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Abigail

1 Samuel chapter 25

 

by

Grace Aguilar

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An evidence of equality

Before commencing our next biographical sketch, we would call our readers’ attention to one verse contained in the history we have just completed, as it so strikingly confirms our often-repeated assertion, that in the religion of God, the women of Israel were privileged to join in all religious ceremonies, and to receive the blessings of king or priest equally with the men.

We have already noticed the procession of the Ark into Hebron, the sacrifices and shoutings and soundings of the trumpets. And that when they had brought in the Ark of the Lord, and set it in its place in the midst of the Tabernacle that David had pitched for it – and David had sacrificed burnt offerings and peace-offerings before the Lord – as soon as he had made an end of the offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of Hosts.  And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the WOMEN as the men, ‘to everyone a cake of bread, a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine; so all the people departed, everyone to his house’. [2 Samuel 6:19.]

In most public rejoicings, it is generally thought sufficient to provide for families, not for individuals.  In Israel, we find everyone sent away, with the means of not only  feasting for the day, but for some days afterwards.  And by the particular mention of women as well as men, we see that they were not only witnesses of the sacred procession, and of the sacrifices, but were singled out by the king as receivers, alike of his blessing and his bounty.  This is but a trifling circumstance in itself: yet every verse in the Word of God tending to make manifest the equality of the Hebrew females, their peculiar and glorious privileges as women of Israel, is of no small importance. 

According even to the ultra-orthodox, the law and its traditionary explanation must have been in force, both in theory and practice, during the monarchy of Israel; and if we can find no evidence there of the slavery and ignorance of women, it is clear that the laws which are said to command these things have no foundation in Judaism.  

An odd couple

We come now to a character which proves the dignity and elevation of the Israelitish woman most completely.

There was a man in Maon [in Judah], whose possessions were in Carmel [up in the hills]; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats. His name was Nabal, of the house of Caleb, churlish [bad mannered] in his disposition, and evil in his doings. He had a wife named Abigail [“my father rejoices"], of whom we are expressly told by the Sacred Historian, that ‘she was a woman of good understanding and of a beautiful countenance.’

How such a superior person could ever have become the wife of the churlish Nabal, we might be at a loss to discover, did we not feel with a quaint old chronicler [historian], that love of wealth was as likely to be found in ancient Israel as in other nations, and that Nabal’s wealth had in consequence been a greater attraction in the eyes of Abigail’s father than the domestic happiness of his child, which happiness an evil temper must inevitably have destroyed.

The beauty and the very gifts of Abigail were likely to have won Nabal’s love; for affection and even kindness may be found in churlish dispositions, though neither can be pleasantly demonstrated. Perfect freedom and equality Abigail evidently enjoyed in her husband’s house; but the want of companionship for her superior understanding, the constant annoyances which Nabal’s temper must have occasioned her, even if not shown to herself, displayed broadly in her household and to all who sought favours or even common courtesy at his hand, must have painfully embittered her domestic life.

Still we do not find that either her energy or happy temper sunk under it, as would have been the case with any but a very superior mind. Nothing is so infectious as an evil temper. The strongest control, the most enduring and ever-acting piety, the most determined resolution to bear and forbear, to love and to forgive, however often pained or annoyed; all these must be experienced and practised by a wife, if the evil temper of her husband really fails to sour hers.

Some meek gentle dispositions and unwavering sweetness of temper may indeed stand the torrent of churlishness uninjured; but in these, though the temper does not fail, health and energy both succumb, and the most lasting misery is the consequence. Abigail evidently did not belong to this latter class, or she could not have acted in an emergency of terror as we find she did.

Away from it all

The confusion and misery reigning in Judea, from the Lord’s rejection of Saul, until his death, do not appear to have penetrated as far as Carmel, so as to interfere with the usual rural employments of the Israelites. Rumours of the contest between Saul and David, of the cruelties of the former and troubles of the latter, had no doubt spread far and near, and had enlisted the popular feelings in favour of the noble and persecuted David.

It was sheep-shearing time, and all Nabal’s flocks were gathered together; while feasting and merrymaking diversified the pleasant labour in the household, and displayed the plenteousness of Nabal's stores. Feeling his safety still less secure since the recent death of Samuel, David, with his men, had retreated into the wilderness of Paran, in the vicinity of Carmel, where Nabal's flocks were fed.

