I have long been captivated by the biblical character, Abigail.
You can read her story in 1 Samuel 25. As a writer, I sometimes obsessively try to put blood and breath in these characters, particularly the women who, frankly, we tend to read rather two-dimensionally and usually through the frame of Western freedoms and virtues. Case and point, you’d be shocked at how many extra-biblical narratives about Abigail wonder why she would marry such a man as Nabal. One grows weary trying to explain that women choosing whom to marry and anyone marrying for love is a strictly modern phenomenon.
In this fictional piece, I try to imagine what Abigail might have been like. The text says she is “intelligent and beautiful” and married to a man who’s name is given as “Fool” so we are also likely dealing with a few archetypal elements here in addition to an historical narrative. Here I play, respectfully, with who she might have been and how her character might have shaped the choices she made and the ways God intervened in her circumstances. I would love to hear how you read Abigail!
Bartered by men like a prized cow, sold in marriage to a rich man offering a price my father could not refuse. Blessed with beauty and intelligence, they say. Ha! They are all fools, for it is a double curse. Had I been ugly, Nabal would not have wanted me. Had I been stupid, I would not have understood the price I would pay for his lust. What a magnificent waste.
So here I am, wealthy beyond measure, executor of Nabal’s vast estate, responsible for the well-being of these men, women and children who are beholden to my husband for their bread and for their bed. Fool that he is, without me here they would surely die, or worse. Fool that he is, he doesn’t care for anything but his purse. His servants are indistinguishable from his goats and his wife no more – or less – valuable than his prized sheep. Would that he could shear me and get a handsome price for my hide, but that of course would deprive him of, shall we say, other pleasures.
Don’t pity me. I am not unique. My sisters have always known the punishment for having been born a woman – our life is not our own. If not Nabal, then some other man to own me. Indeed, I am one of the lucky ones, with a husband who demands only my body on occasion, and otherwise leaves me free to do as I please. It is funny, really, that Nabal doesn’t realize what goes on here, under his own nose. Poor, stupid Nabal married me of all women, impressed with my beauty but oblivious to my capability.
Don’t look at me like that. I see it in your eyes. You feel sorry for me. Don’t. You don’t understand me at all. Why shouldn’t I be married to Nabal? You waste my time and yours on sentiment and romance. Would I have been happier married to a good man, a kind man, however unable he was to match me in passion, intellect and competence? You are mistaken if you think the answer is yes. The only marriage I’d find remotely interesting is a union of equals, but we all know this is not how a man chooses a wife. Of course, a good man may choose a virtuous wife. Or a woman he hopes will bear him many sons. Maybe he’ll choose a wife because she lets him play the man, or she comes with a substantial bride price. Or perhaps he’ll choose her because she is skilled in the uniquely feminine arena of flattery and allure. But a man who would choose a wife because she is his equal? I do not believe such a man exists on earth.
So I say, do not feel sorry for me. Yes, I am married to a fool. But God is good and there is work for me here – God-given, honorable work – and I am grateful for it. For as long as Nabal lives, I will serve him as my husband and I will use every resource at my disposal to care for the ones he overlooks, trods upon, ignores and wastes. If not me, then who?