Why Settle for Even?

Why Settle for Even?

We are right in the middle of this series on the life of David. The first week, we talked about the story of David and Goliath and saw that David’s hope was solely in the Lord. He was a young man, probably 15, and with no fear, believed and understood who God is. And that lead to the great defeat of the giant Goliath and the whole Philistine army. David knew it wasn’t he who won the battle, but the Lord.

Then last week’s story was quite different. Before David was king, he made one terrible decision after another. The problem with terrible decisions is that they take us down, and on the way down, oftentimes we make things even worse, which is exactly what David did.

I ended last week on a bit of a cliff hanger where innocent people were killed, 85 priests and an entire village, and David felt responsible, as he was. Things were really bad. And they were bad because David, instead of turning to God, in fact, even ignoring God, decided to take matters into his own hands, literally.

So in today’s episode, we are right on the heels of this terrible decision that left David in a terrible place, and now he’s on the verge of making another horrible decision that’s going to make things even worse, because that’s generally what we do when we’re on a downward spiral. But fortunately for David, at the very last minute, as we’re going to see, David is saved.

Everyone here probably knows what the Golden Rule is. You likely learned it in school at a pretty young age. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” In other words, however you want to be treated is how you should treat others. So if you want to be treated kindly, then treat others kindly.

Now that’s all find and dandy, until we are mistreated by someone ourselves. Then we want to change the Golden Rule to, “Do unto others as others have done unto you.” Am I right? Because in that moment, it just feels like we just have to get even.

And then there’s a very complicated side to this. When you’ve been mistreated by someone, but yet you can’t get to them, you can’t mistreat them, so instead you mistreat someone else so that your anger, or whatever’s going on inside of you gets transmitted, not back to the people who mistreated you, but to whomever you can take it out on. And they’re lost and wondering why in the world you would treat them this way.

You see the truth is, when we feel powerless in one relationship or environment, we oftentimes compensate in another. I’ll take it out on you because I can’t take it out on him. And if we ever get to the point that we want to uncomplicated things, you can’t ever get everything back in the box. You can never get it back to the way it used to be.

Now you probably know where I’m going with this. The problem with getting back at people, or the problem with getting even with someone, is that it makes you even, even with someone you don’t even like.

Why would you want to be like the person that you don’t like? Why would you want to be even with someone that you think you’re better than? Because when you get even, you’re acting like just like them. And that brings us to part three in our series on the life of David.

Now, real quick I’ll set the scene. This story takes place about a thousand years BC, about 3000 years ago. There is so much extraordinary detail that I’m having to skim through so much of the story, so I would encourage you to go back and read this for yourself. David steps onto the scene as a warrior, a giant killer at 15 years old, he immediately becomes a legend and the most popular person in the nation of Israel. Then something horrible happens, as we saw last week, he becomes a fugitive because King Saul is very jealous of David. See David married one of his daughters, became best friends with King Saul’s son Jonathan, and every mission the king sent David on in hopes that he would die, he actually succeeds at greatly. Therefore, Saul sees David as a threat. So Saul runs David out of the country, and David becomes a fugitive on the run.

Remember last week, we read he escaped to a cave after he had the bright idea to go to Gath, the Philistine city where Goliath was from? While at the cave, his brothers and other family members joined him as well as many other men who were either fugitives or outcasts who would only benefit by helping David becoming king. So he becomes captain of about 600 men. Meanwhile, King Saul is still on the chase to find David and in one situation, goes into the very cave where David and his men are hiding to relieve himself, and David cuts off a piece of his robe to prove he could have killed him if he wanted to, but is better than that as he respects who God put in place to be king. So David is trying to stay out of trouble, yet does not feel welcome in his own country. And here’s where the story begins.

1 Samuel 25:2-42

2 A certain man in Maon (May-on), who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. 3 His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.

Basically, he was harsh and a pain, and nobody liked him. In fact, his name actually means fool, and as it turns out in this story, he was his name, a fool.

4 While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. 5 So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. 6 Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!’”

Now in the season when herdsmen sheared their sheep, this was like an annual paycheck, like many of you farmers in this room know all so well. This is when a person found out how wealthy they really were, and Nabal is about to find out that he’s been wealthier than he thought he would be. So this was generally a very festive time because the end of the season has come, and the owners are feeling wealthy and generous. And David sends this message to Nabal.

