Pro tip: Don’t ask God to confirm something if you are not prepared for an answer you may not like
That may sound like an ominous way to start a blog post, but I have to admit it’s been a whirlwind few weeks–which tends to happen when you start out on a quest to resuscitate something you feel you have lost. You poke at things you thought were pretty sturdy only to watch them tumble like a Jenga tower. The falling is bad enough, but the noise is enough to startle you into confusion.
That’s pretty much my headspace at the moment.
Or, as Beth Moore puts it in her new book Chasing Vines:
“Nothing can get more confusing than feeling planted somewhere you’re sure is home and then getting uprooted and transplanted somewhere else. Without warning you face the prospect of having to start all over again. You had […] your sense of place, you thought you knew how this thing was going to go, your future seemed clear, your people were near and now you feel like a stranger …”
There is nothing more disconcerting than feeling like a stranger where you once felt like you belonged. An overwhelming sense of discontentment can be disorienting and, quite frankly, painful as you fumble your way through.
It’s the prayers in those moments that you send heavenward, hoping that that feeling will maybe just go away, or at least settle into some kind of contentment that your purpose only floundered for a hot second…until you realize that the seeds of discontentment might actually be God’s prompting to a new purpose.
And that all the hurt feelings and alienation were actually little ways in which God was answering your heaven-sent pleas.
Whether you like it or not.
Because let’s be honest. Change can be hard, especially if there is not a readily evident reason for making the change. Trying to explain it to other people is, well, tough. So you begin the arduous task of laying it all out on the table–these little pieces of evidence that God has confirmed to you so that others can rally behind you in this new quest.
I haven’t gotten to that last bit yet; I’m still gathering my evidences and working through it with the Lord on my own before I start bringing others in. But I can certainly feel it inching closer and the choice will have to be made: do what is comfortable, or do what God is saying to you.
And I pray I have the courage to follow through and obey the simple words of Genesis 31:16b:
“Now then, whatever God is saying to you, do.”
Because we should not, as Beth Moore says,
“Confuse fruitfulness with felicity.”
Walking in God’s will doesn’t mean we will live “happily ever after.” Life is not a fairy tale, and happiness shouldn’t be our number one goal regardless of what popular culture will have us believe. No, if we want to live purposeful lives, we must live in obedience to what the Lord commands and listen to his commands, whatever they are. As Deuteronomy 5:33 confirms:
“You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you…”
Sometimes we may feel like strangers.
Sometimes we may have to change our lifestyle.
Sometimes we may experience pain and rejection.
But always we will LIVE and LIVE WELL if we are following God’s path–even if we can’t see exactly where it might lead.
Barrenness is a popular theme in Biblical history, especially among strong female characters. The definition of ‘barrenness’ is ‘unable to produce fruit’, or in women, offspring, which makes me truly wonder if this theme isn’t about child production so much as it is about fruit and fulfillment of purpose. In Hannah’s time as in Sarah’s barrenness was not only upsetting, it was also shameful because a woman’s purpose was to produce heirs for her husband’s line. Thus the practice of polygamy—though not God ordained—became popular. The culture believed this would solve problems, but as always when we try to solve problems out of God’s will and purpose for our lives it often leads to more problems in the end.
Sanctified in Her Sorrow
Hannah was married to Elkanah. As the favored wife, but also the barren wife, she was like Elkanah’s first wife. So it is really no surprise that Peninnah, the second wife, though she produced many heirs for Elkanah, did not treat Hannah well. In fact, between the two women there was much animosity and conflict. In 1 Samuel 1: 1-7 Elkanah, Hannah and Peninnah’s roles are clearly defined in the first few verses. It’s significant that Elkanah is obedient in sacrificing to the Lord and that he is honoring both his wives. However, by having two wives and showing blatant favoritism he is perpetuating conflict in his household.
Hannah’s character, however, is never questioned. Throughout the narrative, she remains sanctified in her sorrow, which leads to her supplication and ultimately her songs of praise. Because when desperation turns to prayer and worry to praise, God moves in miraculous and wonderful ways.
