Ancient Israel

Worth Beyond Rubies

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“Mistress Avigayil?” Havah whispers in my ear. I sigh and open my eyes. The sun hasn’t risen yet, and I try to smile. This is my favorite time of the day, and without Havah, I knew that I would sleep past it. Of all days, I do not want to miss this sunrise.

Slowly, I rise from my bed. Nabal, my husband, groans and rolls away in his drunken stupor. He is the reason I need dawn’s solace. But today’s sunrise is extra special. Before he awakens, I need to decide how I am going to tell him about yesterday; more specifically, about the sudden lack of inventory we have in our storehouses. Although it won’t be missed, my safety will depend on how I tell him.

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Lethargically, I pull on my dress and brush my hair. Yesterday, the house servants and I were preparing for the Sheep Shearing Festival. As a wealthy landowner—and more specifically, as an owner of three thousand sheep—this time of year is of the utmost importance to Nabal. For those of us who are devout, sheep shearing is supposed to be another opportunity to glorify Adonai for His blessings and to celebrate with games, food, and drink. But for those who don’t (like my husband), it’s a chance to brag about the wool harvest, bet with other landowners, and carouse through the night. But either way, it’s a local festival that has been enjoyed for generations.

I snort as I pull on my hair covering and walk out the door. Everyone enjoys it… except for me. I hate this festival, and every other one that Nabal celebrates. The Sheep Shearing Festival only means more work for me. I need to prepare the house for dozens of drunken guests. We must have an abundance of delectable foods, fit for King Sha’ul and his household, although our only guests are Nabal’s crude friends. Of course, with the added stress, the servants bicker more and I must mediate. After the guests arrive, I must make sure that the guests have everything they want. I also have to make sure that all my maidservants are out of sight in the kitchen, to protect them after the wine flows freely. Quickly, I make my way to the field closest to the house. Already, the field hands are working, black reliefs against the pink-streaked sky.

As the sun rises, I take a stabling breath. I must remind myself that I do, distantly, appreciate the work. It reduces my bitterness to a dull ache. When I’m this busy, I’m too tired to remember my carefree maiden life before marrying a boor old enough to be my grandfather. My father rejoiced at my wedding; his social standing was improved because his daughter married the heir of Caleb, the hero of old. But my mother cried, knowing the life I would have as the wife of a despicable rich man.

No children have blessed our marriage, for which I have thanked Adonai… at least when I’m not begging him to give me children to fill the love-void in my life. But, it is a brand of shame, a public sign that Adonai does not bless our house. Nabal says it is my fault. Perhaps he is right. Not like it matters that much to him—he already has sons from his first marriage.

Finally, I look away from the eastern sky, unable to stand the sun’s brilliance. I have one constant blessing, at least. This ranch is large, which means that I am rarely bored. Whether I am occupied by putting away food for winter, keeping the house in order, or providing my servants’ needs, at least I can use my mind to its full capacity. It’s a sad attempt, but an attempt nonetheless at filling the other voids in my life.

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“Mistress?”

I shake myself, suddenly aware that Havah is behind me and has called my name at least three times. Distractedly, I mutter, “Hmm?”

“Shisha has your breakfast ready in the courtyard.”

“Thank you,” I murmur, but I am not ready to depart from this scene yet. To walk away would admit that the day must begin. To admit that is the same as hastening the consequences of my actions yesterday. But I can’t delay the inevitable.

When I turn to go back to the house, I notice the look on Havah’s face. She has a question. A personal question, unless I miss my guess. “What’s on your mind?”

“Does Master know about yesterday?”

I shake my head.

“Are you going to tell him?”

I chuckle mirthlessly. “The only other option is to let him figure out on his own that enough food to literally feed an army is missing, or to hear talk on the town that the General’s men are well fed for the first time since King Sha’ul returned to the capitol.”

“But he’ll be angry when you tell him!”

“No, he’ll be furious. I have little doubt but that he will take it out on me.”

“Even though you saved his life yesterday?”

“And that will either be my saving grace or will make him all the angrier.”

“Mistress, what happened? No one will tell me.”

I chuckle again, but more sincerely. “In all fairness, you do deserve to know the whole story.”

