A revenge story has enough power to catapult us from our homes into a movie theater. Revenge is a spectacle, a sport, a billion-dollar industry off of which Hollywood profits. We leave these dark rooms feeling pity for Leonard Shelby amidst his grave forgetfulness, challenged by Hugh Glass’ unflinching drive, proud of Annie and Hallie for planting the lizard on Elizabeth’s water bottle. For us, it tastes as good as the buttered popcorn we paid too much for. Retribution. The kind of word one savors to say.
No wonder God’s unilateral claim to vengeance offends us.
In 1 Samuel 25, we encounter a narrative primed for good filmmaking. We jump into the middle of David’s story. David has just shown incredible restraint in sparing the life of his pursuer, Saul, an ignorant and unworthy king (24:1-22). As this scene ends, we receive abrupt news: “Now Samuel died” (25:1). The man who traveled to Bethlehem in God’s name to anoint David as King of God’s people, now gone.
Let’s just say that David was (understandably) not in the mood for foolishness. But, as providence would have it, he ended up talking to the man who is named Foolish (25:1-8). Our protagonist comes face to face with the villain of all villains: a rich and self-important man. Nabal. David asks for some help on behalf of his soldiers. It’s a day for feasting; the abundance would make such a request seem too small to matter. Perhaps he was hoping to return the favor someday should he need it. Who wouldn’t want a favor from the future King? Maybe he selfishly hoped to get on Nabal’s good side. Who doesn’t want to be on the side of money or resources? It’s all logical.
But Nabal spits back. “Who is David?” (25:10). Foolish did not do his homework. Or, even worse, maybe he did. Nabal defies the heir to the throne, and sends David into a fit of rage when he hears of it (25:12-13). David will show Nabal who he is: he is a man who chose a sharpened sword instead of mere stones and a slingshot. Nabal will pay.
And so would we if this were a movie — ten dollars a head, without hesitation. But one character is written into the script that ruins all its marketability. Abigail. The wife of Foolish.
Abigail must have endured her husband’s foolishness far beyond what she deserved. Perhaps she was even a victim of it. We know little of her story (though we could probably benefit from it). We do know, however, that she clung to eternal truths that helped her persist, helped her give grace, helped her forgive, helped her have hope in the ordinary moments of life with her husband.
“Vengeance is Mine. I will repay.”
When Abigail received word of David’s planned revenge, she made her own plan. A risky one, to be sure, but one worth making, out of honor for the Holy One of Israel, and out of respect to the coming King of Israel. She grabbed his attention with an incredible spread of food (25:18-20). But for David, this was no longer a matter of provisions. It was a matter of principle. “God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him” (25:22).
Abigail could have joined in the sneak attack, under the mountain’s cover. But her security remained in the shadow of the Almighty.
Abigail talked David off of the ledge. She did not excuse away the foolish behavior of the one who wronged him. Neither does God. She did not stoke David’s anger and push him to follow his heart. Neither does God. Abigail knew that Nabal would reap what he had sown, but David must not destroy himself, too. After all, for us, getting revenge never fully delivers on the satisfaction it promises.
David exhaled. The rage began to dissipate. David is not the hero of this story. It was Abigail’s discretion that restrained David from making a catastrophic decision he would live to regret (25:32-35).
How wonderful it is to have others speak words of life into our sinfully angry hearts, even when they are the words that we do not want to hear. How wonderful it is when we heed them.
Our friends get angry. We get angry. We are backstabbed. Accused. Wronged. Mocked. Taken advantage of. Belittled. “Who is David?” Our hurt becomes rage. It’s easier, entertaining even, to let the anger flow. But the truth is, vengeance is always the Lord’s to repay.
The harder, but right choice (that Hollywood won’t tell you) is to persist whatever we face anchored in this truth, and to help others believe it, too.