A simple request

Scorning to appropriate to himself the smallest portion of the wealth of another, however sorely pressed by hunger and privation, David waited till the sheep-shearing, a time when most men’s hearts were open towards their poorer brethren, and sent messengers to Nabal, bidding them greet him in his (David’s) name, and, with a winning courtesy which spoke well for the gentle and lowly character of the Lord’s Anointed, ask the food and drink he so imperatively needed.

‘Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace unto all that thou hast. And now I have heard that thou hast shearers: now thy shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not, neither was there aught missing unto them, all the while they were in Carmel. Ask thy young men, and they will show thee. Wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes: for we come in a good day: give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand unto thy servants, and to thy son David.’

Could any address have been more gentle and respectful, or more calculated to have found an equally conciliating reply? Instead of which, we find Nabal, true to his churlish character, peremptorily refusing, and scornfully demanding, ‘Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? There be many servants nowadays that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh, that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be?’

He might easily have known, by an inquiry of his own young men, to whom David, as a warrant [witness] of his truth, had so unhesitatingly referred him.  But to do so would have inferred a softening spirit; and their information, perhaps, might have compelled him to comply with David’s request; therefore he listened only to the dictates of his own ill-temper, caring not for the consequences, or indeed thinking of anything but the peculiar pleasure it was to be disobliging and ungrateful.  For from the after-words of David, it would seem that he had not only restrained his needy followers from taking any part of Nabal’s property, but absolutely protected them from the bands of marauders which, from the fearful state of the kingdom, prowled about Judea.

David’s reaction

The indignation of the young warrior was roused by this surly refusal, perhaps to somewhat too great an extent. But David, though so truly holy and pious, and perfect in his heart towards God, as to be spiritually favoured by Him above all his fellows, is never portrayed in Holy Writ as anything but a mortal, with all the infirmities and feelings of humanity. He was roused not only by this ill return for his courtesy, but by the requital [return] of evil for good; and in a moment of anger, he commanded all his young men to gird on their swords, and with a troop of four hundred equally indignant as himself, marched from the wilderness in the direction of Nabal’s dwelling, resolved utterly to exterminate all that belonged to him. 

And no doubt he would have done so, had not his wrath been turned aside, and his better spirit recalled, by the energy and judgment of a beautiful and noble-minded woman.

The good woman

The high opinion which the superior understanding and unwavering temper of Abigail had won her in the minds and hearts of her household, is clearly evident from all which followed her husband’s speech. One of the young men to whom David had referred as witnesses of his truth, hastened to his mistress, and informed her of all that had occurred.

‘Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed [cursed] on them (a forcible description, in a few words, of the request and the reply). But the men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we anything, as long as we were conversant [friendly] with them in the fields: they were a wall unto us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household; for he is such a man of Belial [wickedness], that a man cannot speak to him.’

From these words, we are led to suppose that the young man who spoke had seen enough of David, when in the wilderness together, to feel well assured that such ungraciousness would be severely punished. To attempt to speak to his master he knew was impossible, for his words would either have been wholly disregarded, or not even allowed to be spoken.

We see, too, that he was ready and willing to bear witness to David’s truth, but his master was such a man of Belial, that he dared not speak to him; yet he was too faithful to allow such a danger to fall upon his churlish master unawares, and so sought his mistress, whose gentleness and wisdom were in all probability the real source of his fidelity [faithfulness], and of that of all his companions.

Abigail to the rescue

Abigail lost no time in either lamentations on their hovering danger, or in aspersions on [evil speaking about] her churlish husband. Her active and energetic character is clearly displayed in the promptness and judgment of her proceedings. She asked no advice, demanded no assistance, requiring only the willing help of her domestics, and acting on the impulse of the moment as judiciously and quietly as if she had had months to think and to prepare.

No woman could have done this unless her understanding was ever in exercise, her mind well trained, and her principles so regulated as ever to guide her impulses aright. It is only when the mind and principles are unregulated that impulses are dangerous, and peculiarly liable to mislead. The habit of thinking when life is smooth, prepares us for acting promptly on an emergency; and the impulse that we follow springs scarcely so much from the feelings of the moment, as from the habit of steady thought to which we have long subjected our minds before.

