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Abigail by Sarah Cook

Did Abigail betray her husband? What is her role in David’s rise to power?

The Hebrew Bible features many examples of powerful women from Rebecca to Esther. These women play an important and active role in their own narratives while also shaping the narratives of the men around them. Abigail constitutes one such example. How does she go from being the wife of a hard-hearted Calebite to one of the wives of King David? She uses her own wits to save her entire household and to gain a powerful position in David’s household, supporting his claim to the throne of Israel.

The story of Abigail appears in 1Sam 25:2-42 and begins by setting up a meaningful moral dichotomy: Nabal the Calebite is a harsh and bad man who resides in Carmel with his beautiful and clever wife, Abigail (1Sam 25:2-3). This duality is inherent in the names of both characters. Nabal’s name is drawn from the Hebrew root nbl which appears elsewhere to indicate foolishness and to designate offensive behavior (as in Gen 34:7). Abigail’s name, on the other hand, is made up of the units ’ăbî and gāîl meaning “my father’s joy.” The ensuing events of the story contrast her intelligence and benevolence with her husband’s consistent folly.

David passes through the Carmelite wilderness while on the run from Saul and dispatches some messengers to request that Nabal send the group some much-needed supplies. The stingy Calebite sends back a less than polite reply that incites David’s fury and prompts him to mobilize his men against Nabal and his household. Fortunately, Nabal’s wife Abigail takes matters into her own hands when she is informed of her husband’s reaction (1Sam 25:9-14). As David and his army prepare to set out, she goes to meet them with a large amount of food and supplies. Abigail humbly presents the supplies and complains about her husband’s reckless actions, punning on the root of his name (1Sam 25:25). Finally, she praises David and assures him that Yahweh has guaranteed his success. Her flattery works. David thanks her for saving him from the bloodguilt of slaughtering Nabal and the members of his household, and Abigail returns home having avoided much bloodshed.

Shortly after Abigail’s return home, her husband sickens and dies, leading David to triumphantly describe this as Yahweh’s judgement in the dispute between the two parties (1Sam 25:36-39). Soon after, he sends his servants to Abigail to invite her to become his wife, a proposal that she accepts (1Sam 25:40-42). Along with Ahinoam the Jezreelite, she joins David’s household as his wife. The children of these two women are among David’s first reported offspring in 2Sam 3:3, born to him in Hebron.

The story of Abigail depicts a woman taking an active role within her own life and within David’s to strengthen his claim to the throne. Though some might interpret Abigail’s alliance with David as a betrayal of her husband, she is a positively-evaluated character within the narrative (1Sam 25:3), and her actions allow herself and her entire household to avoid what would have been a bloody assault. She also plays an important role in the story of David’s rise to power. The story ends with David’s marriage to two women: Ahinoam the Jezreelite and Abigail the Carmelite. Both of these women represent good regional connections who can help him to acquire allies in his bid to displace Saul from the throne. The story of Abigail depicts a shrewd and beautiful heroine saving an entire household and, by recognizing David’s power, gaining an important status in his royal household.

Sarah Cook, "Abigail", n.p. [cited 23 Sep 2018]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/abigail

Contributors

cook-sarah

Sarah Cook
PhD Student, University of Georgia

Sarah Cook is a second-year PhD student at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Her research focus is prophecy in the E-source document of the Pentateuch.

an individual who traces his or her clan origin to the biblical figure, Caleb

region around Mount Carmel

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

resident of Jezreel, an ancient Israelite city

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

1Sam 25:2-42

David and the Wife of Nabal
2There was a man in Maon, whose property was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He ... View more

1Sam 25:2-3

David and the Wife of Nabal
2There was a man in Maon, whose property was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He ... View more

Gen 34:7

7just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field. When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel b ... View more

1Sam 25:9-14

9When David's young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David; and then they waited.10But Nabal answered David's servants, “Who is David? Who i ... View more

1Sam 25:25

25My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him; but I, your servant, di ... View more

1Sam 25:36-39

36Abigail came to Nabal; he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she told h ... View more

1Sam 25:40-42

40When David's servants came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.”41She rose and bowed down, with h ... View more

2Sam 3:3

3his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third, Absalom son of Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur;

1Sam 25:3

3Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was clever and beautiful, but the man was surly and mean; he was a Calebite.

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