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Learning from a Knucklehead

By Matthew Mason. This is part of a series of posts on 1 Samuel, supplementing messages in our preaching series this fall. In this post we consider 1 Samuel 25.

1 Samuel 24 and 26 tell very similar stories.  In both chapters, Saul pursues David, seeking to get his hands on him, but instead, God gives Saul into David’s hands. Yet both times David refuses to take revenge on his enemy; instead he spares Saul’s life, entrusting himself to God’s just judgment, knowing that God will avenge him.

Between these two stories, two things happen. Samuel dies (25:1), and David encounters Nabal (25:2-42). It’s a long chapter, and it seems to interrupt the narrative of David’s relationship to Saul. But it’s important to the story because Nabal is Saul’s alter ego, and David’s interaction with him is a training ground for what lies ahead.

Nabal’s name means “fool.” And he is Knucklehead by name, and knucklehead by nature, “harsh and badly behaved” (v. 4). Knucklehead is wealthy, with many sheep. And just as David has protected Saul’s flock—the people of Israel—from the Philistines, so he protects Knucklehead’s flocks (vv. 7, 14-16). But, like Saul, Knucklehead responds to David with contempt (vv. 8-10).  How will David respond? So far, his response to Saul has been one of trust in God. But now his mentor Samuel is dead. With no one giving godly advice, what will David do?

This time, he decides to take revenge. After all, Saul was the Lord’s anointed. To attack him would have been to attack God. But Knucklehead, well, he’s just…a knucklehead. Nothing special. No one would miss him.

Far from a distraction from the main plot of 1 Samuel, this story is a turning point in David’s life. If he had taken revenge once, doubtless he would have killed again. After Knucklehead, Saul. Like so many rulers before and since, David would have ascended to the throne on a rising tide of blood. But, not for the first time in Scripture, nor even the first time in 1 Samuel, a strong, godly woman steps in and changes the course of Israel’s history.

If Knucklehead is like Saul, Abigail, his wife, is quite different, both from her husband, and from David’s men. They’d urged David to take revenge on Saul, and David had to hold them back (24:4, 6-7; cf. 26:7-11). But now, as David sees red, Abigail, who is as wise as she is beautiful, restrains the future king.

She reminds David of the goodness of God, who kept David from murder in the past.  She reminds him of the promises of God, and assures him that one day he will be king. And so, she turns him back from sin. Her wise counsel gives David chance to learn the lesson of God’s justice. For, ten days later, God strikes Nabal and he dies. David had no need to take revenge, because as he’d promised, God did it for him.

What can we learn from Knucklehead’s story?

First, this encounter was a God-given training ground for David’s later encounters with Saul. God tests us in smaller things to train us to be faithful in big things.

Second, David’s near miss with Nabal after his faithfulness with Saul teaches us that it’s not enough to conquer temptation once. We can’t rest on past obedience. We must keep our foot on the throat of the beast, lest it rise up a second time and devour us.

Finally, the example of Abigail teaches us the power of godly confrontation. With great wisdom, gentleness, humility and strength, she kept David back from murder. And so she proved that “whoever brings a sinner back from wandering will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).