Such must have been the character and habits of the wife of Nabal, for we read that she ‘made haste, and took two hundred loaves, two bottles of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched corn, an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. And she said to her servants, Go on before me; and behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal.’

She knew it was useless so to do, for she might not hope for his permission, and all depended on speed and decision. His safety, her own, and that of her whole household, was at stake. It was no time for deference to one who would oppose for the very sake of opposition, even if his life were the sacrifice of his foolishness; and so mounting her ass, she speedily followed her servants.

She could not have gone very far, when David and his armed men, in alarming fulfilment of her servant’s fears, ‘came down against her, and she met them.’ Dismounting from her ass, she hastened to pay him the reverential homage due to him, alike as the anointed of the Lord and the destined king of Israel; and kneeling at his feet, addressed him in a strain so fraught [filled] with the spirit of wisdom and piety, so truly deferential, without one spark of cringing servility, rising, as she proceeded, almost into prophecy, that we can but wonder and admire.

A prayerful speech

‘Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be,’ she answered, wisely seeking to turn David’s anger on herself, that by her speedy submission it might be averted; ‘yet let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine ears, and hear the words of thine handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal [“foolish”] is his name, and folly is with him.  But I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the LORD hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and those that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal.’

‘And now this blessing (or gift) which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it be even given unto the young men that follow my lord. I pray thee forgive the trespass of thine handmaid; for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the LORD, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days. Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound up in the bundle of life with the LORD thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall He sling out as from the middle of a sling.’

‘And it shall come to pass, when the LORD shall have done to my lord according to all the good that He hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel; that this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself; but when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.’

She put God in His rightful place

In not one word of this beautiful address do we find Abigail forgetting her own dignity, by that fulsome adulation [flattery] with which a mind of a less elevated grade would have sought to disarm David’s wrath. She does not say one word which grates upon the mind as flattery.

All of greatness, of victory, of life which was to befall David, she attributes to the one only source, the ordainment and the blessing of the Lord; and that victory only obtained, because it was not his own, but the LORD’S battles, which he fought.

She speaks of his becoming king of Israel, of the Eternal accomplishing all that He had spoken concerning David as things assured, although, at the very time she spoke, David was a persecuted exile, with not a place but the wild desert in which to lay his head; and all those who loved or showed him kindness, exposed to wrath and even massacre at the hand of Saul.

What but faith, the unquestioning faith springing from the piety of the heart towards God, and the intimate knowledge of His ways, could have dictated these words? And could Abigail have attained these things, if in any part of the Mosaic law she was denied the privilege of praying to the Lord, and studying his words? No. If woman were refused the spiritual privileges granted to her brother man in the law of God, there would be no such character as Abigail.

Not only does she, with prudence and ready wit, deprecate [decrease] the anger of David by taking the trespass against him on herself, and asking his forgiveness as if she it was who had offended, but she contrives to lessen the offence of Nabal by attributing it not to malice or determined enmity, but only to folly, which prevented his being answerable for his own actions, and therefore not worthy of David’s further regard.

There is something singularly noble in Abigail thus taking on herself the trespass, and so voluntarily offering herself to bear its penalty. It was woman in her noblest and purest character.

Such is “agape” love

The temper and other evil habits of Nabal must not only have prevented all affection towards him, but repeatedly exposed her to those petty yet incurable sufferings springing from the surliness and moroseness of a churlish husband.  Yet of these things she thinks nothing, only remembering that, as her husband, Nabal demanded every exertion and even sacrifice on her part, and these without a moment’s hesitation she makes.

Had not her appeal struck David, even as it strikes us, it would not have so turned aside his purpose. Unselfishness and piety, uprightness and honour, he himself so richly possessed, that to such in another his heart was literally compelled to respond, and wrath vanished before them.

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me,’ he exclaims, with that true unquestioning piety which never knows chance, but attributes every event of daily life to the loving guidance of the Most High God; ‘and blessed by thy advice, and blessed by thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand. For in very deed, as the Lord God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely by the morning light there had not been one left to Nabal.’

