He is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.
Does that title sound harsh and judgemental? Many Christians think it’s wrong to describe a person — for example, a man who abuses his wife — as such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him. But those words are a quote from the Bible.
We have become milksops when we can’t call a spade a spade.
Here is the passage:
Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran. And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite. David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. 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. And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 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. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’”
When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited. And Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” So David’s young men turned away and came back and told him all this. And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every man 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.
But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them. They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.”
Most people read this passage and never raise an eyebrow about how the young man describes Nabal to Abigail. The young man describes his master — the ruler of the household —accurately.
And Abigail also describes Nabal that way. When David is told how Nabal rejected his request for provisions, David vows to destroy every male in Nabal’s household. I wonder how much David’s impetuous vengefulness was the flip side of how he had been restraining himself from taking vengeance on Saul? (the incident when Saul was relieving himself in the cave) David had been incredibly honourable and long-suffering towards Saul, but maybe some of his frustration leaked out when Nabal insulted him.
When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal [fool] is his name, and folly is with him. . . . ”
And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! 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 had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.” Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.”
Notice how David praised Abigail’s discretion and obeyed her voice. He didn’t say “Go home, woman; wash your mouth out with soap and water and submit to your husband!”
By telling us David’s words here, God seems to be assuring us that Abigail described her husband accurately and was not dishonorable in her choice words. And Abigail actually took it one step further than the young man, by calling Nabal not only worthless but a fool. No wonder many preachers seem to skate over this passage; the majority of Christians seem to hold the view that it’s not okay for a Christian woman to say this about her husband. Many folk are unwittingly prejudiced against victims of abuse; and there is a double standard about how women are allowed to speak, versus how men are allowed to speak.
If a victim of abuse describes her spouse as a worthless fool, she is likely to be rebuked, or it will be implied by subtle hedging, questioning and advice-giving that she is exaggerating. “It can’t be all that bad!” “Aren’t you being a bit harsh?” “Maybe you’ve just picked the wrong times to talk to him.” “Maybe if you used a different tone of voice; chose your words more carefully, so he knows you really want to submit to his leadership.”
But in the majority of cases of domestic abuse that we hear about — not just from the victims but from professionals who understand the mindset of abusers — the simple truth is, the abuser is such a worthless fool that one cannot speak to him.
No; let me rephrase that. The abuser is such a worthless fool that you cannot speak to him . . . unless you go along with his lies and distortions; then you can speak to him indefinitely, while he pulls the wool over your eyes and fogs up your perceptions. . .