Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Dannah Gresh: If you are married, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminds you that your husband's sin doesn't give you a free pass for you to sin.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: You don’t have to let a harsh, badly-behaved man turn you into a harsh, badly-behaved woman.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Monday, January 20, 2020.

Nancy, at Revive Our Hearts we get letters all the time from women in really difficult marriage situations. They say, "My husband is harsh" Or maybe they say, "He's unreasonable or even controlled by addiction." they ask the questions, "What should I do?" 

Nancy: Of course, that's not an easy answer. There's no "one-size-fits-all" because every situation is different. But I think it is so important to turn our attention to the Word and get our wisdom and our counsel from the Scriptures. And let’s be honest, many times they are at the brink of giving up and they even wonder: should I stay?

In the Old Testament we find a not well-known woman named Abigail who was in a situation not unlike that which many women face today.

Dannah: In fact, Nancy, we're going to begin a series today where you taught on this woman, Abigail. Her story is found in 1 Samuel 25. You called this series is called, "How to Live with the Fools in Your Life." Let's listen.

Nancy: Abigail has become one of my favorite Old Testament characters. She is an extraordinary woman. There’s a lot we can learn from her life, not only from her life but also from the two men who are the other main characters in this story.

At any given time in your life, you may relate to any one of these three characters. So we’re not just going to study Abigail. We want to look at the two men who were involved in her life. As we do this character study, we want to see what God has to teach us for our lives.

Let’s start with verse one, which is the setting for this story. In verse one of chapter 25 we read,

Now Samuel died. And all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him in his house at Ramah.

You remember that Samuel was a man of God. He was a prophet. He lived a long, long time. He was the last of the judges. He was the one who anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel. He’s also the one who anointed David to be Saul’s replacement.

But King Saul was still on the throne. King Saul was an egomaniac. He was full of himself. He was insecure. And he was trying to kill David. He was jealous of David and knew that David was coming to the throne. There was this war going on between Saul and David.

Samuel the prophet had been a buffer between David and Saul. And now Samuel is gone. I can imagine David feeling abandoned, vulnerable, alone, maybe depressed, discouraged, maybe wondering, Are God’s promises for my life really ever going to come true?

In the midst of that lonely, vulnerable, scared time in David’s life, we come to the next phrase in verse one that says, “Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran.”

David, in the context of 1 Samuel 25 here, has been fleeing for his life from this madman, King Saul. He’s a fugitive. In the previous chapter he had been in the wilderness of Engedi and had had an encounter with King Saul. Now Samuel dies, and David moves further south down to the wilderness of Paran to get further away from King Saul.

As he’s headed south toward the wilderness of Paran, this story takes place. In this place David encounters a couple, a husband and a wife, and a couple like many I have heard of and met today. A couple where one of the mates is a godly person who loves and fears the Lord, and the other mate is a totally ungodly, selfish, wicked person. It happens. And David met a couple just like that.

As we’ve said, there are three main characters in this story. When you study the Bible, as you do character studies, it helps to ask yourself whether the characters are good or bad:

  • Is there an example here for me?
  • Is there an example to be followed?
  • Is there an example to be avoided?
  • What does this passage and what do these people teach me about the heart and the ways and the character of God?

That’s what we’re going to be looking for in this story.

The first character we’re introduced to—and I want to just give you a quick overview today and then tomorrow we’ll jump into the story. But the first character is a man named Nabal. His name means “fool,” a Hebrew word for “fool.”

In verse 25, we read about Nabal. “As his name is, so is he.” His name means “fool” and that describes exactly what this man was like. He was a wicked, foolish man.

As we study the life of Nabal, we’re going to see a lot of the characteristics of a fool. As you see those characteristics, you may recognize someone you know, maybe more than one person.

But you know what else? You may also see yourself, at points. One of the things we want to do as we go through this series is say, “How can we avoid becoming like a Nabal? How can we avoid having those characteristics in our lives?”

Nabal’s foolish behavior evoked two very different kinds of responses from the other two main characters in the story. First there was David, the man who was going to be king. He had been appointed by God to be king, but he was still a fugitive from King Saul.

David’s response, when he came face to face with this foolish man Nabal, was to get provoked. He lost control. He was tempted to respond just the same way that Nabal had treated him. The danger is that when you get around a fool, you may respond like a fool.

