A Truly Ghastly Bible Passage

Posted on March 11, 2020


By David Ettinger

Unmerited Vengeance
1 Samuel Chapter 25 recounts the story of how David – before becoming king – and his fighting men encountered a group of shepherds in the wilderness while they were shearing sheep. Wool was a valuable commodity in those days, making the wilderness an extremely dangerous place. Robbers would kill shepherds and steal their sheep.

David and his men, however, took it upon themselves to protect these shepherds of the wealthy Nabal, who is described as “harsh and evil in his dealings” (v. 3). When the sheep shearing ended and Nabal and his household were celebrating, David sent 10 of his men to request of Nabal to “Please give whatever you find at hand to your servants and to your son David” (v. 8).

Nabal replied by spewing disdain, dishonor, and degradation at David. David was enraged, ordering his men to arm themselves for battle. His purpose? “May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him” (vv. 21-22).

David later confirmed his intentions to Nabal’s virtuous wife Abigail who interceded in the potential bloodbath: “Nevertheless, as the Lord God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from harming you, unless you had come quickly to meet me, surely there would not have been left to Nabal until the morning light as much as one male” (v. 34).

How ghastly of David! I have a difficult time with the fact that David was willing to wipe out scores of innocent men over Nabal’s actions. Yes, Nabal’s response was despicable, but his servants were innocent. In fact, they were grateful for David and his men, and spoke well of them to Abigail (vv. 14-16).

Yet, David, in his rage, vowed to slay every one of them. Some could make the argument that in ancient Israel slaves were regarded as property. To a point, yes, and the Mosaic Law did allow masters to beat wayward slaves, but not kill them (see Exodus 20:20-21)! Therefore, David was not within his rights to slay Nabal’s servants.

Furthermore, after Abigail succeeded in quelling David’s deadly anger, he admitted that his intentions were wrong, even wicked. He tells Abigail, “blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand” (v. 33).

Biblically, justified killing is not “bloodshed”; and though vengeance was permitted, it was only so if God mandated it. But there was nothing about this situation which justified the slaughter of innocent men, and had David gone through with it he would have been guilty of “bloodshed,” something Abigail recognized as a plague which would have infected David’s future reign (vv. 26, 28).

So Disturbing
What really makes this passage so disturbing to me is that slaughtering innocent men for his being slighted was the immediate and only response David opted for. And this from one proclaimed as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Surely such a man could have controlled his rage, but he didn’t; hence the reason God sent Abigail to save the day.

What is even more disturbing about this passage is that it goes far beyond David to all of God’s children. Technically, all believers in the Lord Jesus should be a men and women after God’s own heart. Yet, what acts of cruelty are we guilty of?

No, 99.9 percent of us don’t have the means to slay a household of innocent people, but what of that one individual nearest us? What kind of cruelty have our lips unleashed, our careless and hurtful words piercing and wounding innocent hearts? What about words of venom hurled at celebrities and politicians we disagree with? Admit it: deep in your heart, if you read one day that a particularly liberal, outspoken actor or politician died, you would celebrate.

Is this what the Lord has called us to? Of course not. Just as David went too far in his quest for revenge, so do we when we wish harm on others – or actually do the harming – rather than lifting them up to the Lord that His will may be done in their lives.

May we learn the lessons from this ghastly passage of Scripture and not let bitterness and hatred well up in our hearts. After all, if it can happen to the “man after God’s own heart,” it can certainly happen to us!