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.


Anonymous said...

A great example of the problem solving abilities that women tend to so often exhibit.

Elizabeth said...

I loved this version. Write another. Get published. :)

Amy said...

Ahhhh...I love your retelling. Beautiful.

kathyescobar said...

i love creative re-telling of stories like this. thanks for sharing!