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.
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.
Bolstering David’s Kingship
As a character, Abigail is not very well developed and does not figure to any great extent in the stories of David outside of 1 Samuel 25. Yet she serves the important function of glorifying and validating David’s kingship. First, her prescient words, representing the narrator’s pro-David point of view, foreshadow the future kingship of David and validate the legitimacy of his rule: “The Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord. When the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel” (I Sam 25:28-30).
Moreover, 1 Samuel 25 is situated between two episodes in which David has the opportunity to kill Saul, but resists. In this article’s episode, too, David maintains extraordinary self-control and leaves it to God to dispatch his opponent. The Abigail story, like the Saul stories, is a strong endorsement of David’s destiny to reign as the chosen favorite of God.
1 Samuel 25 stands in stark contrast to, and serves as a mirror image of, the Bathsheba story in 1 Sam 11-12. Both Abigail and Bathsheba are originally married to other men, and both become the wives of David, yet by very different courses of events. In the Abigail story, the woman is married to an evil husband, yet David is prevented by the woman from murdering her husband, as he clearly acknowledges (1 Sam 25:33-34). In the case of Bathsheba, whose husband is portrayed as a good man, David is led to order the murder of the husband because of his desire for the woman. The Abigail story contains no illicit sex, though the opportunity was present; the Bathsheba story revolves around an illicit relationship. In the Abigail story, David, the potential king, is seen as increasingly strong and virtuous, whereas in the Bathsheba story, the reigning monarch shows his flaws ever more overtly and begins to lose control of his family.