Abigail: Bible

by Adele Berlin

Abigail is the wife of Nabal the Calebite from Carmel and later becomes the second wife of David. According to 1 Samuel 25, Abigail is married to Nabal, a wealthy rancher, and she is described as beautiful and intelligent. Her husband is just the opposite: mean and churlish. Despite Nabal's shortcomings, Abigail is an ideal wife, always protecting her husband‘s interests, taking the initiative when he is unable or unwilling to act, and apologizing for his rude behavior.

In her encounter with David, who is fleeing from Saul and trying to build up a following, Abigail is polite far beyond what is required. She is a woman of high socioeconomic status, by virtue of Nabal, whereas David, not yet king, is an outlaw on the run. Yet she acts toward David and addresses him as though he is the lord and she the servant. Abigail’s good manners and diplomatic strategy succeed in protecting Nabal from David’s wrath when Nabal fails to respond to David’s request for gifts in payment for treating Nabal’s shepherds well. When Nabal learns of Abigail’s actions, after sobering up from a drunken state, “his heart died within him” (1 Sam 25:37). Shortly afterward he dies, and David loses no time in marrying Abigail. Whether it is because this bright and articulate woman catches his fancy, or, more likely, because the marriage is an astute political move calculated to win support in Judah, we cannot know for sure.

Abigail is mentioned along with Ahinoam the Jezreelite (David’s third wife) when they accompany David in seeking refuge in Philistine territory and when they are captured by Amalekites and rescued by David (1 Sam 30:3, 5, 18). Abigail again appears with Ahinoam when these two wives go with David to Hebron, where they settle and where David is anointed king (2 Sam 2:2). Abigail is the mother of David’s second son, Chileab (2 Sam 3:3; Daniel, according to 1 Chr 3:1), born in Hebron.

As a character, Abigail is not very well developed and does not figure to any great extent in the stories of David outside of 1 Samuel 25. Yet she serves the important function of glorifying and validating David’s kingship. First, her prescient words, representing the narrator’s pro-David point of view, foreshadow the future kingship of David and validate the legitimacy of his rule: “The Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord. 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 …” (I Sam 25:28–30).

Moreover, 1 Samuel 25 is situated between two episodes in which David has the opportunity to kill Saul, but resists. In this article’s episode, too, David maintains extraordinary self-control and leaves it to God to dispatch his opponent. The Abigail story, like the Saul stories, is a strong endorsement of David’s destiny to reign as the chosen favorite of God.

1 Samuel 25 stands in stark contrast to, and serves as a mirror image of, the Bathsheba story in 1 Sam 11–12. Both Abigail and Bathsheba are originally married to other men, and both become the wives of David, yet by very different courses of events. In the Abigail story, the woman is married to an evil husband, yet David is prevented by the woman from murdering her husband, as he clearly acknowledges (1 Sam 25:33–34). In the case of Bathsheba, whose husband is portrayed as a good man, David is led to order the murder of the husband because of his desire for the woman. The Abigail story contains no illicit sex, though the opportunity was present; the Bathsheba story revolves around an illicit relationship. In the Abigail story, David, the potential king, is seen as increasingly strong and virtuous, whereas in the Bathsheba story, the reigning monarch shows his flaws ever more overtly and begins to lose control of his family.

Bibliography

Berlin, Adele. Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative. Sheffield, England: 1983; Indiana: 1994;

Levenson, Jon D. “1 Samuel 25 as Literature and History.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (1978): 11–28;

Levenson, John D. and B. Halpern. “The Political Import of David’s Marriages.” Journal of Biblical Literature 99 (1980): 507–518.

Meyers, Carol, General Editor. Women in Scripture. New York: 2000.

8 Comments

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The Bible supports wife abuse because of stories like this. If Abigail was the rude abusive drunk Nabal could have divorced her and kicked her to the street. But not Abigail. All the abuse she had to tolerate because she's a woman, inferior. Thanks Bible. For teaching women how inferior we are and how we deserve to be abused.

Plus David raped bathsheba. Had her husband killed. Then forced her to marry him.

But did god care about either of those poor abused women? No of course not. He only cared about the men. He killed Nabal not because he abused Abigail but because he insulted David. He was only angry at David for claiming another man's wife as his property not because he raped and imprisoned bathsheba.

I would have loved to see all these so called holy men of God try their superiority and ownership over ancient Celtic warrior women. Where women are treated as equals, to men, goddesses are worshipped like gods. Girls train in combat like boys. Women are also warriors.

Queen Bodicca vs. abusive alcoholic Nabal.

Queen Bodicca vs. Rapist murderer David.

In reply to by Riki

The Bible does not support wife abuse. And frankly, the laws of the Bible concerning the sexes are extremely frank and treat people equally as no other laws. You think God did and does not care for women? Jesus the messiah revealed himself to women first at his resurrection. In the Psalms it is written a great company of women will proclaim His word- Psalm 68:11. Love and marriage are upheld and esteemed in the Bible. And the Bible is not a tale of myths and characters that are set on pedestals, helpless to the people. The Bible is full of people and their terrible flaws. Why? To show God's glorious grace to us all- and so that we can learn from their mistakes and examine our own lives!
There are religious people who have twisted God's word to push women down. And this has happened in every religion I have ever studied. But of all the so called sacred texts I have read none can ever compare with God's Word. Whoever does not love, does not know God. In the Bible, all written scripture points to Jesus. Moses said to listen to the prophet the one who would be raised up among the people. His name is Jesus. Why would anyone want to worship gods or goddesses when the Creator is real and alive and listens? In the Bible, vengeance belongs to God. The battle belongs to the Lord. And we have a promise of peace and life. The Celts were overjoyed when the Bible was brought to their land! Their pagan priests said that they had followed their religion carefully and it had never benefited them! Read about the women in scripture- living breathing women. Read about the woman Sheerah who built a city! A great architect! Read about Shiphrah and Puah whose houses were built because they held God in awe. Read about Miriam who sang and played the tambourine at the parting of the sea. Read about Esther- a beautiful queen who played a part in rescuing her people. Boudica failed her people! She couldn't defeat her enemies in her own strength! Esther did not have strength on her own. She fasted for days and prayed to God and her people prayed in unity with her. God has the power to give strength to all of his people so that even if they lay on the hearth, the women divide the spoils. God gives rest and peace so that women do not have to keep striving in anxiety. Men are taught to love their wife as their own body. If they do not, then they do not know God. Women are taught to respect their men, as they respect God. Their love should be reverent to each other. Read about Jesus. He is not even comparable to any other.

Ephesians 5:28
"In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself."
1 Corinthians 7:1-40
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. ..."
Ephesians 5:21
"Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."
Proverbs 5:18-19
"Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love."

Just a correction. Reference to Bathsheba is in the second book of Samuel not the First book.
See 2 Samuel chapter 11

How long did she live?

What were abigails options as a rich widow if she didn’t wish to remarry?

Bathsheba and David are in 2 Samuel and not 1 Samuel.

Abigail is the mother of DavidÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s second son, Chileab (1 Sam 3:3 should be 2 Sam 3:3

In reply to by Anonymous

Thanks for catching that! Corrected.

How to cite this page

Berlin, Adele. "Abigail: Bible." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 19, 2020) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/abigail-bible>.

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