1 Samuel 1: 8: This one verse says volumes. Hannah is sad that her prayers are unanswered ‘year by year’ and finally the sadness overwelms her and she breaks down into unappeasable tears. Having sobbed myself to sleep more than once in my own life, I feel a deep connection to the level of emotion Hannah is feeling–when you can’t be strong any longer, and all you can do is cry out to the Lord in your sadness, the tears are heartbreaking. And Elkanah, being a man and likely unfamiliar with this kind of soul sickness (not all men are unfamiliar, but I think we can agree that weeping in this way is more common to women–especially in ancient cultures), asks, “Am I not more to you than 10 sons?”
Elkanah, unknowingly devalues Hannah’s sorrow, insisting that his favoritism should be enough for her. But, can one person ever fulfill your every need? No, of course not! Nor should they try, because people, no matter how wonderful they are, will eventually disappoint us. And besides, it wasn’t ever really about having children anyway. It was about feeling purposeless and useless–like your very existence is a disappointment to everyone around you, including God. It’s about feeling broken. It’s about that deep, gut feeling that you are supposed to be someone else, but you can’t do it on your own and because you can’t you feel as though something is wrong with you. That kind of emptiness and longing, quickly turns to desperation…and there are only two paths from desperation: bitterness or earnest supplication.
Fortunately, Hannah’s desperation turns to earnest supplication and prayer. I love that verse 9 tells us Hannah rose. She knows only one person can truly fulfill her needs: the Lord. Giving over everything she has to God, she throws herself on his mercy and begs for the fulifillment she seeks.
While Hannah is praying in 1 Samuel 1: 12-18 she is being observed by the high priest Eli, but he is quick to judge her. Which, if we are honest, though we have all sought acceptance in the Lord’s house, many of us have experienced this kind of judgment there as well– a judgment that wounds instead of heals the brokenhearted. At least, I know I have. For years I avoided the church because of the wounds afflicted in a place that should have been so welcoming.
Eli is more concerned about appearance than he is about the condition of Hannah’s heart. Instead of greeting her, or listening to her, he accuses her of being a drunk. You can almost hear the sneer in his voice as he prepares to kick her out of his perfect temple.
But Hannah is wise. She is patient and respectful even though this authority figure has insulted her, she knows a soft response turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Although it is tempting to reply in a snarky way, her humility wins the authority figure to her side–a lesson we could all stand to learn from time to time.
Fulfilled in her Faith
1 Samuel 1 19-28 shows thatHannah’s request is fulfilled, but almost immediately she must give up the fulfillment of God’s promise…or does she?
Giving up her child when he is 2 or 3 years old to the service of the church seems counterintuitive, but if we go back to the definition of barren and we think about fulfillment—Hannah never really wanted a child to fulfill her. She knew that, just like with her husband, a child would not fill the longing and ache in her heart. No. The only thing that would truly fill the hole was production of fruit. As a teenager I always thought Hannah was making one of those deals with God that we all try to make from time to time that fulfill some kind of selfish desire. As an adult, I see that Hannah’s supplication and promise was not at all about making a deal, but was really about fulifilling a purpose.
Not that it would be without challenge. Any time you give up something you longed for, you will struggle with feeling empty until you remember who really fills you. And that will never be another person. Only God.
3) Skim through 1 Samuel 2: 1-11. What do you notice about Hannah’s song?
By the end of the narrative (1 Samuel 2: 12; 18-21: ), Hannah is restored, and I think it is important to note that she doesn’t abandon her firstborn son. Sure, she dedicated him to the Lord’s work, but every year she visited and brought gifts, making sure that Samuel knew he was loved and chosen for a special purpose. As a result, God honors Hannah with more children and greater purpose than she could ever imagine! After all, Samuel would be the priest who would guide, direct and minister to the greatest King Isreal would know, David.
Heed Like Hannah
Life is never easy. It’s filled with sorrow, disappointment, and conflict. Sometimes we are in conflict with others based solely on the circumstances that surround us. Sometimes we are judged by authority figures—perhaps even unfairly. There is always a human factor involved in every interaction we have. Often we have a choice to get ourselves out of these circumstances, but sometimes we are stuck. Either way, how we handle the conflict is what defines us as either strong Godly women or whiny, manipulatively selfish women.
It’s easy to believe that one thing will bring joy and fulfillment to our lives. We often fall into the trap of thinking ‘when I have that new pair of shoes, then I’ll be satisfied’ or ‘when I meet the right guy, that’s when I’ll really be happy.’ But, what happens when you get those things and they don’t meet your expectations? We either become embittered or we can take a lesson from Hannah who didn’t let her supplication rule her life, but focused on her own heart and motivation. If she hadn’t been so willing to dedicate her son back to the Lord, I wonder if he would have answered her prayer with so much grace and honor. I can’t say for sure, but I can say that the Lord is faithful, and we can learn a lot from Hannah’s heeding of his word.
