Abigail: The Bible’s Best Hostess

by Julie Barrier

Don’t be stingy with your stuffing. Don’t be tight with your tortilla casserole. Abigail, the consummate hostess, was the Martha Stewart of her day. She calmly faced an army of angry guests with grace. Abigail’s name means “Whose Father is Joy.” But her married name was “Whose Husband is a Beast.”

She was gorgeous, wealthy and wise. However, like so many marriages that appear happy on the outside, they are nightmarish beneath the surface. Nabal, (the name means “fool”) was drunken and abusive. Young women of Abigail’s day did not have the luxury of choosing a mate. Her father probably chose Nabal for his beautiful daughter because he was filthy rich.

But no amount of riches can replace kindness, respect or appreciation from a spouse. However, Abigail made lemon bars out of lemons. She remained faithful to Nabal and served him well. Her domestic domain ran like a well-oiled machine. I’m sure the servants loved her!

Here’s how her story unfolds in 1 Samuel 25:

“Then David moved down into the Desert of Paran.

 A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.”

Sheep-shearing time was the Thanksgiving holiday in Bible days. Every hard worker feasted on the fruits (or mutton) of his labor. So it was customary for a landowner to reward those who protected his flock and shepherds from thieves and wolves.  David and his men had faithfully served Nabal and his flocks. So David said,

“Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!

“‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’”

Nabal’s answer to David was just plain mean. His soldier’s waited politely for their food and Nabal rudely replied:

“Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

First of all, everybody knew who David was. He was a fierce, famous warrior. He called David a slave, when in reality he was King Saul’s son-in-law. And he offered him paltry turkey sandwiches and well water instead of lamb and wine. How insulting! How foolish!

David was incensed. He brandished his sword and took four hundred men to destroy Nabal and his household! That’s what I call overkill…. David said,

“It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”?

Abigail got wind of Nabal’s drunken, surly response.

The servants who overheard David’s angry words raced to warn the mistress of the household. Wise Abigail was a quick thinker. She stared down the face of death and saved the day with roast mutton, bagels, raisin bread and figgy pudding for six hundred famished soldiers. And remember, in Abigail’s day, EVERYTHING was from scratch.

The good wife was also ready to eat humble pie. We learn so much about this remarkable woman from her speech to David:

“When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.

“Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live.  Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling.  When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”

Abigail’s religious witness and knowledge of Jewish history testify to an early training in a godly home, and acquaintance with the teachings of the prophets in Israel. Her plea before David also reveals her understanding of the events of her own world. Notice this phrase: “the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. “ Even Abigail knew the heroic tale of David’s victory over the giant Goliath with a sling and a stone.

She also was deeply spiritual, and knew how to appeal to the “man after God’s own heart.” She reminded David that God’s was his strength and his destiny was to be king. She appealed to David to keep himself pure by showing mercy instead of vengeance.

Wow! What a lady! Herbert Lockyear, author of All the Women of the Bible wrote:

“We can never gauge the effect of our words and actions upon others. The intervention of Abigail in the nick of time teaches us that when we have wisdom to impart, faith to share, and help to offer, we must not hesitate to take any risk that may be involved.”

Abigail returned and remained faithful to Nabal the Nasty. But God didn’t forget her kindness, nor did David. When Nabal sobered up and learned the consequences of his reckless behavior, he keeled over with a heart attack and bit the dust ten days later. David heard the news and immediately proposed. She became the wife of a king. This amazing lady is one of the few women in the Bible who is considered to be a type of Christ. She stood in the gap between God and sinful men.

Abigail teaches us many lessons about serving others.

1.     Be calm.

Don’t be a “Martha” hostess. Martha of Bethany will always be remembered as an angry, anxious hostess, focused on the food and insensitive to her guests. She was mean to her sister Mary and mad in the kitchen. Think about it. She had Jesus as a dinner guest!

2.     Be godly.

If you spend time loving God, you will be gracious. Put first things first. Celebrations can be stressful. Be sensitive to your guests. Ask God to show you their emotional needs. The way to one’s heart is not through the stomach, it’s through the heart!

3.     Be realistic.

You will make mistakes. The kids will be boisterous, especially if they’re hyped up on sugar. Don’t expect perfection. Every family gathering has a few good eggs and a few bad apples.

4.     Be generous.

Send meals to the sick and elderly. Serve Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter. The holidays should be a time for giving, not spending.

Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are not always about the food. I am a crummy cook. I’m so terrible that my daughters won’t even let me bring a Jello salad to dinner.  Last year, I made frozen cranberry bars and I found them in my eldest daughter’s freezer two weeks later. She hid them from the guests!!

But I do know how to make others feel welcome. We often invite guests to our celebration who live far away from home. One year we invited a soldier stationed nearby to come to our dinner and to visit our church. He started playing trumpet in the church orchestra. Chris married one of our violinists and now they have seven beautiful kids!

Don’t be a Martha. Be an Abigail.

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