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Abigail’s Messianic Ministry

David’s first encounter with Abigail is an archetypal male experience. By revealing this insight into politically incorrect and unfiltered male impulses, I am not wanting to fuel up the gender-debate. Just file it under spontaneous and honest first impressions upon reading a biblical text. The passage conjures a question often asked among men and much more often just pondered almost unconsciously: Why are the most beautiful and intelligent women married to complete morons (from Greek moros = stupid)? So, at any rate, it seems to us intelligent and handsome men in moments of forgetfulness of our spouses’ beauty or mere absence of mirrors to self-evaluate.

The text doesn’t satisfactorily answer the question (unless Nabal’s dropping dead is instilling hope or fear in you), but it does talk about a heroine of faith and courage. And through the vision of such a beautiful and clever woman we men are confronted with two realities we need to face or be faced with (which might in the end serve as answers to our initial question):

1. We still doom women to be background characters when they should be holding the reins

Looking back on Nabal’s household, who should have been the one in charge? Who should have done the talking and the negotiating? Who should have taken final decisions? Nabal seems to be a good businessman, yes, but just imagine – quite materialistically – the profit his company could have made by appointing Abigail as CEO. The world knows that a good-looking and intelligent woman is a bombshell in your arsenal. Cleverness combined with cleavage, it is said, can work miracles. Mammon knows what mammas can do (pun intended). Everybody knows that. Nabal doesn’t. That’s what causes the text (and his own wife) blatantly to call him and even name him – a fool. In a male-dominated world 50% of the profit seems to go down the drain, because gender determines function.

However, Jesus wants his church to be built on talent (Mat. 25:14ff). Abigail is talented and she gives proof. She can take a quick decision, she does impressive crisis management, she has respect and influence among her personnel and she can talk. She turned the situation 180 degrees around. Try to change the attitude of a steamrolling, swearing David, ready to shed blood, shrunk to shameful machismo, exclaiming to leave no one who pisses against the wall alive (original text), around in eight verses. She has one go and the result is a David who is praising the Lord (V. 32). I wish I had that gift with those church members venting their anger in my office. I wish they’d all leave praising the Lord. And I wish I could do it in a mere eight verses.

The truth is that in all the churches I have served, there were women like Abigail. Praise the Lord! And whenever we are ready to not only give them the pulpit (by ordaining them), but to follow their lead, we will see Jesus’ dream fulfilled. Talent counts and the text teaches us what we should be called if we don’t see it and use it.

2. We act upon sexual impulse and call it insight

There is an excellent story I found in a book on Jewish legends. The story is told this way: David and his men were riding down the hill in the dark. Abigail unveils her thighs and they were shining so bright that David could see three miles down the road. Though this piece of saga seems to be just hilarious at first glance, it reveals the modus operandi of even the most faithful of us – men foremost, but women too. Sigmund Freud called it libido. And while we tend to translate libido into sexual desire, it meant much more for Freud. He meant to say with libido that we are driven by strong and even creative impulses and motivations. And they can work to both good and destructive ends. David’s impulse of blind anger is a negative expression of libido almost in the animalistic sense of ridding oneself of one’s opponent.

The fact that David asks Abigail to marry him reveals the sexual tension present throughout the dramatic unfolding of that night. David’s praise of Abigail in verses 32 and 33 seems to be both honest and dishonest. Honest because Abigail manages successfully to get David to think twice and to regret his initial desire for destruction. Dishonest because the reader knows instinctively that while David is impressed by Abigail’s spirituality, his all too pious answer seems to hide the underlying sexual drives and fascination, as revealed by his instant proposal after Nabal’s death.

And thus it is that as a pastor myself, filled to the brink with seemingly pure and holy motivations, I felt caught and asked myself how often I am busy justifying good and noble ends without admitting to myself the subterranean and even archaic drives that impel my actions and that are so easily and sometimes shamefully exposed by the mere sight of a beautiful and intelligent woman.

But here is the good news: It is these mechanics of the soul that God can use for His higher purpose.

3. A story of salvation

Finally, this is a story of salvation. As such it takes on a messianic dimension. Whenever I see long lists of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, I immediately realize that most of them are filed under messianic prophecies because they allude or evoke a parallelism, a pattern, an idea of salvation as revealed in Jesus Christ, the messiah. And so it is here:

Abigail is a woman fighting for the life of her family and personnel. At the end, they – like Nabal – will owe their survival to her (though Nabal’s final fate is a tragic death in the face of survival, the ultimate foolishness of hardening one’s heart).

But there is more that she rescues, and David recognizes it. She rescues his reputation, even his qualification to be the king of Israel and by that to be called the ancestor of Christ. The story dramatically reveals the thin thread running through the history of salvation, right down to the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and how God used people to prevent the thread from breaking.

To speak somewhat anachronistically and naively about Abigail as a typical background character, who should have stood up front on the stage (see above), is an understatement compared to the messianic overtones of the text. Just spot the parallels:

  • Abigail’s words are nothing less than prophetic. Much like Nathan later in David’s life, who points his index in David’s face saying: you are the man (who killed Bathseba’s husband: 2 Sam. 12:7), Abigail, though in a much more humble and subordinate and therefore powerful way, speaks words of prophetic rebuke right into David’s face: Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live (v. 28).
  • She enters center stage riding on a donkey.
  • Her words are filled with the power to turn hate and revengefulness into praise.
  • She takes another one’s guilt on herself (v. 24).
  • She invites David and His band to a table of fellowship, laden with bread and wine (and a few other things).
  • Christ’s words to his disciples when washing their feet seem to be an echo of Abigail, saying: Here is your maidservant, ready to serve you and wash the feet of my master’s servants (v. 41).

That is probably why Ellen White commented about Abigail that “the Spirit of the Son of God was abiding in her soul” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 667). And that is perhaps the larger picture of what we Adventists mean with the biblical term “the spirit of prophecy”: a god-given gift to influence the course of salvation-history on whatever small or large scale, to influence in ways whose original author can only be God Himself.

And this is perhaps the reason why we won’t hear much more about that woman for the rest of scripture: to give full stage to the unfolding of God’s history with this world it needs people who step back in order to let the light of God’s love shine upon others.

It shone on me this week. And it lacked neither beauty nor wisdom.

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