The account of Abigail is NOT a story of a damsel in distress that appealed to the good graces of a future King. Abigail is the story of an astute woman who used her wits to save her household. She is the embodiment of Matthew 10:16. So when we ask ourselves, what does it mean to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves?” we must look no further than Abigail in the Bible.
Matthew 10:16: Sheep Among Wolves
Jesus delivered the words found in Matthew 10 when he sent his disciples into the world to preach the gospel. This section of scripture holds the guiding principles for missionaries around the world, but we must not forget that we are all missionaries. Even if we haven’t relocated our families to another country, we are missionaries in our neighborhoods, places of work, our kids’ schools. You get the picture.
Let’s look specifically look at verse 16.
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (ESV)
This sage advice is given to us, the disciples of modern times, as we proclaim God’s truth to an unbelieving world, but it can feel a little strange on the surface. “Innocent as doves” fits with our Christian world view, but “wise as serpents”? The serpent was responsible for the downfall of man and God did not speak so kindly of it back in Genesis. Now, however, our beloved Jesus is asking us to be wise as serpents.
So we turn to a wise and courageous woman of the Old Testament to give us a roadmap on how exactly we are to apply this truth in our every day lives.
Abigail, A Sheep In the Midst of Wolves
Read 1 Samuel 25: 1-44.
Before she became the topic of numerous Bible studies, Abigail was the wife of a rich man named Nabal. We learn in 1 Samuel 25 that Nabal was an evil man. To understand just how wretched Nabal was, let’s unpack the story and immerse ourselves in the culture of the times.
Nabal Was Wealthy, but Evil
Nabal was a very wealthy man. He had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. The income he would have earned from the sheeps’ wool and dairy products from the goats would have been substantially high. But wealth appeared to be the only thing that Nabal had going for him.
The Bible does not mince words. It tells us right at the beginning of the account, in verse 3 of the ESV version of the Bible, that Nabal was harsh and badly behaved. “Badly behaved” comes from the Hebrew word transliterated as “ra.” “Ra” can also be translated as evil and/or wicked. His wickedness becomes obvious in his response to David’s request.
Nabal’s Evil Response to David
David and his 600 men were in a precarious situation. They had no obvious source of income and were surviving in the wilderness of Paran. This geographical area was arid, desert-like. It was not very hospitable at all. It is in these conditions that David probably felt forced to ask for a handout. If not for himself, at least for his men. But David was no fool and he certainly was not inconsiderate. He was very careful about the timing of his request.
Even though David could have easily used his small army to plunder Nabal’s goods or at least forcibly take a few sheep here and there to feed his men, he did not. On the contrary, David’s army had served as guards (see verse 16) to Nabal’s servants and flock. But David still waited until the festivities of sheep shearing before making his request for a food donation.
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Sheep shearing was a time of celebration and unbridled hospitality. It was a sheep herder’s “harvest” time. It was a time of abundance. For someone as wealthy as Nabal, it would be especially profitable. It is in this context that David sends his men to make the request.
Nabal, however, does not receive David with hospitality, but rather with contempt. He not only rejects David’s request, but he insults him (see verses 10-11). It was cruel, but it was also incredibly foolish to insult a man that had 600 seasoned fighters and loyal warriors!
Abigail is Married to a Wolf
The wolf is used biblically to represent evil. Nabal was most certainly a wolf and Abigail was married to this man. The text does not give us details about their married life, but we can pretty much surmise that her home life was not pleasant.
Women, in that culture, during that time, had few options. It is therefore likely that Abigail was given to this man in marriage for her own financial security and that of her family’s. The marriage did not spring out of modern-day notions of romance and Abigail probably had little say in the decision.
And yet, that is the world that she lived in. She was legally attached to this man. The wolf wasn’t an outside entity. The wolf lived at home. And now this wolf had placed her entire household in grave danger.
Modern Day Application: Who are the wolves in your life? Like Abigail, you may be living with one at home. But wolves can also be found in your place of work, in your kids’ school, and yes, even at church. If you live in an area where spreading the gospel is illegal, the government itself is the wolf. Know who and what they are so you can be wary of their devices.
Abigail, Wise as Serpents
The Biblical texts call Abigail both discerning and beautiful. Her beauty is no doubt the reason Nabal had secured that marriage, but it is her intelligence that wins the day. She uses her discernment not only to save her husband, her family, and her servants, but also to save David from actions he would have regretted. It is her astuteness that made her “wise as a serpent.”The Biblical texts calls Abigail both discerning and beautiful. Her beauty is no doubt the reason Nabal had secured that marriage, but it is her intelligence that wins the day. Click To Tweet
The serpent in Genesis 3:1 is called “crafty” in the ESV, but it could also mean shrewd or cunning. Cunning and shrewdness tend to have negative connotations, but that is not always the case. Shrewdness is the ability to be astute and that is exactly what Abigail was. The serpent in Genesis 3:1 was cunning and shrewd, but its intentions were purely evil. We will see that Abigail was shrewd, but her intentions were innocent. In other words, you can be “wise as a serpent” and yet be true to Christian values.
Abigail Builds Key Allies Through an Honorable Reputation
Whether intentionally or not, Abigail had positioned herself in a place of influence among her servants. This comes into play because in that critical moment, she receives key information that saves the life of all the males in her household.
Even though there was a male leader in the home, the servant did not run to her husband for help. Digest that for a moment. In a culture and time where the wisdom and influence of women were regarded less than men’s, the servant ran to Abigail for help. Had Abigail not been respected, he would have gone straight to Nabal or possibly tried to escape before the arrival of David and his men. But he did not.
