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I may be dating myself a little bit here, but does anyone else remember flannelgraphs? When I hear the words “Sunday school story,” flannelgraphs are the first thing that I think of: these big flannel boards with little flannel people, animals, and objects that you would stick on the board to illustrate the story. I remember the teacher would let us take turns coming up to the front and sticking one of the characters on the board, and we would all fight over who got to stick Jesus on the board… the good old days.
All that to say, gone are the days of flannelgraphs, but I’m going to go a little bit “Sunday school style” and share a straight up Bible story with you today! This is probably one that you didn’t hear in Sunday school as a kid, or even if you did, you probably didn’t really get what was going on (unless you were super insightful). But as we’re diving into all things servant leadership, this is a story that demonstrates an excellent example of what servant leadership can look like as a BOLD woman of God!
So let’s dig into the first part of the story (stick with me, I know it’s a little lengthy!):
“Then David moved down to the wilderness of Maon. There was a wealthy man from Maon who owned property near the town of Carmel. He had 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats, and it was sheep-shearing time. This man’s name was Nabal, and his wife, Abigail, was a sensible and beautiful woman. But Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, was crude and mean in all his dealings.
When David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep, he sent ten of his young men to Carmel with this message for Nabal: ‘Peace and prosperity to you, your family, and everything you own! I am told that it is sheep-shearing time. While your shepherds stayed among us near Carmel, we never harmed them, and nothing was ever stolen from them. Ask your own men, and they will tell you this is true. So would you be kind to us, since we have come at a time of celebration? Please share any provisions you might have on hand with us and with your friend David.’ David’s young men gave this message to Nabal in David’s name, and they waited for a reply. ‘Who is this fellow David?’ Nabal sneered to the young men. ‘Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?’ So David’s young men returned and told him what Nabal had said. ‘Get your swords!’ was David’s reply as he strapped on his own. Then 400 men started off with David, and 200 remained behind to guard their equipment.” 1 Samuel 25:1b-13 NLT
I know you might be thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with servant leadership?” I promise we will get there! But before we do, it is important to understand the context of the story first.
Allow me to give a little breakdown of what we just read:
Enter Nabal’s wife, Abigail.
“Meanwhile, one of Nabal’s servants went to Abigail and told her, ‘David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, but he screamed insults at them. These men have been very good to us, and we never suffered any harm from them. Nothing was stolen from us the whole time they were with us. In fact, day and night they were like a wall of protection to us and the sheep. You need to know this and figure out what to do, for there is going to be trouble for our master and his whole family. He’s so ill-tempered that no one can even talk to him!’” – 1 Samuel 25:14-17 NLT
First of all, props to the servant who thought to tell Abigail what was going on. Maybe he’s the real MVP! But we’re going to spend the rest of our time studying Abigail and the principles of servant leadership that she demonstrates in her response to this awful (and kind of awkward) situation that she finds herself in the middle of.
The fact that one of Nabal’s servants approached Abigail with what was going on shows that they knew she would be willing and able to do something about it. They said to her about Nabal, “He’s so ill-tempered that no one can even talk to him!” I’m making an assumption here, but I don’t think they would have approached her or said this to her if she had the same temperament as her husband. Not to mention, we read in verse 3 that Abigail was described as a “sensible” woman. As a woman in those times, if anything, she would have known less about the traditions surrounding sheep-shearing time, especially as it relates to the business side of things. But she immediately knew that Nabal was wrong and that David and his men deserved compensation. She also knew that her entire household would be in serious trouble if she didn’t do something.
This shows us that when it comes to servant leadership, the everyday moments really do matter.
We don’t know anything about Abigail before this moment, but I think it’s safe to say that she was approached as capable to lead in this moment because she had proved herself as capable to lead in everyday moments in the past; even if only her household noticed!
So what about you? Do you feel like servant leadership is evident in your everyday life, or are you waiting for a position, person, or situation to tap you on the shoulder and ask you to step into leadership? Because chances are, you will never receive that “tap on the shoulder” if you aren’t proving yourself as willing and able to lead in everyday moments.
“Abigail wasted no time. She quickly gathered 200 loaves of bread, two wineskins full of wine, five sheep that had been slaughtered, nearly a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 fig cakes. She packed them on donkeys and said to her servants, ‘Go on ahead. I will follow you shortly.’ But she didn’t tell her husband Nabal what she was doing.” 1 Samuel 25: 18-19
Verse 18 says it: “Abigail wasted no time.” She knew that this was a literal life-and-death situation, so she acted quickly! Also notice how she was able to gather so much food so quickly. The fact that so much food was so readily available shows just how rich Nabal was, which makes his denial of David’s request all the worse.
It is a simple principle, but servant leadership doesn’t hesitate. Sure, we’re probably not facing life-and-death situations like Abigail was, but how often do we see something that needs to be done and put it off or maybe even wait until someone else does it?
This is my favorite principle of servant leadership that Abigail demonstrates. Honestly, I was almost tempted to write this whole article just on this portion because it’s so good! It’s another lengthier portion of our passage, but let’s read:
“When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed low before him. She fell at his feet and said, ‘I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say. I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests. But I never even saw the young men you sent. Now, my lord, as surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, since the Lord has kept you from murdering and taking vengeance into your own hands, let all your enemies and those who try to harm you be as cursed as Nabal is. And here is a present that I, your servant, have brought to you and your young men. Please forgive me if I have offended you in any way. The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles. And you have not done wrong throughout your entire life. Even when you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch! But the lives of your enemies will disappear like stones shot from a sling! When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel, don’t let this be a blemish on your record. Then your conscience won’t have to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance. And when the Lord has done these great things for you, please remember me, your servant!’” 1 Samuel 25:23-31 NLT
Abigail demonstrates several principles of servant leadership in these verses, but more than anything, she demonstrates that servant leadership is life-giving to others.