As a woman of the 21st century, I have a special place in my heart for strong, intelligent women who can take charge while at the same time maintaining respect for everyone around her. It’s a tightrope not many women walk gracefully. Personally, I am hanging on to the tightrope with my feet dangling beneath more more often than I balance there.
Currently, in my Bible study, we are going through the book of Corinthians and 1 Corinthians 6 highlights the church’s responsibility to settle civil disputes among the body rather than taking one another to court and displaying dirty laundry for the world to see. The question we contemplated was whether or not we view ourselves as being equipped to solve disputes among others. After all, we have the spirit of truth dwelling in us (John 14:17), teaching us all things (John 14:26), with a promise from God to grant us ability and wisdom (James 1:5), and we have the scriptures that we study (Hebrews 4:12). So, yes we are given the equipment. But that is very different than feeling equipped to be a mediator or judge. As a teacher, I’ve had to employ these skills and sometimes I get it right, often I have to back peddle, follow up, and even ask for forgiveness because let’s face it: teaching is a learning process too. Deborah, on the other hand, not only had these gifts, she used the gifts and had confidence that the gifts God had given her would be put to amazingly good use.
A Woman in Charge in a Man’s World
Deborah is the woman in charge. She is the judge over the Israelite nation before the days of the Kings. Not only is she a judge (and a woman) she is also named as a prophet. Interestingly, most judges during this time weren’t arbiters as we see in today’s society, but rather commanders and military leaders. Deborah, on the other hand, is seen in the opening of Judges 4 as a more passive arbiter—sitting beneath a tree and passing judgment over the disputes of the people. If she wasn’t already unique enough, this sets her apart even more.
Furthermore, Deborah is judge during a bad time for the Israelites. They had once again done evil in the site of the Lord and so had been sold into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan and the commander Sisera. The Canaanites were a highly advanced and technological society—with iron chariots and better weapons than the Israelites (Judges 4:1-3). Actually in a lot of ways this situation is very similar to the time the Israelites spent in Egypt. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait quite as long for deliverance.
When we first meet Deborah in Judges 4:4-7, she is doing her job: sitting under her tree, giving out judgments. Then a prophecy comes to her. It’s time for the 20 years of oppression to come to an end! So she sends for Barak and gives him very specific instructions for how to defeat Sisera’s army and what the result would be. Actually, she confirms what the Lord has already told Barak: take 10,000 men and attack Jabin’s army and I will deliver them into your hand.
Now, Barak had heard this direction from the Lord and then it is confirmed by Deborah. That’s some pretty amazing confirmation, so at that point, I would expect Barak to be like “Let’s do this.” Yet, his response in Judges 4: 8-10 is kind of odd for a man of war: “I’ll go if you go.”
Now nothing in the prophecy stated that Deborah needed to be a part of the military campaign. And, in fact, she would probably have been somewhat of a distraction as the men would feel it was their duty to protect her rather than fight all out. So this is an odd request.
But I get it.
I’ve had a similar conversation with God and godly people before: this is what I want you to do (says God). Um, okay (says me) but only if…
This kind of negotiation sets the tone for the kind of deliverance. Deborah tells him that she’ll go, but it’ll change the outcome–all of Sisera will be delivered nto the hands of a woman. This response transitions her from a passive to an active role and we expect that the army will now follow her lead rather than Barak’s–after all he’s using her as a kind of good luck charm.
At any rate, they go to battle and the actual scene is pretty short: Judges 4: 12-16highlights that the Lord is given all the glory and Deborah is giving all the orders. Her faith spurs the men into action.
The Song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5: 4-5 details exactly how the Lord lead them into victory: a sudden storm causes these highly advanced ‘iron chariots’ to fail! Routed in the mud, the army flees and their military strategy is kaput. That’s what you get when you rely too heavily on any one thing rather than in an all powerful God. The task before Barak seemed impossible…and yet Deborah knew the Lord would make a way. So, in the end, it is Deborah…and another young woman…who get the starring role next to God. Not the leader of the army. Because that is the thing about faith. Our hesitancy can often cause us to lose out on blessings God has in store for us.