Modern Day Application: Are you a person of influence among those around you? Can others trust and confide in you when problems arise? If you are surrounded by wolves, do you have allies that will take your side if need be?
When I was a Realtor, I was falsely accused of being unethical during a transaction, but I had a strong ally in my corner, my boss (broker). I had built a reputation of honesty and integrity so she went to bat for me. The accusations were quickly dropped. It is prudent, when one is in the midst of wolves, to build key alliances through honesty, integrity, and wisdom that can help free you in future difficulties.
Bottom Line: To be “wise as serpents,” build key alliances by being honest, capable, and full of integrity.
Abigail Evaluates the Strategic Environment
Although she probably did it in a split second, Abigail evaluated the entire scene unfolding before her. Her husband was wealthy and had lots of servants, but they would be no match for David and his mighty band of warriors. Her husband was also stubborn, wicked, and prideful and would probably never consider apologizing to David. The only course of action was for her to take matters into her own hands and to appeal to David directly.
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Her decision to put together quite a generous gift of food and wine for David was not made on a whim. It was strategic and deliberate. Interestingly enough, the servant who approached Abigail never tells Abigail that David’s messengers had asked for a hand out (See Verses 14-17). It might just have been omitted from the text, but it would not have been difficult for Abigail to surmise that fine food and wine would soften the heart of 601 hungry men! David and his men lived in the desert where food was always scarce. And food was something she had plenty of.
Modern Day Application: When a problem arises, do you panic? Do you run away from confrontation or do you face it head-on? Do you begin to make mental notes of the parties involved and the nature of the problem? A key to diffusing most situations is to determine what each party needs or wants and finding ways to meet those needs. It may also require asking the Holy Spirit for guidance when it isn’t obvious.
Bottom Line: Be “wise as serpents” by evaluating the nature of the problem and all those involved.
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Abigail Is In the Know
Abigail was not the kind of woman who had her head buried in the sand. Even though David was famous because of his military victories for King Saul, information did not flow as freely back then as it did today. We know that Nabal did not think highly of David so he is unlikely to have passed on any favorable news about David to Abigail. And yet she seemed to know some very key pieces of information.
Verse 28b For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live.
She knew that David’s cause was righteous even though he was fleeing from King Saul.
Verse 30 And when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel,
She knew that God looked favorably on David and that he would most likely be appointed as its next leader. Being on this side of history, we take it for granted that David was the good guy. But if you put yourself back in those days, Saul is still King and David is the one running away. People had to make judgement calls based on limited information, hearsay, and gossip on the true nature of the circumstances. And yet Abigail seemed to have a pretty good handle on the situation that David found himself in.
Either Abigail was a praying woman and God revealed all of this to her or she was incredibly astute with the limited information she would have had on hand. Either way, it is clear that she made it a point to know what was going on around her, both in her immediate vicinity as well as politically in Israel.
Modern Application: Do you live isolated from what is going on around you? Or are you well informed about what is happening at church, work, school, or even politically in your state, province, or nation? Having the right information at your disposal will help you make the best decision when a problem arises. And we can always ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what the need to know when the information is not readily available.
Bottom Line: Be “wise as serpents” by making it a point to know and understand relevant information.
Abigail Chooses Her Words Carefully
While the serpent was careful in choosing words that would cause Eve to fall, Abigail was careful in choosing words that would move the heart of the future king to have mercy on her household. She doesn’t allow fear or panic to do the talking. She isn’t begging for her life. She is choosing every word carefully to achieve her purpose.
Abigail chooses words that show humility.
She uses the phrase “my lord” repeatedly to show deference towards David. That is the proper response to a person of authority, especially a man of good reputation, leader of armies, and the one that holds the life of her household in his hands. She also takes the guilt upon herself (verse 24) and asks David to forgive her (verse 28) even though she was not the person at fault.
Abigail acknowledges that David will be the future King (verse 30).
David had been on the run for approximately two years. And although he had been anointed king by Samuel, Saul was still the ruling King. In her words, Abigail validated David and his future purpose. They were encouraging words for a man who likely felt that the world had turned against him.
Abigail appeals to David by employing God’s Word.
In Verse 26, Abigail says, Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. (ESV)
She also mentions bloodguilt in verse 31.
Bloodguilt was a concept that originated in God’s law. It is the guilt that one incurs from shedding innocent blood. It is rooted in Genesis 9:6.
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (ESV)
Abigail, is very carefully telling David that if he continues on his current course, that he will be guilty of “bloodguilt.” She is using God’s word to gently reprove him and bring him into correction.
Modern Application: Do you choose your words carefully in a difficult situation or do you let emotion do the talking? Whether you are questioning unreasonable charges on a cell phone bill, trying to defuse a situation at church, or defending yourself from accusations at work—the words you choose matter. Words will either soften or embolden those that are coming against you.
Bottom Line: To “be wise as serpents,” choose your words carefully.
Abigail, Innocent as Doves
In her entire engagement with David, Abigail conducts herself righteously. She doesn’t throw her husband under the bus even though his behavior was pitiful. She is not even trying to spare her own life as she asks for the guilt to be placed on her and her alone.
Abigail is clearly a woman that puts others above her own needs and has an incredibly generous heart. She shows us that is is possible to be kind and true to God’s word, all the while being shrewd, wise, and discerning. May we all be Abigails as we move forward to achieve God’s purposes in our lives!
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