Grounds for Divorce

Hers was probably an arranged marriage. In the place and time that she lived, most were. She didn't have any choice in the man her parents chose for her. No doubt, like most young girls, she hoped that her husband-to-be would be handsome, gentle, and kind.

Her hope was disappointed. Whether he was unkind and mean-spirited from the beginning, or whether his unpleasant traits showed up later in the marriage, we don't know. What the Bible does tell us is that Abigail, an "intelligent and beautiful woman," was married to Nabal, who was "surly and mean in his dealings" (1 Samuel 25:3).

So Abigail, like many a woman before and after her, found herself yoked for life to a man she could neither love nor respect. In fact, few people had any respect for Nabal, including his own servants. He was a rich man-in a time when wealth was measured in livestock, Nabal had 1,000 goats and 3,000 sheep-but he was spiritually and emotionally impoverished.

Abigail would have lived out her life unhappy, unknown, and unrecorded in history if it hadn't been for her husband's encounter with a young desperado named David. David was an outlaw at the time, the leader of a ragtag group of men little better than bandits, who hired themselves out as mercenaries to anyone who would pay.

But if David's present life was unimpressive, he had a striking future ahead of him. He was destined to become Israel's greatest king-a fact that he already knew, for it had been prophesied from his boyhood. At this point, though, David was down-and-out, but there were better days ahead.

"I'll handle it"
The latest job David and his men had taken on involved providing protection for Nabal's shepherds while they were out in the hills watching those huge flocks. The job went well, but when David came at sheepshearing time to collect pay for himself and his men, Nabal treated him with the same churlish disrespect that he showed everyone.

"Who is this David?" Nabal asked cynically. "Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?" (1 Samuel 25:10, 11). Nabal's shepherds confirmed that David's men had indeed protected them, but Nabal refused to listen or offer compensation.

Maybe you can guess how Abigail felt at that point. Many women can tell stories about feeling publicly shamed by the behavior of their husband or another close family member. Perhaps you're one of those women.

And perhaps, like Abigail, you understand that sometimes it goes deeper than shame. Nabal's refusal to provide for David and his men did more than just make Nabal look bad. It also put Nabal's family at risk. David had what amounted to a private army, and a feud with a man such as David could easily lead to bloodshed. This was more than just speculation, too; David actually threatened to attack Nabal's household.

"It's been useless," David said, "all my watching over this fellow's property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!" (1 Samuel 25:21, 22).

At this point Abigail took matters into her own hands. She didn't bother confronting Nabal-she knew he wouldn't listen. Instead, she herself authorized the servants to bring a generous amount of food to David's camp. Abigail followed on a donkey and bowed before David, apologizing for her husband's rudeness and offering the food she had brought as payment for David's service. Then she begged David to not take revenge upon her husband and household.

Abigail's story has an almost fairy-tale ending. When she returned home and told Nabal what she'd done, he was stricken and became "like a stone"-presumably from the shock. Ten days later he died. David then sent for Abigail and married her himself; she became the second wife of Israel's future king.

Happy endings?
Not every unhappy marriage ends in such a fairy-tale fashion. Unkind and unreliable husbands don't always die conveniently, and princes-to-be don't ride up every day with offers of marriage. Yet Abigail's story can still offer hope for a woman trapped in an unhappy relationship, shamed and even endangered by her husband's actions.

Abigail never lost her dignity, even though Nabal had no respect for her or for others. In her encounters with David she was poised and gracious, respectful of both herself and of him. Though she apologized for her husband?s behavior, she made no excuses for him, frankly telling David that Nabal had behaved foolishly. Yet she never attacked Nabal or lowered herself to his level. Rather, she did what she knew was right, what had to be done to protect her family and household.

Many modern-day Abigails suffer because of a selfish or uncaring spouse-a man they simply cannot respect. It's easy to get bogged down in a never-ending conflict with such a person, but this accomplishes nothing. Attacking him only drags you down to his level. Abigail knew that she couldn't change Nabal. The only thing she could do was to act rightly in spite of what he did wrong.

Abigail made the choice to be responsible for herself and her own actions, to continue to respond with dignity and grace, even though she was caught in a situation that might easily have robbed her of all self-respect. She didn't allow Nabal, or her unhappy marriage, to define her. Instead, she took upon herself the responsibility for doing the right thing.

Maybe you're living in a relationship that's less than picture-perfect. That doesn't mean you're powerless. God has given you, as He gave Abigail, the ability to make your own choices about how you'll respond. You can't change your husband, but you can change your own actions. You can choose to act with creativity, grace, and dignity in a difficult situation, just as Abigail did. And you can trust God that your future holds better days ahead-just as Abigail's did.

Trudy J. Morgan-Cole is a freelance writer from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. She has written 10 books, including Esther: A Story of Courage. Her book Deborah and Barak has recently been released by the Review and Herald Publishing Association.

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