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If we are to understand the reasons why Ezekiel is called to the powerful parabolic actions we find in Ezekiel 4, we must put ourselves in the place of the exiles. Like the people back home in Jerusalem and Judah, many of them could not imagine that the city and temple of the Great King could ever be destroyed. God simply would not allow it to happen. In general terms the exiles in Babylon respond to Ezekiel the same way that the Jews in Jerusalem respond to Jeremiah: they don’t believe him. In fact, the exiles doubtless have added incentive to maintain their false hopes. As long as Jerusalem stands, they can nurture the hope that God will rescue them and bring them back home. If Jerusalem falls, there will be no “home” to which to return. One can imagine how desperately negative and even impossible Ezekiel’s warnings sound to them.
But Ezekiel does not flinch.
(1) He begins by drawing a picture of Jerusalem on a large clay tablet—perhaps the profile or some other easily recognized perspective, so that onlookers can instantly see what he is doing. Around the city he erects siege works and the like, as if he were playing war games with homemade toys. Everyone perceives that this means Jerusalem will be besieged. Then he holds an iron pan over the model. As God’s prophet he stands in for God, and holds the pan in such a way as to threaten to crash it down on the city and destroy it—picturing the fact that it is God himself who is threatening the city.
(2) In the next section (Ezek. 4:4–8), Ezekiel spends some time each day lying on his left side. (He is not there all the time, of course, as the succeeding verses show he has other actions to perform.) If his head is toward the model of Jerusalem he has made, and his body lies on an east-west axis, then when he lies on his left he is facing north, toward Israel, the ten tribes that have already gone into captivity under the Assyrians. For 390 days (more than a year!) he does this, every day. Then one day the onlookers show up and find him on his right side—facing the south and thus threatening Judah with judgment and disaster.
(3) Inside a besieged city in the ancient world, as supplies dwindled people were forced to make bread out of dried beans and lentils mixed with the tiny bit of flour that was left. They would eat their impossibly small portions (about eight ounces of “bread”) and sip their tiny quota of water, and waste away. They would cook their food on cow patties (as in the slums of India), because there was no more wood. All this, Ezekiel predicts, “because of their sin” (Ezek. 4:17).
Despite its great interest and deft characterizations, one must ask why the story found in 1 Samuel 25 is included. How does it advance the storyline of 1 and 2 Samuel?
Once some of the social conventions of the day are understood, the account itself is clear. Apparently at this point David is not actively being pursued by Saul (see 1 Sam. 24), but relations are still so tender that David and his men keep right out of Saul’s way. Much of this culture was bound up with two values that many in the West rarely experience: (1) Every good deed must necessarily be repaid with another. The forms of courtesy extend to reciprocal gift-giving. Failure in this respect calls down shame on the person who defaults, and treats the other person with contempt. (2) The demands of hospitality mean it is unconscionable to turn another away. That would signal rudeness and greed. Mere courtesy demands that one offer one’s best to guests. This is especially true when one is wealthy.
So when David’s men arrive at Nabal’s door, they are not asking for protection money. When Nabal sends them on their way, he is not an upright man who refuses to be bullied by a brigand, but an ungrateful wretch who will take and take from everyone, never give anything in return, thumb his nose at the courtesies and conventions of the culture, bring down shame on himself without caring what people think, and treat the man who has contributed to the wealth and well-being of his operation with insufferable contempt.
Abigail cuts the best figure in the narrative. With grace and tact, she assuages David’s wrath and preserves the lives of her husband and the men he employs. David is a mixed figure. By the light of day, doubtless he had some warrant for the vengeance he was planning, but it could only presage more bloodshed and a style of leadership that would sully the throne he would one day occupy. All this Abigail sees—and winningly convinces him she is right.
So why is the account included? Superficially, of course, there are little hints that David is coming closer to the throne. Samuel, the prophet who anointed him, is dead (1 Sam. 25:1). David now heads an armed band of six hundred. Abigail represents the rising number of Israelites who recognize that sooner or later David will be their king (1 Sam. 25:28, 30). But above all, David is now heading in a different moral direction from Saul. As Saul’s power has increased, so also has his passion for vengeance. David is heading in the same wretched direction, until Abigail checks him, as he himself recognizes (1 Sam. 25:32–34). There are important lessons here for many powerful Christian leaders.
25:1 Now Samuel died. And all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him in his house at Ramah.
Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran. 2 And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. 3 Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite. 4 David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. 5 So David sent ten young men. And David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name. 6 And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 7 I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. 8 Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’”
9 When David's young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited. 10 And Nabal answered David's servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. 11 Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” 12 So David's young men turned away and came back and told him all this. 13 And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every man of them strapped on his sword. David also strapped on his sword. And about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.
14 But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal's wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. 15 Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them. 16 They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. 17 Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.”
18 Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep already prepared and five seahs1 of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys. 19 And she said to her young men, “Go on before me; behold, I come after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 And as she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, behold, David and his men came down toward her, and she met them. 21 Now David had said, “Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good. 22 God do so to the enemies of David2 and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”
23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 25 Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal3 is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. 26 Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. 27 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. 28 Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. 29 If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 And when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince4 over Israel, 31 my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself. And when the LORD has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.”
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.
39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the LORD who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The LORD has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head.” Then David sent and spoke to Abigail, to take her as his wife. 40 When the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” 41 And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” 42 And Abigail hurried and rose and mounted a donkey, and her five young women attended her. She followed the messengers of David and became his wife.
43 David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and both of them became his wives. 44 Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim.
6:1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!1
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous2 will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,3 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined4 to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin5 a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
4:1 “And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. 2 And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. 3 And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel.
4 “Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment1 of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. 5 For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. 6 And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year. 7 And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared, and you shall prophesy against the city. 8 And behold, I will place cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege.
9 “And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer,2 and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it. 10 And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels3 a day; from day to day4 you shall eat it. 11 And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin;5 from day to day you shall drink. 12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” 13 And the LORD said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them.” 14 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I have never defiled myself.6 From my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has tainted meat come into my mouth.” 15 Then he said to me, “See, I assign to you cow's dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” 16 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the supply7 of bread in Jerusalem. They shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. 17 I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and rot away because of their punishment.
40:1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.
4 Blessed is the man who makes
the LORD his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after a lie!
5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.
6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.1
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance2
in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O LORD.
10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
11 As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain
your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
ever preserve me!
12 For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
13 Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me!
O LORD, make haste to help me!
14 Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the LORD!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!
41:1 Blessed is the one who considers the poor!3
In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;
2 the LORD protects him and keeps him alive;
he is called blessed in the land;
you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
3 The LORD sustains him on his sickbed;
in his illness you restore him to full health.4
4 As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me;
heal me,5 for I have sinned against you!”
5 My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
6 And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words,
while his heart gathers iniquity;
when he goes out, he tells it abroad.
7 All who hate me whisper together about me;
they imagine the worst for me.6
8 They say, “A deadly thing is poured out7 on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies.”
9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me,
and raise me up, that I may repay them!
11 By this I know that you delight in me:
my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen.