In my Bible study this morning, I wanted to learn more about the word discernment, which led me to look up the word wisdom, and that led me to Abigail. This Old Testament woman acted with great discernment, and did not second-guess herself in spite of the huge risk she was taking, especially as it was without her husband’s knowledge.
Abigail was a God-fearing woman who understood that God sometimes speaks directly into our hearts. She trusted her inner felt-sense and pull to take action to the point of great boldness.
I had not heard of this biblical woman before. I checked my current Scripture Writing Plan which happens to be on Women of the Bible. Sure enough, 1 Samuel 25:23–31 was next on the menu (note – read 1 Samuel 25:18-42 for a fuller picture).
The story is told that at a crucial moment, Abigail bravely stepped forward to save the future King David from choosing a path of violence. She was married to Nabal, an unwise man (his name means fool) who had made David angry by refusing to invite David’s shepherd-workers to a feast, even though David and his men were often called upon to protect and to feed Nabal’s shepherds when they were all grazing their sheep and goats in David’s territory, as any good neighbour would.
When Abigail heard of David’s fury, she became afraid for her people. She quickly gathered food and drink – and lots of it! – loaded up the pack donkeys and set out to meet David on the mountain path before he reached his destination and prepared to take revenge. (Accompanied by 400 men, he was a formidable force.) She stood before him and bowed her head as a sign of respect, and asked that he listen to what she had to say. She reminded him of his destiny as King of Israel, and challenged him by asking if he was willing to let his anger stain his future.
David was awakened by her words and thanked her for saving him from unfortunate consequences.
That very night God took Nabal’s life. David returned Abigail’s kindness by making her his wife. (In those times, a widow was extremely vulnerable because she had no means of support to feed or shelter herself and her household. And she had no protection – unless she had a brother who was willing and could afford to provide for her. By taking Abigail into his household, David was committing to do this.)
As I pondered the story, I got to thinking on the accuracy and validity of biblical stories. In these Old Testament writings over a period of 1200 years, give or take a few centuries, I believe that God did inspire the writers to take down, or dictate to a scribe, what they were remembering, or had experienced, or heard tell from others’ experience. They would also have written what God directly put on their hearts.
I am not a biblical scholar – of course not, I’m just a baby at diving into the Bible – but here’s what I’m thinking. Some of the stories were undoubtedly based on actual events, other tales might have merged several incidents, and then some accounts would have been embellished to make a message clearer or more compelling to the times (not unlike what my husband the story teller sometimes does, as it makes for a way better story that way!) All the while, still being inspired by God.
Analogies were an especially important verbal technique for getting a message across far and wide in those days, a practical way for communicating with the broadest audience. We still use analogies in modern times. It is a means of elucidating a message without putting too fine a point on it. So, providing a sample story to explain a deeper, or more far-reaching message is not impossible. And why not?
In my experience, God likes to communicate in mental pictures, with visual images, even using sounds, and certainly in dreams. And if he does that today, why wouldn’t he have done something similar three thousand years ago? I’ve read that while the world keeps changing and evolving, God is the only “being” that has remained constant, unchanged since the beginning of time. If that is true, and I believe that it is, then how he chooses to communicate might not have changed either.
There is loads of wisdom in the Bible, sacred wisdom for sure. I am only beginning to tap into this amazing resource! So, I’m wondering if some added touches – whether by God or a scribe – would have been helpful, perhaps necessary in rendering a story relevant through the ages.
The Bible is God’s “living word” after all. What does that mean, a living word? It means that God speaks to our hearts even today as we read and reflect on scripture. I often feel inspired by scripture, that I am reading the right piece of wisdom for an earthly concern at just the right time (which becomes evident on the spot or in hindsight), or by a verse that answers a question that was on my mind only yesterday.
Case in point, I don’t think it a coincidence that Abigail’s husband was named Nabal, which you’ll recall means “fool” in the original language. It makes sense. Why not give him a name that reflects his character, as modern fictional writers will sometimes do? Or possibly, this was the man’s actual name, perhaps inspired by God at a naming ceremony? And reflecting unwise choices that this future rich and selfish Nabal would eventually make.
Studying the Bible fascinates me. I love looking up specific words in a concordance (an index of every word in a particular translation of the Bible along with references to related scripture, as well as a word translation from the original languages). I love comparing varied Bible translations to see how different or similar the renderings are, which can provide a deeper understanding of the original context. Eversince my university days I have loved linguistics, especially seeing how social and cultural influences can shape a language.
Bible study triggers my curiosity in ways that surprise and delight me. My creative imagination lets me visually capture the depth of a story or emotion through Bible Art Journaling. Art Journaling enables me to integrate the discovery process into a visual snapshot that also serves as a reminder of my growth and learning.
The thing about God is that he transforms your heart. It’s part of how he speaks to us. It’s how you can know for sure that it was him who changed something in you, and not the work of your own thoughts.
Here’s a personal example of what I mean. The following occurred on the second night of a week-long spiritual retreat at a Catholic centre eight hours from home. Earlier that evening, during mass, the priest and conference leader said some things that got under my skin. I felt he had overstepped the bounds in telling participants how we should think and feel about what was essentially a historically political situation regarding the church. In my view, he was delving into an area that should have had no bearing on the retreat. But he took it upon himself to lecture us from the pulpit, his captive audience.
At first, it just made me uncomfortable. Later on as I was preparing for bed, it made me angry. My mind was raging. “What right does he have to instruct us about our views and opinions?” The rant went on and on in my head. I had worked myself up to the point of deciding to leave the retreat first thing in the morning. I would not stay and be ruled over that way! He was there for spiritual guidance, not political lecturing! The nerve!
Early the next morning, immediately upon waking, my feelings had turned around – completely. My first thought was that this priest is not perfect. He’s no different than the rest of us, flawed. He is just a man, after all. Last night’s anger was utterly gone, vanished, flushed out during the night. The heaviness in my heart had been replaced by joy. And the change had occurred before my mind was even fully awake!
I stayed for the rest of the week and enjoyed a fabulous retreat.
That’s an example of the Holy Spirit working on my heart while I was unaware. But the effect was crystal clear and undeniable. God wanted me to stay for the retreat because he had things to teach me here. And so he did.
I’ll digress for a moment… If you have experienced being re-born through the Holy Spirit, you will understand what I’m talking about. There’s a transformation that occurs deep inside of you, it could take a few hours or a few weeks, but you come out of it a changed person. With me, the transformation from an unbeliever to a full-fledged believer in God occurred in Spring 2000, in exactly four hours – the time it took for me to drive home at the end of a different retreat, from Plantagenet to Millbrook, Ontario, during which I had a non-stop “chat” with God. I kid you not!
When God speaks to your heart and/or mind, if feels a little bit like that initial transformation. The message, or inner change occurs in an instant, and fully-formed. There is no mistaking his signature. For example, when the thought that I was going to write a book popped into my brain out of the clear blue sky, following a presentation I had given on managing depression. That had not been my idea. I had never even thought of writing a book. It was not something I had any interest in doing. But as soon as I heard the words spoken in my mind, I knew that it was true. That it would happen.
What I didn’t know is that a publisher would pick it up and pay me to produce a manuscript. That they would provide editorial services, graphic design, media promotion, would set up interviews with me, the whole nine yards. This, in an environment where self-publishing was gaining momentum and fast becoming the norm for an unknown writer. I am convinced that Holy Spirit was partnering with me on this splendid endeavour. I was witnessing Big Magic in the mundane!
Those are examples of hearing God’s voice, of times when I clearly recognized his signature in my everyday life. His presence happens in other ways too, and I’ll share a quite different example in my next post.