If you lived in his neighborhood, it would be hard not to be at least a little jealous. He has everything any ordinary man on the street would want — a large property with a beautiful home, a successful business and lots of employees, every earthly comfort and luxury a man could want.
He was born into a wealthy family, and so has never really known need. He was rich before he could talk. And if the inheritance weren’t enough, the family business is still thriving. He’s achieved a level of prosperity many men sweat and grind their whole lives to have, but never taste. If you could see inside his garage, he’d probably have cars worth the price of a small house.
On top of all that, he married an amazing woman — wise, beautiful, delightful, rare. The more you’re around her, the more you want to be around her. She knows what to say (and what not to say). She leaves people wondering how any man snared a diamond like her. Their life is the kind of life millions would want to stream on Netflix. Many would see him from afar and assume he’s the picture of a blessed husband.
But when God looks at that same man, he calls him worthless.
Man Against God’s Heart
When we meet Nabal (the name literally means “fool,” which raises some real questions about his upbringing), David has landed in his fields while fleeing from King Saul. David and his men are hungry, and so the anointed leader bows to ask for food. Notice how humbly and respectfully he makes his request:
Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 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. 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. (1 Samuel 25:6–8)
Nabal’s men later confirm David’s story: “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. They were a wall to us both by night and by day” (1 Samuel 25:15–16). Not only did David’s men not harm Nabal’s shepherds, but they actually shielded and blessed them. His own men think he should feed these guys.
In response, Nabal lives up to his name:
Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. 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? (1 Samuel 25:10–11)
He knows exactly who David is. Why else would he call him “the son of Jesse” (a name Saul spitefully uses again and again, 1 Samuel 20:27, 30–31; 22:13)? While David kneels with empty hands, Nabal spits in his face and sends him away. And if it wasn’t for his remarkable wife, Abigail, it would have cost him his life right then and there (1 Samuel 25:13).
Five Marks of a Foolish Husband
What might Christian husbands learn from Nabal? We learn at least five ways to be a bad man and a foolish husband.
Strength Without Love
Nabal had the kind of strength that might impress and intimidate weaker men. He was a man of the field and worked with his hands, sheering sheep. He used his strength, however, in despicable ways. When Scripture introduces the couple, its writer says, “The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved” (1 Samuel 25:3). That one word — harsh — sums up his failures as a man. He used his God-given strength to wound, rather than heal; to threaten, rather than protect. He relied on force to do what love should do. He was cruel.
His strength was not the problem. No, godly husbands are strong men — they must be to do what God calls them to do, bear what God calls them to bear, and confront what God calls them to confront. In Christ, men put off laziness, timidity, and fragility. We put on the armor of God to fight the battles of God in the strength of God. And as we exercise that strength, those in our homes and churches (unlike those closest to Nabal) are cared for and safe. Any discerning wife loves being led by a strong man who loves well.
Courage Without Wisdom
You can’t read a story like this and question Nabal’s nerve. When the Lord’s anointed, armed and dangerous, stood in his front yard and asked for food for his small army of soldiers, the man sends them away. “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse?” He basically drew a flaming arrow and aimed it at a hungry warrior’s chest, spurning caution and inviting violence. He had the backbone to stand his ground, but he’d chosen the wrong place to stand. He planted his flag on foolishness, and risked everything for pride.
Again, courage was not his problem. Godly men are more willing than most to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. They wear promises like Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” And because God, not self, is the source and aim of their bravery, they don’t pick dumb fights (especially with their wives). They don’t endanger those they’re called to protect for the sake of their ego. They risk themselves wisely and in love. They know when to step in and stand their ground — for their families, for the church, for their God — and when to turn the other cheek.
Wealth Without Generosity
For all the evil Nabal could and did do, God still allowed him to prosper for a time. He had the kind of barns that could comfortably feed a small army. He wasn’t just rich. “The man was very rich,” God tells us. “He had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats” (1 Samuel 25:2). We’re meant to feel the weight of this man’s wealth — and just how badly he handles it. He could feed David and his men, with no significant loss, but he wouldn’t. He could have met a hundred needs, but he chose to spend what he had on what he wanted instead. He was selfish and stingy toward every appetite but his own.
