The internet is an incredible resource, isn’t it? I mean, how else as a man could I have finished all my Christmas shopping by the end of November, without ever setting foot in a single shop?! Sitting in your pyjamas tapping away on an IPad from the comfort of your own living room, the internet seems like a wonderful thing. But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there are also many strange and disturbing things on the internet. Like the rise of such websites as payback.com - Which offers “Revenge at its Best” and asks us:
“Have you have you always wanted to tell someone something, but didn’t know how to do it? Well this is the perfect site for you. Payback.com is your home for all of your revenge needs. So you never had the chance to get revenge on your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend? Your current spouse lied to you when he said he would never cheat on you? Well, you know the saying “Don’t get mad, get even.” We stand ready to help you get revenge and let these individuals know exactly what you think of them... People send beautiful flower arrangements to loved ones to let them know how special they are. Well, we have a great idea, how about sending DEAD flower arrangements to someone let them know how unspecial they are... Join the thousands who have used our services to get revenge.”
They also offer to deliver melted chocolates, dead fish, fake parking tickets and a whole lot more which it would not be appropriate for me to mention from a Christian pulpit.
Now I am not for a minute encouraging you to avail yourself of such services. But the very existence of websites such as this one, or others such as mastersofrevenge.com give us a hint at how deeply ingrained in the human psyche is the idea of getting even, with those who have wronged us is. It has been suggested that we seem to have more Lawyers than Doctors now, because we are more interested in getting even than getting better.
Now most of us have probably never contemplated hiring a lawyer to sue someone who’d ill-treated us, let alone send them dead flowers through the post. But we’ve mastered the cold revenge. Where like a silent assassin we cut ourselves off, we distance ourselves from our offender – Making them feel our pain by the withdrawing our affections. Some of us are hotter headed than that, as we fly off the handle with put downs and provocations – Pointing out all of their errors and wounding them with our words. Either way we will justify our retaliatory behaviour as being educational. As in our mind we’re not taking revenge, we’re merely teaching them a lesson. And one that they so rightly deserve!
The old adage is that “revenge is sweet” - but it turns sour really fast! As it has devastating consequences, not only for those who are its objects, but also for those who are its purveyors. James 1v.20 is absolutely right: “...the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Which is why the Lord Jesus called his followers to a very different way - a way not of revenge, but of forgiveness.
Which is easy to say, but when a co-worker is cutting you down behind your back, or a supervisor is taking advantage of you, or a family member is making your life a living nightmare, or a person you’ve tried to help is totally unappreciative of your efforts, or when your wife who took marriage vows tramples all over them - then the thought of revenge is very different and the call to forgiveness becomes that much harder.
As we turn to 1 Samuel 25 tonight we find one of the heroes of the Bible struggling in just that kind of way. So far in the book of 1 Samuel David has behaved impeccably. For years David has been a remarkable a model of patience and wisdom when the heat is on - But now he loses it, and if it were not for a woman called Abigail he would easily have found himself guilty of murder!
Well, it’s a fascinating story. A character study in anger and revenge. It asks us: How we are going to respond to the frustrations which inevitably crop up day in day out in our lives? So without any further ado let me introduce the cast list to you 1 by 1...
(1.) NABAL... The Man Who Could Test Anyone’s Patience
Look at verse 2 with me will you: “And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich...” In fact he was “loaded”. Nabal had a lot of sheep and a lot of goats. And a whole heap of money.
This was his first problem. He was obsessed with money and the pleasure and the security it seems to bring. In fact it’s striking that the first thing we’re told about him is not his name, but his wealth! It’s as if the writer wants to say: “That’s his identity. This guy lived for his success, his money, his security - he lived for himself and what he could get out of life. That’s what drove him.” And as a result he was, verse 3: “harsh and badly behaved”.
Boy isn’t he just, in the encounter which follows with David’s men? These guys have been doing Nabal a small favour. While hiding out from Saul they’ve been acting as a voluntary police force in the wilderness. And in doing so they have provided some basic protection to Nabal’s shepherds and his flocks. Now it’s sheep-shearing time which, as I’m sure you all know from your GCSE in Ancient Shepherding Practises, is a time of celebration - As the master traditionally shared his wealth with his clients and employees. So David figures that it would be only fair if Nabal gave him and his men a little something for services rendered.
Verse 5: “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 favour 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.’” (v5-8)
All very reasonable. All very gracious. All very respectful. And Nabal says... “No!” In fact he doesn’t just say no, does he? Unfortunately he said a lot more than that in verse 10: “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?” (v10-11)
That’s the problem when money or the security that money brings rules our lives, isn’t it? It corrupts us and corrodes us so that we become completely self-focused. We can’t even imagine giving away a little bit. Because it’s mine, to do what I want. AND it leads us to treat other people badly.
Which is Nabal’s second problem: As he disrespects God’s anointed king. “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse?” He cries! It’s not that he doesn’t know who he is. He knows who his dad is for a start. His wife Abigail makes it clear she knows exactly who he is when she meets him later on. No, it’s not that Nabal hasn’t been watching News 24 or listening to Radio 5Live and hasn’t heard what’s going on. This is a deliberate, hard-hearted refusal to help the Lord’s anointed king.
