Sapphira and Abigail: Part 1
[July 7, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
One of our brave readers (Just Me) suggested we write a post comparing Sapphira with Abigail. We thought it was a brilliant suggestion. Since I’m the newbie, I got the job (just kidding….I sort of volunteered). I have learned so much studying these two women. I will do my best to compare them and, hopefully, give a fresh perspective, counteracting some of the stigma they carry as wives. Here goes….
Abigail is married to a man whose name is “Nabal”. His name means “fool” and he certainly lived up to the definition. 1 Samuel 25 describes him as worthless, harsh and badly behaved. Even his servants have disdain for him. Abigail is described as “discerning and beautiful”. (Hmm….a woman CAN be both lovely and wise….) In the narrative, Nabal plays an arrogant and moronic card, putting his entire VAST household in grave danger. Abigail rushes (“made haste” in the ESV) to save the household, including her husband. She did not waiver and did not take time to ponder. Abigail is a quick thinker, perhaps one who has had to cover for her husband before?
It seems that Abigail is largely ignored by many preachers because her actions surely do not fit into the paradigm of a submissive wife the church has built these days. She not only turned on her husband and called him foolish, but she kept it a secret from him until the deed was done AND she said this to the future King David:
And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.” (1 Samuel 25:31b)
What does this mean?!
Remember her how? Remember what she did? (“Remember that time that Abigail helped us?”) I highly doubt that. David came back later to rescue her from her widowhood. He married her immediately upon discovering that Nabal was dead. Abigail needed to be rescued from the suffering that was her life. It is safe to say that Nabal was an abusive man.
“King David, when Nabal receives what he very much deserves from the hand of God, come and get me.”
Abigail’s behavior would not fly in most local churches today. The Pharisees of our day would say that Abigail was disrespectful to her husband. To that, I would say that Nabal was the disrespectful one. His tirade against King David was meant to humiliate and demean him. Abigail had a spirit of respect about her. She certainly had no problem bowing to David upon meeting him. She quite humbled herself to the point of calling him “lord”. And when the servants came back to retrieve Abigail to be David’s wife, she bowed her head to the ground and said this:
“Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” (1 Samuel 25:41b)
It seems that Abigail had a VERY good idea of who deserved respect and who didn’t. Even more, David respected Abigail as well. This is what he says to her:
“Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!….Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.” (1 Samuel 25:33-35)
I do not see, anywhere, where David said, “How DARE you go against your husband’s wishes! Don’t you know how unsubmissive you are? It doesn’t matter what he does to you or others — you are NEVER to turn on him!” On the contrary, David is praising her. And (gasp) taking her advice. Dare I say it….obeying her voice. The greatest man alive in her world during her lifetime looked at Abigail and blessed her for choosing the greater good — that of her survival and the countless others who worked for her husband and THEIR families. Abigail did nothing wrong by calling out her husband. Abigail is a picture of bravery and beauty.
I also do not see, anywhere in Scripture, where Abigail is anything but honored. No one is telling her to make sure she looks at HER sin and not her husband’s. No one is telling her that she needs to take the blows so as not to give marriage a bad name….or be a poor witness. No. They call her beautiful and discerning. And so do I. She must have been shaking in her shoes when she approached the future king. Surely, it was not easy. She was courageous.
If you are a victim-survivor of domestic abuse, I encourage you to let this story, in its purest form, wash over your hearts as a reminder that, not only have you done the right thing, or are about to do the right thing, or you are thinking about whether or not it is the right thing to leave your abusive spouse….but God will bless, will provide and will make a way for you.
[July 7, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to July 7, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to July 7, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to July 7, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 7, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
Posts in this series
Part 1: Is this post.
Part 2: Sapphira and Abigail
- Posted in: Victims
- Tagged: Abigail, false guilt, getting free, Megan C, Pharisees biblical/modern, Samuel, submission, suffering, widows
You know, I was literally just thinking of Abigail this morning while making breakfast.
I love how you presented her and I think you are right, especially here:
Friends . . . let this story, in its purest form, wash over your hearts as a reminder that, not only have you done the right thing, or are about to do the right thing, or you are thinking about whether or not it is the right thing to leave your abusive spouse .
I also love how you point out nobody ever calls Nabal a good guy and nobody ever rebukes Abigal or David for saying he wasn’t a good guy. And that Abigail’s natural instinct was to seek deliverance from him and that she was confident God would provide it. That knocks down quite a few dominoes, doesn’t it?