Nabal had built the bigger barns. He embodied the fool’s anthem: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). And what does God say to that man? “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (v. 20). To which Jesus adds, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (v. 21). And being rich toward God typically means being generous toward someone else. It means laying up treasure for others, meeting their needs at our (sometimes significant) expense. Godly husbands are givers, like our Father, not keepers or takers.
Success Without Gratitude
Nabal was running a booming company. His stock was rising. His board was well-pleased with the profits. By all accounts, this man’s career was a wild success. That is, by all accounts but one. God looked at all Nabal had achieved and earned, and he saw failure. He saw bankruptcy. He called the whole enterprise worthless. How many men, even in our churches, are killing it in the office and yet losing everywhere else? How many are esteemed by their colleagues and competitors and yet barely tolerated at home? How many of us have endless ambition outside our family and church, but little leftover to give where it matters most?
Godly men work hard, whatever work they do, as for their Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23). Christian men do their work with unusual excellence — and unusual gratitude. Notice how Nabal talks: “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?” God gave him everything, and got credit for nothing. And then, when God guarded his servants and sheep, he returned that kindness with evil (1 Samuel 25:21). Good husbands are relentlessly humble and grateful, even in the little gains and successes. And because they’re faithful in the little, God often gives them more (Luke 19:17, 24–26).
Hunger Without Self-Control
Lastly, Nabal was a man mastered by his cravings. The passions of his flesh waged war on his soul, and his soul all too quickly waved the white flag. When Abigail came to find him, “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” (1 Samuel 25:36). Even with men of war waiting outside, he reached for the bottle and poured himself another drink. When the people under his roof needed him to rise and play the man, he instead chose to enjoy some mindless, silly, numbing pleasures. He gratified himself and abandoned everyone else.
Before we despise him too quickly, don’t we sometimes do the same, even if in subtler ways? Do we too easily check out and desert our posts as husbands and fathers? What indulgence in our lives tends to numb our sense of spiritual and relational urgency and responsibility?
When the apostle Paul comes to older men in the church, he charges them, “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2). When he comes to the younger men a few verses later, he says, simply, “Urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6). Not joyless. Godly husbands are happy men, but not in cheap, easy, superficial ways.
Men mastered by grace are men who master themselves. We’re not, like many men, relying on football games, smoked meat, video games, or craft cocktails for relief and exhilaration. We’re thrilled to be the chosen sons of God, the blood-bought brothers of Christ, the future kings of the universe. And we enjoy every other earthly gift — food and drink, marriage and sex, football and Netflix — in moderation, to preserve the highest, fullest, strongest pleasure, namely God.
Worth of Worthy Men
Nabal, like a number of other husbands in Scripture, teaches husbands what not to be and do. His failures, however, lay out something of a constructive map for us. They teach us that men will be measured, in large part, by how we treat what (and whom) God has entrusted to us.
We’ll be measured by how we treat our stuff — our sheep and goats and monthly paychecks. Are we selfless and self-controlled, or selfish and indulgent? Do the time, money, and gifts we’ve been given consistently meet real needs around us? For men in the world, what they have is their god, and so they receive and spend it horribly. Those whose God is in heaven, though, don’t demand divinity of their prosperity, and so they hold their possessions loosely and give them away freely. They know that, in God, they have “a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34).
We’ll also be measured by how we treat the people in our lives — the wife beside us, the children behind us, the neighbors next to us, the church family around us, the people who look up to (and maybe even report to) us. Men don’t often die wishing they had put in a lot more hours at the office or made a harder run at that promotion. They very often die wishing they had prioritized the people who were waiting at home or sitting in the next pew. Strive, by the grace of God, to be your most fruitful where it matters most. Don’t be known first and foremost by how you work and what you have, but by how you love and what you give.
Ultimately, though, we’ll be measured by how we treat God’s anointed. Nabal sent the chosen king away hungry, and then added insult to that injury. Since then, God has sent a new and greater David. He’s sent his own Son into our world, into our city, even to our front door. So how will we receive him? And not just on Sunday mornings, but on Monday afternoons and Friday evenings too. Will we give him more attention than Nabal gave David that day? Will we run to him, prioritize him, praise him, and share him?
In the end, then, what separates good husbands from bad ones, the faithful from the unfaithful, is how we treat Jesus.