September 14, 2005

My Private Quarrel With God


1539 story2 capOR A LONG TIME I HAD A PRIVATE quarrel with God.

No, it wasn't about His dealings with me. God has been more than patient with my faults and generous with His grace. I can say with David: "I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock" (Ps. 40:1, 2).*

My quarrel with God, rather, was about someone else. It was about a woman whom I admire greatly. Her name is Abigail--one of my favorite Bible characters. Read her story in 1 Samuel 25.

"She was an intelligent and beautiful woman," is the testimony of Scripture. These are two important qualities for a queen. She was obviously a woman of courage. When Abigail was told by her servants that her husband, Nabal, had rejected David's request for provisions and what the results would be, she boldly decided to go out and meet the angry outlaw herself.

Abigail was politically astute. She knew that if David annihilated Nabal, it would unsettle many of the other ranchers in Judea--a politically damaging development. David needed the support of the influential people in the area for his claim to the throne (see 1 Sam. 30:26-30; 1 Sam. 25:4-8).

1539 story2Abigail was decisive in her actions. She understood the peril of David's intentions and acted immediately. Scripture says she "lost no time" (1 Sam. 25:18), and put together a supply of food for David and his men to placate his anger. "Go ahead of me; I will follow you," she told her servants (see verse 19). Apparently she also knew enough about men to be concerned about her appearance.

"David had just said, 'It's been useless--all my watching over this fellow's property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing,'" when she came riding down the ravine. In anger he'd even invoked God's name: "May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to [Nabal]" (1 Sam. 25:21, 22). Like many of us, David's humanity overwhelmed his spiritual calling, and he went off in no mood to parley with anyone. Abigail arrived just in the nick of time. Dismounting, this beautiful woman bowed before David, treating him as royalty.

"Please let your servant speak to you," she said, then quickly agreed with David's assessment of Nabal: "He is just like his name--his name is Fool, and folly goes with him" (verses 24, 25).

David would have been less than human if he did not appreciate her next statement. It expressed his ambitions perfectly. "The Lord will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the Lord's battles" (verse 28).

David's ruffled feelings were smoothed, and he paused to listen.

Abigail was not only skillfully persuasive; she was also a good theologian, well grounded in her understanding of the character of God. Her well-chosen words were theologically profound and expressive in their imagery:

"Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God" (verses 28, 29). She may have been thinking of the dates and raisins pressed into the cakes she'd packed for David.

The Lord is our salvation, and we are bound to Him by His everlasting love. This is what Abigail is implying. Then she vividly describes the other side of the equation: "The lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling" (verse 29).

How descriptive and what assurance for us! Although the evil one pursues us, we are bound in a bundle with the Lord our God. One day we will see our enemy hurled away "into the Abyss, and locked and sealed" (Rev. 20:3).

Don't Have That on Your Conscience
Not only did Abigail know her theology, but like a true preacher she drove the lesson home. She made it personal: "When the Lord has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself" (1 Sam. 25:30, 31).

David got the message. He saw the folly of what he was about to do, and turned back.

Abigail was also very loyal. After Nabal's death she married David. From being the wife of a prosperous rancher, used to the luxury of five personal maids attending her, she became the camp wife of a roving enemy of the king, a refugee among the Philistines in the territory of Achish, king of Gath.

With her charm, her wisdom, her spiritual insight, and her loyalty, what a great queen she would have made. Would the history of the kingdom not have been different if she had been queen?

But it was not to be.

In both Hebron and Jerusalem David made a number of marriage alliances, and Abigail became just another wife in the harem of a king, and she drops out of the story. Bathsheba now takes center stage. David had watched her bathing and had lost both his heart and his mind (see 2 Sam. 11).

1539 story2(Incidentally, there are many bathing Bathshebas around today. They are not seen on housetops, but they are just a click of the mouse away. They lurk in the hidden recesses of the computer, ready to titillate the senses, pillage the mind, and sink the soul in a swamp of lubricity. For those Davids who have ventured and been caught in the quicksands, the results have been frightful. The addiction that comes is an endogenous "drug" addiction almost impossible to break. There is forgiveness available, but shame and reproach will follow them to their graves. Virgil would say: Facilis descensus Averni--easy is the descent into hell.)

Bathsheba was no Abigail. Where Abigail was loyal, Bathsheba was disloyal. We might say that she went willingly to David's bed. She must have known that Uriah had been called to dine with the king, but she made no comment when her husband, refusing to go home, slept instead with the servants. She must have heard the palace rumors after Uriah was killed, but she made no protest.

Bathsheba had none of Abigail's political sagacity. Absalom's sedition seems to have aroused no womanly instinct of its threat to Solomon's claim to the throne. She had no inkling of Haggith's perfidious ambitions for her spoiled son, Adonijah, to steal the throne. Nathan had to warn her. He even had to tell her what to say to David (see 1 Kings 1). Later, even when Solomon was crowned king, she credulously agreed to Adonijah's request that she approach Solomon to ask permission for him to marry Abishag (1 Kings 2:13 ff.).

"You might as well request the kingdom for him," Solomon scolded (verse 22), and had Adonijah executed.

That was Bathsheba! How could God allow such a woman to become queen! Surely Abigail would have been far more suited to that position. The question bothered me for a long time. I had a private quarrel with God about it.

Then one day, rather suddenly, the answer came.

Incredible Grace
David had truly repented. "My sin is always before me," he cried out. "Against you, you only, have I sinned. . . . Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. . . . Take [not] your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Ps. 51:3-12).

God had forgiven David. He also knew that David loved Bathsheha, and God was sympathetic.

While God forgives, the natural consequences of our sin remain. For David, and indeed for all Israel, the consequences of his sin were unrelenting. Ahithophel, Bathsheba's grandfather, "prompted by revenge for the family disgrace," defected to Absalom (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 735). As a result of his sin David lost four of his sons. He had on his conscience the staggering burden of sinful bloodshed that denied him his ambition to build the Temple.

While the scars of sin are present, divine forgiveness has no boundaries. God forgave David. He held no grudges. David's sin was blotted out, and God treated David as though he had never sinned.

I still feel for Abigail. But I learned again that when God forgives, He forgives completely. He casts all our sins into the depths of the sea. As God's children we are bound in a bundle with the Lord, pressed together with Him as figs are pressed into a cake, and He remembers our sin no more.

This is the gospel message that the apostles proclaimed. "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you" (Acts 13:38). "In him we have . . . forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us" (Eph. 1:7). When we forgive we are inclined to remain resentful, but God does not. Unworthy as we are, God is willing to give us the desires of our heart.

After all, God allowed David to keep Bathsheba, the woman he loved--and she became the progenitor of Jesus.

* All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

Lyndon McDowell is a retired pastor living in Arizona.