In fact, as we get into this story, we’ll see that David’s response was even worse than what Nabal had done to provoke him. We’ll see in this story that even the most godly people sometimes act in ungodly, foolish ways.

That’s why we all need wise counsel. We need godly people around us who will help us see when we’re being foolish and, when necessary, will confront us, will love us enough to get into our face and speak the truth to us as Abigail did to David.

We need people who will give us godly counsel when we’re acting like fools. And we need to learn to listen to that counsel, to take it, to heed it.

That’s what humility really is. It’s the willingness to listen to wise counsel and to change direction when we realize we’ve been wrong. We’re going to see in David a man who, though he initially responded foolishly to this fool, was willing to listen to wise counsel and to change his course, to change his direction, when he realized he’d been wrong.

Humility is the willingness to change direction when we realize we’ve been wrong. 

The third character, as we’ve already referenced, is this woman named Abigail. She models an incredible response to foolish people. There’s so much we can learn from her, whether the fool in your life is the husband or it’s a boss or it’s a son or daughter or it’s an in-law or it’s somebody in your church or your neighbor. Whoever the fool is in your life, Abigail teaches us how to live with and deal with the fools in your life.

She’s a woman of discretion. She’s a woman of wisdom. She’s a peacemaker. Her life changes the whole outcome of this story.

As in every story, including yours, there’s a fourth, mostly-silent character in this story and that is God Himself. God who is always behind the scenes ruling, overruling and intervening in the affairs of men. God who is always sovereign; He’s always on His throne. He’s always working to achieve His purposes and fulfill His promises.

We see in this story a God who is never absent, a God who is never asleep on the job. It’s the same God who is in your story, a God who is involved in your life, who cares about the fools that you live with or work with or go to school with. There’s a God who is involved.

Verses 2 and 3 tell us:

There was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite.

Most likely this marriage between Abigail and Nabal had been arranged by her parents, as most marriages were in that culture. She probably had no say in the matter. She was beautiful. He was rich. Her father may have thought he was really doing her a favor by marrying her into this rich man’s family, thought he was doing a good thing for her.

A beautiful woman and a rich man—you’d think that was a great combination. But the problem is that beauty and wealth are only external characteristics. What really matters when it comes down to real life is the heart, the character, not the outward appearance or the material wealth.

In the case of this couple, the difference between their hearts and their character could hardly have been more extreme. It was like night and day. This is a totally mismatched couple when it comes to matters of the heart.

He was a foolish, ungodly man; she was a wise, godly woman. We don’t know if he had always been that way, if he was that way when they got married. Maybe she thought he was a great man when they got married. As is true of many women that I’ve heard from, they say, “I had no clue till years into our marriage what kind of man he was going to turn into.”

Or maybe he’d always been ill-tempered and ill-mannered. We don’t know. All we know is she ended up in this very difficult marriage.

There are a couple points of application that are pretty obvious to me already in this chapter. First is the fact that if you are godly, that does not necessarily guarantee that your mate will be godly or that others in your life, others you live with, family members, friends, co-workers will be godly. The fact that you are a godly person does not guarantee that the people around you will be godly people. Neither does it guarantee that they will change.

Sometimes people who write us about our program say, “You give me the feeling that if I just live a godly life, my husband will become a godly man.”

I want to make it clear. We are not saying that, because the Scripture doesn’t say that. Scripture does teach that a godly mate can have a powerful influence on an ungodly mate. But there’s no guarantee that your choosing to live God’s way will change the people around you who are fools, who are Nabals. They may never change.

There’s a second application here, and that is that you don’t have to let a harsh, badly-behaved man turn you into a harsh, badly-behaved woman. That’s one of the powerful things about this story. The fact that your mate or someone else that you have to live with or work with on a regular basis, the fact that they are ungodly doesn’t mean that you can’t be godly yourself.

You don’t have to let a harsh, badly behaved man turn you into a harsh, badly behaved woman.

You see, we tend to feel that our level of godliness or spirituality is tied into the people around us. They make us react this way. No one can make you react in an ungodly way. The fact that you have to live with a person who is ungodly doesn’t mean that you can’t be godly yourself. Your character, your responses don’t have to be controlled by theirs.

One of the things that I love about this story is by the time we enter into it—we don’t know what all had preceded it but we know that Abigail has been living with this harsh, badly-behaved man. We know that had to affect her. She was living with the man.