7 “Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. (David knew this time well.) When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing.”

So, essentially, what David was saying was that part of the reason that you have a profit is due to the protection of our men throughout the year, because our men were in the wilderness where your sheep were and your shepherds were, and at any point they could have stolen sheep from you but they didn’t. And no one else bothered your sheep since we were there. He goes on.

8 “Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.”

In other words, “Since we were good to you, would you be good to us? Since we didn’t steal from you, would you be willing to share with us?”

9 When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited.

10 Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days.

Now this proves that he knew who David was. He knew David broke away from his King, King Saul. He’s just playing dumb or mean. Besides, he didn’t ask for David’s protection, so he doesn’t think he owes him anything.

11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

He also knows the men with David are outlaws and fugitives.

12 David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. 13 David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.

Did you know that self-control is actually like a muscle, and you can wear it out? It’s true. And so is patience. These virtues are like muscles where you have to exercise to keep them strong and fit. And you have to find that steady rhythm to keep it up in life. But ultimately, if you don’t have a good rhythm, you can wear this stuff out.

So the best that we can tell from the story, David’s self-control muscle is worn out. His patience is worn out and part of it, now I’m reading between the lines in the story, he’s been on the run now for several years, he’s having to live off the land when he should be living at home or a palace with his wife, safe and comfortable.

He has tried to do the right thing. When he did the wrong thing, he repented. He’s trying not to side with the enemies of Israel, but at the same time Israel itself won’t embrace him as the hero that he is, and he’s just tired and worn out. Now, he’s just pointing his frustration towards someone who really doesn’t deserve the wrath that he’s about to unleash, mean man or not, but there’s just so much built up stuff that this is the last straw. So he says, “Guys, strap on your sword. Let’s go.”

Now we find out a little later on in this text that as David begins the journey to find Nabal and to pay him back for this unkindness or this injustice, as he considers it, he begins to do what we all do. He begins to justify what he’s about to do. See he’s really not sure this is the thing he ought to do, like oftentimes we’re really not sure that what we’re about to do is the thing we really ought to do. But we talk ourselves into it, don’t we?

Fortunately, the story is about to take a turn.

14 One of the servants (of Nabal) told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them.

So this servant was there, saw what happened and decided the wife needed to know what was going on. He’s like, look, what the men of David said is absolutely true.

15 Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. (Some fugitives and outlaws, right?) 17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”

18 Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five measures of roasted grain (like 60 lbs), a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

Smart woman.All this detail, all this drama, you should read the Bible.

20 As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them.

You’ve got to picture this. David and 400 of his men are snaking their way down into the ravine, this fertile valley where the sheep shearing’s going on, and Abagail comes riding on her donkey into the ravine, sees the line of men and they are armored, ready to fight, heading towards her and her village.

Now, this is where David knows what he is about to do is not right, but talks himself into it. He’s had this long journey and he’s about to let his rage loose on innocent people.

21 David had just said, “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. 22 May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”

Do you hear how he’s trying to justify his actions? “May God deal with David…” Now this next part is so rich. I’ll point out a few key details as we read this because this is one of those scriptures that we can miss the deeper meaning of what is going on if we read it too quickly.

23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground.

This is not normal. She’s the wife of a wealthy man. David is an outlaw, a fugitive, a dangerous person to associate with. It’s just a matter of time before the king’s men catch up with David, execute him, and no one will ever speak his name again. Yet here is this very wealthy woman, married to this very influential person, and she bows down to David.

And this totally catches David off guard. See, she begins to treat David as if he is already the man that she hopes he will be. The king. Abigail’s smart. She knows who David is and knows that if she is not only kind to David, but convinces him that he’s better than this, if she speaks to David’s potential, looking past what he’s about to do, what he did in the past, he’ll very likely change his mind. This method works great on children, husbands too.

24 She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. (She’s not his servant, but she’s being submissive.) 25 Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. 26 And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live,…

This is like a Jedi mind trick right here, watch what she does.

…since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. (a fool) 27 And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.

