For understandable reasons, we tend to assume that the Bible always portrays women as unfailingly subservient to their husbands. This isn’t the case, as one story from the Old Testament reveals. Before David became King of Israel, he was on the run from the mad incumbent King Saul, who wanted David dead to avoid losing the throne. While on the run with his loyal men, David had a colorful encounter with a certain estate.
Now Samuel died. And all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him in his house at Ramah. Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran. And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite. David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. So David sent ten young men. And David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name. And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’”
When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited. And Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” So David’s young men turned away and came back and told him all this. And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every man of them strapped on his sword. David also strapped on his sword. And about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.(1 Samuel 25:1-13)
Hospitality was sacred in these times, and when Nabal refused to offer David any despite hearing of his kindness towards his servants, it came across as the ultimate slap in the face. David was incited to slaughter all of the males at Nabal’s estate after hearing that he had been callously dismissed.
One of Nabal’s servants saw fit to alert Abigail, Nabal’s diplomatic wife, of what had transpired. What he says to her regarding her husband’s nature hints that Nabal is a supremely arrogant man who would never bother taking advice from anybody for anything.
But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them. They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.(1 Samuel 25:14-17)
I bolded that last part because of its significance regarding Nabal’s personality. His servant is saying here that Nabal is a completely unreasonable man who refuses to listen to what anybody else has to offer. He’s the sort of man who says about all things, “It’s my way or the highway!” If Nabal had been unimpeded with “having his way” in this situation however, himself and all the males of his household would’ve been massacred by David and his men.
Thankfully, Abigail is quick to come up with a wise plan to prevent needless bloodshed. She takes some of her servants to meet with David and his entourage before they can assault their estate. In David’s presence, Abigail blatantly states that her husband is a man of folly, which she notes aligns with his name meaning “fool”. She implores David to see that God has stayed his hand by intervening before violence could happen, and to take her offering of food for his servants. It worked like a charm!
David assures her that he’s taken everything she’s said and done to heart, deciding thusly to avoid violence. Abigail returns home and relates the news to her husband, who effectively goes catatonic at what he hears. Poor bloke couldn’t handle the realization that his wife knew better than him! According to the following verses, the shock was so bad it gave him an ultimately fatal heart attack.
In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And about ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.(1 Samuel 25:37-38)
Afterwards, David sends messengers to Abigail, wanting her to become his wife after bearing witness to her wisdom. Abigail agreed, and became his 2nd wife.
As this story goes, women aren’t meant to be subservient, just because their husbands think they know best. Clearly, Nabal was utterly wrong and contemptuous with how he handled David’s wish for hospitality. Abigail absolutely did the right thing by refusing to ask his permission to act. Her initiative saved the lives of the men in their estate, and serves as an excellent reminder that passivity isn’t always the answer.