The Bible doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to exposing dangerous women. The first one who comes to your mind, just like mine, is Abigail.
Lest you think we’re talking about two different Old Testament characters, I’ll give a rundown of her story. It’s found in 1 Samuel 25.
In the years before David became king of Israel, he was on the run from Saul–the current king–and building up his own following. They happened upon the fields of Nabal during shearing time. David sent ten men to Nabal saying, “Hey, we didn’t mess with your shepherds or steal any of your sheep or goats. So could you give me food for my men?”
It was a big request. But Nabal was a rich man. More to the point, he was still rich thanks to David’s honorable treatment of his property. Also, David’s men had weapons. Like any reasonable man, Nabal saw that it was to his advantage to pay up his part of the bargain.
Oh, wait. Nabal’s name means “fool.” He did not pay up. He insulted David and told him to get lost.
David got mad and began mobilizing his men for wholesale slaughter of every male in Nabal’s household.
(See, class? We sure do need for men to be in charge all the time because it always goes so much better that way.)
Abigail was Nabal’s wife. When a servant came to her in a panic, telling her what was going on, she swung into action. She gathered up food, freshened up, saddled a donkey, and went out to meet David herself. She apologized for her husband’s foolishness and begged him to spare the household.
David, hotheaded though he was, was actually a reasonable man, especially by ancient warlord standards. He agreed to call off the attack. In fact, he was relieved that Abigail had kept him from unnecessary bloodshed.
Abigail went back and told Nabal what she’d done. Nabal was furious. So absolutely, intensely furious that he had a stroke and then died.
So the household was saved, Nabal disposed of, and David took Abigail to be his wife. Which really was the best a woman could hope for in that time.
Okay, so I admit that at first glance, it actually looks like Abigail is the hero of this story. But one of the tricks of a patriarchal worldview is that it can use one or two details to twist the whole perspective into the proper shape.
To start with, you’ve got to keep the most important principle in mind at all time. That principle is: Authority. Every situation, even a story told for centuries around campfires, must be filtered through the grid of Authority.
Who was in authority in this story? Well, David, because he’d been anointed the next king of Israel. Who else had authority here? Nabal, the husband and owner of the property.
Who did not have the authority to make any decisions or take any action? Abigail. Because she was married, she was bound to obey her husband no matter what.
There are two telling details in the passage of Scripture. One, the servant came to Abigail behind Nabal’s back, and even said he was wicked and foolish. Abigail did not rebuke the servant for speaking against their authority. Two, Abigail made her plans and headed out to see David, but as the story notes, She did not tell her husband.
But… but… she spared every male in the household! Including Nabal’s worthless hindquarters!
Yet you see what her rebellion–yes, she was rebellious–led to. Her husband died. David might feel like God had vindicated him, but Abigail had to live with the knowledge that her actions killed her own husband.
But… but… Abigail became David’s wife…
Pfft. She became one of his wives. Who wants that? (What woman had a choice back then? Hush, you’re cluttering up the narrative.) And she did have at least one son who should have become king after David, but we never hear anything about him. That’s the third devastating detail in this story: God punished Abigail by not letting her son become the next king.
I’m not exaggerating this interpretation. This is what I was taught as a student of Bill Gothard. He embroidered a lot of the details*, but there’s a long tradition among hardcore patriarchalists to demonize Abigail. She usurped her husband’s place and was the cause of his death.
Girls, do not grow up to be like Abigail!
You should instead hope to be like… well… how about you just don’t read ahead in your Bibles until we have time to explain how Ruth, Esther, Deborah, Jael, etc. are also cautionary tales. Here, instead we’ve rewritten history and also these stories with passive obedient heroines. We’ll get back to God’s Word when you’re ready to understand the truths hidden within it.
Good thing you’ve got men to illuminate it for you.
*Gothard claimed that if Abigail hadn’t intervened, then David would have had the guilt of unnecessary bloodshed on his conscience; years later, when he got Bathsheba pregnant, he wouldn’t have sent Uriah into battle to be killed because he’d already know how wrong that was. I didn’t make that up.
** I hope it’s clear that I’m not claiming all Christian men believe this way. But there’s a slice of Christianity that does. If you’ve never encountered teachings like this, you might not realize the enormous effort it takes to re-read the Bible in its own words, not the twisted interpretation we were given.