Abigail: a story of one woman's wisdom

The daughters of Zelophehad, who dared to approach Moses and ask for an inheritance of their own. (Numbers 26)

Jephthah's daughter, who died as a result of her father's rashness. (Judges 11)

The widow of Zarephath, who fed Elijah through years of famine and was blessed for her faithfulness. (1 Kings 17)

The Canaanite woman who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. (Matthew 15)

The desperate woman who broke a dozen social and religious laws to push through the crowds and touch the hem of Jesus' robe. (Mark 5)

Scripture is packed with the stories of brave women who rose up to become legendary heroines, women with whom God was so pleased that He made sure their stories were preserved, women whose faith and courage drove them to action.

Abigail was one such woman, and I invite you to journey with me into her story. This is fictional, of course - just the way I imagine it. Unresearched midrash, if you like. But her story is worth dreaming about. (For the full and historically accurate account, please read 1 Samuel 25.)

The sun was hot that day. The sun was usually hot in the desert of Maon, but somehow it felt different today, searing. There was something strange in the air today...a sense of foreboding. Nonsense, thought Abigail. How can the air be foreboding? She lifted a hand and brushed a damp strand of hair away from her face as she rested a moment in the shade of her tent. The baking was done for the day; they had worked hard. Oh, she didn't need to work - her husband had plenty of servants. But Abigail liked the work. It made her feel useful.

Abigail shaded her eyes with her hand as she scanned the horizon. A small figure emerged from a cloud of dust - a messenger perhaps? Her husband, Nabal, was out with the herd - it was shearing season, and their hours were long. Perhaps they needed food, or drink. Dinner preparations were already under way for the dozens of hungry shepherds and shearers who would come trudging home at sundown, weary from their work. Nabal was not likely to share much of the final profit with his workers, but it was tradition to feast and celebrate during shearing times, and Abigail made sure they were as well-fed and cared for as she could. There was not much Nabal could do once the sheep had been dressed - they would need to be eaten. And he did care for his reputation amongst his neighbors... so his workers ate well. And Abigail made sure Nabal's wine glass was constantly full. Nabal was mean when he wasn't drunk.

The small figure on the horizon turned out to be one of the shepherds, a boy whom Abigail knew by name. His mother worked in the kitchen tent, and spoke highly of her son.

"My lady, may I speak with you?" he asked, eyes lowered in respect.

"Of course, Joshua," replied Abigail. "What is it? You have come with much haste."

"My lady... there is... a situation. And we are worried... You have heard of David and his mighty men?"

"Yes, Joshua, I have heard of him... He is the stuff of legend, so men say. Some say he will even be king someday. Is he coming this way?"

"Yes, my lady, he is. In fact, he is already here. He sent messengers this morning to greet our master, but our master has hurled insults at him. David's men have always been good to us; they have never stolen anything, and when we have herded near them, they have protected us. But they have come to us in peace on a day of feasting to ask for our hospitality, and our master has insulted them, and now David and 400 men are coming to attack us. We will all be killed! Please think, isn't there anything you can do? Disaster is hanging over our master and all his household, and he is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him."

Abigail sat quietly for a moment. "He is such a wicked man." "No one can talk to him." The words echoed in her head. No, no one could talk to Nabal, and her presence would not be welcome while he was working. No, talking would not help. He was too proud, too arrogant... he would never retract what he'd said. The damage was done. If only there were some way to reverse it, to offer hospitality in spite of what he'd said... hospitality. It had to work. It had to...

"Joshua, run. Run and get your mother, and then run, and find out where David is. We will intercept him. Run."

Abigail lost no time. She and her servants packed up much of the food they had ready. Soon the donkeys were loaded with enough for a small feast. It's a good thing we had so much already, thought Abigail, as she looked at the mountain of food. Two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, 5 seahs of roasted grain, a hundred raisin cakes, two hundred fig cakes. It was all they could spare on such short notice without Nabal noticing, but it would be enough. It would have to be enough. Please, let it be enough, she prayed silently.