I have to deal with a tough crowd in my circles and I have a question I hope you all can help me with. This is what they would do with this. They would allow that Abigail was aware of her circumstances and Nabal’s awfulness and would allow that she was trusting the Lord to deal with her husband. And that allowance would then become their chief weapon because Abigail did not divorce Nabal and God dealt with Nabal directly by killing him Himself, thus “proving” that God really does not allow for divorce for abuse at all, etc. I’m sure you can fill in the rest of the blanks.
Help me tackle this one, guys!
Thanks guys! These are all really good points.
Death vs. something less violent is a great point, but the rebuttal would be, well that is how God handled it. He didn’t tell her to divorce.
Context is also key, but they would still say this is how God dealt with it, not by providing for Abigail to divorce Nabal. They would maybe even go to the whole context issue of marriage as ontological, or a picture of God’s faithfulness which we are supposed to emulate, etc. (The answer there being He divorced Israel, but that will go right past them.)
As for finding the best way to deal with a situation, yes. Definitely. But running away and best shot at gaining freedom, I think that would kind of be their point, actually. Because they would say, well if divorce were permitted for abuse she wouldn’t have to run away or wait for a best shot. She could simply divorce him. If you see what I mean. They would say something like God’s best way is to wait for Him to take matters into His own hands and however He chooses to do that, death of the abuser or whatever, is His business and we are not to take matters “into our own hands.”
I know many of you have encountered very similar teaching as this. I am also convinced God has provided divorce as His best way. But these guys are not only not there, they are opposed to that view. I’m pretty sure they consider it a false teaching and something dangerous, to be honest. Hostile audience. Like, majorly. 😦 The thrust of their complaint would be we are just looking for a way to justify divorce for an undesirable situation. And yes, that accusation has been levied against the victim I know. I don’t think they used the word “tragic” like Piper did, but I do think that is where they are.
Personally, that is one reason I find myself so frustrated these days. It’s like God doesn’t care about people at all with these guys. I really don’t get it. And if I said that to them they would not recognize that idea in themselves at all. They think telling an abused spouse they have no recourse in divorce is caring for them because it is caring for their soul. So it becomes a sort of God vs. you deal. I think it loses the incarnational God WITH us aspect, but they won’t get that. And there are way too many of you, with your testimonies, for me to accept a sterile theology that requires man — and children too — to be sacrificed on the altar of marriage (how ironic is that?). But I am digressing here.
Anyway, I’m sorry to be a pain but they are not going to let us off easy so it’s going to have to be hashed out and I’d rather hash it out in friendly company.
I guess . . . I don’t understand their logic. Here you said:
“Because they would say, well if divorce were permitted for abuse she wouldn’t have to run away or wait for a best shot. She could simply divorce him. If you see what I mean.”
Do “they” realize that a woman was not permitted to divorce for any reason at all? And that this law was brutally abused (to God’s disgust — Malachi) by the Pharisees?
And . . . I mean — how many gazillions of examples are there in Scripture where people took matters into their own hands? Abigail did when she ran to David . . . and therefore saved their entire household. If she had waited, would God have intervened? Or would they all be dead? What about Esther? Or Rahab? Were they wrong for pressing forward? Or all the military narratives . . . . what about the wars in which David fought? And so much more?
Megan, if you want to know, a sermon was preached recently where it was implied that divorce after marriage vows were exchanged was not an option for men either, as it was only for the time during the betrothal period. Not kidding. Did I mention this was a tough audience?
“Death vs. something less violent is a great point, but the rebuttal would be, well that is how God handled it”
I understand they will warp the perspective, but this is one of those things I think is crucial to get about the Christian life: death is a scandal. We were not meant to die, we should not embrace or take comfort in death. Our physical death is the mirror of our spiritual death, the highest travesty that has ever occured in the history of time.
We do not long for death. We do not seek death. We don’t view death as a solution to our problems. We do not make peace with death. The reason death exists is because of sin and it is opposed to everything God created for us.
Now I understand the God works even through death, that is a testimony to how great he is. I understand that sometimes deliverance and justice require death. But it is a FAR different thing for God to use death than for us to set up a doctrine where we take comfort in the idea that someone may die, even while we have a more peaceful means at our disposal. This doctrine is saying that divorce is more scandalous than death, and it just cannot be so.
Paul may have said he could not decide if it were to be better to serve in this life or be on to the next, but I do not think he was glorifying the idea of being dead. I do not think “to die is gain” means “death would be a good thing for me”. I believe he was saying “no matter what happens, in the end God wins- whatever he does with me, it will end up good”. That’s far different for him saying “I wish I could die.”
