Saul didn't start out a bad guy. When we first meet him in 1 Samuel 9, he seems genuinely nice--humble and caring, if a little stingy.
But it wasn't long before Saul messed up big time due to a lack of faith (1 Samuel 13), and God removed the blessings that would have belonged to him and his family. "The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you," Samuel told the presumptuous king (1 Samuel 13:14).
After yet another serious blunder by King Saul, Samuel was sent to anoint that other man--David, the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd and musician.
David proved to be an asset to Israel even before he took the office of king--playing peaceful music for King Saul and becoming his armorbearer, killing Goliath, and serving as a powerful military leader. He became best friends with Saul's son and caught the eye of one of Saul's daughters, and at first Saul loved him like his own son.
But as time passed and the Israelites grew fond of David, Saul became jealous of the attention he felt he should be receiving himself, and David was forced to flee.
David behaved, for the most part, very honorably in his dealings with Saul. Saul was the de facto King of Israel, and he knew no matter how hard Saul tried to kill him and those who protected him, it was God's right, not his, to end Saul's kingship.
Yet in a moment of peace between himself and Saul, David and his men encountered a man that apparently made David far angrier than Saul ever had: Nabal (1 Samuel 25). Nabal was a very rich man with a very foolish heart. (As you've probably heard, his name, Nabal, actually means "fool." You know what they say about self-fulfilling prophecies...)
David and his men protected Nabal's shepherds and possessions for some time, and subsequently went to Nabal on a feast day and asked for some food. It was customary to give gifts of food as common hospitality. This kind of generosity would be especially expected from such a rich man, and especially on a feast day (1 Samuel 25:6-8). But Nabal was not feeling so generous.
In his request, David called himself "your son David," but Nabal responded scornfully, "Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?" (v. 10-11). (I just love that response, because I feel like I can hear him saying it in my head!)
This made David very angry, and he instructed his men to strap on their swords and get ready to murder Nabal and all the men in his household. As a man of war, perhaps killing had become commonplace to him. It seemed like the logical solution to this problem: this man is disrespecting me and not giving me what I want, so I'll just take him out. That'll teach him. (I don't mean to sound disrespectful myself of such a godly man--however, this is an instance where David's response is quite rash and illogical.)
Thankfully, someone told Nabal's beautiful and intelligent and definitely-not-foolish wife Abigail about the issue before it went too far. She acted quickly, not telling Nabal what she was about. Abigail hurried to get together food (lots of food) and to come down to David, humbly pleading for his forgiveness for the foolishness of her husband.
"Now when Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground. So she fell at his feet and said: 'On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be!" (v. 23-24). Abigail humbly took blame she didn't deserve and gave a touching speech encouraging David to rethink his intentions.
"No therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, since the Lord has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now then, let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal. ... For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the Lord, and evil is not found in you throughout your days.
"Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling" (v. 26,28-29). (Side note: notice the "pocket of a sling" analogy, probably referencing the original source of David's fame. I love that.)
Abigail knew that God was with David, and she knew the end intended for him (and for her husband, and all David's enemies) by God. Some call Abigail a prophetess because of her words, but either way, she certainly knew God's law and the blessings that come from following it. She only asked that once David became king, as she knew he would, that he remember her and the good she had done for him in keeping him from murder.
David took her gifts, blessed her, and turned back.
She went home, found Nabal busily getting drunk ("holding a feast...like the feast of a king"), and decided it still wasn't the right time to tell him. She waited till the morning to tell him everything, and "his heart died within him" (v. 37). Ten days later, he died. God exacted the revenge for David (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19) and granted Abigail a new happy beginning with a man after His own heart.
A followup post is coming soon with several of the lessons we can learn from Abigail's beautiful example. The general lesson I'd like to close with here, though, is found in Romans 12, nestled around the "Vengeance is Mine" scripture I referenced a moment ago.
Paul writes, "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-19,21).
Abigail was married to a very wicked man, yet she did not let his darkness snuff out her light. She knew that with God on her side, her light would overcome his darkness. Evil can easily snowball us over, coating us with it and sending us hurtling down the same treacherous path. We have to instead stand firm in goodness, and trust that no matter what it seems like at the moment, God's way will always overcome in the end.