Open with me to the book of Proverbs, chapter nine. Picture a bright eyed, young man walking down a road. He comes upon two houses on either side. Out of each walks a woman. One woman is beautiful and dignified. Her name is “Wisdom” (Prov 9:1ff). The other woman is seductive and loud. Her name is “Folly” (Prov 9:13ff). Inside the house of Wisdom there is a rich feast, insight to be gained, and, most importantly, life to the full (Prov 9:2, 5-6). Inside the house of Folly there is meager meal of bread and water—bread and water that has been stolen, because Folly can’t work herself—and, most gravely, there is an enormous pit that leads to death and destruction (Prov 9:17-18). But both realities are hidden on the inside. On the outside, both ladies stand and call out to the young man with identical words, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” (Prov 9:4, 16). It’s the exact same call, the same invitation given. What will the man do? What will you do? If you look in your Bible at Proverbs 9, you’ll notice that there are six verses given to the call of Lady Wisdom, and six verses given to the call of Lady Folly, and in-between the two are six verses, like our young man standing in-between the two houses. Those six verses in the middle represent how the “simple” can choose wisdom and life and avoid folly and death.
“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. 8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. 9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. 11 For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. 12 If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.” (Prov 9:7-12)
What’s the essence of those six verses? How can we choose wisdom over folly? We must be teachable. That’s it. We must fear God, thus be humbled, and thus be able to receive correction—if we can’t, then we are left to the seduction of Folly.
In our story in Samuel today, we get to see both of these responses in David and Nabal’s response to Abigail. Just to refresh us, 1 Samuel 25 opened with us being introduce to the marriage of Abigail and Nabal. Abigail is beautiful and wise, while Nabal is evil and stupid. David has been protecting Nabal’s flocks and so asks for food and supplies on the feast day, and Nabal responds with greed and rudeness, dishonoring David. This leads David to respond in foolishness himself. He summons 400 men to ride to Nabal’s home to kill every man they find. But on the way, David meets Abigail whose eloquence, boldness, and humility stop David in his tracks. Here, we get to now see how David will respond, and then similarly, how Nabal will respond:
32 And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! 33 Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! 34 For as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.” 35 Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.”36 And Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until the morning light. 37 In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. 38 And about ten days later the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.- 1 Sam 25:32-38
Here’s what CS Lewis tells us, “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you,” (Mere Christianity, The Great Sin).
The proud look down. Scoffers look down. The self-assured and arrogant look down. But not only does that make them incapable of seeing God, it also makes them unwise. It is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. There are two ways to live. We can live in wisdom, or folly. We can live acknowledging God, or ignoring God.
The Way of Wisdom
Here is a piece of what that middle-road section of Proverbs 9 tells us: “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you,” (Prov 9:8). So, the scoffer is the kind of fool who is impervious to admitting they are wrong; if you try to point out where they can grow, the only thing they grow in is hatred towards you. The wise man, on the other hand, is one who not only is willing to listen to instruction, but will grow from it.
So, the question is, what kind of person is David? Hasn’t David’s response already demonstrated his foolishness? “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly,”(Prov 14:29). So David is acting like a fool. And yet, David’s response to Abigail is a perfect display of wisdom. If a wise man is identified by his response to correction, then that means that being wise doesn’t mean you are perfect—you still can act foolish and need to be corrected, but you will listen. This is maybe the most fundamental difference between David and Saul. When Saul sins and is confronted, he qualifies and excuses and shifts blame. When David sins (and his sins are arguably much more heinous), he confesses and repents. This is a great encouragement if we feel like fools.
Maybe as you look back over your life, you realize that you have made many foolish decisions. Maybe that leaves you feeling hopeless, like your future is locked in. But take heart: any fool is primed to become wise if they are willing to listen to correction, if they are willing to admit they are wrong. You don’t need to become a PhD to be wise or have a million dollars in the bank—you just need to admit your foolishness and be willing to learn.
So, David blesses God and Abigail and her wisdom for intervening, “Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!” (1 Sam 25:33).
What makes it hard to admit you’re wrong? Well, it’s embarrassing, of course. When my wife and I moved to Nebraska when we were younger, I drove a large Uhaul and towed one of our cars behind. At one point we stopped at a small gas station to fill up and I didn’t give myself enough room to make the corner around one of the pumps. I thankfully stopped before hitting the pole, but quickly began to panic. When I put it in reverse, the car-trailer began to jack-knife, turning the trailer almost completely sideways, but I was too close to the gas pump to turn sharp enough to correct it. But I still wasn’t clear of the pole, so when I tried pulling forward, I was stuck in the exact same position. I also, as luck would have it, had managed to block the entrance to almost all of the other gas pumps, so several cars stood waiting. I don’t remember exactly how I got out of that predicament (maybe I blocked it out?) but I think I had to go unload the car off the car trailer, unhook the car trailer from the Uhaul, and then walk it out of the way—all while cars impatiently waited to use the pump. I think Hillary (who was in our other car) may have just driven to a nearby parking lot because it was so humiliating. I might as well have walked around yelling to everyone: I have no idea what I am doing, thank you very much.