And when you oppose the Lord’s anointed, you make the foolish error of opposing the Lord himself. And you show yourself to be... a Nabal not only by name, but also by nature. As his name means “Fool”. Abigail tells us as much in verse 26. And though you’ve got to wonder just what his parents were thinking as they sat in the Maternity Ward of the Carmel Royal Infirmary and christened him that - The Bible isn’t calling him an idiot here. In the Bible a fool is someone who says: “There is no God” (Psalm 14v.1). It’s obvious that he’s not a complete idiot as he must have had some nous to be as successful as he has been. But he lived as though there were no God. So it’s no surprise that he rejects God’s king in waiting and clings onto his world wealth. For he was a “fool” in the Biblical sense of the word.
Though it can be frustrating to have to deal with the Nabals of this world - it must be said that for those of us who profess to follow Christ, we are not immune to this kind of folly. With regard to our money and possessions. It is often said that the wallet is the very last thing to be converted in a Christian’s life. And we grimly hold onto our wealth and possessions saying: “It’s mine! I’ll do what I want with it!”
But if we follow King Jesus, then we say to him: “Actually, it’s all yours, which you have given to me. You have shown me immeasurable grace, mercy, and generosity. Everything I have is at your disposal.” And we as believers are meant to live lives of grace, mercy and generosity to others. And that will reveal itself in our attitude to our money and our stuff.
Sitting light to them. Not obsessed with them. Or with that next acquisition. For a fool’s selfish attitude to money actually reveals where his or her heart lies. In opposition to God and his king. It causes us to treat others disrespectfully. As Nabal did to David.
Which is where everything breaks loose. So hold onto your seats... As David goes nuts in verse 12: “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.”(v12-13)
Maybe Nabal’s response hit him at a bad time. Let’s face it, men can be a little touchy when they’re hungry. But as his men show up empty handed there is no excuse for this overreaction. 400 armed men? To tackle 1 obnoxious idiot? Talk about a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Or as an American friend of mine used to say: “A shotgun to kill a cockroach”! You kill the cockroach all right, but you blow the wall away at the same time! This is total overkill!
“What is going on here David? Is the safety of the realm under threat? Is it really that serious?” No, David has lost control. Which it’s why it’s just as well for Nabal, as well as for David that waiting in the wings we have our second character...
(2.) Abigail... God’s Instrument of Salvation
Back in verse 3 she is introduced to us as “discerning and beautiful...” She is such a contrast to Nabal that it kind of makes you wonder how they got together in the first place. But the Bible doesn’t tell us that. Instead it tells us that one of Nabal’s servants gets wind of what’s coming and tips off Abigail. And Abigail, rather than seeing this as the opportunity to finally get rid of her insufferable loser of a husband decides to run interference for him and save his life. So she gets together the most almighty packed lunch for 400 men - and sets out on the road to intercept David.
Just imagine the scene as David and his men are coming down the hill at full tilt. Their anger intensifying with every passing mile. The only thing louder than their horses hoofs is the growling of their stomachs - And Abigail steps right out in front of them. Like a stop sign from the Lord. Verse 23: “When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant.” Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live.”(v23-28)
In other words: “Stop! Stop! Stop what you’re doing! Don’t bring needless blood on your hands David. Sure you’ve been wronged, but this isn’t the answer. As I look at you I’m looking at the next king. Don’t ruin your record with murder. You’re bigger than that. God is bigger than that more to the point. Trust God to deal with your enemies and take my gift and turn around.”
To which David says - verse 32: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!”
And this is the heart beat of this passage. If you forget everything else from tonight - remember this. That The Lord Protects Us From Our Folly And Our Sin. This passage teaches us that God frequently intervenes to restrain his servants from evil. To rescue them from their own stupidity.
As throughout this passage we have all these words indicating a keeping back or holding back:
v.26 - because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt
v.33 - ...blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt...
v.34 - For as surely as the LORD lives, who has restrained me from hurting you...”
v.39 - Blessed be the LORD who... has kept back his servant from wrongdoing.
Whenever you see something repeated over and over again in the Bible – it’s God’s way of saying: “Please don’t miss this!” So when we see this idea of God restraining David woven through this chapter we should take note. This is significant.
Abigail is so commendable. She is brave, resourceful, loyal, tactful, generous and faithful. Yet the big story here is that it is the Lord who is at work. As he uses Abigail to intercept his servant from evil.
This isn’t something that only occurs wrapped up in the pages of the Bible. It’s not just something that God reserves for his special servants like David and was true in only 1020BC. Aren’t there some of you who could testify to the same thing? Aren’t there some of you who could stand up and say “Oh what love it was on God’s part that he took those roadblocks and put them in my path!” Aren’t there some of you who could stand and say: “What mercy it was of God that he frustrated my plans back at that point.” I think there are plenty of folks other than David who could testify to the restraining hand of God over their lives.