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Yesterday, I was amazed at how smoothly the preparations were coming. For once, everything was ahead of schedule. With a goblet of wine, I planned to enjoy my afternoon in the courtyard. But even before I reached it, I could hear Naval yelling at someone. “There are many servants nowadays who run away from their masters.”

Another voice murmured something in a more congenial tone.

“I couldn’t care less! Who is this David Bar Yishai that I should care? And even if I should what does he expect? That I should take the food out of my shearers’ mouths to feed him and his vagabonds? That will be an interesting conversation, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, men, but you can’t have your feast tonight because I gave it away to a known outlaw’!”

I stopped in the doorway of the courtyard, ashamed of Nabal. “He has no sense. The poorer men in town work for him only because he is the wealthiest man in northern Isra’el. But when they need a favor, everyone knows to come to me, not him. Well, except for these ten men standing in the courtyard. I’ve never seen them before, but they are armed. And livid” I thought. A group of menservants and shepherds stood aside, as though they had been discussing the shearing with Nabal before these strangers arrived. One shepherd, Binyamin, notices me almost immediately. The look on his face is sheer panic. Odd, considering the stories he tells about driving wild beasts and P’lishtim away from the flocks.

Nabal spat at them. “Get out of here! If you’re not gone in two minutes, I’ll set the dogs on you!”

One of the ten steps forward to speak, but his companion stopped him. All of the strangers stomped away. Nabal, muttering, walked into the house. He saw me and stopped short. “Avigayal? You’re supposed to be with your women, preparing my feast, not sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong!” He yelled, then walked on.

“Mistress!” Binyamin hisses.

Walking to meet him, I whisper back, “What’s going on? Who were those men? And why did I hear General David mentioned?”

“Well, see, last time me and the boys went out with the flocks, we was protected by General David and his men. They didn’t hurt us or rob us, though they had plenty of opportunities. They also kept them dirty rotten P’lishtim marauders at bay all the while we was together.”

My brow furrowed. “So we owe them a great debt of gratitude. But did Nabal just hear about this today? To what end?”

“Well, Ma’am, seems like General David sent men to my master to ask for some food for his people. Calling in a favor, you might say. But Master Nabal, he sent them away in a rage, as you saw. He refused to give them anything! And I have no doubt that General David will return with a vengeance against Master and the whole household.”

Hopelessness welled into frustration. “Well, tell him so. If I say something, I’ll live to regret it. You heard what he said just now.” I turned to go.

“Now Mistress, no one can correct that Son of Satan—begging your pardon—nor can they suggest nothing to him. I’m saying you need to do something to head off the danger.”

That stopped me in my tracks. Every reason why I should do nothing raced through my head. If Nabal found out that I went behind his back, he would never forgive me. If General David attacked, it would serve Nabal right. Besides, in all probability, Nabal would be killed and I would be free of him. My father died several years ago, so I couldn’t return to his house, but I would at least be a happy widow.

Nonetheless, rumors of General David’s raids had reached even me. Though he has never spilled Hebrew blood before, none of his enemies are ever left alive. If he attacked here, innocents would die. I turn to face Binyamin. “What did you have in mind?”

Binyamin shrugged. “I wouldn’t know the first thing of home defense against an army. Flocks, sure. But flocks and homesteads ain’t the same. But ma’am, you’re the smartest person in this house. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

With that, he bowed and left.

Oh, Adonai, I prayed, Grand Your maidservant the wisdom to defend… But I knew that any defense we made would be futile. David had 400 war-hardened soldiers. I only had a few dozen shepherds and field hands. No, the best defense in this case would be to placate the general before he even reached the town. I set down my goblet on a conclave in the wall, a plan forming in my head. Bless my ventures, Adonai, I beseeched.

I hurried to the kitchen. The servants, grateful for an unexpected lull in the afternoon, were standing about talking and laughing. There were even some stable hands flirting with the girls. It couldn’t have been a more perfect set up if I had planned it. “Havah,” I called. A hush fell over the crowd.

Havah stood. “Yes, mistress?”

