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 first description 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
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
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.