I will tell you why this kind of thing triggers me: my pastor, as pastor who should know better, offered it matter of factly: “if God wants you to re-marry, he can take her at any time”. Whether his intention or not, he was offering HER DEATH as a source of hope. I knew in that moment I could no longer trust his judgement on teaching scripture, for once we have made peace with death, we have committed a grievous error. Logically his statement made sense with his theology, and that was an indication that his theology was in serious error.
My contention is that any teacher who starts making death look beautiful to our eyes is twisting the truth and can and should be ignored.
Haha, I see I have kind of repeated myself in this thread. Please forgive me- this is kind of a touchy note with me 🙂
Barnabas, that kind of teaching is not confined to your church. One of the men who reviewed my book held up that argument your church uses as a way to dismiss my book. Actually, in his review he scarcely mentioned my book’s thesis let alone explain how I arrived at my conclusions; he just used his review as a soapbox for him to denigrate me (for having married an unbeliever) and then to spruik his view that Abigail did not divorce Nabal so divorcing an abuser cannot be the right thing to do.
I did not publish that review on my website. I published every other review I’ve ever received, but that one didn’t seem to adhere to proper standards of a review (because it didn’t summarize the book author’s arguments, it just told people the reviewer’s own beliefs and prejudices).
BIT, I understand your desire to want to be able to present this “tough crowd” with a solid, Biblically accurate argument, but the problem is not your argument. The problem is that they only want to believe what they want to believe. They perceive themselves as right – period! As long as they have an “I am right and everyone else is wrong” attitude, it won’t matter what you say.
I learned with my ex that it does not matter how logical and rational my argument might be, he won’t get it, because he doesn’t want to get it. He is not concerned with the Truth, he is only concerned with being right!
Is there any reason you need to argue the point with this “tough crowd”? If not, maybe there is something more productive you can put your time and energy into.
Yeah. I’m not surprised it’s not unique to my church. I suspect the people like your reviewer consider Abigail the example that closes the deal. However, what happened with the woman you posted about most recently shows it’s no such thing.
Wow. I see what you mean. Didn’t that pastor essentially counsel you to develop the heart of a murderer by wishing your wife would die? I’m pretty sure that’s what would happen to me. That is beyond weird that he would say life is less valuable than marriage.
I hope I don’t have to argue with them. I haven’t had to yet but it is not completely outside the realm of possibility. I got some news this morning that suggests I might end up not having to, but I’m still not sure. You are right, though, about them hearing what they want to hear. I guess my thing is I’d feel better knowing I at least presented a sound argument for them to reject than to let them think I didn’t have an argument to present at all. It does help me personally anyway to delve into this and I imagine there are lots of people who have the Abigail card thrown at them, as Barb showed too.
“Didn’t that pastor essentially counsel you to develop the heart of a murderer by wishing your wife would die?”
Yes, though I think this was not his intention. I think he was trying to offer me the only hope his theology would allow. This is what happens when theology becomes a way to “solve the Bible” rather than to know the heart of God.
Well said, Jeff!
That is sad.
“This is what happens when theology becomes a way to ‘solve the Bible’ rather than to know the heart of God.” — Good word, Jeff S.
I have heard similar teaching. I have heard that if a husband is wicked like Nabal and the wife trusting the Lord like Abigail, God will surely take matters into his own hands like he did with Nabal, and the wife will be freed from suffering by the death of the man or in some other way.
My pastor once told me “if God wants you to remarry, he can take her at any time”.
Is this supposed to be encouraging? I don’t even know what kind of reaction he would think was appropriate to that statement.
When our faith becomes reduced to hoping for God to kill someone so that we won’t be tempted to use other non-violent means of escape, we have entered a bizarre land not occupied by Christ.
Death is a scandal. Humans were not meant for death. Death may sometimes be necessary for deliverance, but yikes, it’s not a solution that we would seek with any kind of joy.
Once teachers go down this route, we have to realize that some very wrong turn has been made.
I was just thinking about Still Scared’s comment below regarding context. I think this is key. We are called (as believers) to find the very best way to deal with whatever situations unfold in our lives. Abigail was an abused woman. If she ran away (like David did to save his life from Saul), she might have been killed — or worse (possibly by law?). Obviously, that was not the best way, although we women in this day and time CAN run away, even when it is dangerous (at least the law is not AGAINST us). THIS — ABOVE — was her best shot at gaining freedom. Of course she didn’t know Nabal was going to die that day! We have no idea whether or not she expected God to avenge her in such a way. As far as I can see, for a woman in that time, this act of asking David to remember her was the only way, and the best way, of “running away” from her abuser. She seized the opportunity.