When Women Take the Lead
In Judges 4:17-22 we meet Jael, a second female character who, like Deborah, takes on a non-traditional female role. First, she appears to be quite welcoming to Sisera, inviting him in with sweet words and promises of protection. He enters because, after all, they are supposed to be allies. Instead of giving him water, she gives him milk. What a motherly thing she is doing here, nurturing this man and even lulling him to sleep. So cute! All the while, the audience here is building tension expecting what—Deborah to come in? But no, suddenly Jael picks up whatever is handy—a tent peg, and drives it through Sisera’s skull. YIKES! That is no easy task (in case you were wondering, that would have had to been a tremendous force to go all the way through the skull to the ground). Talk about subverting expectations for a climax. The prophecy came true, but certainly not in the way we—or even they (certainly not Sisera)—were expecting.
We’re never told why Jael decides to murder Sisera. Her husband is his ally. All we know is that she fulfills God’s prophecy and is honored for this action. Sometimes we are called to a purpose we don’t quite understand. But, when we know we are following God’s will, we can rest in the knowledge that he will work it all out for our good (Romans 8:28).
Judges 5 is perhaps one of the oldest poems in the Bible and relates the story in more detail. This song has a war driven tone and regales the history of Deborah’s people. 5: 24-27 relates Jael’s story and then we get to Judges 5: 28-30 where we see our final female character in this passage- Sisera’s mother who is waiting, in vain, for the return of her son.
Interestingly, all three female figures in Deborah’s story have motherly qualities, but both Deborah and Jael who are the protagonists are hero-ized for their non-traditional roles as they transition from passive to active participants in God’s story. To me this offers reminds me of the promise that God has equipped us ALL to do his work–not just the males. Females were not made to be minor characters, in a supporting role. They were made to help drive the plot forward, and God honors women who step into their purpose as much as he honors men.
Leadership and Submission
The Bible tells us that females and wives are supposed to be submissive to male leadership and husbands. How do we reconcile the idea of ‘submissive’ with our own call to leadership roles like that of Deborah? Well I don’t have the answer to that, but I have some thoughts.
The Trinity is made up of God, the father, Jesus, the son, and the Holy Spirit, helper. They are all three equally (one person, one God), and yet, they are 3 persons and each role is well-defined in a hierarchy. Jesus submits to his father (Luke 22:42), and the father sends the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). But Jesus still takes on a leadership role throughout his ministry and life.
Submission doesn’t mean you are a doormat. It doesn’t even mean you can’t make your own decisions. Submission is merely a voluntary recognition that you are not the ulitmate authority on everything in your life. And since absolute power corrupts absolutely, being able and willing to submit is an important life skill for everyone. Therefore, women are not called to be men’s underlings, but rather to work alongside for a greater purpose: the highest authority, which is God’s.
Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. Deborah and Jael both had very feminine qualities and they used these to their advantage to gain both strength and honor in their communities. And we can too.
In January I picked a word I want to apply to my life throughout the course of the next year. Sort of like a nerdy version of a resolution, but with a whole lot of prayer and supplication that the Holy Spirit will reveal a focus area for my role in God’s plan. This year the word is transform.
What a great word, right? Transformation sounds really hardcore and meaningful and like you are going to turn the world upside down and rock it. And yes, there is a lot of that…but transformation also requires a lot of change and, let’s be honest, it doesn’t happen overnight, so patience…yeah. A whole lot of patience.
You know what else? Transform isn’t something you do on your own. It is something that is done to you. If you know me (or have read my blog at all) you’ll know that I am a control addict. I keep giving it up only to take it back again, so the word transform was super exciting…until I realized that I have ZERO control over it. Seriously, zero.
Just another lesson in being super sure you are ready for what it is you are praying for, because when you ask God to transform your heart, mind, and spirit. Well, fasten your seat belt because it can be quite an awesome ride.
I’ve never identified with Sarai more than I have this year, though she’s always been kind of my kindred spirit. Not only did God change her name, he transformed her into His princess. The Princess Diaries showed us that this is no easy task, but the cool thing about God is that he can transform anyone into His princess, even if the task seems impossible.
Sarai was a daddy’s girl.
