The unwise, selfish Leader

The last few days, I’ve been writing about leadership, largely because I’m struggling with followership.  So, today, we look at God’s word when dealing with a leader who is unwise and selfish and is bringing harm upon those he leads:  Nabal is a perfect example of this, although there are others.

When dealing with our leaders, particularly Christian leaders, we have to be very careful to seek God’s word because they are called and appointed by God (see the last blog post.)

1 Samuel 25:3-4 introduces us to Nabal:

2 A certain man in Maon, 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, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings.

He was very wealthy, but surly and mean.  He is ungracious and unthankful for what others give to him or do for him.  As we see, Nabal was having a great shearing time, but there was a reason, although he didn’t know it, David and his men had been guarding the sheep and his shepherds for the entire season!  Surely David should reap some of the reward in Nabal’s work.  Back to 1 Samuel 25:

 4 While David was in the desert, 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!

 7 ” ‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. 8 Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my young men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’ ”

 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. 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?”

 12 David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word.

13 David said to his men, “Put on your swords!” So they put on their swords, and David put on his. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. 

So, David was angry! My Grandaddy Martin would have called Nabal “an unthankful son of a gun.” (I used to always wonder what a son of a gun was!)

So, David, in an act uncharacteristic of him, was angry and set out to exact his revenge. 

Now, let’s look at Abigail.  She is Nabal’s wife and “wise and intelligent,” she obviously cannot just grab everything and run, but feels a responsibility to protect all of the innocent people and animals who are about to suffer with their lives for Nabal’s horrible leadership and watchcare over his people.

But notice this, Nabal has done something right — he is very rich and has prospered!  Many people would wonder where God’s justice was, letting a horrible man like that succeed, and we may wonder it as well.  As you’ll find out, Nabal has his justice coming, although with harsh, unkind leaders such as him, it doesn’t always happen:

So, someone takes this to Abigail:

14 One of the servants told Nabal’s wife Abigail: “David sent messengers from the desert to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 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 all the time we were herding our sheep near them. 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.

This last verse is highlighted for a reason.  I know leaders that are so far off the path that NO ONE WILL TALK TO THEM.

Some leaders see complaints as a terrible curse and wish they’d go away.  But complaints are a part of life.  Instead, I tell leaders, WATCH OUT WHEN NO ONE COMPLAINS.  For, when they stop complaining, they’ve given up on you.  They aren’t including you in what is happening.  You’d better examine yourself and see.

I have a letter on my desk in which a leader begs everyone to tell him their feedback.  The only problem is that people have tried numerous times to tell him that the “leadership vision” he is forcing upon everyone doesn’t line up w/ Scripture and isn’t the right thing to do.  This man says he wants feedback, but those who give it to him are punished with his ill favor and unkindness.  He doesn’t want feedback, he wants a rubber stamp.  So, he is going happily upon his way thinking he has the endorsement of the people, when every single person, has already discussed it and disagree profoundly.  He doesn’t have followership, he has  a position.

So, the same with Nabal.  Abigail knows she’d better act OR ELSE all Nabal has built will come to ruin:

18 Abigail lost no time. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs [b] of roasted grain, 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. 

So, Abigail hastily ran out to be an advocate to save her people.  We also see this happen again just one book later when an older lady saved her city, by asking David not to destroy the city but to allow the city to throw the rebel’s head over a wall.  (2 Samuel 20)

She ran!  She didn’t stop, she ran to stop impending doom!  When we are under a leader who has done something horrible to bring harm upon God’s people or those under our care, we are to be the “peacemaker,” the advocate.  We are to run posthaste to make peace immediately.  Then is not the time to go arguing with the leader who has done this, but to go beg forgiveness and be an advocate!  Talking to the leader comes later!

20 As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. 21 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. He has paid me back evil for good. 22 May God deal with David, [c] be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”

 23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said: “My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. 25 May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent.

 26 “Now since the LORD has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, may your enemies and all who intend to harm my master be like Nabal. 27 And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my master, be given to the men who follow you. 28 Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the LORD will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the LORD’s battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. 29 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. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. 30 When the LORD has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, 31 my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the LORD has brought my master success, remember your servant.” 

Now, this is a tough one. Abigail had obviously done her homework and knew of David and who he was.  She also is very kind and not defending what Nabal had done, she is showing David that not everyone is like Nabal in Nabal’s house. 

Notice that she also points out that vengeance is sin (“Vengeances is mine sayeth the Lord), without angry barbs of words coming from her mouth.  She could have said, “How dare you try to kill my sons, you selfish jerk, David.”  No, she says that she is grateful that DAvid will not have the “staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself.” 

Wow!  She has a wise response.  And so must we when we work to turn away wrath from a horrible mistake made by a bad, uncaring, unlistening unwise leader.

But there is more:

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.””

So, because Abigail acted quickly, she saved the lives of many! She also didn’t run back to Nabal to argue and tell him what he had done, but waited for the right time to talk to him.

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 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.”

So, in the morning, Abigail told him what he had done.  His heart failed him when he realized that he and all of the men of his camp would have been dead… after all they were at a banquet, drunk, they would have been no match for David.  Everything he had was almost gone and done.  Nabal saw his own foolishness.

If we look in the next verses, David was thankful for God’s justice as it concerns Nabal and took Abigail as his wife.

What can we learn from this:

  • Evil men sometimes prosper a lot!  There is no justice in financial prosperings and we shouldn’t expect it.  Sometimes jerks can get to the top!
  • Leaders who are surly, mean, and do not listen will make grave mistakes that endanger those in their care.
  • When this happens, the wise leaders underneath the foolish leader must do their part to protect the innocent under their care.  Make haste and advocate for safety!  Do not let the sun go down on what you know you must do!
  • Do not make excuses for or defend sinful behavior of your leaders!
  • Always go back AFTER the crisis has passed and tell your leader what happened.  This doesn’t mean that you just secretly “clean up messes.”  Leaders should know, whether they listen or not, what their actions do.  Just remember to PICK YOUR TIME AND PLACE.  Be wise in your confrontation and make sure they are able to listen.

I don’t see all of the answers here, but there are some things to glean.  This is a pretty harsh and blinding example and rarely is any leader “pure evil.”  However, leaders who don’t listen and are mean and unkind endanger those who are under your care.

We cannot do anything about others, but ask yourself… are you approachable?  How do you respond to criticism?  Do you “shoot the messenger?”  Are you mean?

If so, change your ways, lest one day you become like Nabal.

And if you’re an Abigail, know that one day, you too shall be liberated to live in the house of the King!

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