How must the noble heart of Abigail have rejoiced within her, that her energy of purpose and promptness of act had, under the blessing of God, been permitted to save so many innocent lives, and also checked David in the commission of a great sin.

A great picture

The whole of this scene is so vividly described in Holy Writ, that it is rather remarkable that it should never have been taken as the subject of a picture by some of the many illustrators of Scripture.

A rocky defile of Carmel winding round the side of a hill, down which the four hundred armed followers of David in their glittering armour might be scattered in and out the rocks, except the few which, close beside their leader and the kneeling Abigail, marked the foreground. The servants and led asses of the wife of Nabal gracefully grouped on the opposite side of the armed men, forming a beautiful contrast, by their peaceful habiliments [garments] and alarmed looks, to the fierce and eager countenances of the warriors. The extreme beauty of Abigail, the pleading look and posture of the suppliant, blending with the modest dignity of the woman; the superb countenance and form of the still youthful David, varying from indignation to softening admiration, all might form a combination not unworthy of first-rate talent in an artist, more especially when that artist may be found at this very day amid the ranks of Israel.

Apology accepted

Courteously and kindly David accepted the proffered gifts of Abigail, bidding her ‘go up in peace to her house, for he had hearkened to her voice and accepted her person,’ meaning that he had accepted her as the person who had committed the trespass, and so forgiven it. She need be under no further alarm on account of her husband.

Her business thus blessedly accomplished, Abigail loitered not on her way, and without further parley [talk] returned to her house, evidently not having been missed by her husband, who, while death was hovering over his head, was holding a great feast in his house like the feast of a king. ‘And his heart was merry within him,’ in all the imbecile and sinful mirth of drunkenness. What a contrast to the dignified and exalted character of Abigail! How inexpressibly trying to her mind must have been the degraded brutish habits of such a husband! How strong must have been her innate [natural] dignity, her self-possession and enduring temper, to have so acquired and preserved the respect and faithfulness of her household, whom the example of their master might have rendered rude and sottish [foolish] as himself, and who, were woman lowered in Israel, could have had no restraint whatever.

The effect of sin

Wisely, thou no doubt with a sorrowful heart, she left Nabal undisturbed in his inebriety [drunkenness] till the morning’s light, although the news of the danger which he had so narrowly escaped would effectually have roused him from his idle mirth. When told, its effect seems extraordinary, ‘his heart died within him, and he became as stone [he had a stroke],’ only explained by the supposition of his utter want of manliness and trust, which prevented all belief in David’s assurances, and occasioned such vivid horror of his vengeance as literally to cause the death he dreaded; for ‘ten days after, the Lord smote Nabal that he died.’

An awful chastisement for his churlish insult to the young warrior known throughout all Israel as the Anointed of the Eternal. He had grudged the smallest particle of his immense stores to one who, with such winning courtesy, had asked it at his hand; and the Eternal’s justice, by one stroke, deprived him of them all, and compelled him, naked and bare, to appear before His awful throne in judgment for his crimes.

And those crimes came not under the denomination of great delinquencies [very bad sins]; they were those petty sins of stingy selfishness and an aggravating disobliging temper, which (how often!) grow upon us unconsciously, and we scarcely know their influence till some awful stroke of judgment awakens us to what we might have been, and to what we are. His wife’s narrative was this awakening stroke to Nabal. He had sunk too low, too enervatingly [lazily], in the fathomless abyss of selfish indulgence to rouse himself to a better course of life, so that deadly fear of vengeance took possession of him, and, combined with a torturing recollection of an abused and wasted existence, rendered him as feelingless and senseless as the stone to which he is compared.

David’s care for Abigail

How completely the appeal of Abigail had awakened David to the sin which his immoderate anger prompted him to commit, we read by his pious and thankful exclamation, when he heard of Nabal’s death. ‘Blessed be the Lord that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal,  and hath kept His servant from evil, for the Lord hath returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head.’ Words not only illustrative of his rejoicing thankfulness of his own restraint from sin, but also of his firm belief that all the changes of the heart are of God, not man, and that would we keep ourselves from evil we must pray to Him to do so, not imagine we can keep pure only by efforts of our own.

