Robert Wurtz II
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 ESV)
Our passage marks the tragic end of a man who had defied God one too many times. He went on to the judgment and his wife married the very man that he mistreated. His life comes to us as a case study on a person’s refusal to acknowledge the goodness of God.
Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden has pierced every aspect of our lives, but there is still a process where a person’s mind toward God wilts, shrinking ever further away from His Spirit. In fact, this is the picture we have from the Hebrew word nabel that we translate as fool. Like a flower removed from the moisture and light necessary to maintain it’s posture — a mind removed from the influence of God wilts. It doesn’t happen overnight, or after a few sins. To understand such behavior, we should look at the Old Testament character whose Hebrew name literally means “fool.”
Nabal was the husband of Abigail who prevented David from attacking her house after Nabal’s ill-considered treatment of David. “Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal,” she successfully pleaded. “For as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him!” (see 1 Sam. 25:25). I mention this episode because of its relevance to Paul’s preaching at Athens and Ephesus. Nabal symbolizes the hard-hearted, irrational, and obscenely ungrateful attitude many people hold toward their Creator. The brazenness of Nabal is the whole of rebellious humanity in microcosm.
This encounter occurs after Samuel’s death, as David is traveling with about six hundred of his mighty men through the wilderness. Verse 3 of this chapter described Nabal as a wealthy man with three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. Yet he was harsh and evil in his dealings, in contrast to his wife, who was “of good understanding and beautiful in appearance.” Nabal’s ranch was in southern Carmel. The shepherds customarily drove their sheep onto the slopes of Carmel. On one of these excursions, they met David and his mighty men. Verses 7, 15, and 18 describe how David’s men showed unexpected kindness, protected them, and despite their own deprivation, never took anything from Nabal’s shepherds.
When David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep, he sent ten young men up to Carmel to him, telling them to wish Nabal peace and prosperity in his name and to remind him of the friendly services rendered to his shepherds so they could solicit a present for David and his men. Though exceedingly rich, greedy Nabal refused to share anything, scoffing, “Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?” (1 Sam. 25:10–11).
Such a response shows the level of Nabal’s madness. To justify his covetousness, he posited David as a vagrant slave who had run away from his master. Nabal conveniently ignored what he had learned about David’s protection of his sheep and shepherds. In reality, he had made up his mind before the conversation began. Blinded by greed, he carefully arranged the facts to ensure he wouldn’t have to turn loose of any of his precious resources — while offering justification for his refusal. His twisted mind could not see the wisdom of giving David and his men some basic rations for their services. is yet another example of the noetic effects of sin. Sin turns a decent mind into an obstinate, irrational one.
Any rational human being would have the good sense to know that David deserved something, especially in light of how courteously he asked. You can be certain that if Nabal occupied David’s place, he would expect compensation. But a corrupt mind can justify treating others in harsh ways. is is more than madness. It is sin making its mark on someone’s powers of reasoning. Had David and his men been a band of thugs, they would have just grabbed what they wanted and defied anyone to do something. Moreover, a wise man would have been careful, thoughtful, self-mistrusting, and reserved—displaying the kind of disposition that flows from a reverential awe of God. On the other hand, a fool is self-confident, irresponsible, and seemingly secure. A fool has no sense of the seriousness of the situation he or she faces. Many today move in this kind of recklessness as a direct consequence of their ongoing sin and rebellion.
If we love God as He has commanded, and our neighbor as ourselves; we will walk in the revelation of truth that God has provided and delight in His Word. We will never become like Nabal and treat God or others like he treated David. Nabal’s treatment inflamed David, who reacted by saying, “Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good. May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light” (1 Sam. 25:21–22). This statement gives context to the response I quoted earlier from Abigail and how it prevented certain disaster for her household. One of these days God is going to carry out David’s plans on a global scale. He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness.
The story of David and Nabal allows us to see God’s perspective of His dealings with men and women. He has created them, guarded them, provided for them, and brought them salvation through His Son’s blood. David’s original intentions to strike at Nabal are a minor foretaste of God’s final response. People today act just like Nabal, whose mind was so darkened he could not make the most obvious moral judgment or even show a hint of compassion. Likewise, the modern fool refuses to acknowledge the goodness of God as coming from God. If people can attribute this to something other than God, they can pretend they don’t have to acknowledge it. Today, that goodness is credited to everything from luck to random chance to Darwinian evolution. is is Nabal come to life in a postmodern culture. The problem for those bent on denying God is that a day of reckoning is coming.