“Go to my dressing room. Garb yourself in one of my best dresses. And put on a full-face veil. I must go out immediately and I need a replacement hostess. Make haste!” Havah jumped up and ran from the room. “You young men, I need you to saddle several donkeys for transporting goods, myself, and four or five others. As for the rest of us, we need to pack food: 200 loaves of bread, two kegs of wine, five sheep that are already cooked and ready to eat, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 fig cakes. And breathe not a word of this to Nabal.” My servants stood gaping at me, as though I had gone insane. “Well, why are you just standing there? Time is of the essence! Your lives and your families’ lives hang in the balance!” With that admonishment, everyone jumped to do my bidding.

Havah hadn’t yet returned by the time the donkeys were ready to go. Everyone in town knew that General David hid in the forests at the top of Mount Carmel, and that they came and went as phantoms. That led me to believe that they used the secret pass that I knew of only because my brothers played Joshua there as children and I would spy on them.

I sent the young men on with the food, promising that I would follow soon. After they left, I found Havah. “All you need to do is make sure wine goblets remain full. I’ve instructed all the servants to obey you as they would me. They are also to call you by my name. Once the guests ignore you, you’re free to go. I’m sure it won’t be too late. But, I’m not sure when I’ll be back tonight, so please be sure to wake me at my regular time tomorrow.”

With that, I mounted my donkey and left.

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“You didn’t have any troubles last night, did you?” I ask, pausing momentarily in my story to drink some milk.”

“No, Madam. Everyone believed our rouse.” Havah replies

“What rouse?” Nabal growls behind us.

I jump. “Nabal,” I gasp, “how long have you been there?”

“Long enough to know that you weren’t were you were supposed to be last night! When this blasted headache is gone, you’ll feel the back of my hand!”

I slowly stand, shaking, knowing there’s nowhere I can hide. Adonai, help!

Havah whimpers. Nabal snarls. “And when I’m done with her, I’ll start in on you. Now, go get me something to eat.”

Havah scurries away, leaving me alone with my very angry husband. Terrified, I lean on the wall for support.

Squinting, he turns to face me. “So where were you?”

I gulp. “I—I went to General David. With… with food.”

Nabal cursed. From the corner of my eye, I notice servants gathering in the doorways. “You took food to him?”

“Yes, sir.” He raises his hand to strike me, and I duck, “If my lord Nabal would only let me explain! I have good reasons! Please my lord, hear me before you pass judgement.” I sink to my knees, partly because they won’t hold me up any more, partly because I hope a posture of supplication will appease him.

Thankfully, the blow doesn’t come.

“You have until your serving girl returns, then I beat you both.”

I nod, pulling myself to my feet. I force myself to walk around for lack of anything else to do.

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Because of my heavy riding, I was only about five or so minutes behind the rest of the donkeys, and we met David and his men as they were coming from their camp. David was easy to pick out. It is well known that he has red hair. He was also the princeliest man in the group. I dismounted and fell to my knees before David “Let this wrongdoing fall on my head!”

Murmurs spread through the ranks. As terrified as I was of the havoc this company could wreck, I was encouraged that he might just listen to me. I glanced at David’s shocked face. “Please hear me out, my lord. Pay no attention to my worthless husband, Nabal. His name means ‘fool,’ and he lives up to it—it’s a characteristic that is omnipresent. Had I seen the men you sent, the story would have been different.”

David looked down, thinking. I decided to change tactics. “As Adonai lives, and as you yourself live, He has kept you from the guilt of shedding blood and taking vengeance! May your enemies and anyone seeking your life be as harmless as this barking dog, Nabal. But until Adonai puts all these under your feet, please accept this offering of food.” I gestured to the donkeys. “Forgive my offense—I should have caught your men before Nabal saw them. You are, after all, fighting Adonai’s battles and have never caused grief to His Spirit since your birth. For that reason, He will establish your dynasty as king of Isra’el. None will be able to stand in your way.”

David smiled and straightened his shoulders. Knowing my words had hit their mark, I took a deep breath. As a godly man, he should know better than to take grievances and insults to heart… especially since he will be king. “When Adonai has fulfilled all His promises and has set you on the throne, the last thing you will want on your mind is guilt and remorse that you avenged yourself on a fool this day. So, turn away your wrath. And please, when you are king, remember me.”