She was a girl who had everything. A loving husband. A great place to live. Wealth (13:1). Beauty (12:11). What she didn’t have? Children. And because she didn’t have children she BELIEVED she didn’t have honor. And then, little by little she felt God taking everything she ever knew…away.
In Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 15:1-5 God makes a promise to Abram. He speaks with him, comforts him, and shows him the future. As Abram’s wife (and sister…well, half sisterGenesis 20:12), Sarai has a share in this blessing as well. After all, it’s unlikely that Abram will become the father of many nations without a woman. Just saying.
There’s a catch though, chapter 12 verse 4 tells us that Abram was 75 when he first received this prophecy, making Sari 65, and even for Biblical era, that is still pretty old to be a father/mother many times over. Frustrated, Abram continually asks God about this promise and God continues to reassure him that there is no mistake. My promises endure forever. Regardless in chapter 15 verse 6 Abram continues to believe despite the years that continue to pass him by.
And that’s where Sarai steps in. She believes in the promise, but there is an awful lot of stress and pressure that accompany this given that Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children(chapter 16:1).
In Genesis 16: 1-4 we see that Sarai is practical. At this point, most scholars agree that she is well over seventy years old, past child-bearing age, and most likely people would have viewed her as cursed by God. I wouldn’t be surprised if people have told her that continually. Have you ever seen those memes about the way people ask mothers inappropriate questions? Well, it’s not just mothers! Women who are married without kids always get asked why or what’s wrong, or even worse, don’t you want kids? People are curious, sure, but these careless words bite deep into a woman’s sensitive soul. I’m sure society hasn’t changed that much over a few melinia. People will always think they have a right to know the intimated details of your relationships and family.
But, in most ancient cultures Sarai’s inability to conceive would have even been grounds for divorce. So, what does she do? What many women would in her situation—she tries to fix it herself.
Girl, I feel you. This is exactly why we are kindred spirits. I’m a fixer–if there is a problem I have an overwhelming desire to fix it myself. Unfortunately, that subtracts God from the equation and, well, things never end well.
Yet, I note Abram’s response to Sarai’s plans. In many ways this is a throwback to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6). It may have been Eve/Sarai’s idea—but that’s not how God intends for relationships to work in his paradise.
Sarai gets shamed a lot for her actions in Genesis 16:5-6, but I think we need to look at Hagar too. There’s a lot of female rivalry going on here.
If Hagar begins to despise her mistress after she finds out she is pregnant, then there is a clearly a power struggle in this house. Hagar’s pregnancy “proves” that the barrenness is Sarai’s “fault”, right? Well, sure that would be right if we believe we are at “fault” for God’s perfect timing…yikes.
So, Hagar’s ego is fed, and she might even be walking around with her nose up in the air because she believes she is the one who must be intended for the promises God made to Abram…yikes.
On the flip side, Sarai does not handle the situation well; she created an unhealthy home by complicating her relationships, but she could have made so many different decisions and the outcome would have shifted in a completely different direction. Let’s not even consider the first mistake, but after Hagar “despises” her, she could accept the responsibility and welcome Hagar into the family…but that’s complicated too. So all around it’s just a hot mess.
And let’s not forget that Abram is not blameless in this either. As the patriarch, he should be the one making the decisions, especially since he is in such close communion with God. I don’t recall him pausing to ask for God’s guidance as Sarai shoves Hagar into his arms. And I certainly don’t see him stepping up and taking responsibility for the chaos in his home. In fact, he washes his hands of the matter, figuratively turning back to the football game and letting the women figure out who the primary cook in the kitchen is.
And so, Sarai does what makes sense. She strikes back at Hagar with such harshness that her maidservant runs away…we could follow Hagar’s story, but that’s for another post. Hagar eventually returns and bears a son to Abram when he is 86 years old–over a decade after the promise is first made.
Letting God be GOD
And then another decade goes by, and when Abram is 99-100 years old, God gives him a new name–but more importantly God outbreathes his spirit into Abram and creates Abraham…in other words, God transforms him. It took 20 years, but God fulfilled the promise in his own timing. True transformations don’t happen overnight, and I think we see that Abram was not ready for God’s promise, but Abraham is.
And so is Sarai. In Genesis 17:15-17Sarai is reborn as Sarah.
