1.Samuel 25. 1-42; Romans 7. 1-3. ‘if her husband be dead, she is free…’
Nabal sat at the banquet table roaring with drunken laughter. The wool-clip had been a good one, thanks to those unwanted guerrillas out on the hills round the estate, and now the celebrations were on. He, the landlord had no time for the guerrillas; he was a royalist, a supporter of King Saul. Only a little while before, a party of David’s men had come asking for supplies; he had quickly sent them packing! The matter was closed as far as he was concerned.
The merry-making over, he had tottered off to bed. The fool! ‘Nabal is his name, and folly is with him’. v. 25. True, it was not precisely that night that ‘his soul was required of him’, but the end was very near. The next day, when his ‘hang-over’ began to wear off, his wife Abigail broke the news. We are not told how she said it, but we know the substance of her report, the account of her lone, desperate, diplomatic mission to the on-coming reprisal expedition, vv. 18-35. Nabal’s blood ran cold. But for her intervention his party would have ended, like Belshazzar’s feast in Babylon, in a horror of blood and death and destruction. Less than a fortnight later Nabal was dead. ‘The Lord smote Nabal, and he died’, v. 38.
One tragic element in this story of bereavement is that Abigail shed no tears. No tears! What happily married couple could imagine such a thing? But Nabal and Abigail were not happily married. She was wise and beautiful, a believer in the God of Israel. He was churlish, a despiser of God’s anointed, and so unreasonable that no one could talk with him.
Under the Law a man might procure a divorce under certain restricted conditions, Deut. 24. 1. For some reason there was no such provision for a woman. However vile, unlovable, intolerable her husband might be, she was bound to him for life, by law, ’as long as he liveth’, Rom. 7. 2, ‘but if her husband be dead, she is free’, v. 3. If only the tyrant would die! That was Abigail’s only hope. She was bound to Nabal by that divine marriage law. She had now openly confessed her belief that David was God’s chosen king, and that he would reign in fulfilment of God’s word, 1 Sam. 25. 28-30, she had condemned her husband’s folly and renounced any sympathy with his sin and had cast herself on David’s pardoning mercy, yet she still had to return to her husband. Only when God had smitten Nabal was she ‘free from the law of her husband’, free to be married to another in God’s purposes, to marry the man who had pardoned her.
Paul uses that marriage law to illustrate the dominion of the old, sinful nature from which there could be no escape but for the merciful intervention of death, our death with Christ when ‘our old man was crucified together with him’, Rom. 6. 6. Then he teaches that we are sharers in His resurrection, vv. 6, 8, 13, and that the two ideas find expression in the statement that, ‘Ye (your old selves) have become dead to the law, that ye, (your new selves) might be married to another, even to him who was raised from the dead’, Rom. 7. 3.
Now look again at the portrait of Nabal in 1 Samuel 25. Nabal occupied with this life’s wealth, churlish and an evildoer, v. 3, ungrateful, v. 11, unreasonable, v. 17, and hating God’s servants, vv. 10-11. How painfully like my old self. This is not only a portrait, it is a reflection!
‘Oh to be saved from myself, dear Lord,
Oh to be lost in Thee,
‘Oh that it might be no more I,
but Christ that lives in me.’
(Keswick Hymnbook, No. 73)
We can praise God for He has provided just that needed release which we could never have achieved ourselves, even after acknowledging the sin and failure of our own nature and confessing the Lordship of Christ. God smote our ‘Nabal’ on the cross, Rom. 6. 6. Now our complete surrender to the Lord violates no ‘law’.
What then must we do to be saved in practical experience from the dominion of self?
We find all too often that, even after we have seen the truth of Romans 6. 6, our old nature seems to be ‘dead but he won’t lie down’! We must understand that this liberating work of God on account of the cross, does not transfer us to a state of automatic perfection. In our weariness we are sometimes tempted to wish for such ‘instant holiness’. It is comforting to find that even the apostle Paul sometimes experienced a gulf between the real and the ideal, Rom. 7. 14-24. Romans 6 does not say that our old nature has ceased to exist, but that its power has been annulled and it can no longer keep us in slavery with its end in eternal death. Paul’s testimony in Chapter 7 was not written to lull us into surrender to the ‘old man’, but to encourage us to rebuff his flirtations, confronting him by faith with his own ‘certificate of death’, so to speak. We learn to take this stand by faith, reckoning ourselves ‘dead indeed unto sin’, 6. 11, at every moment of temptation and yielding ourselves by faith to God in Christ.
As David, on hearing of Nabal’s death, sent for Abigail to become his wife, so the Lord surely longs to make us His own ‘to love, to cherish, and obey’ in our daily experience. Take a look at your spiritual ‘Nabal’. The Lord has smitten him! Turn your back resolutely on that servitude now past and place yourself resolutely in His hands, Be like Abigail who ‘hastened, and arose and went’ to become David’s wife.
I take Thee, Lord, to be my all,
Since all Thou art is mine,
I nothing have, and nothing am;
That nothing, Lord, is Thine.
Thou shalt be everything to me,
In all things my sufficiency.
(Keswick Hymnbook, No. 313.)