1 Samuel 25:1-35 August 1, 2010
You heard it for yourselves…
His name was Nabal, which means something like “Fool” or “Failure” or “Senseless one”.
And her name was Abigail, which means something like “Father’s Joy” or “Exalted Father”. Just like their names suggest, she was intelligent and beautiful, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings.
So it was, that the Father’s Joy married the Foolish Failure.
As different as they were, they somehow made it work.
And from what we know about Nabal, I’m guessing it wasn’t him who made the effort.
I’m guessing Abigail was the one who was making it work.
It might have been a dysfunctional marriage, but it was a marriage nonetheless.
This marriage was probably arranged.
The Father’s Joy probably had very little say in the matter. She probably had very little control over the formation of this covenant.
She could have done a lot better than Nabal, but what was there to be done?
It was beyond her control.
So she lived the life she was given, and she lived it as well as she could manage.
But you know, this passage is only partly about their marriage.
The father’s joy is still married to a foolish, surly, mean, and temperamental partner.
But rather than Abigail and Nabal, we could call them the Church and the World.
Like them, this marriage seems like disaster waiting to happen! We are incompatible for each other! But that doesn’t change the nature of the covenant.
Like Abigail, our fate is closely entwined with the fate of our partner
Our survival depends on the well-being of this world that we’re in, as foolish or as mean as it might be. See, it’s beyond our control! We are married to the world whether we like it or not!
Like Abigail, we’re in a situation that we have to make the best of.
This marriage is beyond our control.
But control is an interesting concept.
We’re enchanted with it. We’re bewitched by it.
Nations fight wars for it and we as individuals build our lives around it.
Control is our drug and we are all addicts to the feel-good hallucinations it gives us.
See, early in this marriage we didn’t have that luxury. The church didn’t have any control, so we were free to play the part of Abigail, knowing full well that our fate was tied to our surly husband.
Early on in this marriage, it made us quicker to prove ourselves–quicker to respond in faithfulness to the covenant God had arranged for us, to work for the benefit of this marriage, and not just ourselves, for we had no reason to believe we were masters of our destiny.
But then in the fourth century, we the church–we were offered this drug of control–you could call it power–and we’ve been using ever since.
Instead of being a faithful Abigail, we’ve tended towards playing David’s role sometimes, and Nabal’s role others.
See, both Nabal and David had a good amount of power over their fate.
Nabal was foolish, greedy, and mean; whereas David was wise, generous, and noble.
Both were powerful, both had control over their lives, over their people, and over their environment.
But they couldn’t have been more different in their character.
Nabal was the kind of guy who took what wasn’t his and was stingy with his thanks.
On the other hand, David was the kind of guy who defended his honor. He was the kind of guy who had songs written about him. He was the kind of man who led hundreds of other men into battle, into the hills, and into caves.
David protected people and property, where Nabal took advantage of people and property.
They were kind of like polar opposites.
So the way the story is set up, we expect a confrontation.
David marches down from the hills with his war paint on, and Nabal is throwing a party and getting drunk. We know which side to cheer for. The problem is, we are both sides.
It’s good verses evil.
But the thing is, it’s just never that simple.
David and Nabal were playing their roles. Both were concerned with maintaining their power. They both wanted to control what was happening to them. David wanted to avenge his honor and get some supplies; Nabal wanted to continue with his life as if David didn’t exist.
So you can see, in this story there are three main characters, and two of them are fools.
Maybe one was a good fool and one was a bad fool–but they were both still fools–or at least they were both acting foolishly.
David was willing to put a whole camp to death because of an insult; and Nabal was foolishly biting the hand that fed him for the past several months, keeping his food from the very people who were protecting it.
Abigail was the only one with her head on straight. She’s the hero.
When Nabal insulted David and his men, it was a very public kind of thing. It affected a lot of people.
