 1 Samuel 25:35-44

35 Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought to him and said, ‘Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.’

36 When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak. 37 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.

39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.’

Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. 40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, ‘David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.’

41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, ‘I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.’ 42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife. 43 David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. 44 But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim.

Taking the wife of a conquered foe was normal practice – and note how casually Saul had given David’s wife (Saul’s daughter) to another. I’d like to think there was a period when messages were exchanged between the end of verse 39 and the start of verse 40, but maybe not.

Was it right that David should take this ‘intelligent and beautiful woman’ (v3) to be his wife?

1 Samuel 14 1 Samuel 16 NIV Copyright