She’s looking at all these guys who are chomping at the bit ready to do some slaughtering and she’s like, “Since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and retaliating…” basically, you’re not going to do what you’re planning to do. And then she gives him credit for being a better man than he actually is. This is so powerful.

28 “Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord,…

She speaks to his future, “David, God is up to something great in you, God has a plan for your life, God has a future for you and here’s why…

…because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live.

You’re a good man, David. You’re better than this.

29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling.

This is so powerful. A bundle or treasure pouch, as it’s called in some versions, is something like a wallet or a purse, where you take something valuable, generally money, and you would put it in this wallet or purse, wrap cords around it to make sure it’s secure, then tuck it in your belt. So essentially, she’s saying even though somebody is trying to steal your life like a thief would steal a coin, your life is tucked away safely in God’s wallet. Or your life is buried in the bottom of a woman’s purse. And women, we know if that’s the case, ain’t nobody finding it. You’re safe, David.

Now she’s even more brilliant than that. She takes David back to that moment when he was 15 years old facing Goliath. Look at the imagery, “but the lives of your enemies, he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling.” It’s like all of a sudden, he’s back in that moment when he was completely dependent on God, when he wasn’t taking matters into his own hands.

In this next section, she’s leaning more into his future, and maybe for some of you this is the point of the message. In this next section, she essentially asked a powerful question. What story do you want to tell when this is nothing but a story that you tell? David, when you’re looking back at this incident, what story do you want to tell about this moment in time?

30 When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, 31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.” (Abigail)

In other words, one day when you are the king, you will not need to have this guilt over you. What you do in this moment is going to be a permanent part of your story David, and I’m believing that you’re going to change your mind because you don’t want to tell a story of needless bloodshed.

And suddenly David comes to his senses, his emotional temperature starts to drop and he sees things in a brand-new way.

32 David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.”

35 Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, “Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.”

He says, ‘you had good judgement, I didn’t. Thank you. And sending all that food down here before you got here, that was smart. You bowed down before me, which totally threw me off-guard. You spoke kind words convincing me to see the other side of this. Praise be to God for sending you at such a time as this.’ He knew better.

Now, Abigail, she’s even smarter. Look what happens next. It’s gets better.

36 When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak. 37 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.

39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.”

Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. 40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”

Obviously, David sees how smart she is. He sees the good heart she has.

41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” 42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.

And they all live happily ever after. The End. Isn’t that great? Everybody likes a happy ending. But just to make sure we put this in proper context, she became one of his wives. Nobody lives happily ever after when you become one of somebody’s wives.

In summary, here’s what we have. We have three characters, we have three responses. But only one hero.

  1. Nabal, what does he do? He returns evilforgood because David was kind to him (without even being asked) and he refused to share kindness with David.
  1. David was about to return evil for evil, which makes sense, especially in this day and age in which they lived.
  1. But Abigail sees things in a completely different way and with her unique perspective, essentially, she returns good forevil.

Now again, Nabal, nobody wants to be like him. David, he’s predictable. This is just kind of what we do. But when you read this story, the one thing you can’t miss is that Abigail, she’s remarkable. Her response is remarkable, her judgment is remarkable, her approach is remarkable. In the whole story, she’s just remarkable.

And there’s a sense in which she is way ahead of her time. You see, during this time in history, the nation of Israel was in a covenant with God, what we call the Old Covenant. It’s contained in the Old Testament. And in the Old Covenant, returning evil for evil was actually okay. It was eye for an eye, it was a tooth for a tooth. When you read the Old Testament law, David’s response, which we think it’s a bit barbaric and a bit over the top, was actually okay. His men weren’t like, “Now, David, I don’t know. I think you’re overreacting.” No, they’re like, “Yeah! Let’s put on our swords and go have some fun.”

That was just the world they lived in. But Abigail, she was way ahead of her time because the New Covenant in the New Testament, when Jesus showed up, turned all of that upside down.

In fact, here’s something cool. Peter, one of the 12 disciples, who saw Jesus, who was innocent and sinless, who was unjustly arrested and unjustly crucified, just treated horribly, also saw Jesus’ response. Never once did he try to get even. Peter wrote these words to Christians in the first century who were being unjustly treated. And he doesn’t go all David on us. Instead, he goes all Jesus on us and he says this:

1 Peter 3:9-11

9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

In other words, whenever you are mistreated, you don’t just ignore it and go neutral, you don’t go all angry and retaliate, you go positive and give blessings. This is what Peter taught, and his is what Abigail did. This is the unusual thing. Repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called.