So once she found out about it, she ran to David to turn him around. She gave him abundantly more than Nabal ever would have. She loaded him and his men down with food–literally enough to feed an army.
And she did it behind Nabal’s back…not because she loved him–it was because she knew he was a fool!
She knew it was the right thing to do. She interceded.
But that’s not all she did.
Now I’ve talked about power and control as drugs we’ve become addicted to.
But I’d also like to suggest this morning that kicking the habit begins with “I’m Sorry” and moves next to “Forgive me”.
Words of apology have a way of re-distributing power, and control. Forgiveness appeals to a deeper place in the soul, an unseen place where real power resides.
We all know that Abigail as an individual, she had nothing to apologize for. She wasn’t the one who insulted David. She wasn’t the one who denied them food and friendship.
She was just trying to make the best of the whole situation, and she used every tool at her disposal to do it.
If you were here last week, you’ll remember that I suggested that the physical experience of reality here and now might just be a reflection of something eternally deeper.
I was trying to make the point that there are at least two different parts to the same world that we live in.
There’s physical reality, which is what we see on this ‘stage’ we call life. It includes how we interact with the other actors, what we can see, touch, and measure.
But then there’s all of what’s behind-the-scenes, you know?
We can call it spiritual reality. It’s what happens backstage, hidden from our sight.
And though we can’t see it, it still impacts what’s happening up front in very real ways.
We can’t control this reality. But we can appeal to it.
Power and Control operate in that first, physical place. They’re ways of manipulating the world as we see it. When you live only In that world and are blind to the deeper one, violence has a place in your worldview. It’s how you ‘get things done’.
But on a deeper level, there’s a deeper power.
Abigail averted war by appealing to that deeper place. In her apology was the greater power.
It changed the game.
Sincere apologies go beyond “I’m sorry”. That’s an important step on the path–to simply acknowledge that you’ve done something wrong and hurtful.
But without forgiveness, the power doesn’t change.
Abigail could have just said “Nabal’s sorry” , given the gifts and went away. But the offense would have remained.
The faithful action is to restore what has been broken. On the front stage, here in the physical world, David and his men needed the food that Nabal had.
But Backstage, in that deeper place, there was a wound that needed to heal.
Restoring one wound without addressing the other still leaves a broken mess.
Now here’s the thing–I think we are really good at one or the other.
Most of us gravitate towards one kind of apology–saying I’m sorry by sending gifts of money, or supplies, or whatever kind of product we think is going to help the physical situation of the person who’s been wounded.
Others of us gravitate towards the other kind–saying “forgive me”…and we probably say it more often to God than to anyone else. The thing is, sometimes God isn’t the one who needs to hear it.
We are called to bring peace through our words and our actions, even when we know we’re not the guilty ones. We need to combine “I’m sorry” with “Will you forgive me”–even when we’re not the ones to blame.
It’s one thing to talk about in terms of an Old Testament Story–but what might this look like today?
Donald Miller wrote a book called “Blue like Jazz”.
In that book, he talks about attending a college in Oregon that is known for it’s anti-christian environment. On this campus full of atheists, seekers, and other kinds of non-christian, even mostly anti-christian people, the few Christians on campus decided to set up a ‘reverse confession booth’.
During some kind of campus celebration, they set up what looked like a confession booth, staffed by the few Christians on campus.
Throughout the day, people would stop by, curious as to what they were doing, and the person in the booth would just offer an apology and confess the sins of the church over the past several hundred years.
What do you think happened?
They had people who were completely anti-Christian willing to listen to what they had to say, willing to engage in conversation. “If I would have heard this apology years ago I might not have left the church”, some said.
“I still don’t like it, but at least I’m finally hearing something honest from a Christian” others said.
Those individual Christians on that campus had very little to apologize for.
But like Abigail, they understood the deeper power of an apology. So they did what they could with the resources they had, and a conversation broke out in an openly hostile place.
They sought forgiveness, and Peace broke out!
May it be so with us.