[Note: If you’ve been reading the Catch all week, you can skip the first two paragraphs.]
The story of David and Abigail in the Bible (1 Samuel 25) flies in the face of the conventions of traditional Christianity. David is on the run from King Saul with 600 fighting men. Near where they are encamped, the servants of Nabal, a wealthy rancher, are shearing sheep. David’s men provide a wall of protection around the sheepshearers and when the job is done and the traditional party begins, David sends a few of his men to ask Nabal if he might share some of his food and wine with them in return for the favor. Commonly such a thing would be expected, no questions asked, but instead, Nabal (his name means fool, and fool he is) refuses to share and sends David’s men away peppered with insults at David. David is understandably livid. He straps on his sword and commands 400 of his men to do the same, and they ride out vowing to not leave one male in Nabal’s household standing by the morning light.
Meanwhile, some of Nabal’s frightened servants go to Nabal’s wife, Abigail, and report what is happening. Abigail, realizing she has no time to lose, takes the situation into her own hands and swings into action. Loading up a few donkeys with provisions for David’s men, she sets out with a small entourage of servants to intercept David before he reaches her husband.
This is where the rub with evangelical tradition comes: she tells none of this to Nabal.
Traditional evangelical Christianity has treated Paul’s teaching of responsibility (Christ the head of the husband, the husband the head of the wife) as a hard-and-fast rule of hierarchy to be obeyed in all cases. In much of traditional Christian teaching, the actions of Abigail were wrong. Regardless of the situation, she is never to go out from underneath the control of her husband. Yet here God is honoring her actions in doing just that.
Abigail was not paying attention to rules here; she was acting as a lioness fiercely guarding the lives of the people in her household — even the life of her foolish husband who would have surely died at David’s hand. Who knows how many lives she saved that day, not to mention saving David from needless bloodshed he would have regretted later.
This is what legalism does. It takes principles for living and turns them into hard-and-fast rules that do not always dictate the right thing to do in all cases. Jesus illustrated this when he healed on the Sabbath and allowed his disciples to pick grain in the fields as they walked along on the Sabbath. The restrictions He ignored are traditional interpretations of the law that violate the spirit of what the law was supposed to do in the first place, so Jesus had no problem snubbing them.
This traditional teaching in the Christian church has been the cause of much abuse by husbands justifying their actions by the “Chain of Command” and keeping the wife quiet about her own abuse and/or the abuse of their children. The law still gives us a guide for action, but we are not under the law but under grace. A woman removing herself and her children from an abusive husband is doing the same thing Abigail did — fiercely guarding the lives of the people in her household.
The truly amazing thing is that Abigail still acted as Nabal’s wife with respect. She did not separate herself from his folly. She took the blame and the responsibility for his foolishness. “On me alone place the blame,” she told David. She truly acted in Nabal’s place, doing the right thing, because he was incapable of doing the right thing in his foolishness. She was a truly noble woman.