It was now David’s turn to plead, and to her who had so lately knelt to him as a supplicant. When the usual term of mourning for a husband was over, ‘he sent and communed with Abigail to become his wife.’ Her answer is strikingly illustrative of that beautiful humility of character which is so perfectly compatible with true dignity and modest self-esteem; ‘Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant, to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.’

When she was in the character of a petitioner we find no such expressions, for in entreaty they would have been servile and degrading; but as the petitioned they did but express the deep sense she entertained of her own individual unworthiness, as little suiting her to be the wife of one whom the Lord God of Israel had so singled out above his fellows.

In worldly state and earthly possessions, David could not compare with her former husband. Destined to the kingdom he was indeed; but, as we have previously stated, there was no human semblance [appearance] that such he would be, or any apparent end to the troubles, the privations, the wanderings to which he was still so mercilessly exposed. Yet he was the beloved, the chosen of the Lord; and in comparison with the holiness – the virtue which must have originally gained him these appellations in the hearts of his countrymen –Abigail might well have deemed herself unworthy.

She became his wife, however; and though in doing so she exchanged the wealth, the security, the luxuries of such an establishment as had been Nabal’s for an anxious and wandering life, continually exposed to danger from the enmity of Saul and his followers, and to captivity from the neighbouring nations, yet still the love and sympathy of such a mind as David’s, the rest from the wearying annoyances of a diseased temper, the indulgence of pious emotions and obedience to all the observances of religion without the sneering scorn of a churlish and uncongenial disposition, must indeed have marked the exchange as a blessed one, and rendered her after-life as happy as it had previously been sad.

The aftermath

We have one more mention of Abigail, and in the very situation of suffering and peril to which, we as we have said, that she was, as the wife of David, continually exposed. About two years after his marriage David took refuge in the kingdom of Gath [the enemies of Israel], and besought and obtained from Achish, their king, the town of Ziklag, which, though situated in the territory of Simeon, had till then belonged to the Philistines. In that city David and his companions, with their wives and children, composed a faithful little Hebrew colony; and the town formed a quiet residence for the females and children while their husbands were engaged in war.

On the many valiant acts of David we must not linger. Two years after he had received the gift of Ziklag, the Philistines gathered together all their armies in Aphek, and the Israelites pitched by a fountain in Jezreel [prepared to do battle]; David and his men were with the rere-ward [the rearguard] of the army of Achish; but, distrusted by the princes and lords of the Philistines, because of their being Israelites, they were disbanded from the army, and in consequence returned to Ziklag.

Only three days had elapsed since they had left it; but what a change awaited their return! The city was a heap of smoking ruins, and their wives and their sons and their daughters, all had been carried off.  The Amalekites had made an invasion in the south, and, without tarrying to slay, had marked their path with fire, and carried off every woman and child.

Few lengthy descriptions of grief have the force and beauty of the scriptural relation: ‘Then David and the people that were with him lifted up their voices and wept, until they had no more power to weep.’  And David himself had not only to mourn the loss of his two wives, but was ‘greatly distressed, for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters.’

Stoning him, the Lord’s Anointed! How fearfully must grief have disordered the minds and hearts of his followers; and how painful the position of David!

To feel distress was no weakness in Israel. Human nature is never described in the Bible as other than deeply susceptible of all human and gentle emotions. Religion in Israel was never intended to render the heart insensible to the sweet charities of life and all their subsequent afflictions. It was no sin to weep – no weakness to feel distressed; but as ‘David encouraged himself in the Lord his God,’ so too must we, when the deep waters of affliction flow over us; and like him we shall received the guidance and encouragement we need.

But even in this emergency, when every human feeling must have been striving within him, urging instant action, we find him in meekness and humility inquiring of the Lord. And to him God vouchsafed [returned] reply, and bade him pursue, ‘for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all.’

To enter into the detail of this chivalrous expedition we have not space, as it relates more to David than to his wife, whose history we are recording. Our readers will find the whole, far more emphatically told than could be by an uninspired pen, in the 30th chapter of the First Book of Samuel. Suffice it here to state, ‘that David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away; and he rescued his two wives, and there was nothing lacking to him, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, nor anything that they had taken to them; David recovered all.’