But it’s obvious that she had not let Nabal destroy her. She was still a discerning, wise, godly, beautiful woman. She had not let his behavior control hers. She was still winsome, courageous, gracious.

And most important, she had not lost her faith in the promises of God just because she was living with this wicked man who, as far as she knew, never would change. In fact, he never did change.

We’re first introduced to Nabal in this story and then to David and then to Abigail. Verse 2 tells us that this man was very rich. He was a business man, a wealthy business man. He was influential.

As you read this story, and this will unfold over the next few sessions, one of the things that’s real obvious is some of the potential pitfalls of wealth. These things don’t have to be true of wealthy people, but they often are. By the world’s standards, we are wealthy. So these are qualities we need to watch out for in our own lives.

People who are wealthy can become independent-spirited. Others need them, others are dependent on them, but they don’t need anybody. They don’t need anything.

Sometimes with people who are very rich in the world’s standards in material goods, it’s hard for others to be honest with them. In verse 17 the servants said about Nabal their master, “One cannot speak to him.” He won’t listen to anybody.

Nobody will really speak the truth to him. We all need mirrors in our lives. We need people who will be honest with us, who will love us enough to speak the truth. But here’s a man who, partially because of his wealth, had gotten into a position where no one would be honest with him.

People were afraid of telling him the truth, afraid of losing their job. What if one of those employees had spoken up and said, “Nabal you’re wrong; you’re acting like a fool”?

“Off with your head.”

So, people were afraid of him. Sometimes when you have a lot of wealth by the world’s standards, it’s easy to assume the worst of others, to assume negatively of others, as we’ll see that Nabal did of David.

Proverbs 18:23 is a verse that has always been very convicting to me. It says, “The poor use entreaties.” They appeal. They plead. “But the rich answer roughly.” They can talk any way they want to talk. They own the world. It’s all theirs. There’s this pride, this arrogance that sometimes, not always but sometimes, goes with wealth.

Not only was he very rich, but verse 3 tells us he was harsh. If you’re using the King James Version you’ll have there the word churlish. It’s a word that in the Hebrew means “hard, unyielding, unbending, uncontrollable.” You get the picture of this man? He’s a harsh man.

He’s an abusive man. He’s abusive to his wife. He’s abusive to others. He’s verbally abusive. He’s a hard drinker; we’re going to see that. He’s just a mean man.

The Scripture says that not only was he harsh, he was badly-behaved. The NIV says in that verse that he “was surly and mean in his dealings.” He was corrupt. Chances are he’d gotten some of his wealth by cheating others. He was a badly-behaved man.

And then that phrase, “He was a Calebite.” That may mean that he was a descendant of Caleb, who was a godly man from the tribe of Judah. But the word Caleb in Hebrew means “dog.” Some commentators suggest that, rather than being a descendant of Caleb, what it’s really saying is that it was an adjective to describe his behavior.

One translation renders it, “He was snappish as a dog.” His character is best described as we’ve seen by his name—Nabal, fool.

When we see the word fool in the Scripture, we need to remember that a fool is not somebody who is mentally deficient. It’s someone who is morally deficient. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). It’s a person who wants to live his life as if there were no God.

He has no fear of God, no fear of man, no regard for what is moral, no regard for what is spiritual. As a result, he acts stupidly, foolishly, disgracefully.

Isaiah 32:6 says, “The fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness and to utter error concerning the LORD, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.”

We’re going to see that Nabal, the fool, lived up to that description of a fool. He kept back food and water from those who were hungry and thirsty. He was a foolish man.

I think you can see already that your heart determines your character and your behavior. If you have a foolish heart, you will act foolishly. Your character and your behavior reveals your heart. If you’re acting foolishly in foolish ungodly ways, that reveals that you have a foolish heart.

All through this series, it’s going to be easy as we read about Nabal to think of someone we know. But I want us as we examine this passage to let God shine the spotlight of His Spirit and His Word into our hearts and say, “Could any of this be true of me?”

  • Am I sometimes impossible to deal with?
  • Are people not honest with me because I’ll blow up?
  • Am I arrogant, proud, harsh?
  • Do I assume negatively of others, assume the worst of them?
  • Do I answer roughly rather than graciously?