Yes, that is the one thing I want to have an answer for…the best is this in one example of how God deals with evil. David ran away from Saul when Saul was after his life. We, I guess, I would say, need to look at this in the context of the whole Bible and WHO God is. A God of mercy, compassion and justice!
I also think of Paul and Barnabas shaking the dust off of thier feet and moving on to a new town after they were assaulted. They did not stick around and expect God to deal with it and make them safe.
They were all men . . . Hagar was shoved out and left to the elements. A woman in the Jewish culture had zero status. For Abigail to run away would mean death or harlotry . . . she “ran away” when she went to David. Here was a man who might be able to help her.
Cheering!! Hands clapping! Woo Hoo!
Megan did a really good job, didn’t she? Thanks for cheering.
Thanks, guys. Smiling. 🙂
Yes she did!
Yay!! I haven’t even read it yet, but had to jump in and cheer. Thanks so much for doing this!!! Ok, off to read it.
Gothard teaches that Abigail paid for her disobedience to her husband by being taken from a comfy situation and forced to live a nomadic life in David’s tents (Character Sketches). BUT…eventually she lived in the PALACE!!
When we, as Christians, commit our lives to Christ, our life on earth can lose its comfort. BUT…eventually we shall have all in the Kingdom with Jesus!!
That’s quite a stretch there, Bill . . . and the Bible doesn’t way that . . . so . . .
If you have a spare second, Google the Tale of Two Abigails Part 2. Yuck, is about all I can say.
Gothard teaches that Abigail paid for her disobedience to her husband by being taken from a comfy situation and forced to live a nomadic life in David’s tents (Character Sketches).
Oh good grief.
Excellent points, Laurie! Gothard suddenly sounds like Peter, “No Lord! This shall not happen to you!”
Laurie, I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am. It just goes to show that people can make Scripture say whatever they want it to. The Bible doesn’t refer to Abigail in any other way but positive. The Bible doesn’t refer to Nabal in any other way but negative.
What I love about this story is that it shows that sometimes the “rules” can be bent or broken for the greater good. Abigail “disobeyed” her husband, but it was for the greater good for everyone involved (even Nabal’s). Similar to the story of Rahab, where she hid the spies and lied to protect them, and was rewarded for it. God knows that life isn’t always black and white.
I’d take a shack with a loving husband any day over a palace with an abuser.
Yep. Me too.
And Proverbs even says a corner of a roof is better than a whole house with a contentious person! (Well, technically it says “wife” or “woman” but women hardly have the monopoly on contentiousness.)
“forced to live a nomadic life in David’s tents” HA! Who would not choose that over one day in the camp of torrents of abuse?!? And we all know where Gothard is today!! Funny, he is about to face some prison time, isn’t he?
He is? I haven’t been following on him lately. What’s going on that he’s about to go to jail for?
BIT — if you look online you can find what is going on. I believe he has been allegedly accused of abusing girls. One report said that the way he used to tell the young girls to dress and look and wear their hair, was because that is what he wanted them to look like. Pretty sick and pretty sad. I have not checked up on it lately, but I think there are several counts against him.
That is sick and sad. And very disturbing. All that teaching about doing everything just so, with so many hours a day in the Bible or else God would remove His blessing, etc., and this is hiding in his closet.
Thank you, Megan. I love how, through healthy dialogue with other believers, we can find different parts of the story to learn from. As many times as I read that story, my eye never caught the part where Abigail asks David to “remember” her. I have learned something new today and it’s a very helpful part of the story. Thank you for that.
My counselor pulls out the part where Abigail reminds David of who he is. Abigail couldn’t stop him from killing her or her household, but she reminded him that God had great plans for him (a lasting dynasty) and that he shouldn’t be found with any wrongdoing in him so that when God had fulfilled his promises to David, he wouldn’t have bloodshed on his conscience.
I love that second paragraph. So true; so beautiful. There is so much about Abigail to be admired.
Now, I was told that the story of Abigail is a “historical narrative and cannot be used today”. Isn’t that like tearing pages out of the Bible? I thought the entire Word of God was profitable for teaching, rebuke and instruction!