"Go on ahead," she told her servants. "I will follow shortly."

She returned to her tent, and bathed quickly. Baths were a luxury in this desert climate, but Abigail was taking no chances. She was beautiful and intelligent, and she would need both of those assets today. She would look her best for this future king. She would go to him as if he were already king.

Abigail rode into the mountain ravine on her donkey, and took a deep breath when she saw the army. 400 men were coming down the path into the ravine, with a strong and handsome man who could only be David at their head. He looked extremely irritated. Abigail knew that look. It never boded well when Nabal looked like that.

"For our people," she whispered to herself as she rode up to the army. "I can not let his foolishness kill us all, not without trying to stop it."

David called a halt, and the army waited quietly as the young woman rode up. "Her name is Abigail, sir," said one of the scouts. "Nabal's wife. I do not think he knew she was coming."

Abigail was so nervous she could not look at anyone. She climbed off the donkey, and bowed low with her face to the ground before David - and so missed the look of astonishment that passed over his face.

"My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man, Nabal. he is just like his name - his name is Fool, and folly goes before him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent this morning."

"I am listening," said David.

Abigail launched into her speech, still sitting at his feet, choosing her words carefully, reminding David of the promises God had made to him, and the blessings that God would bestow on him, suggesting that bloodshed in this case was unnecessary, that Nabal's foolishness was simply that - foolishness, and offering him food and drink for his men. "You don't need the burden of remembering how you killed my servants in anger," she finished quietly. "Vengeance is not worth that price. God will bring you success, and when He does... remember me. Please."

She sat there for a minute, wondering what would happen next. She still couldn't look at him. Wasn't sure if she should. Hoped he had heard, and understood, and would be as kind as she'd heard he could be. Thought of Joshua, of her servants. Felt a tear slide down her cheek.

David crouched down beside the woman at his feet, and lifted her chin with one hand. He wiped the tear away with the other. His own eyes were filled with tears. Abigail had not expected that.

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me," he said finally. "May you be blessed for your good judgment, and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands..." Vengeance belongs to the Lord, he reminded himself silently. God will vindicate me. "I would have killed all of them in anger - and I would have regretted it. Thank you for stepping in and putting a stop to it. I will accept your hospitality."

David helped Abigail to her feet, and set her back on her donkey. "Go in peace," he told her quietly. "I have heard your words and granted your request." He smiled kindly into her eyes, and sent her on her way, unaware that he'd just acted like the king she already believed he was.

When Abigail returned home, the banquet had already begun, and Nabal was in high spirits. "There she is, my lovely bride," he slurred. "Where have you been? Well, no matter, you are here now..." It was all she could do to force herself to smile, as she watched the feasting and the dancing and Nabal becoming more and more drunk. It was almost a relief when he finally passed out, except he was heavy and was sitting on her dress. It was unfair. David was out in a ravine with a modest meal while here Nabal was feasting like a king. It was not right. But they were alive. And someday... someday, David would be king. He would be a good king. She was sure of it.

When Nabal woke up, she told him everything. Abigail was never sure whether it was the excessive amounts of alcohol in his system or the shock of realizing how close to death he'd come that did it - maybe it was both - but Nabal had a heart attack that morning. Ten days later he was dead. And though they mourned as was right and fitting, no one was really all that sad.

David heard of it, up in the mountains. "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," he said. He thought again, for the hundredth time, of the beautiful woman who had risked her life to protect them all, and wondered.

Later, when the time of mourning was over, he sent for Abigail, hoping she would become his wife.

and she said yes.

This post is part of the International Women's Day Synchroblog, hosted by Julie Clawson at onehandclapping. For a complete list of other participating posts, please click here.

home sweet home

I've always had this vague sense of homesickness... At times it gets place-specific: West Michigan, San Diego, New England...and yes, even Africa, tho I've yet to get there. At other times it gets situation-specific - wishing for an actual house of my own, wanting to rearrange my furniture or paint the walls a different color, dreaming about having a family someday. But most of the time it's just sort of vaguely there. I'm homesick. For something. I don't really know what. For heaven, definitely... but for something between now and then, too - something between eternal life as I know it today and eternal life as I'll know it on the other side of death.