Think about it in Peter’s eyes. They knew they were going to be mistreated. Jesus didn’t even have to warn them as He did, all they had to do was look at how Jesus was treated. Yet, they willing went on the mission ready to give blessing for evil.

And then, Peter quotes David from a thousand years earlier when David was in his journaling stage, rethinking all of the stuff that he’s been through. He now has perspective and he sees the world in a different way. What David journals is so New Testament-ish as if it’s pointing ahead to what’s about to come. And Peter feels like it’s appropriate to quote David even though David lived in a century that was all about a different kind of world and a different perspective on just about everything. He says,

10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.”

Peter is writing this to Christians who are being mistreated specifically because of their faith. And where did Peter get this crazy idea, “Don’t return evil for evil but return good for evil. Respond to evil with a blessing”? He got it from Jesus. In fact, he was there that day that Jesus made this famous statement that most of us have heard a thousand times and can finish the sentence for Jesus.

Matthew 5:43-44

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

This is Jesus turning everything completely upside down. Remember, hate your enemy essentially, that was the Old Covenant. That was the world David lived in. And Jesus says, “No more. Do not return evil for evil. Refuse to respond in the same manner.” If you’re a Christian, refusing to respond in the same manner might be the most Christ-like thing that you ever do.

In closing, I have three questions for you.

Do you really want to be even with someone you don’t even like?

To get even with someone you don’t like is to be like someone you don’t like. Do you really want to be like someone you don’t like? Of course not. Then why do what they do? Wouldn’t it be better instead of being even, to be ahead? You know how you pull ahead? You pull ahead by refusing to get even.

What story do you want to tell when this is nothing other than a story to tell?

David’s story could have been that he went around slaughtering innocent people, then finally everybody who was left and scared of him, made him king. Not a likely story, and certainly not the story David wanted for himself. Thankfully, he was saved by a woman if I might add.

This is the question we should all ask. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or a religious person, you should ask this question at every juncture you’re in because every event in your life just becomes a part of your story. Do you really want your story to be, “I got even. I became just like the people I didn’t even like”? That’s predictable.

I will tell you, if you’re a Christian, we don’t really get options on this one.

What would it look like for you to return good for evil?

When you think about your ex, when you think about an ex-employer, when you think about your prodigal son or daughter, your parents, that neighbor. What would it look like to return good for evil? To use Peter’s word, what would it look like for you to be a blessing to someone who’s hurt you or offended you?

Not just do nothing and ignore them, but to be proactive and to actually do something. To do nothing, that’s mercy. “I’m not going to give you what you really deserve.” That’s mercy. But to actually do something they don’t deserve, that’s grace.

And if you’re a Christian, this is our best opportunity to be like our Father in Heaven. It’s how our story intersects with the greatest story ever told, God returning good for evil, God giving His son for our sin. That’s the Gospel. And if you’re a Christian, that’s your story.

And here’s the thing, that’s what takes you from predictable to remarkable. That sets you apart. And ultimately for somebody, that is the thing that will set you free. Because until you return good for evil, the person that has mistreated you controls you. And here’s how you know. Because you’re like David on his donkey headed down into that ravine, just rehearsing all the stuff you’re going to do, all the stuff you’re going to say, all the ways that you’re going to get back at them.

You see, the only way to get free oftentimes is to proactively do for someone exactly what they do not deserve for you to do, just like your Father in Heaven did. So, don’t settle for even. Even is easy. And don’t settle for predictable. Instead, make it remarkable. Be like your Father in Heaven.

Now I realize it’s easy for me to stand up here and say this, when you may be thinking ‘you don’t know my ex, you don’t know my son, you don’t know what I’ve been through.’ I get that. I would never get up here and say this on my own authority, ever. In fact, I am in the same struggle as you. But that’s why I have to remind myself, and I hope you will remind yourself, of what our Father in Heaven has done for us. That’s the measure. That’s the standard.