When David was forced to flee from the jealous King Saul and to live precariously in remote areas of Israel, his band of warrior-supporters provided needed protection and help for the servants of the wealthy rancher Nabal over an extended period of time. When David’s men eventually asked Nabal for food in return for the protection they had given his men and flocks, Nabal rebuffed them in such a way that David threatened to kill the surly and ungrateful man.
The foolishness of Nabal (whose name in Hebrew means “fool”) that put his own life, and probably those of others, in danger was mitigated only by his beautiful wife Abigail who quickly gathered a supply of food and secretly took it to David, imploring him to accept the gift and not to act in anger that would lead to bloodshed (1 Samuel 25:31). We are told that David relented, but that when the drunken Nabal learned what had happened he suffered a heart attack in his intense anger and died (1 Samuel 25:37-38). Soon after, David married Abigail, whom Jewish tradition records as one of the four most beautiful women (along with Sarah, Rahab, and Esther) mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
Much has been written regarding Abigail’s role in this situation. She is often praised for her wisdom, kindness, generosity, and tact – all of which were clearly qualities that she exhibited. However, we should see this story in perspective. Although we might think of David as a king and Abigail as simply the wife of a rancher in the remote countryside, the opposite is true. David was a penniless fugitive at this time and Abigail the wife of a very rich man, which gave her a far higher socioeconomic status than David. Yet Abigail not only personally took the requested food to David and his men, she humbly addressed him as “lord” and acted as a servant in his presence (1 Samuel 25:28-30).
Although the Bible does not tell us much more about Abigail beyond what we read in 1 Samuel 25, her story stands in contrast to the later story of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11, 12; 1 Kings 1, 2), who was also a very beautiful woman married to another man – whom David did kill – and who also became David’s wife. But in contrast to the story of Bathsheba, Abigail’s story is one of a woman who prevented the murder of her husband through her wise actions – as David himself acknowledged (1 Samuel 25:33-34).
As a result of her actions, we remember Abigail as a wise as well as beautiful woman whose wisdom saved the day. Yet to simply ascribe “wisdom” to Abigail is to miss the leadership lesson that is so clear in her story of evasive action.
While we can summarize Abigail’s chief characteristics as being ones of “wisdom” and related qualities, those are the underlying attributes of her nature that caused her to act as she did; but the principle that she followed was very specifically that of “evasive action.” By taking the initiative when her husband was clearly endangering himself and others, Abigail’s efforts exemplified the principle of acting swiftly to counter a problem that has come into being. This is different from Abraham’s looking ahead and preparing, when possible, for problems before they occur – it is a rapid response to problems and dangers when they unexpectedly occur.
Evasive action may be associated in our minds with things such as military operations or defensive driving, but it is a principle that can be applied in every aspect of our lives. We can exercise the principle by smoothing down an argument or dispute in the making, by changing our young children’s friends when we get indications they are not good influences, and in countless other ways. Abigail’s story is a classic example of a basic leadership principle that can be remembered and utilized whenever situations arise in which evasive action might be wise. As leadership experts often stress, evasive action can help us overcome problems before the problems overcome us.
* Extracted from our new free e-book, Lessons From Old Testament Leaders. You can download a copy without registration, email, or charge, here.