This is not done lightly! Reborn, Sarah is now ready for the promises God made. Even more importantly, Abraham is ready to see Sarah as the vessel for God’s promise and not the problem. Though she is still skeptical and cynical, God has prepared her in His timing for the next step. The motif of laughter here is evident. Abraham laughs, exhausted. Sarah laughs, mocking. They both laugh in joy and disbelief. God really does fulfill his promises. Just when you are ready to give up, He shows up.
Just when you are ready to give up, He shows up.
Waiting on God’s Timing
Sarai had a hard time waiting on God’s timing. I can relate to that on a deeply spiritual level. When it seems like I should be able to fix it, I don’t always understand why God wants me to wait on Him, but let’s be honest. I’m not God, so there is definitely always a reason for waiting on his timing. One of my favorite verses in seasons of waiting is:
For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
Waiting is hard. But the end result is always worth it, and looking back, like Sarah, we often laugh to see just how much God transformed us before we were ready to walk straight into his promise.
One of my favorite books is An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. If you haven’t read it, you should probably do so. Other than being fabulous, it offers snippets of wisdom from beginning to end. The first time I read it, in high school, I held on to many of these truths because at heart I am and always will be an old-fashioned girl. So, let me share one of those little truth nuggets here for a moment…
Young men often laugh at the sensible girls whom they secretly respect, and affect to admire the silly ones whom they secretly despise, because earnestness, intelligence, and womanly dignity are not the fashion.
Louisa May Alcott
Intelligence, dignity, and earnestness in women are underrated and have been since ancient times. An Old-Fashioned Girl was first written in 1869, but this resonated with teenage me–a nerdy young girl who tried not to care that her desire to learn anything and everything ostracized her from the crowd she had been accepted into as a child. You know, before fashion became central to acceptance. If we’re being honest, intelligence, dignity, and earnestness have never been in fashion for women. At least not all at the same time. There was even a time when intelligence in women was even considered undignified.
But here’s the thing: despite being “out of fashion”, God has always gifted women with intelligence, clothed them in dignity, and encouraged an earnestness of spirit that would seek after His heart alone. It’s this broken world that has corrupted that perception of women being little more than ditzy arm-candy for a more intelligent man. That’s simply a lie; women were designed to be helpers to be a support, to be a part of the greater plan, not to be coddled and patted on the head and desired for physical attributes alone.
So the fact that the firstdescription we have of Abigail is “intelligent” should be significant!
1 Samuel 25: 3 states Abigail “…was an intelligent and beautiful woman…” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean she had a high IQ (she may have, I don’t know). There are many types of intelligence, and in her story we see her display many of them. The fact that the author of this story points out that she is intelligent is a detail we don’t want to forget.
Unfortunately, this intelligent woman ended up with a donkey of a man. In 1 Samuel 25: 3b, Nabal is described as surly, which can mean threatening, irritable, menacing, and arrogant among other things. So likely, at the very least, he was not nice to Abigail and possibly even abusive. We know that he didn’t respect others and that typically is seen in the home first. So how does an intelligent woman end up with such a man? Sadly, we don’t know but given the cultural context, it’s possible she had little choice. Marriages in Ancient times had little if anything to do with the westernized concept of love, but they were designed for unity between powerful families, political gain, or procreation.
Still, there are plenty of intelligent women who end up in toxic relationships. Why? Often it’s because we step outside of God’s wisdom and start operating in the world’s wisdom.
Fortunately, even in bad circumstances that we may or may not have created for ourselves, we can still be reassured that God is in control. When we seek His presence and His will, He will never let us down–not that our circumstances will always make human sense, but there is always a purpose to everything God has a hand in.
At the start of this narrative, Samuel has died and Saul is still on the throne of Israel. David’s army isn’t sanctioned by the throne, and having been named the future King, Saul is unhappy with David’s very existence. Conflict arises, and David becomes a great leader—of a guerilla army. Any time an army rises up against the throne, word will spread. Quickly. This God-anointed man is fighting for his life, but fighting against an established monarchy. And people are talking about it. Before becoming a beloved king, David was an infamous rebel. Which brings us to our story.
In 1 Samuel 25:4-9, David is aware that as a perceived rebel people may not be quick to help him and his army. He sends a group of 10 men ahead of his army, instructing them to show honor and respect to Nabal as they make a request: a favor for a favor. We may be a bunch of rebels, David wishes to communicate, but we treated your shepherds and sheep with respect and dignity. We’d like for you to return the courtesy. Anything you could spare would be appreciated.
