Actions and reactions.
Action – “a thing done.” ~ Webster
Reaction – “a response to some treatment, situation, or stimulus.” ~ Webster
In life, we all choose our own actions, and we also have reactions in response to what others are doing or saying. And in the story of Nabal found in I Samuel 25, we see both actions and reactions. The Bible devotes an entire long chapter to this story, and there are some important lessons here God has for us to learn, including some essential things about our actions and reactions in life.
At the time of this story, David hasn’t become king yet. He was anointed by Samuel already, but King Saul is still the king and David is on the run. David is stressed and living life on the run because King Saul keeps trying to kill him. Saul’s chased him all over the country as David escapes by hiding out in caves, hills and deserts. He’s living with around 600 men and their families at the time, and he’s a man on the run when they come across Nabal.
Then Samuel died; and the Isrealites gathered together and lamented for him, and buried him at his home in Ramah. And David arose and went down tot eh Wilderness of Paran. Now there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel, and the man was very rich. He had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. And he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. The name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. And she was a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance; but the man was harsh and evil in his doings. He was of the house of Caleb.
When David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep, David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. And thus you shall say to him who lives in prosperity: ‘Peace be to you, peace to your house, and peace to all that you have! Now I have heard that you have shearers. Your shepherds were with us, and we did not hurt them, nor was there anything missing from them all the while they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and to your son David.’”
So when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in the name of David, and waited. Then Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, “Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?” (I Samuel 25: 1-11)
We know several things about Nabal from his actions. He was rich, he was harsh, and evil. Nabal is a reminder that you even those with riches can be very stupid, selfish, and greedy. Everyone around knows Nabal’s reputation. Later in the chapter his servants say he’s a scoundrel that you just can’t talk to. Even his wife Abigail realizes what type of guy he is.
Today, we live in a world of Nabals. They’re everywhere. People who lose their temper and go off on other people. Greedy, selfish, mocking people. Just go on social media sites and you’ll see insults, arrogance, and a lack of kindness. We have a suicide problem among young people today because some have been so insulted and shamed on social media by bullies that they take their own lives. This is the type of world we’re living in today, and if there was ever a moment where Christians need to act differently, it’s right now!
How do people see you? How do people see me? The people around Nabal all knew what he was like. He was impossible to deal with and be around. We need to consider what people think of us. How do people talk about you when you leave? Have you been kind? Did you show interest and love in the people you meet, or is it all about you? Are you boastful and unkind, or do you show compassion?
We don’t want to show people around us a Nabal spirit through our actions – we want people to see Jesus in us. People flocked to Jesus because he showed compassion, gentleness, kindness, and meekness. A look at Nabal’s character teaches us a lot. He didn’t care about the lives of other people like David and his men. All he cared about was his own possessions, and he was self-centered and rude. But in the New Testament we’re taught to be humble, kind, affectionate, and unselfish. There’s a world of hurting people out there. People are sick, lonely, and hurting. They already feel like no one cares about them. People are going through serious difficulties. They don’t trust anyone. As Christians, we need to love people like Jesus did – the exact opposite of Nabal.
So David’s young men turned on their heels and went back; and they came and told him all these words. Then David said to his men, “Every man gird on his sword.” So every man girded on his sword, and David also girded on his sword. And about four hundred men went with David, and two hundred stayed with the supplies. (1 Samuel 25: 12-13)
There’s no doubt, we’re going to run into people who act just like Nabal, and when we do, we’re responsible for our reactions. Just look at David. He’d had a great victory against the giant Goliath. Samuel had already anointed him as the next chosen king of Israel. David’s often referred to as the man after God’s heart, and Jesus is called the “son of David” in the New Testament. Twice, David had the opportunity to kill King Saul, and yet he didn’t. He said he couldn’t touch God’s anointed, and twice he kept his head when Saul was trying to kill him, refusing to give into the temptation to kill the man who had tried to kill him many times.
David has gone through all those things, God has helped him in a powerful way, and then suddenly over Nabal’s actions he’s ready to ruin everything in his life because of anger. Reaction! Sometimes big things in our lives happen that can make us angry (like Saul trying to kill David) and we look to God and He helps us through them. Then some little thing comes along in life, we’re not being careful and staying as close to God as we should, and we ignite in anger. Sometimes we end up saying or doing things that we regret.
Nabal isn’t very nice. He refuses to feed David and his company, and he questions, “who is David?” Suddenly, David is angry enough to kill him and everyone around him. It’s a disproportionate response.
As we live our lives, we have to recognize that we’re going to run across people who may just be mean and nasty. It’s not personal. That’s just the way they are. In the case of Nabal and David, Nabal’s response wasn’t about David, it was Nabal’s problem. But David took his response personally and was ready to take up his sword and kill not only Nabal, but all of Nabal’s servants, too. He allowed anger to make him crazy.
Even though David is anointed of God and has been through tough times before and great victories, he reacts by getting angry so quickly and is ready to do a terrible thing.
Now one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, “Look, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master; and he reviled them. But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, nor did we miss anything as long as we accompanied them, when we were in the fields. They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore, know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him.”
Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys. And she said to her servants, “Go on before me; see, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.
So it was, as she rode on the donkey, that she went down under cover of the hill; and there were David and his men, coming down toward her, and she met them. Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good. May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light.”
Now when Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground. So she fell at his feet and said: “On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be! And please let your maidservant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your maidservant. Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal. For as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him! But I, your maidservant, did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, since the Lord has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now then, let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal. And now this present which your maidservant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your maidservant. For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the Lord, and evil is not found in you throughout your days. Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. But when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.”
Then David said to Abigail: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand. For indeed, as the Lord God of Israel lives, who has kept me back from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!” So David received from her hand what she had brought him, and said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person.” (I Samuel 25:14-35)
As we read about Abigail’s reaction, it becomes clear that God is so faithful to us. Through Abigail’s reaction to the situation, God preserves David from doing something terrible. God sends Abigail, who has much more sense and wisdom, to go out and deal with David. David was armed and ready to start killing people over such a small thing. That seems terrible to us. But think about some of the things we have been angry about in our own lives. Most of us have said or done things when we’ve been angry that we’ve regretted.
It’s frightening to think about how quickly hot anger kindles. Anger often comes as a flash fire. And David recognizes that here. He speaks to Abigail and blesses her for keeping him from coming to bloodshed. Her reaction is that of a peacemaker. With her kindness and humility, coming to David with so much food and with a plea for mercy, she prevents bloodshed and is used by God to keep David from going through with his terrible plan.
In the New Testament, James speaks to Christians about anger and how to deal with trying times in life. “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20 NKJV)
We’re commanded to be slow to speak and slow to wrath (or anger). Giving ourselves over to anger isn’t righteous, and it can lead us to do terrible things, just like we saw with David. We must give our anger to God, being careful of both our actions and reactions.
How do we make sure we’re not like Nabal? How do we avoid letting anger overtake us like it did David until Abigail stopped him? The Bible gives us the answer – the love of God!
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8a)
Love is the antidote to anger. It’s the key to controlling both our actions and our reactions. “Love never fails.”