David shook his head in amazement, then chuckled. “May God be blessed, for surely He sent you to me.” He reached out his hand for mine. I took it, and he pulled me to my feet. Admiration glowed in his eyes. “May Adonai bless you for your tactfulness and for bringing me to my senses. Without you, I would have shed innocent blood today. For I swore to God that I would not let one man of Nabal’s house survive to see the dawn!”

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“And with that, Nabal, he blessed me and sent me home in peace.” Nabal says nothing, merely gargles something incoherent. This surprises me, as I expected a sarcastic retort. “Don’t you understand husband?” I spit. “I saved your worthless—” I whirl around to face him, the insult dying in my throat. “Nabal?” He sits with a shocked expression, one side of his face slack. “Nabal!” Consternation seizes me as I realize he’s having a stroke. Before I can speak again, Nabal’s menservants rush from the doorways. Carefully, they carry him to our bedroom. I don’t even know when it started. Was it when he heard I took so much to him? Or was it when he heard that David intended to kill him and his whole household? With a sigh, I realize I’ll never know for sure.

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Two weeks have passed since that day. After ten days, Nabal died. Although in some respects it was the happiest day of my life, I also feel a strange sorrow for him. He was always a miserable man and I know She’ol will be no place of comfort for him. Such are my meditations as I spin wool into yarn.

Tomorrow, Nabal’s son and his wife will be moving in, assuming their role as Caleb’s heir. All the servants know that I will no longer be their mistress. Fortunately, Nabal’s son has more virtue in his little toe than Nabal had in his whole being.

Havah sits across the room from me. She, along with my other four lady’s maids, are my inheritance from my husband. I am grateful for this. All are unmarried, so even if I get married again, they will come with me. It may be a long wait until that day, though. My mourning period must first pass and an eligible bachelor or widower must then surface. What’s more, he must reconcile himself to having a potentially barren wife. A tear rolls down my cheek.

“Mistress?” Yokheved peeks her head inside the door. “I know it is late, but there are some men at the front door. They wish to speak to you.”

“To me?” I repeat. None have come to see me since Nabal was buried. “Are you sure?”

“They say they are from General David and they will speak to you only.”

My heart leaps in my chest. My one consolation during these long days has been the memory of my hand in David’s and the way he looked at me as I rode away. Quickly I stand and lay down my bobbin. As I follow Yokheved, hope awakes in me once more. Hope that I will again see the general. David.

At the front door, I am greeted by two men, neither of whom are David. Disappointment wells, but I know better than to let it linger. “How may I help you gentlemen?”

“Lady Avigayal, our Master David has sent us as a proxy to request your hand in marriage to him.”

Me—married to the future King! My heart leaps again, and I find myself needing to stifle my excitement. “But my mourning period… and what of the propriety of asking my brother for my hand?”

“David did not think that a woman who is willing to protect her worthless husband would stand on ceremony.”

For once, I don’t think about it. Still, a woman in my position must maintain dignity. Slowly, I sink to my knees. “I would be honored to serve my Lord David in any capacity he desires and wash the feet of his servants. Just let me prepare my women and we can leave with you tonight.”

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“And that, my son, is how your father and I married.” I coo to my son, Prince Kil’av. Even now, he smiles when he hears this story. He doesn’t understand it all just yet, but someday, he will. Gently, I lay him in his crib. He stretches, clutching my hair in his baby fists. But, he doesn’t wake, for which I am glad. I pry my hair away and turn to see David, my husband, my king, standing in the nursery doorway. He walks up to me and pulls me close, and we watch our son sleep together.

“I think I see more of you in his face,” David murmurs in my hair.

“Really?” I reply with a smile. “I think he looks like you.”

“Well, we’ll figure that out as he grows. But in any case, I hope he has your wisdom.” He kisses me, and my heart melts, just as it did the first time our lips met. Once again, and for the millionth time since our marriage, I thank Adonai for the blessings He has poured out on my life.

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Note

The names of Avigayal (known more commonly as Abigail)’s servants are not listed in the Bible. The names used here are Hebraic names found elsewhere in the Bible.

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For Further Exploration…

1 Samuel 25, Complete Jewish Bible

Abigail & David by Rabbi Harold Sutton

Matthew Henry A Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2. Pg. 412-421

2 Samuel 3:3

Copyright © Angela Cornell 2016

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