The work of love

The whole of this stirring tale reminds us of those narratives of the Middle Ages, on which the youthful lovers of chivalry delight to linger.  Why should they not, then, feel equal pleasure in the inspired story of their immediate ancestors? We have quite enough of Abigail’s character and sentiments revealed, to give us all sufficient for a just conception of what not only her feelings but her conduct must have been, when she saw the city of her husband burnt and sacked, and herself and all her female companions, with their helpless children, carried off by their lawless foes – exposed to every horror which the mind could frame or the heart could dread.

The wild attack; the hurried flight; the agony of those days of capture which could have no hopeful future, for David and his men were with Achish, and the time of their return to Ziklag so uncertain, that traces of the Amalekite spoilers might be lost ere their capture was even known. And then the wild rekindling of hope at the sudden descent of David and his men; the awful strife lasting from even unto even; the glorious conquest; and the reunion of husbands and wives, children and fathers; are so completely all the elements of romance, that we need little of imagination to give it life and breath, or turn to the records of fiction for events to stir the very heart’s blood with the recital of chivalric deeds.

But not to record it merely in its romantic bearings, have we brought this portion of Scripture forward. It is to remark how truly and beautifully both the grief and the exertions of David and his men demonstrate the extent of love, conjugal and parental, which reigned in the Hebrew households.

It is a beautiful illustration of the spirit of those Mosaic laws, which, penetrating the very homes of the first-born of the Lord, guided and sanctified the conduct of husbands and wives, children and parents. LOVE was the watchword of Israel, alike in their relations to their Father in heaven and to each other. That the law was severe in its justice, is no contradiction to this assertion. Its perfection of justice was far purer, deeper, more influencing Love, than the modern codes which are pronounced so much more merciful.

Her social position

The social and domestic position of the wife of Nabal must have been as perfectly free, independent, and influencing as that of any woman of the present day, be the laws which guide her what they may. We perceive the counsel and wisdom of their mistress sought and followed by the servants of Nabal without the smallest regard to their master.

Compare this liberty of will and action, this exercise of judgment displayed in the history of Abigail, with the position and the characters of the Eastern females of the present day, under the laws of Mahomet [Islam], and then let truth pronounce which are the degraded.

Again, we are expressly told, that Abigail was not merely a beautiful woman, but of good understanding, which her whole story proves; and yet more, every word of her address to David evinces an almost remarkable knowledge of the ways and the words of the Lord.

She is even called by the Ancient Fathers a prophetess. ‘There were seven women of Israel,’ they say, ‘who were prophetesses – Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther.’

We know not on what authority our venerable sages have honoured by the term prophetess, those whom the Bible does not so distinguish; but it is a forcible proof of the deep learning and profound knowledge of the Word of God which must have been possessed by Abigail, and which she could not have acquired without study. The study of religion, then, was evidently not prohibited to the women of Israel; and therefore we know not by what authority such blessed study can be denied to us now.

Nor is it only religious knowledge which Abigail’s character develops. It is a perfect acquaintance with human nature, else she had not so soon turned aside the wrath of David. Judgment, intellect, and talent all breathe in her eloquent appeal, and evince [show] an elevation of intelligence impossible to be obtained were the social position of woman confined to household work. The more we study the story of Abigail, the more deeply we must feel how valuable it is to us as women of Israel; how impressively it marks out our privileges in every relation of life, and how unanswerably it proves that Jewish women need no other creed to give them either spiritual or temporal advantages.

The study of the word

As women, the character of Abigail equally concerns us. We have frequently insisted that the narratives [stories], as well as the precepts [laws], of the Bible are written for our guidance; and therefore are we so anxious to bring forward all that can aid our young sisters in making their Bibles their daily guide.

Many would do so, but they know not how, from the sad scarcity of religious books amongst us, in modern tongues. The more we daily study the Bible, the more easy in truth shall we find it; but then we must not confine our readings to the five books of Moses.

One chapter every morning, one every night, and three on the Sabbath, complete the whole Bible – Pentateuch [the five books of Moses], Hagiography [the sacred histories], and Prophets [the revelations] – all, with the sole exception of the Psalms, in the three hundred and sixty-five days forming the Nazarene year. 