Now, it wouldn’t have been easy for just anyone to fulfill this request–David has brought an army of men with him, after all. We’re talking like 600 men. But he’s polite and requests provisions rather than just taking them from this wealthy man (which, if we’re being honest, David could have done).
Nabal’s response in I Samuel 25: 10-11 clearly defines his character. Sarcasm drips from his voice as he insults David’s motivation and crusade. Nabal uses a series of questions in his response, but he knows who David his, and he likely knows that God has anointed him. The king, after all, is out for his head, and we’ve all seen Robin Hood enough to know that word spreads fast when you’re in the king’s cross-hairs.
Taunting a man who is camping outside your door with 600 fighting me is pretty dumb. Oh, Nabal. However, in I Samuel 25:12-17, David is acting pretty rashly too. A classic case of men thinking a little too much with their emotions and not enough with their brains (and people give women a hard time for this flaw–but let’s be honest–men struggle with this just as much!). The phrase ‘put them on the table and measure’ appropriately explains this deadly testosterone explosion about to happen.
Enter Abigail, the intelligent woman who sees the situation for what it is. Her reputation is known among her servants, who waste no time in giving her the down-low. They know who to trust, and it isn’t the donkey. 1 Samuel 25:18-31 chronicles Abigail stepping up and acting with intelligence, dignity, and earnestness. She acts swiftly and purposefully—and maybe a little recklessly. She acts quickly to save the lives of everyone in her home–including her donkey of a husband.
But it was a little reckless, and while that word has some powerful negative connotations, in this case, she simply didn’t care about what might happen to her as long as she did her best to save the people under her authority. Because she did have authority in her home; if she didn’t the servants never would have come to her in the first place. When we consider this compared to her husband who also “lost no time” and to David who acts rashly and regrets it later, we can see the contrast between acting swiftly under God’s wisdom vs. the world’s wisdom.
Abigail knows she’s the smart one in her relationship, but she still acts with honor and humility. She approaches David and 600 soldiers with dignity, immediately showing them respect by bowing before them…alone. My heart constricts with how this could have gone horribly, horribly wrong. But Abigail walked in God’s wisdom, and she acted swiftly without thinking about herself and God is quick to honor that. Sometimes we don’t see how he honors it in this life, but in Abigail’s case we get a glimpse.
David did not have to listen to Abigail let alone offer her and her husband protection and peace. However, Abigail’s speech–words empowered by God–reminding David under whose authority he is meant to operate. Humbled, he lowers his sword, takes a step back, and a deep breath, honoring both God and Abigail’s wisdom in 1 Samuel 25:32-35.
Contrast that to how Nabal responds–by getting drunk and gluttonously eating at a feast while an army starves on his doorstep. No wonder “his heart failed him and he became like stone” (1 Samuel 25: 27)–he had little heart to begin with!
Abigail is free from her terrible marriage in the end when Nabal pays for his heartlessness. And the story ends with a happily ever after…but…the text says Abigail is asked to become David’s wife…then it also says the servant has come to ‘take her.’ (1 Samuel 25:39-40). Semantics are always important, but here especially it makes me wonder: just how much choice did Abigail have in this arrangement? Sure, she bows and accepts the proposal, but why?
The world will scoff at Godly intelligence, dignity, and earnestness, but secretly they envy the confidence it gives us to live life with hope and a future
Let’s back up to Abigail’s speech in verses 26-31; Abigail certainly admires David and sees him as the Lord’s anointed. She is following what she believes to be God’s path for wisdom, but the truth of it is this: Abigail has some choice in her marriage to David, but probably not a lot given the situation and his position. Abigail is a wealthy and free woman now that Nabal has died. David is a man of war with no home, only a God-ordained promise of a future with no timeline for fulfillment. Therefore, Abigail is trading a life of comfort for a life of conflict–but she is also gaining spiritual leadership in her relationship, which to a woman like Abigail, might just be worth all the sacrifices she’ll have to make along the way.
As men and women of the 21st century, we have a lot of choices in the type of people we marry and Abigail’s story can clearly help us see the consequences of these choices. We should learn to make all life’s choices wisely, following God’s wisdom–not the world’s. The world will scoff at Godly intelligence, dignity, and earnestness, but secretly they envy the confidence it gives us to live life with hope and a future–holding on to every promise of God.
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