According to the 1st Book of Samuel Chapter 25, Nabal (נבל), was a rich Calebite[1] who was also described as being harsh and surly. David (who was not yet king) and his band of men who had been outlawed by King Saul were living off the Wilderness of Paran and providing voluntary protection to the shepherds in the area.[2]

The account states that Nabal lived in the city of Maon, and owned much land in the Judean town of Carmel, as well as many sheep and goats;[3] the events it reports are stated as happening at the time of sheep shearing,[4] which in Israelite culture was a time for great festivities, owing to the importance of the wool trade.[5] During this time David sent a small group of men to Nabal with a request for what provisions were readily at hand. David told his men exactly what to say when they approached Nabal. The words David used were a reminder that Nabal's profit would not have been so great if his shepherds had not been protected. In addition, David extends a great deal of honor to Nabal, recognizing him as a nobleman of high stature. Nabal, who knew who David was, responded by questioning David's lineage and insulting his men. David took the insults personally and decided to do something about it.

It also reports that when Nabal rejected David's request, one of the shepherds,[6] recognized that Nabal could not be approached because of his abrasive nature and therefore informed Nabal's wife (named Abigail) of the situation along with a very positive account of the protection that David and his men had provided. Abigail recognized what Nabal had done and chose to intervene in order to avert David's wrath.[7] In the account, while David armed his men, and set off with 400 of them for Nabal's home, leaving 200 men behind to look after the supplies,[8] Abigail set off with her servants, and a very large quantity of provisions, without telling Nabal.[9]

The narrative continues by stating that Abigail manages to meet David and his men before David could reach Nabal and she pleads for David to accept the gifts she has brought with her, and begs that there be no bloodshed, asking to take Nabal's blame herself, and complimenting David by stating that Yahweh would make his dynasty long lasting, and David sinless and divinely protected;[10] as a result of her actions, David recognized that he is about to sin and calls off his threat and sends Abigail home in peace.[11] In the coda of the account, Abigail doesn't tell Nabal about what she has done until the following day, as, when she returns, Nabal is drunk and high spirited due to a kingly banquet, but when she does tell Nabal he has a heart attack, and dies ten days later;[12] the coda ends with David hearing about the death, recognizing that it was a punishment from Yahweh, and asking for, and receiving, the hand of Abigail in marriage.[13]

Abigail's character

Abigail is described in the account as being beautiful and intelligent,[1] and the Haggadah treats Abigail as being one of the four most beautiful people in Jewish history (the other three being Sarah, Rahab, and Esther);[14] in the Haggadah it is claimed that David nearly fell in love with her while she was still the wife of Nabal, but Abigail's moral strength and dignity prevented any liaisons, although she is also criticized for stating remember your handmaid, as in the Hagaddah's view this was unbecoming of a married woman.[15]

Textual features and origin

The root meaning of the name Nabal is wilt,[16] and came to mean failure,[17] and so gained the figurative meaning of being shamelessly improprietous;[18] in the Nabal narrative, he is described as living up to his name,[19] in addition to being surly and mean.[1] Traditionally Nabal is euphemistically translated as fool, for which a Hebrew synonym is kesil (literally meaning fool); scholars regard it as possible that some features of the Nabal narrative derive from primitive mythology,[20] and it is notable that kesil particularly referred to the constellation of Orion,[21] and was translated as Orion by the Septuagint.[22]

Nabal (נבל) may be a deliberate satirical corruption of the name Nadab (נדב);[23] if this is an eponym then it probably referred originally to Jehonadab[24] (which is just a theophory of nadab), and thus represent the Rechabites.[25] In the genealogical lists of the Books of Chronicles, there is a man named Nadab, whose brother is married to a person named Abihail;[26] it is possible that the name Abigail (אבגיִל) is a corruption of Abihail (אֲביִהיִל), so that it more closely describes the character of the wife, since Abigail roughly means joy of my father, suggesting positive characteristics, while Abihail means only my father is strength.[20] Rather than the name of his wife was Abigail (שׁם אִשׁתּוֹ אבגיִל) the account in the Books of Samuel may have originally read the name of the chief of Abihail (שׁם שר אביהיִל), and told of a clan named Abihail, which left a political alliance with the Rechabites (represented by Nabal/Nadab) to join the Kingdom of Judah (represented by David's band of men).[20]

Textual scholars ascribe this narrative to the republican source of the Books of Samuel (named this due to its generally negative presentation of David and Saul);[27] the rival source, known as the monarchial source,[28] does not at first glace appear to contain a similar narrative. The same narrative position is occupied in the monarchial source by the story of a raid by Amalekites on the town of Ziklag, and the subsequent defeat of the Amalekites by David.[29][30] There are some similarities between the narratives: the fact that Ziklag and Maon are located in the region south of Hebron;[31] David leading an army in revenge (for the Amalekite's destruction of Ziklag and capture of its population), with 400 of the army going ahead and 200 staying behind;[31] David gaining Abigail as a wife (though in the Ziklag narrative he re-gains her), as well as several provisions; and there being a jovial feast in the enemy camp (ie Nabal's property). However, there are also several differences: such as the victory and provisions being obtained by a heroic victory by David rather than Abigail's peaceful actions; the 200 that stayed behind doing so due to exhaustion rather than to protect the baggage; the main secondary character being the former slave of the enemy, rather than the wife of the enemy (Nabal); David's forces rejoining their wives rather than being joined by damsels; and the Amalekites rather than Nabal being the enemy.


  1. ^ a b c 1 Samuel 25:3
  2. ^ 1 Samuel 25:5-11
  3. ^ 1 Samuel 25:1-2
  4. ^ 1 Samuel 25:4
  5. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible
  6. ^ 1 Samuel 25:5-12
  7. ^ 1 Samuel 25:14-17
  8. ^ 1 Samuel 25:13
  9. ^ 1 Samuel 25:18-19
  10. ^ 1 Samuel 25:20-29
  11. ^ 1 Samuel 25:30-34
  12. ^ 1 Samuel 25:35-38
  13. ^ 1 Samuel 25:39-42
  14. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Abigail
  15. ^ ibid
  16. ^ Strong's concordance
  17. ^ ibid
  18. ^ Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  19. ^ 1 Samuel 25:25
  20. ^ a b c Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  21. ^ ibid
  22. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Orion
  23. ^ Cheyne, Thomas Kelly; Black, John Sutherland (1902). "Nabal". Encyclopaedia Biblica. 3. London: Adam and Charles Black. pp. 3253–4. OCLC 890270. 
  24. ^ Cheyne, Thomas Kelly; Black, John Sutherland (1902). "Nadab". Encyclopaedia Biblica. 3. London: Adam and Charles Black. pp. 3255–6. OCLC 890270. 
  25. ^ Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica - Jehonadab
  26. ^ 1 Chronicles 2:28-29
  27. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Books of Samuel
  28. ^ ibid
  29. ^ 1 Samuel 30
  30. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Books of Samuel
  31. ^ a b Peake's commentary on the Bible

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