CTBHHM: In Which Debi Explains Abigail

CTBHHM: In Which Debi Explains Abigail September 4, 2014

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 270-272

This week we get to see Debi’s treatment of David, Abigail, and Nabal.

Abigail’s Story

The Scripture records one “exception” story, where a woman was forced by the law of the land and the preservation of her people to act contrary to her husband’s will. It is the famous love story of David and Abigail.

Actually, Esther also acted contrary to her husband’s will to save her people. It’s worth noting that there are other cases where women have acted without their husband’s knowledge or against their husband’s will. Rachel, for example, stole her father’s gold idols after her father cheated her husband out of years of labor.

When David, the anointed king of Israel, was living in exile, fleeing from King Saul, he created an army of men and trained them as a police force to protect the people of the land in which they were living. This militia depended upon the farmers and ranchers to supply them with food—remuneration for the protection they provided. On this occasion, David sent a message down to one of the local ranchers named Nabal, requesting the foodstuff he needed to be sent back with his messengers. Nabal refused to give them any food. In anger, David prepared to avenge this unrighteous man’s affront to God’s mercy and justice (David was God’s “arm” of mercy, his anointed one), by destroying Nabal and all his innocent people.

I don’t really know enough about the geopolitics of the time to speak to this in an educated manner. However, I’ve spoken with a friend who is Jewish and reads the commentaries, and she said the chief issue is that Nabal insulted David, both by not giving him food for his holiday feast (which is the reason David asks for food) and through the language he uses (“Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse?”). She also said that Debi is wrong about the remuneration and that David and his men were a guerrilla army, not a police force. 

Now throughout this section, Debi quotes from I Samuel 25, in the KJV of course. Rather than quote it all here as well, I give you a link to the chapter. I assume most of you are familiar with the story already.

Anyway, back to Debi:

The servants of this man called him a “son of Belial”, which means son of Satan. The workers left behind to keep the home place feared that their selfish, evil master was going to get them all killed, so they appealed to Abigail to save their lives. Abigail took the advice of the men her husband had left in charge of overseeing his home.

I’m not sure why the last sentence is there except to decrease Abigail’s agency and suggest that, if her husband put these men in charge in the first place, maybe it was still obeying him for her to obey them. The other part of the exception Debi is making for Abigail hinges on her knowledge that Nabal’s actions were going to get his family killed. But Abigail did not actually know this, and nor did Nabal’s servants. All they knew was that Nabal insulted David, and that there could be consequences for this. But for all they knew this could have been a calculated move on Nabal’s part—part of his efforts to carve out his territory and maintain his independence, perhaps.

Also, I’m also not sure why explaining that Nabal was a bad man is so relevant in a book like Debi’s. Debi has consistently argued that wives must obey selfish, evil husbands. She explains that Nabal’s servants don’t like him and describe him as a bad man, but based on what she’s written so far I would have thought her response to that would be to urge these servants to respect Nabal and speak kindly of him and ignore the bad things.

So how did Abigail respond when the servants told her what Nabal had done?

Then Abigail got on the ass and rode down to meet David before he had a chance to come up and kill her servants and the people who lived and worked on their huge ranch. It was her only hope of saving the people who were in her care.

Again, Abigail didn’t know that this was the only hope of saving her people. Maybe Nabal wanted to keep his land independent and had an actual plan and she’s messing that up. You might compare this to a husband refusing to pay his taxes on principle, and a wife sending the money to the government behind his back. But in the section on tax returns, Debi made it pretty clear she shouldn’t stop her husband from cheating on his taxes. I suppose the threat is more direct here? But again, that’s assuming Abigail knows what David is about to do.

Abigail was willing to suffer for her husband’s sins in order to save the people of her charge.

Abigail went and bowed to David and apologized and gave him what he’d asked for. Maybe that is what Debi means by “suffer for her husband’s sins”? Given the way that phrase is usually used in Christianity, it implies physical pain to me, but I suppose it doesn’t have to. Either way this phrasing seems like overkill.

Notice that she does not cover her husband’s sin or pretend his character is wonderful or that there has been some misunderstanding. He is known to be a devilish man, and so she states the facts. It was her husband’s selfishness that caused the problem, and she is forthcoming in her appeal to David.

Wait. Wait wait wait. Debi said earlier in the book that wives are never, ever, ever to speak ill of their husbands. She even told an entire story about a woman with a physically abusive husband, where she told the woman to purpose only to speak good things of her abuser, and the woman took her advice and somehow that supposedly saved her marriage. Debi has written over and over again that wives are to make their husbands out as better than they are, that that is part of supporting them as wives—even covering for their mistakes and deficiencies when needed. Why is she now praising Abigail for doing the opposite?

David’s gratitude for Abigail’s courage and willingness to risk her life to stop him from killing many innocent people, which would have caused him grief when he discovered his error, was evident.

I have two questions. First, did Abigail think she was risking her life? Second, was Abigail actually risking her life? I’m feeling like no. Even the most warlike leaders don’t tend to kill women bearing feats. I mean yes, she was going into the camp of the man a powerful leader her husband had just insulted. But then, her servants emphasized how kind David had been to them, so she probably expected a non-deadly reception.

Either way, I find Debi’s focus on how Abigail’s action saved David from grief interesting. It centers the action away from Abigail and her people and makes it about David, but it also solidifies Debi’s judgement that David was acting in error. Of course, what Debi describes as David’s “gratitude” was actually him falling in lust with Abigail. Once Nabal is dead, David swoops in to snatch up Abigail for his bride.

Anyway, back to Debi:

After Abigail had to face David in a life-and-death situation, she turned around and went back to face her wicked husband’s wrath. She knew her husband could have her killed without any recompense, yet she returned to him.

Woah . . . no, this is not okay at all.

I’m not sure I really have words to say how not okay this is.

When she got to him, he was having a drunken party, so she waited until he had slept off his drunkenness to tell him. The next morning she told him what she had done in feeding David and his men. Then look what God did.

Here Debi quotes the passage:

But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And it came to pass about ten days after, that the Lord smote Nabal, that he died.

And Debi’s response to this?

What a gracious thing God did to give that mean old man a heart attack or stroke.

Well okay then. Me, I’d like to think Abigail put something into Nabal’s drink because she knew he would kill her otherwise. But then, Debi would be askance at this reading of the story, because women are supposed to be self-sacrificing and willing to lay down their lives and all that.

When David hears that the wicked man is dead, he sends his men to bring Abigail to him to become his wife. She first washes David’s servants’ feet, then hurries off with them to meet David. Abigail was one tough lady.

You know what Abigail doesn’t do? Mourn for her husband. She goes straight to David after her husband’s death, breaking all of the customs of the time. So let’s get this straight. Abigail sides with her husband’s enemy, bad-talks her husband up and down in public, and gives her dead husband the finger by refusing to mourn his death. And yet she gets a pass from Debi.

Obviously, I don’t have a problem with Abigail’s actions. I think she took her fate in her own hands and made a series of decisions that changed her life forever and brought her to the center of power in her region. Abigail, after all, became one of David’s most trusted and honored wives. But then, this seems to fit more with my emphasis on women as self-activated agents than with Debi’s emphasis on wifely obedience and respect (remember that word?).

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