One of my favorite women in the Bible is Abigail, whose story, told in 1 Samuel chapter 25, is full of rich meaning that can be applied to our own lives as disciples of Christ. I love Abigail’s story so much that I named my only daughter after her, hoping that my Abbey would have her same courage and wisdom when she is grown.
Let me tell you what I’ve learned about Abigail.
Abigail was raised “Beloved”:
I don’t know anything about Abigail’s family of origin, but I do know one thing: She was her father’s joy. And I believe she was raised “beloved.”
According to Scottish anthropologist James George Frazer in The Golden Bough, most Hebrew names were chosen for their spiritual significance. Abigail’s name is derived from two Hebrew words, ‘ab meaning “father” and gil meaning “to rejoice” or “be glad.” In contrast, her husband Nabal’s name means “foolish” or “senseless.” When used as an adjective, nabal refers to unethical and immoral people.
I believe Abigail’s name bears great significance in the story of her courage and daring, or rather, in the formation of her courage and daring. Because she was loved and delighted in as a child, Abigail would have been raised with secure attachment and a healthy self-esteem. She lived from an identity of wholeness and belonging.
According to attachment theory, the way that our early caregivers related to us greatly impacts our emotional development and future relationships. It shapes our understanding of independence and dependence, and of receiving and giving love and affection.
Knowing this about attachment, I believe that the attachment style we learned as children greatly impacts our relationship with God. God made us in his image, and we tend to return the favor, making God into the image of the men and women who raised us. This can either mean that we fear God or trust God, that we deep-down know we are loved by him, or never feel good enough.
In the Jesus Story Book Bible,Sally Lloyd-Jones describes God’s love beautifully: “You see no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children with a Never–Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”
Do you have a hard time believing that God loves you this way? If so, it is likely that you have healing work to do. (I wrote about “The Search for Identity: Healing Our Image of God and of Ourselves” here.)
I am convinced that Abigail was “living loved” and that is why she had the courage and strength to act as an agent of redemption in the Bible.
Abigail was more than a pretty face:
Like several Old Testament women, Abigail is described as beautiful (the Talmud lists her among the four most beautiful women in the world, with Rahab, Sarah and Esther). Unlike most other women in the OT, Abigail is also described as “intelligent” (NIV), or “clever” (NRSV), or “of good understanding” (KJV), as having “good (tov) understanding/intelligence (se.khel)” in 1 Samuel 25:3.
Solomon is described with the same Hebrew word (se.khel) in 2 Chronicles 2:12, as is Zechariah in 1 Chronicles 26:14, the Levites in 2 Chronicles 30:22, and Sherebiah in Ezra 8:18.
Abigail breaks the ancient patriarchal mold of being valued for her beauty and/or ability to bear sons. She is praised for her intellect and understanding, with the same language attributed to wise King Solomon, the priestly tribe, and the prophets Zechariah and Sherebiah!
Abigail was a prophetess:
Because of his foolishness, Nabal failed to appreciate who David was. But Abigail knew who David was. She spoke eloquently and prophetically about David and his future reign as king of Isreal.
Remarkably, her speech is one of the longest speeches of a woman recorded in the Old Testament! Her words have been preserved as Scripture, useful for our instruction (2 Timothy 3:16).
“The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live…When the Lord has…appointed him ruler over Israel my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself…” (vs. 28-31).
The Talmud includes Abigail as one of seven Jewish women prophets, the other six being Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Sarah, Huldah and Esther.
Abigail is praised for defying her husband:
You heard that right!
For those who believe in “biblical gender roles,” here is a Biblical example directly challenging the belief that a wife ought to “obey” her husband (don’t worry, I have a post in the works on submission, coming soon).
Abigail defied her husband, going behind his back because she knew he would not approve of her actions. She does not seem very concerned with her husband’s frail ego, either: “My lord should not pay attention to this wicked man Nabal. He simply lives up to his name! His name means ‘fool,’ and he is indeed foolish!” (vs. 25).
Despite defying her husband and saying negative things about him publicly, Abigail is commended for her actions. David recognized that Abigail was sent by God: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day” (vs. 32-33).
After Nabal’s death, David rushed to marry Abigail. She became his third wife and bore David’s second son Chileab (2 Samuel 3:3). Her son is called Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1.
Abigail is in fact an ideal wife. She did not submit to her husband Nabal’s stupidity; rather she protected her husband and his interests. Which brings me to my next point:
Abigail is an ezer, a strong help:
Many patriarchal teachers emphasize that it is the man’s role to protect women (who they see as the weaker sex), and they insist this is God’s design. Yet there are numerous examples throughout the Bible of women protecting men that they must stubbornly overlook or ignore.
In addition to this story, where Abigail saves hundreds of innocent lives, in Judges 4, we have the story of Deborah and Jael helping the Israelites win the insurmountable foe of Sisera and the Canaanites; in Exodus 1:15-22, we have the Hebrew midwives bravely defying the order of the Egyptian pharaoh to kill male babies, at great danger to themselves; in Joshua 2 we have the story of Rahab hiding the spies; in Judges 9:50-57; 2 Samuel 11:21 “a certain woman” of Thebez kills Abimelech, leading to 45 years of national peace. There are more examples like this.
When God made Eve in the Garden of Eden, he said she was an ezer kenegdo for Adam (Genesis 2:18). Our English translations have “helper suitable” (NIV), “help meet” (KJV), “helper fit” (ESV), etc. for ezer kenegdo. Many take this to mean that Eve was made to help Adam in a subordinate role, as his assistant.
“Evidence indicates that the word ‘ezer originally had two roots, each beginning with different guttural sounds. One meant “power” and the other “strength” (from God’s Word to Women Word Study on Ezer Kenegdo).
Other instances of ezer in the Old Testament, refer to God as a Israel’s helper in war. Certainly not a weak or subordinate help! I like the CEB translation of kenegdo – “perfect.” Eve is a strong help, perfectly suited to Adam, who declared her equality to him when he saw she was just like him, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!”
Abigail was a strong help who protected her household from Nabal’s foolishness. She is an example of Biblical womanhood – an ezer kenegdo.
Abigail is a type of Christ:
Typology in Christian theology and Biblical interpretation refers to Old Testament events and persons that pre-figure Jesus Christ. For example, Jonah is a type of Christ for spending three days in the belly of the whale, pre-figuring Christ’s resurrection after three days in the grave.
I read an article by Heather Celoria where she breaks down the ways Abigail is a type of Christ, and it is quite beautiful:
To me, the life of Abigail is a clear example of how God includes and honors women in his redemption plan. Unlike the patriarchal teachings of “Biblical manhood and womanhood” that would relegate women to assistant status, keeping us small and contained, Abigail shows us a better way. Following Abigail’s example, we too can function as a beloved children of God, strong helpers to others, and prophetic voices proclaiming who Jesus is to others. Abigail was a pre-figure of Christ’s redemption work as Servant King and Messiah, and is a lasting example of discipleship for us today.
I wrote a follow-up to this article, Abigail Sequel – What About Submission?
And here’s a critical look at David’s part in this story:
Nice Flock of Sheep you got there – Scott McAndless
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