Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
The Real Hero(ine)
Oasis, Week 5 of 6 in a Lenten sermon series on the way God provides more than enough even in the deserts of life, preached Mar 26, 2023 at the 9:30am Worship service
For Lent, our sermon series is called, “Oasis.” Each week, we are highlighting one biblical character and looking for how God generously provides more than enough in the desert, the wilderness of life.
Our first character was Jesus. In the desert, Jesus faced three internal voices… tempter, liar, and opposer. God tended to him and led him out.
Our second character was Moses, who led the people of God out of slavery into the desert. When the people complained they would starve God kept providing manna, water, and quail every morning.
Our third character was Hagar, and her child Ishmael. They were abused and banished to the desert, but God loved Hagar and Ishmael cared for them and included them even when Sarah and Abraham did not.
Our fourth character was Elijah, who fled to the desert and found himself depending on a starving widow. She shared with Elijah, out of her poverty, and God blessed her and her son for their generosity.
This week’s is David. We are in 1st Samuel. Samuel was the prophet who anointed Israel’s first King, Saul, then later saw Saul’s time ending and anointed young David to be the next king. Saul becomes jealous of David and is trying to kill him, so David and his gang are on the run in the wilderness.
Let’s pray and listen for the word of the Lord…
Scripture 1st Samuel 25:1-42
25 Now, Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him. They buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David got up and went deep into the wilderness of Paran.
2 There was a man in Maon whose property was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. 3 Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of (one of) his wives was Abigail. The woman was clever and beautiful, but the man was surly and mean; he was a Calebite.
4 David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. 5 So David sent ten young men, and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. 6 This is how you shall acknowledge him,
‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 7 David has heard that you are shearing now. Your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. 8 Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore, let my young men find favor in your sight, for we have come on a feast day. Please share whatever you have on hand with us, your servants, and with your son, David.’ ”
9 When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited.
10 But Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is (this) David? Who is this son of Jesse? There are many ‘slaves’ today who are breaking away from their masters. 11 Shall I take MY bread and MY water and the meat that I have butchered for MY shearers and give it to men who come from, I don’t know where?”
12 So David’s young men turned away and came back and told David all this. 13 David said to his men, “Everyone, strap on your sword!” And every one of them strapped on his sword; David even strapped on his own sword, and about four hundred men set out behind David, while two hundred remained behind with the camp.
14 But one of Nabal’s young shepherds told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master, and he shouted insults at them. 15 Yet David’s men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields as long as we were with them; 16 They were a wall to us both at night and all day, the whole time we were with them keeping Nabal’s sheep. 17 Now, therefore, know this and think about what you could do, for evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; Nabal is so ill-natured that no one (dared) speak to him.”
18 Then Abigail hurried. She took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep, ready and dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys 19 and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I’ll be right behind you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.
20 As she rode on her donkey and arrived near the shadow of the mountain, David and his men came down toward her, and she approached them.
21 Now David had been saying, “Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was lost of all that belongs to him. And he has returned me evil for good? 22 God do so to me and even worse if by morning I leave so much as one person alive out of all who belong to Nabal.”
23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and dismounted from her donkey and fell before David on her face, bowing to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said,
“Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let (me), your servant, speak in your ears and (please) hear the words of your servant. 25 My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he; Fool is his name, and foolishness is with him. But I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. 26 Now then, my lord, as GOD lives and as you yourself live, may GOD restrain you from bloodguilt and from taking vengeance with your own hand, and may your enemies and those who seek to do evil to you, my lord, be the fools. 27 And now, may this present that I, your servant, has brought to you, my lord, be given to the young men who follow you, my lord. 28 Please forgive me, your servant, this intrusion, for GOD will certainly make you, my lord, an unquestionable dynasty, because you, my lord, are fighting the battles of GOD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. 29 If anyone should rise up to pursue you or to seek your death, your life, my lord, shall be bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the true Lord, your God, but the lives of your enemies, God shall launch them away, like stones from a slingshot. 30 When GOD has done (all this) for you, my lord, consistent with all the good that GOD has spoken concerning you and has appointed you ruler over Israel, 31 you, my lord, shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for having vindicated yourself. And when God has dealt well with you, my lord, then, remember me, your servant.”
32 David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the true Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today. 33 Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who kept me today from bloodguilt and from avenging myself by my own hand! 34 For as surely as the true Lord, the God of Israel lives, God has restrained me from hurting you today. Unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly, by morning, there would not have been left to Nabal so much as one person alive.”
35 Then David received from her hand everything she had brought him; and he said to her, “Go home in peace; believe me, I have heard what you said, and I will do as you advised.”
36 Abigail returned to Nabal; he was holding a feast in his house like the feast of a king. Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk, so she told him nothing at all until the morning light. 37 In the morning, when the wine had faded out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart hardened within him; he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later the Lord tapped Nabal, and he died.