And this formed into a habit, not done one year and laid aside, but persevered in for a life, would, in process of time, and without either labour or weariness, give the comfort and the knowledge that we seek. Nor need we fear that we shall grow weary of the task: each year it would become lighter and more blessed, each year we should discover something we knew not before, and in the valley of the shadow of death feel, to our heart’s core, that the Word of our God is in truth ‘the rod and the staff, they comfort me,’ of which the Monarch-Psalmist spake.

Living with God

We have already noticed the little power which Nabal’s churlish temper, and all the discomforts thence ensuring, had over the pious and energetic character of Abigail. From her wise forbearance towards him, both in acting without his knowledge in seeking David, and in not mentioning the effect of that interview till he was in a state to hear it, we can quite infer that she not only bore with a churlish temper, but well knew how to manage it – a task not a little difficult, and which none but an unselfish and well-controlled temper ever can attempt.

Many women, instead of acting on such an emergency, would have lost all the proper time of action in vain lamentations, and in bitter reproaches of the churlish folly which had caused it; or, if they acted as Abigail did, many would have displayed triumph, would have vaunted of their own skill in turning wrath aside, and taunted Nabal with what might have befallen him.

But Abigail, with true womanly dignity, did neither. That she had been permitted to save her household from an imminent danger was enough for her – and if the kind providence of the Eternal had not ordained it otherwise, she would have returned to all her usual quiet duties and silent endurance, never dreaming that her conduct had evinced [called forth] anything worthy of reward.

Let us, then, as women, not only admire, but imitate the piety, the forbearance, and the energy of our gentle ancestress, assured that such virtues are acceptable to our God.

Many and many a one have a Nabal in their households in one or other relation of life. Temper, thought of so little, encouraged because it is no palpable [obvious] vice, so blinding the eyes of its possessor as to fling its black shadow on all his associates, till they are thought the churlish, not himself - temper, the severer of so many gentle ties, the rude breaker of so many loving hearts, the baleful spirit of so many otherwise richly favoured homes, - oh, what but a character, a piety, an energy like Abigail’s, can enable us to sustain its trials, in a manner acceptable to the Lord, and not overwhelming to ourselves?

As women, as women of Israel more especially, let us endeavour to cultivate these noble qualities, and feel that even for the sufferings of a churlish temper, we have sympathy, comfort, and guidance in the [God of the] Bible.

We may not all have either the beauty or the good understanding of Abigail, but we may all have piety and energy and influence if we so will; the one springs from the other: for the want of energy, the absence of all influence, arises from a listless indifference which never can exist with true piety.

A special gift from God

The service of God demands constant watchfulness, constant activity, ay, and constant thought; nor can we serve Him, apart from serving our fellow-creatures. To bear and forbear is peculiarly woman’s duty – in every station of life, and more especially towards a husband; and every religious and justly feeling woman will rouse her every energy to conceal, or at least prevent, the evil consequences of temper and ill judgment spreading over her household, and lowering the character of a husband in the minds of his inferiors. Abigail’s constant superiority of judgment and action we learn by her servants going to her without hesitation. They must have frequently confided in her judgment before, else they could not have demonstrated such implicit trust in a moment of danger.

Her influence we as clearly perceive in the success of her appeal to David; a quick judgment and a few well-chosen words saved herself and household from destruction, and David from the committal of a great sin.

And if by the cultivation of mind and manner woman can achieve such things, who shall deny her the privilege of being an instrument of good, or seek to confine her to a false and degraded position, and so compel either vacuity [emptiness] and idleness, or frivolity and folly? We may not be called upon to exert our influence in a matter of life or death, but few are the women who pass through this life without some opportunity to use their natural influence for good, either in the encouragement of worth, or the wise and gentle guidance from the paths of sin.

If there are some who will deny this, who will assert that in their isolated position they have influence on none, and have no power to do good, we would say, it is because they seek it not, not because they have it not.  And beseech them to rouse their dormant energy to find and use it, and by the superiority of their mental resources, their spiritual piety, their noble energy, and pure meek womanly influence, alike in their domestic and social position, make manifest to the nations how deeply they feel and glory in the privileges accorded to, and in the duties demanded from, them, as the female children of the Lord.

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