It is painful to have to back the semi-truck of your choice up on the highway of life, and make a u-turn while everyone watches, while everyone gets to see just how much of a fool you are. Think of what was going through the mind of the men of David. In chapter 24, David’s men were egging him on to kill Saul, but David talks all of them down (1 Sam 24:7). Here, David flies off the handle on Nabal, but then is talked down himself by…a woman. Think of what leadership points David has been spending, the risk he is taking. But this is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. David flew off the handle, but Abigail just wisely pointed out that David was about to sin grievously, and David comes to his senses, but what is it that keeps him from just carrying on with the act to save face? He fears God more than his men, more than Abigail. God is bigger to David than people, and God must be bigger for you if you are going to be wise. If you want to be able to be wise, to not be seduced by lady Folly, then you must be teachable, which means you have to admit when you’re wrong—even when, especially when, it is embarrassing.
This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is central to becoming wise. Paul encourages young Timothy of God’s Word which “is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” (2 Tim 3:15). What is the essence of wisdom? Faith in Jesus Christ. If you are a sinner who is saved by faith in what Jesus has done on your behalf, then that means that your salvation is secure outside of your performance. So, when you are corrected or proved to be wrong or just plumb do something embarrassing, you don’t need to rush to defend yourself or lose sleep over how much of a fool you just made of yourself. You already know yourself to be pretty ridiculous. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,” (1 Cor 1:27). The truest thing about you isn’t how suave or competent you are, but how wise and good Jesus is, and you are in Him. “30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:30-31). Maybe I am a fool, but if I am in Jesus, who is wisdom Himself, then I can be secure and stable, without becoming self-righteous or brittle. So I can take correction and listen to instruction without acting like a scoffer, which, in turn, will actually make me wise.
The Way of Folly
If the way to identify the difference between a fool and a wise man is how they respond to correction, then let’s see what Nabal, the arch-fool, does when he hears the voice of wisdom. “And Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king,” (1 Sam 25:36a). There is a bit of irony here. At the beginning of the chapter, David—the anointed king of Israel—approached Nabal and asked for food, which was denied. But here, Nabal holds a sumptuous feast for himself, “like the feast of a king.” Nabal fancies himself a king, but won’t treat the actual king the way he deserves.
“And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until the morning light,” (1 Sam 25:36b). There are a couple of sins that the book of Proverbs typically associates with the “fool”: laziness, gossip, adultery—but one of the most common sins is drunkenness (cf. Prov 20:1; 23:19-21, 29-35). Whether this is just by happenstance, or it got this association because of the link with folly and drunkenness, the word nabal in Hebrew doesn’t only mean “fool,” but also means, “wineskin.” A fool is a container of wine. But it is easy to see why it is associated with foolishness. Drunkenness is handing your mind and heart over, dulling your senses so that you respond thoughtlessly, foolishly. Drunkenness is so potent that Paul contrasts either being drunk with wine, or being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). You can either be under the influence of alcohol, or under the influence of the Spirit. If you want to know if you have a problem with drinking to excess, ask a friend or a spouse: Do you think I drink too much? Do you see the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, in my life when I drink?
“In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. 38 And about ten days later the LORD struck Nabal, and he died,” (1 Sam 25:37-38). Nabal sobers up in the morning, the “wineskin” is empty, and so Abigail tells him “these things.” What did she speak to him? Certainly she spoke of the gift given to David, but did she also tell him of David’s intent on slaughtering their household? Did she tell him that she blessed David and cursed his enemies (including Nabal!), promising that God would sling them out like stones from the hollow of a sling (1 Sam 25:29)? We are not sure how much she told Nabal, but upon hearing her words his heart dies within him and he becomes “as a stone.” Perhaps he had a stroke and was paralyzed till he expires ten days later. Regardless, Abigail’s blessings to David thus become prophetic. David’s enemy, Nabal, becomes another stone slung out from the hollow of the Lord’s sling.
But I want to consider another image of Nabal turning to stone. Of course, this is describing how God struck Nabal dead. But it is a unique flourish of artistic storytelling to describe Nabal’s heart dying within and turning to stone. And I wonder if this does not also provide for us an imaginative picture of what happens when fools listen to wisdom. Nabal the Fool has Abigail, Lady Wisdom, speaking to him, and what does his heart do in response? It hardens and dries like clay in the oven. What happened to David’s heart when he heard wisdom speak? It was rent open, it yielded like soft flesh to the Lord’s conviction. But Nabal is like Lot’s wife whose unbelief led her to turn into pillar of salt, a stone; or Pharaoh who hardens his heart at God’s voice; or unbelieving Israel in Zechariah who make their hearts “diamond hard” when they hear God’s Word (Zech 7:12). Sometimes, the more someone hears God’s wisdom, the more they are repulsed by it. What did the servant tell Abigail earlier about Nabal? “…he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him,” (1 Sam 25:17). Nabal is a scoffer, a fool who refuses to listen, and in a final act of poetic justice, it is the words of wisdom that bring about his demise.