39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the true Lord, who has judged the case of Nabal’s insult to me, and has kept me, God’s servant, from doing evil; GOD has returned the evils of Nabal upon the fool’s own head.”
Then David sent word to Abigail to make her his wife. 40 When David’s servants came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” 41 She rose and bowed down, with her face to the ground, and said, “Your servant is a slave to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” 42 Abigail got up hurriedly and rode away on a donkey; her five maids attended her. She went after the messengers of David and became his wife. 43 David also married Ahinoam of Jezreel; both of them became his wives. 44 Saul had given Saul’s daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Palti son of Laish, who was from Gallim.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)
David is on the run in the wilderness. It's not his fault. Samuel could have chosen any family, ANY of the older brothers, or even a sister, but Samuel chose David. When he was just a shepherd, he had prayed to one day get into the big fight. Then, after Samuel chose him, David walked out to battle Goliath. They tried to put full-sized armor and a heavy sword on him, but that stuff was his weakness. He defeated Goliath with his strength, quickness instead of power, a weapon effective at a distance, a slingshot and a few good stones, instead of one only good up close, a sword.
King Saul loved the victory David provided but resented him for his growing fame. Saul tried to get David killed. Saul promised this peasant boy from a rural family marriage into the King’s royal bloodline for the mere cost of 100 Philistines. Saul was sure David would die trying to achieve this prize. Instead, David delivers, and Saul has to give his daughter Michal to David in marriage. Saul is getting desperate to make sure David doesn’t gather any more fame or wealth.
That’s why David is in the wilderness. Saul cut him off and keeps trying to kill him. David and his gang must stay small enough to be quick and keep safe distance. How to survive in the wilderness, though?
One option would be to steal. But David chooses to “protect” the animals and properties or wealthy folk, and then ask them for gifts of thanks. In gangster movies, small business owners often pay local mafia “protection” money to make sure nothing happens, if you know what I mean. David was playing that game.
So I’m not mad at Nabal for rejecting David’s request. It's true, nothing happened to Nabal’s men or sheep while David and his gang were around. But for all Nabal knew, nothing WOULD have happened even if David hadn’t been there. His first reaction to David isn’t as foolish as it may seem.
From David’s perspective, if his scheme of selling protection gets rejected, word could get out, and he would his reputation and his income. David needs everyone to know what happens if you don’t say thank you for his protection.
So one man, Saul, is jealous, willing to exile or kill in order to keep power. Another man, David, is willing to extort, or kill anyone who doesn’t pay up. A third man, Nabal, is stingy and self-made enough to hoard a few sheep and some bread and wine instead of making new allies.
Finally, finally, God provides one reasonable leader into the story, Abigail. She’s the only one that perceives the unique personalities involved. She’s the only one who can imagine the huge, long-term implications on all of them from these incidents. She doesn’t bother to ask any men for permission. She doesn’t second guess her intuition. She doesn’t hold back or skimp on the size of her solution. She immediately gathers a big-hearted, pricey offering, rides straight into the face of danger, and bets her own life that humility and generosity can stop vengeance and violence. Thankfully, she’s right.
So why do so many continue to choose vengeance or violence? Why do so many keep thinking the only way forward in times of conflict is more conflict?
I’ve seen relationships torn apart by a single threat or single rejection. Someone feels slighted and they hold that pain in their heart for a lifetime. Have you? Can you think of someone you’re angry with still because they asked something of you you didn’t want to give, or someone you asked for what you wanted or needed, and they rejected you? How could humility and generosity heal that brokenness?
I’ve seen families torn apart by moment of being a bit too stingy, selfish, or prideful. Have you? Someone in a family feels like they didn’t get their fair share, and suddenly anger and resentment boil over. Can you think of someone who needed, or just wanted, a little extra, but the family said no? Or are you still angry for not being given what you wanted or needed, or felt you deserved?
We have seen our one nation, under God, indivisible, divided by lies told to keep power, and by threats against anyone who tries to take power away. Those with great wealth often hold more of what we have on principle, instead of sharing with unknown strangers who are desperate. Imagine if Abigail knew our choices. What would she do?
And our world goes to war over old vengeances, bruised egos, perceived snubs. Why are the leaders we so often choose unwilling to be a little more humble and generous across boundary lines, instead of blustery and defensive. Why do we so often prefer leaders who will protect our turf instead of invite and include those in the wilderness to share our table?
Sometimes, in the wilderness, God provides someone willing to risk themselves, bare their soul, and speak truthfully. Sometimes, in the wilderness, God provides a person of wisdom and authenticity, someone who is vulnerable, and generous with the communal resources. May we follow their lead.
Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.