By Al R. Hodges
Retired IMB Missionary
“There but for the grace of God go I” is a statement attributed to 16th century English protestant John Bradford. Such was Bradford’s humility, that upon seeing the execution of hardened criminals, he understood God had protected him from falling into such crimes. Maybe you can look back on a time in your life when God spared you from yourself.
While on the run from King Saul, David’s band of some 600 men occupied the southern wilderness territory. The area was vulnerable to Philistine raids and to other forms of banditry. David patrolled the area and protected Israelite shepherds from harm, only asking for food in return. This quid pro quo relationship was an acceptable part of Middle Eastern culture, and remains so in pastoral societies even today.
Nabal was a very wealthy man who owned 1,000 goats and 3,000 sheep. His wife Abigail was very intelligent, while he was selfish and mean (I Samuel 25:2-3). David sent 10 of his men to Nabal, to greet him and to inform him that David and his men had kept vigilance over Nabal’s shepherds and sheep while they were in the wilderness. They were also to ask Nabal to give them “whatever” he could find for them (ch. 25:8). Rather than receive and honor the messengers however, Nabal insulted them and turned them away (vv. 10-11). When it was told to David, he immediately mobilized his men. They strapped on their swords, and were quickly on their way to vengefully kill Nabal, his family, and all his servants (vv. 12-13).
One of the men who had witnessed Nabal’s treatment of David’s messengers could see disaster coming! He quickly ran and told Abigail everything, and asked her to do what she could because disaster was coming (vv. 14-17).
Abigail lost no time. She assembled a peace offering of bread, wine, sheep, roasted grain, raisin cakes, and figs. She set out toward David’s camp, sending her servants with the offering ahead of her (vv. 18-19). Meanwhile, David and his men were marching toward Nabal’s settlement (vv. 21-22). When they met on the road, Abigail bowed low before David, and asked forgiveness for her husband and her household, offering him the gifts of appeasement (vv. 23-31).
Abigail’s intervention of humility and wise words brought David to his senses (vv. 32-35). David said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me.” David recognized God’s hand working through Abigail’s obedience, God’s perfect timing, and God’s protection. God had intervened, preventing him from acting in his own anger, preventing him from becoming a king with blood on his hands. What grace! What protection God provided! David might have said, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
It is in God’s hands anyway (vv. 36-38). When Abigail later informed Nabal of the narrowly averted disaster, his heart failed him. He froze in fear, and became like a stone. Ten days later, the Lord took his life. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Some e-mails are better never sent; some words better never spoken. The Lord will protect us and do His will when we allow Him to do so.