While David hides from Saul in the wilderness, he asks for provisions from a rich man named Nabal (see 1 Samuel 25:1-8). When Nabal refuses, the king-to-be becomes irate. Yet before David uses force against Nabal, his wife Abigail intercedes. She offers David food and tells him to ignore her husband because his name indicates his inanity: in Hebrew, Nabal (naval; נבל) means “fool.” Yet, the scope of Nabal’s stupidity extends beyond his name. The Hebrew language of this narrative reveals just how foolish Nabal was—since the description of his character recalls the curses in Deuteronomy.

When Abigail defies her husband by feeding David, she tells him, “Let not my lord regard this worthless man, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he: Nabal (Naval; נבל) is his name, and folly (נבלה; nevalah) is with him” (1 Sam 25:25). When Abigail highlights the meaning of her husband’s name, we get a clear indication of his idiocy. Yet even before Abigail’s derisive wordplay, the narrative alerts us to Nabal’s flaws. In introducing the couple, the text states, “The woman was wise and beautiful, but the man was stubborn (קשׁה; qasheh) and evil [in] deeds (רע מעללים; ra ma’alalim)” (25:3). These terms would have set off alarms for the original Israelite readers, since to be “stubborn” and “evil in deeds” leads to the Deuteronomistic curses.

According to Deuteronomy, if Israel fails to uphold the Mosaic stipulations, “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all the you undertake to do… because of the evil of your deeds (רע מעללך; ra ma’alalekha), which have forsaken me” (28:20). When First Samuel says that Nabal is “evil in deeds,” it alludes to the very behavior that causes covenantal curses. More, by calling Nabal “stubborn” (קשׁה; qasheh), Scripture recalls Moses’ description of the wilderness generation. After enumerating the curses, Moses declares, “For I know how rebellious and stubborn (קשׁה; qasheh) you are” (31:27). In fact, Moses’ exact language for Israel’s “stubbornness” here is “stiffness of neck” (ערפך הקשׁה; orphekha haqasheh), which recalls God’s description of a “stiff-necked people” (עם קשׁה ערף; am qesheh oreph) earlier in Deuteronomy (9:6, 13). Thus, Nabal’s description as a stubborn (or “stiff”) evil doer echoes the characteristics that God discourages. Scripture suggests that, instead of being like Nabal, one should emulate Abigail’s generosity, hospitality, and promotion of peace.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. There’s another perspective or theory to Nabal’s real name: “Nabal was not actually the man’s given name (the Bible doesn’t inform us of it). Rather Nabal is an epithet that sums up this man’s character: foolish, disgraceful, without Godly wisdom.”— Seeds of Abraham Ministries, Inc.

    • The article doesn’t offer a “theory about Nabal’s real name” but, according to the narrative, it’s both. Nabal is certainly his given name because the text makes this explicit: “The name (שם; shem) of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife was Abigail” (1 Sam 25:3). “Nabal” and “Abigail” are these people’s names, not solely epithets. In Nabal’s case, his name is also an epithet insofar as he is a fool (cf. 25:25).

      • Let’s dig a little deeper (it’s great to have more than one scholar’s perspective, and then, let the people decide): the Encyclopedia Biblica, edited by Cheyne & Black, Vol. 3, 1902, has a few interesting ‘theories’ for how the name Nabal came into this story, including that Nabal has been (humorously) substituted for Nadab. Corruption in the text? Maybe, according to Cheyne & Black: Nabal (נבל) may be a deliberate satirical corruption of the name Nadab if this is an eponym then it probably referred originally to Jehonadab (which is just a theophory of nadab), and thus represent the Rechabites.

        • The idea that the name Nabal is an intentional scribal derisive reference to Jehonadab *really* stretches the imagination. The idea that it would be intentionally derisive of the Rechabites is absolutely beyond imagination. The Kenites, Jehonadab, and the Rechabites are arguably the most upstanding/respected family in the whole tanakh.

          • Yeshua the Messiah came from a family line consisting of murderers, adulterers, idol worshipers, thieves, etc. It’s not too difficult to perceive that Nabal/Nadab came from a respectable family only to forget his roots. Depending upon what you choose to believe, corruption of the text in Scripture is not uncommon.

  2. Thank you! Now this is a perfect example of why knowing the Hebrew Language and background of the Bible opens up so much more of the text.

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  3. In the genealogical lists of the Books of Chronicles, there is a man named Nadab, whose brother is married to a person named Abihail; it is possible that the name Abigail (אבגיִל) is a corruption of Abihail (אֲביִהיִל), so that it more closely describes the character of the wife since Abigail roughly means joy of my father, suggesting positive characteristics, while Abihail means only my father is strength. Rather than the name of his wife was Abigail (שׁם אִשׁתּוֹ אבגיִל) the account in the Books of Samuel may have originally read the name of the chief of Abihail (שׁם שר אביהיִל), and told of a clan named Abihail, which left a political alliance with the Rechabites (represented by Nabal/Nadab) to join the Kingdom of Judah (represented by David’s band of men).

  4. I can see why a parent might name a child (Jacob) “follower”, or some similar meaning, if born grabbing the heel of his twin. But why would a parent name a child “fool”, “foolishness”, “folly”, or anything similar? It seems that this name must have been ascribed later in life.

    • Remember there are many pastors/preachers/teachers (and even OT & NT scholars) who believe that Jacob/Ya’akov name means trickster, deceiver based upon either a Latin or Greek mistranslation or mistransliteration of the Biblical Hebrew, an epithet, or a corruption in the text. There are other examples of Biblical Hebrew names being treated as such. This is purposely done to Jewish names, culture, language, etc. since the 1st century CE. Some scholars believed it started around the 4th or 3rd century BCE (it became an official policy by the Greco-Roman empire in 325 CE to remove everything Jewish from the ‘Jewish Scriptures’

  5. There is also the issue of the culture at that time and in that place. To forbid someone hospitality was rude, at best, but to forbid someone hospitality who had done you service was unbelievably hostile. The scriptures clearly say that David and his men were helping Nabal.

  6. Nabal’s answer seems to indicate that either He didn’t know or thought that David’s idea of protection wasn’t needed. A lot of people ignore Jesus as they also see no reason why they need to. They haven’t been called and have no access to the truth

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