I love this story. I love that she did what she was led to do by God and did not apologize for it. I love that she did not think twice about protecting her family. I love that she ran toward David, and faced him with humility, grace and bravery. I love that she did it silently, that’s right, without “consent”, holding onto her courage long enough to go to battle. I love that she returned and chose “when” to give the news to Nabal. And lastly, I love that God saw fit to free Abigail to the loving arms of David. Sort of like God freeing us to the loving arms of Christ, David having been a shadow of His coming.
That is beautiful, Anon. Thank you for this vision in my mind of Abigail being freed to the loving arms of David.
OK, so here’s the thing about historical narrative- saying they cannot be used today is wrong- all scripture is useful. However, when we talk of looking at the Bible “literally”, we need to be true to the form of literature it is. So when we read a historical narrative we need to be sure that just because something is reported does not mean it’s a principal we should follow. Solomon had many wives- this doesn’t mean that God allowed polygamy. Note that if you look at the way the VisionForum says families should be organized, they abuse scripture in this way heavily to arrive at their patriarchal conclusions.
HOWEVER, we are given historical narratives for a reason, and I think a lot of times a historical narrative can shed a lot of light on whether or not we are on track with our interpretations of princples taught in scripture. That is, if we see a godly person reported to be behaving in a certain way and this contradicts our interpretation of a principle, I think we must question our understanding of the principle. We either need to be able to explain why a godly person acted in an ungodly way (such as Solomon with his wives or David with Bathsheba), or re-examine our principle. There is nothing in the story of Abigale that fits with the view that her behavior is ungodly or out of character with God’s moral code. Given that, any principle of scripture we interpret as making Abigale out to be sinful must be challenged. And you simply cannot say “for Abigale the rule don’t apply”- God’s moral character hasn’t changed. If someone believes that it would be immoral for a woman to behave today like Abigale did, then he or she is saying it was immoral for Abigale too.
VERY well said, Jeff S. Genre, genre, genre . . . resisting the temptation to make narrative prescriptive . . . excellent.
Thanks Jeff! That makes a whole lot more sense than what I have been being told.
Thanks Jeff. I agree. As I think I’ve said before elsewhere on this blog, a good principle of bible interpretation is that we should primarily establish doctrine from passages where the genre is instructional and didactic, not narrative. Divorce principles are to be found set down as instructions in the Mosaic Case Laws of Ex 21:7-11, Deut. 21:10-14; Deut. 24:1-4; and in Malachi 2:16 (when correctly translated!); Matthew 5:31-32: Matthew 19:1-19; Mark 10:2-12; and 1 Cor. 7:10-16. Once we’ve established the doctrine by correctly interpreting and balancing all these didactic passages, we can then illustrate the doctrine by turning to narrative passages like the Abigail story.
I don’t have the stomach to engage all of VF’s teaching, but I’ll give an example:
This is from their “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy”:
If you look up the cited verses, there is nothing to condemn age grouping for education. The Deuteronomy and Chronicles passages do talk of gathering all people together, elders, women, and children, etc. , but just because all age groups were gathered together in these circumstances does not mean we ought to do away with age grouping for education.
Lots of critiques of Vision Forum are available on the web. Here is one:
An Index to Posts Concerning Vision Forum at Under Much Grace
Jeff S. — Can you give distinct examples of how the patriarch movement abuses the Scriptures concerning families? I would like to know and review that, if you don’t mind sharing that here. Thanks.
Jeff S and Barbara,
I am really glad you guys said that about interpretation. I wanted to say that too but couldn’t make it come out right. Yous guys are gooder with words than me. 🙂
This blog has the scoop from the inside of Doug Phillip’s church. It’s a lot to read, but it’s her testimony of her experience with them.
The Search For the Perfect Church [Internet Archive link]
Megan C (big hug). And thank you for this post. It has crossed my mind that Nabal was probably biblical example of a Narcissistic person…
Hugs back, Dru! I am grateful to have written it. It was very edifying for me, as well!
What a wonderful summary of Abigail, Megan. Thank you. Looking forward to more of your writing! 🙂
Thank you, Song! 🙂
I had a thought come to mind while reading the original post and the comments generated.
Some time ago – on another Abigail post – I commented on not being an Abigail. I realized as I read that’s not “technically” true.
As I’ve commented elsewhere on the ACFJ blog, my preferred role is adviser, not leader. There have been a few times, however, both personally and professionally, I have gotten so frustrated watching those in leadership positions blatantly ignoring their responsibility, I have gone ahead and done what I know needed to be done.
These are the times that led to the confusion of roles.