Friday, March 12, 2010

Running into the Foolish

Writer David Brown calls the battle with sin the “war between our ears.” He successfully identified the start of sin—it begins in our minds and hearts.

Last week, biblical David received an “Honorable Mention” award in this column for his good behavior. This week, the gut-honest text in 1 Samuel 25 explores his inward battle. Still residing in the wilderness, David and his band of men kept busy by guarding people’s property. This is the same region where the later Good Samaritan story took place, a place of danger. Thick with wild things—lawbreakers and fierce prowling animals—hard working people and flocks needed protection.

During sheep shearing time, David and his band of men watched over flocks and shearers near Mount Carmel. Afterwards, farmers traditionally held a feast for their hired hands. One recipient was ultra-rich Nabal, who suffered no losses because of David’s grand gesture of protection.

During the festivities, David sent 10 messengers to Nabal to ask for provisions. David’s men must have been in pretty dire need. They didn’t ask for a lot, just whatever the rich man could spare. But sheep-owner Nabal—known for his surly and nasty temperament—refused to help. In fact he hurled insults at the men. One of Nabal’s own servants described him as “such a wicked man that no one can talk with him.”

Matthew Henry says some of the earlier writers describe Nabal as a “dogged man, of a currish disposition, surly and snappish, always snarling.” Confronted by Nabal’s instability, David’s mental battle began. How would he respond? He had revenge in mind as he journeyed toward Nabal’s homestead. He took four hundred men with him, perhaps getting more hot-headed as they journeyed. By the time, they neared Nabal’s ranch, David didn’t want to “leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”

Nabal’s wife Abigail—an intelligent and beautiful woman—heard that David approached and secretly gathered two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five bushels of roasted grain and three hundred sweets—cakes of raisin and pressed figs. She went out to meet David, with the fair gift of charity. Upon reaching him, she got off her donkey and bowed with her face to the ground and entreated David to spare her household.

David relented and said, “May you be blessed for your good judgment and from keeping me from bloodshed this day.” David went on to confess that he nearly avenged with his own hand, instead of standing back and allowing God to move in correction of Nabal if he chose to do so.

What happened to David is common among us today. Eugene Peterson said, “Nabal’s vulgarity provoked a like vulgarity in David.” When David lost his temper and marched toward Nabal’s home, he was pulled by grudge-gravity. Ever feel that tug to pay back someone after they’ve offended you? Do we want to get in at least a verbal dig to folk who insult us or tread on our sense of self-worth?

Nabal acted the fool. David responded foolishly. But Abigail reminded David of a higher calling: God had anointed David to be king and his life was “bound securely in the bundle of the living” by the Lord God.

Before we leave this earth, we’ll probably run into a whole pack of fools—unfortunately we meet most of them one at a time. Watch out for those who lack understanding and are thoughtless. A Jewish proverb advises, “Never approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back or a fool from any side.”

When we get wrapped up in ourselves, we sometimes forget how God wants us to respond to wicked behavior. Boom! The war between the ears starts. May God always send a messenger to steer us back to his way. Sometimes they show up as “Abigails.”

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