I found out yesterday that this might actually be normal.

I'm in this book-study group called Joshua's Army with my church - once a month we read a book and get together and have dinner and talk about the book. The goal of the course is to, as our pastor puts it, graduate us with the right tools in our toolbox to build a solid, God-honoring life and to lead our community well. So to that end, we're reading everything from books on leadership to intercessory prayer to relationships. This month's book for the girls is "Finding Your Purpose as a Mom: How to Build Your Home on Holy Ground" by Donna Otto. I'm not sure I would have ever picked it up. But it's got some good stuff in it, even for those of us who aren't moms. In the chapter I've just finished, she writes about how having a vision for what your home could look like helps you to make the smaller daily decisions that will lead you to it, much the way having a picture to refer to on the front of the puzzle box helps you put a puzzle together, and how each of us will find that we do actually have a vision for what we'd like our home to look like, whether we've thought much about it or not, because God has built an "essential homesickness into every human soul." (p. 36)

You have no idea how relieved I was to hear that. I'm supposed to be homesick.

Ultimately I think that "essential homesickness" she speaks of is really just a deep longing for things to be the way they were always meant to be. Walking with God in the cool of the evening in the Garden He made for us - in the Paradise of God. And we've never known that, actually, tho if we do walk with God we've caught glimpses here and there, and we do have a sense, deep down, that we'll know it when we see it, and it'll be perfect. "It's not supposed to be like this." An old friend and mentor said that when he was preaching once on the way sin wrecks our lives and our need for mercy, and I can still hear him say it... and there are moments in life when that phrase so definitely applies - and we know it's not supposed to be like this because we know it was supposed to be different. Better. Right. And whatever just happened wasn't right. But if we were home... if we could only get home... it would be okay again.

And that's life. Journeying home. Thank God for the journey, and all we learn on it, but, oh, Jesus - thank You that we're on the way to Home... to You. And that You walk with us every step of the way.

It's a strange thing this longing for home I have, tho - because while I've always had it, I've also always had this restless wanderlust - a need to travel, a need to go places and do things and have adventures... as long as I could come back... to somewhere, someone, something I could call home... I've written about it before - in April of 2007 to be exact. And it was funny, re-reading that post - there are parts of it that are still true and parts of it that aren't. I still want to go see the world and write about it... maybe I should go be a travel journalist or something... but that American dream? 2.5 kids and the white picket fence? Not so much anymore...

And that's not something I ever thought I would say.

I've always wanted that. That was my big career ambition. Get married, settle down, have a family, be happy. And then, a couple of years ago, I started coming to terms with my inner Donna Reed, and started to dare to believe that God might actually have something in addition to that for me. But now... I just don't know. It hit me yesterday that even if I got married next year, and had kids straight off (which is SO not likely to happen), I would be 40 when my oldest was in kindergarten. I'd be in my 60s when they started graduating from college... That's not what I wanted. That wasn't the dream....

So maybe it's time for a new dream...? I'm not sure. There's a part of me that doesn't want to let it go at all. That still wants to hope for "happily-ever-after" - or at least the real-life version of it that comes with people being human. But part of me says, "Hap, maybe it's time to just let it go. Go see the world. Do something with your life."

And I am, actually. Being a part of this church plant is incredibly exciting, and I feel like, at least for now, God's said to put down roots here. That these next few years will be incredible and fruitful, and foundational to something else. But that someday, that train I dreamed about last June will pull out of the station, and I will know that it's time to jump off, and who knows what's waiting at that end of that trail? Destiny? Maybe. Tho I think I'm already living into that here. I don't know. All I know is I'm incredibly homesick this morning...and I wish I knew what I was homesick for...