Abigail

How one woman's manners took her from wife of a rancher to wife of King David.

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Reprinted from Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia with permission of the author and the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Abigail is the wife of Nabal the Calebite from Carmel and later becomes the second wife of David. According to 1 Samuel 25, Abigail is married to Nabal, a wealthy rancher, and she is described as beautiful and intelligent. Her husband is just the opposite: mean and churlish. Despite Nabal’s shortcomings, Abigail is an ideal wife, always protecting her husband’s interests, taking the initiative when he is unable or unwilling to act, and apologizing for his rude behavior. Abigail

Prim & Proper

In her encounter with David, who is fleeing from Saul and trying to build up a following, Abigail is polite far beyond what is required. She is a woman of high socioeconomic status, by virtue of Nabal, whereas David, not yet king, is an outlaw on the run. Yet she acts toward David and addresses him as though he is the lord and she the servant.

Abigail’s good manners and diplomatic strategy succeed in protecting Nabal from David’s wrath when Nabal fails to respond to David’s request for gifts in payment for treating Nabal’s shepherds well. When Nabal learns of Abigail’s actions, after sobering up from a drunken state, “his heart died within him” (1 Sam 25:37). Shortly afterward he dies, and David loses no time in marrying Abigail. Whether it is because this bright and articulate woman catches his fancy, or, more likely, because the marriage is an astute political move calculated to win support in Judah, we cannot know for sure.

Abigail is mentioned along with Ahinoam the Jezreelite (David’s third wife) when they accompany David in seeking refuge in Philistine territory and when they are captured by Amalekites and rescued by David (1 Sam 30:3, 5, 18). Abigail again appears with Ahinoam when these two wives go with David to Hebron, where they settle and where David is anointed king (2 Sam 2:2). Abigail is the mother of David’s second son, Chileab (1 Sam 3:3; Daniel, according to 1 Chr 3:1), born in Hebron.

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Adele Berlin is Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Maryland.

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