H. A. Ironside was a famous Bible teacher during the first half of the last century.
On one occasion he was in a crowded restaurant. Just as he was about to begin his meal, a man approached and asked if he could join him. Ironside welcomed him to have a seat. Then he bowed his head and quietly gave thanks for his food. When he opened his eyes the man looked at him in bemusement and asked, ‘Do you have a headache?’ Ironside assured him that his head was fine. ‘Well, is there something wrong with your food?’ Ironside explained that he always gave thanks before he eat. The man greeted his words with disdain. ‘Oh, you’re one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anyone when I eat. I just start right in.’
‘Yes, you’re just like my dog,’ replied Ironside. ‘That’s what he does.’
This is a sermon about something far more important than simply saying grace before meals. I want to talk to you about thanksgiving. We all have reason to be thankful to God. James writes, ‘every good and perfect gift is from above’ (James 1:17a). But the Bible tells us that at the heart of the problem with humanity is the people neither honour God nor give thanks to him’ (Romans 1:21).
This morning we are going to see an ungrateful fool and his heroic wife.
Behold, the fool (1-11)
Nabal’s name means ‘fool’, and that is what he was. He had plenty of possessions and the most wonderful wife, but he was neither thankful nor generous. In fact he was both harsh and mean.
David has been good to Nabal. David has been living in the territory where Nabal’s herds and flocks grazed. Not only has David resisted the temptation to steal from Nabal, he has sought to protect Nabal’s possessions from harm.
There was a custom at that time, that when the sheep were sheered the owner of the animals would set aside a portion of his profit and give it to those who had protected his shepherds while they were out in the fields. ‘It was kind of like tipping a waiter. There was no written law saying you had to do it, but it was a way of showing gratitude for a job well done’ (Swindoll). So David’s request was neither usual nor unreasonable.
In fact it is notable that David’s request humble and polite. He tells ten young men, ‘Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name. And you shall say to him: “Peace be to you, and peace to your house, and peace to all that you have … Your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm … Therefore let my young men find favour in your eyes, for we have come on the feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David”’ (5-8). There is absolutely no sense of threat in David’s approach.
However, while David has been good to Nabal, Nabal responds to David’s kindness with a calculated insult. ‘Who is David?’ David was famous, everyone knew he was. David was a national hero who had saved the nation by killing the mighty Goliath. Yet Nabal insinuates that David is simply a disloyal rebel who is like any other bandit roaming the land.
Nabal is like that man who said to Ironside, ‘I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anyone.’ Not only is Nabal unthankful for what David has done for him, much more importantly, he is unthankful to God. Look at how he talks of what he has! ‘Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my sheers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?’
A guilt-bearer saves the day (12-35)
As we have studied the life of David, we have said that there are aspects of his life that point forward to his great descendant, Jesus Christ, who is referred to as Son of David. However, in this passage David does not act like Jesus. David is an imperfect man, and if Abigail had not intervened, this story would be covered in blood.
When David hears that Nabal has responded to his request with a deliberate rudeness, he tells his men to get their swords ready.
Bible commentator, Alan Redpath, writes, ‘David! David! What is wrong with you? Why, one of the most wonderful things we have learned about you recently is your patience with Saul ... But now, look at you! Your self-restraint has gone to pieces and a few insulting words from a fool of a man like Nabal has made you see red! David, what’s the matter?’
God recently showed me how I am guilty of David’s sin. I realised that there was a common characteristic about three people who I find difficult to love: the each have a tendency to talk down to me. Why should it bother me if people act like they know better than me? My problem is arrogance and pride. How are you when people treat you as a ‘nobody’? Christians should be the most humble of people. We are loved despite our many failures and anything truly good about us is a gift from God.
What a contrast there is between our proud anger and Jesus’ gentle humility. Peter tells us that when Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:23-24).
Abigail is one of the many marvellous women heroes in the Bible. She not only saves the day by facing David and telling him to act in a Christlike fashion, she actually gives us a picture of what Jesus has done for us. She takes Nabal’s guilt upon herself, ‘On me alone, my Lord, be the guilt’ (24a). ‘Please forgive the trespass of your servant (the feminine is used here, referring to her)’ (28). Christ took the guilt of our ungrateful hearts upon himself and so he saved us from the judgement we deserve.
The king falls from his throne (36-43)
The chief problem in Nabal’s life is that he had placed himself at the centre of his world. When Abigail returns home, Nabal is holding a banquet like that of a king. Nabal’s lack of generosity was rooted in the fact that he is the king of his life and he is like his ruler. Our world will always be small and mean until we take ourselves off the throne and see the beauty of living under God’s rule.
This passage comes with a health warning. The next morning, when Abigail tells him what she has done for him, his heart died within him … and about ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died (37-38).
God has been exceedingly generous to every one of us. He has given us life and breath and everything else. But there will be a day when he will no longer be generous towards those who refuse to honour him. He will show his beauty in demonstrating his justice. He has given his Son to die for ungrateful hearts, but if we refuse to have him as our king we will face the consequences of spurning his kindness. It is not easy to talk about subjects like judgement and hell, but Jesus spoke of them in the hope that the Holy Spirit would bring us to our senses and enable you to delight in his forgiving, generous, kind and gracious love.
The Babylon Bee is a Christian satirical website—a Christian version of the Waterford Whispers, if you are familiar with that. It pokes fun at attitudes within and towards the Christian community. One feature read, ‘“What has God ever done for me?” asks man breathing air.’ Another headline reads, ‘Local man relieved after spiritual gift test comes back negative for “giving”.’
However, God calls us to lives of thankfulness and generosity because he loves us. Unlike David, Jesus does not ask us to give because he is in need, for he is in need of nothing. The Son of David asks us to give because he knows that it is more blessed to give than receive. He calls us to a life of thankfulness and generosity because it enlarges our hearts.
If you have enthroned Christ as your king, then you are a beloved child of God. Thankfulness and generosity can’t earn you any more of God’s love—for you are loved perfectly—it can help you experience more of God’s love. It can help you see how thrilling God’s love is as you his love flow through you. Tozer wrote, ‘Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.’