Saturday, June 5, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #23 "The Lord Be Between Thee and Me For Ever"

1 Samuel 18-20; 23-24 (and 25)


This reading assignment focuses on the opposite relationships between Saul and David, and between Saul's son Jonathon and David. Saul was an example of a persistent enemy and Jonathon was an example of an enduring friend.  Although Saul's relationship with David was unholy, David's relationship with Saul was always holy.  David never returned evil to Saul, but was ever forgiving (while still wisely protecting his own safety), leaving judgment of his old friend Saul completely in the hands of the Lord.  Very likely, Saul was seriously mentally ill with some form of paranoia and David, as well as many of Saul's servants, realized he was not himself, but a victim of our fallen existence.  (See 1 Sam. 16:17 JST, and 22:17.)

This saga teaches many important lessons about how we treat and view others.  Unfortunately, the reading assignment does not include Chapter 25 which tells the marvelous story of Abigail and David.  This is one of the greatest relationships in the Old Testament, because it is a type of our possible relationship with our Redeemer, a beautiful explanation of how Christ can heal us from the damage that others have done to us, if we will but forgive.  It would be very worthwhile to supplement this lesson with an explanation of the Atonement as found in the story of Abigail and David. 


As the story begins, David and his men had been pursued relentlessly by Saul and his army.  David found himself in the remarkable situation where he could easily kill his would-be murderer, but he left justice to the Lord and let Saul live.  After revealing himself to Saul, he said, "The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee...Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked," and David chose not to be wicked (1 Sam 24:12-13). 

Saul repented (verse 17), acknowledged David's greatness, and begged David not to kill Saul's descendants when David became king, as some kings would have done to prevent uprisings.  David promised and forgave, but he was smart enough to return to his hiding place in the wilderness.  (We are required to forgive everyone, but we are not required to trust those who have not proven trustworthy.)


So at the time that David was hiding out with his men in the wilderness, in fairly dire straits and wanting for provisions, "There was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the [man's possessions were] very great...Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings" (1 Sam. 25:2-3).

The Hebrews attached great importance to names.  They didn't pick a name, as we sometimes do, just because they liked the sound of it, or the look of it; they didn't make up names just to be different, or conversely, to go with fashion.  They chose a name for its meaning, and often a person's name was actually changed at some point to reflect his state in life.  Naomi, for example, said to her kinsfolk, "Call me not Naomi [which means "pleasant"], call me Mara [which means "very sad"] for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me" (Ruth 1:20, with footnotes).

Similarly, the names of the subjects of this story are significant.  Nabal's name means "fool" and David's name means "beloved."  Abigail's name, although it is a female name, means "Father of rejoicing" (Bible Dictionary).  Perhaps the word "Father" refers to "origin" or "Creator," so that her name might mean something like "reasons to rejoice originate with or are created by this person."  Knowing that Abigail is a type of Christ makes this name significant.

So the characters in this story are:
  • one person who is foolish,
  • one person who is able to feel love, and
  • one person who has the power to create joy.
David and his soldiers were in the same area as Nabal's shepherds (25:7), but contrary to the nature of soldiers to pillage and take what they like, David's men actually befriended the shepherds and protected their sheep from danger, and then sent messengers to ask Nabal very nicely (25:8) if he would give provisions to the hungry army.

Nabal sent a message back, denying David any help, justifying himself by saying that very likely David was just a runaway slave; this despite the fact that David was leading an army of six hundred men (25:10-11) and seemed to have been very well-known as King Saul's worthy adversary and potential successor.  (See 25:30-31.)  Truly Nabal was a fool.


David's reaction to this affront was immediate and natural:  "Gird ye on every man his sword."  He left 200 men guarding the hold, and rode to annihilate the clan of the selfish Nabal and take his provisions, since he wouldn't share them with those who had voluntarily acted as his allies (25:13).  David's intention was to kill every last one of Nabal's men (25:22), since Nabal had returned evil for David's good.  (This attitude provides further evidence that David may have felt Saul was mentally ill, since he never expressed this type of vengeance toward Saul.)

Fortunately, one of the shepherd-messengers told the situation to Nabal's wise wife, Abigail, saying, "Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to [greet] our master; and [Nabal swooped upon them as a bird attacking]" (25:14 with footnotes).  Further, he reported that David did nothing to deserve this kind of reception, but that, to the contrary, he had been a great blessing to the shepherds of Nabal.  "We were not hurt, neither missed we any thing, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields: They were a wall [or protection] unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.  Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial [wicked or stupid man], that a man cannot speak to him [reason with him]" (25:15-17).


Abigail was a quick-thinking woman who immediately perceived what to do.  She could see that David had been greatly wronged, and that he and his men really did deserve the provisions that Nabal had denied them.  She quickly assembled a huge compensatory gift:  200 loaves, 2 bottles of wine, 5 sheep already butchered, 5 measures of grain, 100 bunches of raisins, and 200 cakes of figs.  She loaded the gifts upon donkeys and sent them ahead of her with her servants (25:18-19).  This was all done without the help or knowledge of her husband, the idiot (25:20).

When Abigail met up with David, "she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid.  Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send" (25:24-25). Abigail fully agreed that her husband had sinned against David, and she also explained the reason:  Nabal was unintelligent, a fool, he lacked understanding. So Abigail compensated David for the actions of Nabal, and she begged him to spare Nabal for her sake, since she had been completely innocent of any wrongdoing (she "saw not the young men," the messengers).