I remember popping into one of the halls of residence here in Newcastle to sort out an event the hall group there had invited me to speak at. I caught one of the hall groups leaders, had a chat about how they were doing and sorted out the details for the event. They seemed pleased to see me, but I didn’t think much more of it. Most people do seem pleased to see me - or at least they pretend! But it was years later that this person revealed to me how significant my seemingly insignificant visit had been. She had been struggling with the temptation to commit a sexual indiscretion and had just decided to give in. She’d arrange to see this guy later that night, but my visit seemed to her like angel from the Lord. Which is the first and last time in my life I have been described in those terms.
Do you see? That God often intercepts his people when they’re going in blindness down a way that would lead to tragedy. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
God doesn’t keep us from temptation, but he always provides a way out. What roadblocks has God sent across your path to save you from potential disaster? Maybe you do have a Godly wife like Abigail who has patiently sought to assuage your wrath on numerous occasions? I hope you’re grateful rather than grumpy for that kind of loving counsel. But maybe the Lord has kept you from making a terrible mistake by something like a failed job interview, or a relationship break up, or even a financial setback.
Now I want to be careful in applying this truth as those situations aren’t at all easy to deal with - but it ought at the very least to influence our perspective and our attitude towards our circumstances. If this is the way God often operates then we surely we should have more patience with him when we’re in the thick of the fog. Could it be that when you don’t get what you want, it maybe God’s mercy protecting you from disaster that you don’t see?!
In many circumstances – in the way God deals with us we ask: “What is God doing?” We cannot see. We do not have enough knowledge to know that God is being unkind when he restrains us from something. We may get light later on it, but in the middle of it we may well not know.
I reckon that we owe far more praise than we know to the living God for what he has kept us from. And one of the great things about heaven will be finding out about how he used his restraining hand to protect us from sin and folly.
I guess the other thing to be said here is that: The Lord Uses Us As The Instruments Of His Protection. So are we willing... have we got the guts to step out in faith and seek to head folks off who are on the slippery slope down into sin? Maybe there is somebody in your home group, or Focus, JPC Internationals, or CYFA group who you’re worried about. They just seem to be drifting away. You know that God doesn’t want them too, but will you let him use you to bring them back?
To which you might say: “Well I would if I were Abigail! But I haven’t got the same resources she had. I’m not as quick thinking, or eloquent or good at fluttering my eyelashes so they’ll never listen to me!” But here in 1 Samuel we have not just the example of Abigail to follow, but Nabal’s unnamed servant boy in verse 14 to 17 too. It can’t have been easy for him to go to his master’s wife and speak so honestly, but without his word of warning Abigail would never have been able to take action. He is a minor character of major significance.
God frequently uses seemingly insignificant people like us to bring about his purposes. Which is of great comfort to us if we think we are weak and feeble, and are wondering how on earth God might use us.
He used Abigail and this unnamed servant as his instruments of salvation. And he’s promised to use us to.
Which brings us lastly and very briefly to our third character...
(3.) David - The Flawed, But Humble King
Let’s rewind for a second. Back to last week. David has been anointed to be King of Israel, but the throne is currently occupied by Saul who is out to get him at any cost. Time after time, Saul narrowly misses with his attempts to take David out. AND in chapter 24 David finally had the opportunity to fight back. He had the chance to kill Saul while his back was turned, quite literally. But he refused to take it. David said to Saul in Chapter 24v.12: “May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.” Incredible! This guy is out to get him at any cost - yet He refuses to be God and take justice into his own hands. He will not murder God’s king to take his throne! He will trust God’s timing, God’s ways, God’s provision.
Yet this week, just a chapter later we read David saying this in verse 22: “God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.” Last week he was as cool as a cucumber - trusting God’s timing for justice. This week he is insane with anger - as he heads off like Rambo to take vengeance not only on his enemy but anyone else gets in his way!
In doing so he has discovered that just because you win one battle - it doesn’t mean you’re strong enough to handle them all. We learn here the wisdom of football managers when they say: “We’re just taking it one game at a time.” As you may have won a battle yesterday, but that doesn’t count when today’s skirmish comes. You may have a great measure of patience today, but it makes no difference when the attack comes again. God doesn’t give you patience on credit. Every day is new.
Even though David is God’s anointed king - he is a flawed king because he is a flawed human being just like us. Who mucks up and makes mistakes. And falls into just the same temptation he resisted only the other day.
SO be careful... 1 Corinthians 10v.12 says: “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.” don’t get complacent in your fight against sin.
AND be thankful... As David ultimately points us forward to God’s perfect anointed King. Whose loving rule we all need. Who was not flawed in any way. Who would face injustice, but who would not take justice into his own hands, but trust God’s timing. And who like Abigail willingly stood in the way of impending judgement for the sake of others. She was actually willing to lay down her own life for Nabal - even though he was an absolute rogue. And Jesus did actually die for rogues like you and me.
So as we can be thankful. As we remember that we are forgiven and washed clean of all our sin if we trust Christ. And we are set free to live a new life - not a life a folly, but a life marked by wisdom, grace and generosity. And above all - we live a life trusting that one day justice will be seen and all his promises fulfilled.