Remember when Nabal flat out insulted David as the future king? Abigail did the opposite. She called David out of his sinful state and into his God-given calling. She reminded him of God’s promise for his life and helped him look beyond his present anger to those future promises of God. She asked him not to do something that he would later regret, to consider the consequences of his actions, and to let God handle it instead of taking matters into his own hands. She directed his focus back to God, and she did so with so much humility!
This is really a perfect example of leading with humility. As we read the rest of the story, we will see that Abigail’s words in these verses led to the outcome of the whole situation; her words and actions clearly changed David’s mind (from doing something that was very much against God’s will that he would have very much regretted). But again, she led in this way with so much humility and she truly took on the attitude of a servant, which is what we are all called to do as disciples of Jesus (see Philippians 2:1-11).
More than anything, Abigail was a servant leader with her words. Is this true of you?
Like Abigail, do you call people out of who they are and into who God wants them to be? Not out of condemnation or judgment, but in grace and truth?
Do you declare God’s promises over the lies that the world has told people? The beauty of this “principle” is that it is something we can do every single day!
“David replied to Abigail, ‘Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. For I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would still be alive tomorrow morning.’ Then David accepted her present and told her, ‘Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.’” 1 Samuel 25:32-35
Before we look at how David responded to Abigail’s appeal, I think it is important to acknowledge how he could have responded. Not only was Abigail a woman, which in those days basically meant the less you spoke up the better, but what’s more, she was the wife of the man who had just directly insulted David and who was the target of David’s anger. Let’s not forget that when Abigail appealed to David, he was literally on his way to wipe out Nabal’s entire household, which obviously included her! This intervention very well could have cost Abigail her life, which truly puts the “servant” in her servant leadership, and demonstrates to us how servant leadership often requires a whole lot of boldness and courage, often more than what we can muster up on our own.
But whether it was the way in which Abigail approached him, the Holy Spirit, or both, David was convicted to stop and listen. He not only let Abigail speak, but he truly listened, and he responded with praise and gratitude. He literally praised God for sending her to meet him in that moment, and for her “good sense.” Abigail’s servant leadership was so bold that David, even in the angered state he was in, instantly knew that her actions were being used by God.
But I also want to ask, who has influenced your life in this way? Who is someone that has spoken life over you in such a way (maybe in a movement of weakness) that you knew they were sent from and used by God? I want to challenge you to thank God for this person, and thank the person themself for allowing God to use them!
“When Abigail arrived home, she found that Nabal was throwing a big party and was celebrating like a king. He was very drunk, so she didn’t tell him anything about her meeting with David until dawn the next day. In the morning when Nabal was sober, his wife told him what had happened. As a result he had a stroke, and he lay paralyzed on his bed like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck him, and he died. When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, ‘Praise the Lord, who has avenged the insult I received from Nabal and has kept me from doing it myself. Nabal has received the punishment for his sin.’ Then David sent messengers to Abigail to ask her to become his wife. When the messengers arrived at Carmel, they told Abigail, ‘David has sent us to take you back to marry him.’ She bowed low to the ground and responded, ‘I, your servant, would be happy to marry David. I would even be willing to become a slave, washing the feet of his servants!’ Quickly getting ready, she took along five of her servant girls as attendants, mounted her donkey, and went with David’s messengers. And so she became his wife. David also married Ahinoam from Jezreel, making both of them his wives. Saul, meanwhile, had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to a man from Gallim named Palti son of Laish.” 1 Samuel 25:36-44
First of all, if Nabal had simply invited David and his men to this big party that he was throwing, none of this would have happened. This guy was truly a fool! But at the end of the day, Nabal did in fact receive God’s judgment, and died. And upon hearing about Nabal’s death, David acknowledged that this was God’s judgment and that God had kept him from (sinfully) doing it himself. He also “remembered” Abigail and asked her to marry him!
It gets a little messy here, because while David was unmarried at this time (because Saul had already given his daughter Michal, David’s first wife, to another man), he married another woman around the same time that he married Abigail. This did not go unnoticed by God though; if you continue to read David’s story, you will see that the rest of his life, although blessed in many ways, was also marked by family problems.
Regardless, Abigail was not left a widow. David remembered her, but through that, I think you could also say that God remembered her and her servant leadership.
I hope that Abigail’s example of servant leadership was encouraging to you today. Is there a specific principle that stood out to you the most as something that you need to implement in your own life? Share with us so that we can help hold you accountable and speak life over you as you aim to be a servant leader on behalf of God’s Kingdom! We can’t wait to hear stories of how you live out life-giving leadership and serve on His behalf!
Tiffany is a 20-something from Louisville, KY, where she is supporting her husband through med school and chasing her dreams on the side. She is passionate about cultivating communities and conversations centered around helping others feel seen, known, and loved for who they are and who God created them to be. A 9w1 and “extroverted homebody,” her ideal weekend is spent planning and hosting the perfect dinner party, and she has a special place in her heart for brides and newlyweds.
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