1 Samuel 25: 14-18
"14 But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, ‘David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them. 15 Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were with them; 17 Now therefore know this and consider what you should do; for evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.’
18 Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys 19 and said to her young men, ‘Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.’ But she did not tell her husband Nabal."
My favorite part of this scripture is the note that Abagail didn’t tell her husband what she was doing. She is a woman we don’t hear enough about; she is left out of the lectionary reading cycle that guides many churches and there are zero Sunday school songs that echo her story. Perhaps this is because she is a woman caught between two pretty egotistical men. One of whom happens to be the man that will be King, King David is the King against whom all other Kings in Israel’s history will be measured except here… he is not looking partially good.
David is caught in an in-between space, named as future king, plucked from the middle of no-where, the last son of no-body important. Some lowly shepherd on his way to being king. The problem with David being named as the future king is that there is a current king and power is not something kings let go of very easily… it would seem. And yet David has been useful, even to the soon to be outgoing king, in terms of his military leadership. So this moment we find David with a crew of folks, a small army, a band of marry men out in the country side. Except they are really not so noble. This group of men need to be fed and housed and are depending the people they are “protecting” for this payment. They are perhaps like pirates without a boat, they might even be people we would label today as a terrorist cell, a roving militia striking fear into peoples hearts to get what they want. This is where things get messy with Abigail.
David crew brushes up into Nabal, Abigail’s husband. He is a wealthy man leading a wealthy household and the author of this story wants us to be clear that Nabal is ill-natured. He is difficult to say the least, and it is named over and over. Perhaps a more vivid translation would be peppered with adjectives I don’t want children to repeat. He is difficult, and there is this kind of sense that that is just Nabal, like he is the Ancient Mediterranean Prequel to Grumpy Old Men. The problem is when David’s militia demands something of Nabal, Nabal’s response is sort of along the lines of “David Who? That nobody from nowhere.” This response is natural for Nabal to give, just as it is obvious to us readers that David, Future King David’s, Ego is not going to take kindly to this insult and refusal. And so the battle is set. David promises sure and certain destruction and death to Nabal and his household. Nabal seems unfazed by this threat, however, the servants in his household are not. They seek an intercessor, a leader that will save them from David and the only person that can save the day is Abagail.
She hears the story of what has happened and takes the word of the servants to heart that David and his men were caretakers of them when they were in the fields keeping the flocks. And she responds. The thing she responds with bread.
18 Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys 19and said to her young men, ‘Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.’ But she did not tell her husband Nabal.
Not just a little food but a lot of food. Perhaps this is why the details have so much real-estate in the story. She takes bread to an army. She takes wine to a terrorist cell. She takes raisins to fight pirates. She meets fear and uncertainty, a space of potential violence with abundance. And it works. Her massive spread of food changes the threat of violence into a banquet of sharing. David thanks her,
32 David said to Abigail, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! 33 Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from blood-guilt and from avenging myself by my own hand!’
She met violence with peace and scarcity with abundance. She looks at an army and shows up with two hundred loaves of bread. She brings so much food it takes a caravan of donkey’s to move it into place. And it changed the course of events.
That is the interesting thing about all the stories around bread in our Bible. They are totally unreasonable. Jesus is in a desolate place, and yet thousands of people are gathered on a hillside and he tells his disciples its time to feed these people. They give him a spreadsheet of reasons it cannot be done, they didn’t have time to plan, there are to many people, no one RSVP’ed, it would take a years wages, there is no bakery, and in the face of all their reasonable, understandable no’s Jesus picks up a few loaves of bread and shows them how to say yes. With enough loaves to count on one hand, he blesses and breaks bread and there is not only enough when everyone else does the same, there is more then enough. They have so much they collect extra and there must be someone putting it in to-go containers making sure everyone gets a little bite for the road. It is totally unreasonable and it happens in breaking bread. We see it in the heart of the Parable when Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is live yeast that a woman took and kneed into three measures of flour. Three measures of flour is a lot of flour. It reminds us of Sarah and Abraham’s story. Abraham seeing three strangers on the horizon, welcomes them and as a part of the welcome he runs in and asks Sarah to take three measures of flour to make them some cakes. Amy-Jill Lavine reminds us this is like making 60 dozen busiest. It is no wonder Sarah is laughing at the end, she is exhausted. 60 dozen biscuits for people you didn’t invite and an event you didn’t plan is totally unreasonable.
These bread stories are totally unreasonable. Something so small and simple, bread, changes everything. They are reckless and abundant. 200 loaves of bread, 60 dozen biscuits, feeding thousands at the spur of the moment, you cannot miss the message of abundance that is wrapped up in the stories of bread. Perhaps they teach us something about being bread for each other, how it requires a lot of us, our utmost. Being bread, being faithful is totally unreasonable and requires us to be reckless and wild.
I believe that is why we gather because we waiting to make our 60 dozen biscuits. Of course, not literally, we may not all be ready to load of a donkey with a feast of bread, wine and raisins. But we have something to give. God has seeded gifts in our very being and we are waiting to give them, to discover them, to share them and to be inspired to give them beyond reason. We gather each week to explore what that might be, to dive into our spiritual life so we can come out ready to share our best with the world. Maybe it is your time, maybe it is your resources, maybe it is your talents maybe it is all of the above. But at every step we are called to go big, to be unreasonable and unrealistic and change the world. Abigail changed everything by meeting fear with compassion, scarcity with abundance, and the threat of destruction with the promise of hope. We can too. May we have the courage to be bread for each other. Amen
1. What did you know about Abigail before this study?
2. What do you see in Abigail’s story that gives you courage as you chart your own story?
3. What does it mean to be bread for each other?