If I act in those ways, if I speak in those ways, that tells you something about the condition of my heart.

The Scripture says we’re all born fools. Only the grace of God and the power of the gospel, the power of Christ, can transform our hearts, give us a new heart and give us a wise heart.

That’s why we need a heart transplant. It’s only the grace of God if there’s anything in us that is gracious and kind or sweet-spirited, in our homes and in our other relationships. That’s why we desperately need God’s grace.

Apart from the grace of God, every one of us would be a Nabal. That’s why we desperately need the grace of God.

Dannah: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminding us of how needy we really are. All of us need to learn to not be fools and how to love other people who are being foolish. The lesson we just hard is part of the series called, "Abigail: How to Live with the Fools in Your Life."

Nancy, I'm sitting here and thinking that there must be some women who have heard this and their hearts are absolutely breaking right now. I imagine a woman who may be thinking, Is it wise for me to stay with a husband who sounds a like Nabal? What advice do you have for her?

Nancy: Well, Dannah, this is so hard, because there just isn't one answer for every situation out there. I’ve seen so many stories with beautiful endings because women chose to stay in difficult marriages. I’ve often  seen God use what is often called “tough love”—where a wife lovingly puts up boundaries to assure a safer environment for herself and sometimes even her children. Sometimes those boundaries involve a season of separation.

Dannah: So if a woman is in one of those really difficult marriages, how does she know if she stays and prays and loves, or if she practices tough love?

Nancy: For sure, one of the first things she needs to do is go to her pastor and her church leadership and ask them for help. That's part of their responsibility as spiritual shepherds. And by the way, that's why it is so important that every person be in a church where they can get that godly wisdom and counsel. It's easy to drift away when you are in a tough marriage. Then at a time of real need, where's that help going to come from?

So those spiritual leaders, their biblical responsibility is to help that woman navigate complex decisions using the Word of God and prayer. Depending on the situation, they may even need to involve the civil authorities. God has given those authorities the responsibility to protect those under their jurisdiction.

Dannah: I'm just sitting here wondering, What could have happened if good, godly men who knew Nabal would have confronted him? We need wise leaders in our churches and communities boldly and lovingly speaking into the lives of men who are not loving their wives well.

Nancy: I could not agree more, Dannah. I know we have some men who listen to these programs, and I want to say a huge thank you to those who are good and godly men who do step up in situations like this and to make an appeal if you do see a situation where a man is not treating a woman with respect and love. I just appeal to you. Where you can appropriately get involved, that is a great gift to a woman involved in that kind of situation.

Here’s what’s important: these Nabals, these difficult men, they need redemption. God wants to use believers—men and women—to be a part of redeeming those broken, sinful lives.

So back to the wife in those situations. If heart can stay anchored in the hope of the gospel, even at the same time she's navigating a complex decision, God can often use her response and/or the responses of those in the church around her, to soften a man's hardened heart.

Again, let me just say, there are so many variables in different situations that it's impossible to address every scenario here on Revive Our Hearts. So if you are listening and are in a challenging situation, you say, "My husband is a Nabel, and I don't know what to do." I say, again, "Reach out for help to someone wise and godly. Don’t try to do it alone."

Dannah: I would say, Nancy, that whether a woman is in a very severe situation or she's just struggling a little bit to love her husband well, you should never do that alone. I've been in those places in my marriage where I have chosen that I will not walk alone. I encourage you today, if God pricked your heart in just the smallest way about something that needs addressing in your marriage, go to a godly woman and get some help today.

Nancy: You can do that with respect and with love and in dependence upon the Lord. You don't have to bash your husband in order to draw someone else in to give you godly and wise counsel.

Dannah: Well, no matter your situation, if you’d like to dig deeper into the life of Abigail, why not get a copy of the revised and expanded Bible study Abigail: Living with the Difficult People in Your Life? This month it’s our way of saying "thank you" for your donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. To donate, simply visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Now, do you ever have trouble controlling your temper?

Nancy: In tension or conflict, do people know you are a woman who can be reasoned with? Or do they stay away from you because they know you will fly off the handle and get emotional. Do they know that you are a woman that they can go and talk to and explain their story and you will know what to do in the situation.

Dannah: Get some perspective on the danger of acting in anger from the story of Abigail. We’ll hear about it next time on Revive Our Hearts.

Calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.