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.