But she claimed the sin upon herself ("Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be...I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid") after which she asked for many blessings to be upon David in repayment for his forgiveness (25:24,28-30).  Then she gave these very insightful reasons for him to forgive, addressing David as "my lord:"  "That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself."  In other words, she reminded David that vengeance would bring injury to himself.  It would bring sorrow to him.  It would offend his heart.  And he would be shedding blood for no cause, since she had provided everything that David needed. 

David recognized her words to be true.  In fact, she had included the very reason that he had decided previously not to kill Saul, even though he had both the power to do it, and the justification--he didn't want to suffer the consequences of the wickedness of vengeance.

David thanked Abigail for preventing him from committing the greater sin of violence against Nabal. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel which sent thee this day to meet me: and blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood and from avenging myself with mine own hand" (25:32-33).


When Abigail returned home, her foolish husband was partying, drunken, reveling in his perceived cleverness at besting the mighty warrior David (25:36).  She let him sleep it off.  In the morning, when she told him David's reaction to his refusal to help, and how she had saved the entire household herself, he suffered a massive heart attack, fell into a coma, and died 10 days later (25:37-38).

When David heard of the natural death of Nabal, he credited the Lord for meting out justice, and returned to marry Abigail himself (25:39).  (David's first wife, Michal, who was the daughter of Saul, had been taken from him by Saul and given to another man [25:44].)


If we retell this story, placing ourselves in it, we can understand a little more about the Atonement, forgiveness, and their combined power to replace our pain with joy.  We can consider ourselves to be the Beloved, who has not deserved the wrong done to him by the Fool, and who has been abused, neglected, disrespected, unappreciated, slandered.  The Fool may not consider himself in the wrong, and may not ask for our forgiveness, yet the Creator of Joy (Christ) meets us on our way to angry retaliation, fully acknowledges the wrong of the Fool, and then, incredibly, takes responsibility for it!  He asks us to forgive Him for the Fool's actions, and offers us perfectly compensatory gifts to remove our suffering.  The Creator is always aware that a lack of knowledge and understanding is the reason for the Fool's sin, and will help us to see that as well, if we will listen to Him.

If we accept His offer and forgive the offense, we are freed from the desire to mete out vengeance and the ill consequences that such a sin would effect upon us.  All of our needs will be met by the gifts He brings, including those that were taken from us by the offense.  The anger will be removed from our hearts, and we will be able to feel the love of the Creator, and truly be the Beloved. We can then be united in purpose and perspective with the Creator, as if by a marriage, and enjoy the ensuing love, never needing to concern ourselves again with the wrong that was done.  All of the negative consequences will go to the Fool, if he never seeks repentance, and none of them will descend upon us.  We will be truly free.

(The basic idea for this scriptural interpretation comes from James Ferrell, The Peacegiver.)


James Ferrell writes, "Although the Lord doesn't actually ask us to forgive him, the effect of the atonement is such that it's as if that is what he is asking. 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these,' the Savior taught, 'ye have done it unto me.' When we withhold forgiveness from others, we are in effect saying that the atonement alone was insufficient to pay for this sin.  We are holding out for more.  We are finding fault with the Lord's offering.  We are, in essence, demanding that the Lord repent of an insufficient atonement.  So if we fail to forgive another, it is as if we are failing to forgive the Lord, who...needs no forgiveness" (Ferrell, chapter 4).

Christ has already taken our offenders' sins upon Him, through the Atonement.  Our forgiveness can add nothing to the infinite Atonement, which they will receive if they repent.  If they do not repent, vengeance is the Lord's.  Their repentance is irrelevant to our forgiveness of them.  Our forgiveness of our enemies benefits us!  It frees us and brings us peace.

"Remember that if we grant this forgiveness in full, [Christ] atones in full for [our] pains and burdens that have come at others' hands.  He blesses us with his own love, his own appreciation, his own companionship, his own strength to endure.  And if we have these, what do we lack?"  (Ferrell, chapter 7) 

When our relationships with others are holy, as were David's, we are able to also have a holy relationship with our Redeemer, receive the blessings of the Atonement in our daily lives regardless of what others do to us, and experience repeatedly a return to joy and love after pain.  "The Lord be between thee and me for ever" (1 Sam. 20:23,42).


Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

One interesting insight to add from James Ferrell's book: "Being mistreated is the most important condition of mortality, for eternity itself depends on how we view those who mistreat us."

ranford said...

Very interesting! Thank you for the insights. While reading this it also occurred to me that Jonathon is also very similar to Christ in his relationship between Saul and David. This certainly could have contributed to David's forgiving nature when it came ot Saul as well.

Fools: Saul & Nabal
Creators of Joy: Jonathon and Abigail
Beloved: David

The Lord be between me and thee forever.....the Lord acts as our mediator, not only with the father, but also with others around us so our own salvation can be fully in our own control, and not dependent on the jsutice or lack thereof with how we are treated by others.

Thanks for sharing...I love your insights!

Ron Andersen said...

I recently discovered your site and want to express my deep appreciation for your insights. I teach Gospel Doctrine in our Ward, Medford (OR) 8th, and have shared your site with my class as well as many LDS friends and family not in our Ward, Count me as a regular reader.