“And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb” (1 Samuel 25:2-3).
The “Carmel” in our text should not be confused with Mount Carmel found in the story of Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal. Carmel was a fertile region of Hebron.
Nabal and Abigail, as husband and wife, were a mismatched couple. Because of the details of this story we can assume that there were many problems. Abigail, because she was an intelligent woman, knew that her husband was a fool, in fact everyone in Maon knew him to be a rude and impolite man. David and his men were going to experience the rough end of Nabal’s tongue.
David knew that the time of sheepshearing meant that there would be a big feast of celebration laid on by the owner of the flock. “In Israelite culture sheepshearing was a time for great festivities, owing to the importance of the wool trade” (Peake’s commentary on the Bible). David and his men must have been anticipating the tasty delights prepared by the generous and grateful owner, especially since they had suffered much deprivation in the desert and the hills. We remember that they had been camping in Paran, which Deuteronomy 1:19 say was a “great and terrible wilderness” and in Deuteronomy 8:15, “wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water”. They did not know the owner personally, but they assured themselves that he would welcome them and gladly extend his hospitality to them, especially since that he was of the same tribe as David. They would soon learn just how mistaken they were!
The meaning of the names “Nabal” and “Abigail” describe the character of both very well. The name “Nabal” is very similar and sounds like the Hebrew word for “fool.” His parents must have been as clownish as the so-called stars of the entertainment world today, for they saw nothing wrong with naming him “a fool.” He was a rude, crude, and lewd man whom everyone, even the members of his own household disliked. “Abigail” means “joy of my father.” She was a wise and intelligent woman, who can be described as being as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. The Jewish Encyclopedia says Abigail was one of the four most beautiful people in Jewish history (the other three being Sarah, Rahab, and Esther).
Other differences between them include: He was ungodly, but she loved the Lord; he was dishonest and ungrateful, while she was truthful and thankful; and he evil, but she was gracious.
Nabal was one of those people who had attained wealth and greatness, but at the cost of his soul. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). He had a good wife, but because he was wicked, he did not allow her goodness to influence him. He had a godly heritage, but he had not inherited the faith of Caleb, instead “he was a disgrace to his family” (Matthew Henry). The Septuagint and some other ancient Bible texts speak of him as being “a dogged man, of a currish disposition, surly and snappish, and always snarling.” All this reveals the inexcusable wickedness of Nabal.
We have to ask why Abigail married Nabal. What attracted her to him? Opposites do attract, but surely Abigail must have known about the nature and character of Nabal? The answer probably lies in the fact that arranged marriages were the order of the day in that era. It was likely that Nabal saw her beauty and approached Abigail’s father. He would have been impressed by the lineage, riches and greatness of Nabal. He was thinking more of the dowry than his daughter. In agreeing to the marriage, he was condemning Abigail to a life of misery. He “married her to such a husband, enquiring more after his wealth than after his wisdom” (Matthew Henry).
This introduction to David’s encounter with Nabal ought to open our understanding of why the Lord punished Nabal and allowed David to take Abigail as his wife. David was being sent to rescue a child of God from the clutches of a son of the devil.