David hears God’s Word through Abigail and responds with repentance. Nabal hears God’s Word and his heart becomes like a stone. This is the difference between a wisdom and foolishness. How do you know if you are a fool? Do you submit to God’s Word? Do you ignore the parts of the Bible that make you uncomfortable? When a brother or sister lovingly points out where you are out of step with God’s Word, do you harden and become defensive? Or do you admit your folly, and repent?
The Intervention of God
I want to close by considering one question: who stopped David from sinning?
“And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! 33 Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! 34 For as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male,” (1 Sam 25:32-34).
On the one hand, we could say that it was David who stopped himself. He was the wise man who accepted correction. But, on the other hand it seems like Abigail, doesn’t it? She gives the eloquent and wise speech; she diligently seeks David’s favor. David himself blesses Abigail’s wisdom as the reason he was kept “from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!” (1 Sam 25:33) and if she had not acted quickly, he would have killed all the men (1 Sam 25:34). So, it was Abigail, right? But all throughout David’s response, who does he also credit as being the one who stopped him?
Blessed be God who sent you this day to meet me! It was God who has restrained me from hurting you, and again down in verse 39 he again reiterates that it was the Lord who “kept back his servant from wrongdoing,” (1 Sam 25:39). It was David, it was Abigail, but ultimately, it was God.
“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD,” (Prov 16:1; cf. 16:9; 19:21; 20:24).
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD,” (Prov 16:33).
God is in control of everything.
Picture a lake at the top of a mountain. From the lake issues forth two streams. Two identical tributaries flowing with the same water, yet one flows from one side of the lake, and one from the other. One flows down into a strong, clear river that leads into the ocean. The other feeds into a rancid bog. Though they come from the same source, their end goal is vastly different—hundreds of miles may separate these two waters. Now imagine a rain drop falling towards the lake. Which stream will it wind up going into? A gust of wind, the flap of a bird’s wing, the stroke of a fish tail—a thousand little circumstances will push or pull that drop in one direction or another, to vastly different conclusions. So it is with us.
We are all that young man walking down the road of life, responsible for responding to the call of the Wisdom of Jesus and ignore the Folly of the world. But, in a mysterious way, we are also that rain drop, wholly at the mercy of God. God sends the servant to tell Abigail, God sends Abigail, God gives Abigail the wisdom she needs, God gives David a heart to listen, God strikes Nabal down, God, God, God, God—He is the great actor behind the scenes, He is the one who pushes and pulls and bends all of reality towards His designs and purposes. He is there to send restraining graces to keep His children back from destruction, and He is there to hand over Nabal’s to their own foolish desires.
So it is with you. If you are in Christ, do you see how God’s hand is cupped around to prevent you from running headlong into destruction? He sends a friend, a brother, a perfectly timed text message, an intervention. There are times where we are intent on sin and something intervenes that makes the sin impossible: the internet stops working; a child enters the room right as you were about to say something foolish to your spouse; you are fired before you could steal the money. This should cause us to consider the myriads of ways that God has prevented us from sin, even in circumstances that we wish were different. Paul despised the thorn in his flesh, but he needed it to be kept back from conceit and vanity (2 Cor 12:7). What great pains has God spared you from—even when you didn’t know it—by sending that thorn. That sleepless night, that broken leg, the disappointing performance review, the disappointing relationship…who knows what our sovereign God may be doing in your life? If you could but see the tapestry of God’s lovingkindness towards you, how He is stitching and weaving together the pain and boredom and disappointment of life towards your good and joy in Jesus, you would rest easier. You would see the kind barrier that God has laid down between you and what would destroy you.
Oh, but of course, it doesn’t always feel like that. David didn’t hit a forcefield that physically prevented him from marching on. It wasn’t impossible for David to act. What stopped him? He was struck in his heart and had to make a choice. The voice of wisdom and the voice of Folly called out to him, and he had to make a choice. But in his choice, in the exercise of his will, he credits the victory to God—the Lord restrained me. This is what theologians refer to as “concurrence,” God’s will and our will working compatibly together, but with God’s will serving as the grounds of our will.
And there we stand, wobbling on the precipice of temptation—what will we do? “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” (1 Cor 10:13). With every temptation, God stands between you and it, and He only permits the temptations to come your way that He knows you can handle. With each temptation, He provides escape, He provides restraint, He provides you an opportunity to choose the path of life. And like David, we stand at a moment of decision—perhaps you are standing at a moment of decision even now!—and we must make a choice. But when we choose life, we look back at the decision and we say, God did that. God kept me, God provided escape! God is the one who keeps us, who sustains us, and who will bring us home to Him. God sends Abigails to stop Davids from turning into Nabals.
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