Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
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Breaking the Cycle of Hatred, Part 2

1st Samuel 25

 Last Sunday we looked at the story of David sparing Saul’s life at the cave of En Gedi when he had Saul at his mercy in chapter 24.  And if you read on to the next chapter, 26, you find that David spares Saul’s life again, this time at the Hill of Hakilah.  In between these two stories we find the story of David and Nabal, which is not as well known.  But it’s important because it informs and gives understanding to the stories on either side of it.  

 It begins with David still in the wilderness of Judea, near the villages of Maon and Carmel.  Maon just recently became an Israelite dwelling.  King Saul had just recently gained control of it from the Canaanites, so perhaps the people who lived there felt a certain measure of gratitude toward Saul.  

 One resident was Nabal.  Now the name Nabal means “fool.”  That’s probably not the name his parents gave him, unless NABAL had a second meaning that we don’t know about.  More likely, Nabal was a nickname given to this man by others who didn’t think much of his character or his decision-making.  

 Nabal was a wealthy man with large flocks of sheep and goats.  And it was the time for shearing sheep, which was a time of celebration and generosity.  People were expected to be generous to their employees, like Nabal’s shepherds, and to the poor and needy at times like this.  

 These shepherds had enjoyed a helping hand with their work.  They took their sheep to graze in the same vicinity as David and his band of “merry men,” and David and his men had watched over and protected them and helped them to bring a larger flock of sheep back to Nabal.  

Shepherding was dangerous work.  To find good grazing, it was often necessary to go miles out into the wilderness, away from towns and villages.  And in that situation, you would be vulnerable to foreign raiders or thieves in addition to lions, wolves, and bears, all of which roamed the wilderness.  Since David had been a shepherd, he was inclined to help these servants of Nabal.

 And now that he has been helpful, he would like to receive hospitality from Nabal.  So he sends ten men to him.  They bless Nabal and wish him well and ask for

some supplies of food for David’s men.  David and his men depended on the hospitality of their neighbors during this time in the wilderness.  

 But Nabal rudely and selfishly refuses to give any aid to David.  He insults him saying, “These days, many servants desert their masters,” implying that David is the one in the wrong in his dealings with Saul.  Ironically, Nabal’s own servants are about to desert him and go around his back to protect him from his own foolishness.  

 David, in his anger, decides to kill Nabal and his whole household.  That’s a bit of an overreaction!  An insult is no grounds for murder.  And it would make David a REAL outlaw.  It would stain his resume.  Who would want a murderer for their king?  It would turn the population against David.  Would they continue to help him and his men if he murdered one of their neighbors?  They might help him out of fear, but not love.

 Fortunately, for David, as foolish and selfish and ugly as Nabal is, his wife Abigail is wise and generous and beautiful in both body and spirit.  She intervenes with the help of Nabal’s “deserting” servants and prepares a gift of provisions.  And she stands between David and Nabal.

 First, she accepts the blame for Nabal’s actions.  Perhaps she is used to defusing situations brought on by his foolishness.  Some years ago I heard a speaker talk about what the Bible says to do with a fool.  The best thing for a wise person to do with a fool is to contain the damage they can do, because it’s often impossible to reason with them.   

 She reminds David of how God has already prevented him from murdering and taking vengeance, a reference to the Cave of En Gedi.  She also reminds David that God will look after him because he is fighting for the Lord and eager to do what is right.  “Your enemies won’t endure.  Don’t let this be a blemish on your record, and don’t burden your conscience with needless bloodshed.”  David praises her:  “God has sent you to me to prevent me from harming you.”  The ugliness of David’s plans for revenge is turned aside by the beauty of Abigail’s words.

 With David’s wrath turned away, Abigail goes home to find Nabal drunk, unaware that she has just saved his life.  The next morning she tells him, and he dies.  David, having recognized what a treasure Abigail is, asks her for marriage, and she accepts.  

 She is the hero of the story.  She is courageous.  She risks the wrath of both her husband and David to make peace.  She fulfills the words of Jesus who said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “When your enemies are hungry, feed them.”  

 The moral of the story is found in Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19:  Do not take revenge; leave vengeance in the hands of God.  

 But why should we not take vengeance?  Wouldn’t it be much more satisfying if we did?

 First, vengeance never produces wholeness, shalom, only more brokenness.  It continues the cycle of hatred and violence.  If David had succeeded in murdering Nabal, Nabal’s relatives would have wanted David’s blood in return.  And the people would have turned against David.  But by refraining from vengeance, David made possible a better future for both himself and Abigail:  One day, they become king and queen!

 Second, vengeance places a burden on us.  Our plans for revenge are seldom in proportion to the wrong that was done.  Did it really make sense for David to murder a man for just insulting him?  No, and if he had, it would have become a burden on his conscience.

 Finally, we should remember that God’s justice will ultimately prevail.  In the long term, good deeds come back to bless us but evil deeds come back to harm us.  At least, in general they do.

 But can we believe that?  Can we trust that?  I guess it was easy for David.  Nabal pretty much dropped dead on the day David was planning to kill him anyway!  It seldom works out like that, does it?  

 We can’t turn a general principle into a universal truth.  Sometimes the good suffer and the evil prosper.  Have you ever seen the movie The Patriot?  It’s set in the American Revolution, and the hero is a reluctant warrior who is motivated to fight because of the cruelty of a certain British officer.  Well, it’s actually based on a real person, the bad guy that is.  He was a cavalry officer named Banastre Tarlton.  He was famous for killing civilians and American soldiers who were trying to surrender.  It’s reported that one time he bragged that he had “killed more men and raped more women than any man in America.”  

 Well, if you’ve seen the movie The Patriot, you know that at the end the bad guy dies, right?  But what about the real Banastre Tarlton?  He went home after the war and enjoyed a lucrative career in politics.  That’s proof of what a bad guy he was!  He went from being a war criminal to a politician!  And he died peacefully a rich old man.  

 Does that mean God’s justice has failed?  No.  Because an unrepentant sinner will stand before God and have all their deeds laid bare.  

 On the other hand, if we trust God’s justice, does that mean that there is then no need for a human system of justice?  No, again.  We have courts and laws for a reason.  Without some kind of justice in this world, we’ll end up in anarchy.  But not everything that is wrong is also illegal.  Nabal committed no crime.  It was no crime to refuse hospitality or to insult David, if even if both were morally wrong.  

 But our legal system has limits and is not perfect.  Over the summer, a lot of attention was given to the trial of George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin in Florida.  In the end, the determination was that he had killed him in self-defense.  And many people cried out, “There is no justice in America,” or “The justice system has failed.” 

 I disagree.  I’m not a legal expert, but it seems to me that by the letter of the law, he should have been found not guilty.  But “not guilty” doesn’t mean innocent.  We don’t know if he’s innocent or not.  There were no eyewitnesses to the whole situation, and we have no way of knowing the thoughts or intentions of either of them.  

 But that’s not the end of the matter.  There is still the matter of standing before God who does know the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.  

 But there’s one more thing to mention.  God is merciful and forgives the sinner who repents.  What about us?  Are we people “after God’s own heart” who offer mercy and forgiveness to the ones who sin against us?  We have been forgiven for much more than we could ever be asked to forgive others, and it is on the basis of the forgiveness God has given us that we are expected to forgive others.

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