Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mean People

                At some point in our lives each one of us has encountered a mean person. You know the one I am talking about- the one that on the outside seems innocent enough, but once you cross the line there is thunder and lightning raining down upon your head. Most of us try to avoid these types of people. Most of us try to stay out of the way of their wrath. But what if you work for a mean person or what if someone you love acts towards you in that manner? What do you do then?
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Whenever I think of a mean person, my mind goes to the story of Nabal and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25. Nabal was a very mean man; scripture calls him harsh and badly behaved. But Abigail, she is another story. What was it about this woman that she was able to tolerate meanness day after day? What was it about her that allowed her to bless her household instead of running for the hills like most of us would have done?
                In 1 Samuel 25, David and his men are in the area of Carmel, and there they help out some shepherds but defending their flocks. I am not going to write out all the scriptures for you, but do want to encourage you to take some time and read this story today. Now, the shepherds just so happened to belong to Nabal, the mean man mentioned in verse 3. Scripture tells us that Nabal was also a very rich man. He had sheep and a thousand goats. Something that I draw from this that comforts me is that God provided for Abigail abundantly. She was a kind and loving woman who just so happened to be married to an ungodly man. But in the midst of it all, God provided for her. She had a nice home, food in her belly, and probably a horse, a donkey and maybe even a chariot to ride in. The point is, she was well provided for. I believe that it was Abigail’s faithfulness that allowed God to bless the home of Nabal, and not Nabal at all. Even though Nabal might have thought it was his greatness that made him rich, I believe it was God blessing Abigail and Nabal had nothing to do with it.
“Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife was Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite.”
1 Samuel 25:3 ESV
                Scripture teaches us that Abigail was discerning. What that means is that Abigail lived a right life before the Lord. She was intelligent, good, kind and upright. She acted well in the world and she lived honestly before her fellow man. It is obvious throughout this story of Abigail that she knew the Lord. She was an Israelite, most likely, even though it does not specifically say she is. Nabal was from the lineage of Caleb, so it is assumed that Abigail was also from a tribe of Israel. Abigail was discerning, and she was also beautiful. What makes someone beautiful? I am a firm believer that beauty is only found in godliness which is reflected from within the heart of a woman.  Outward adornments, outward appearances change and fade with time. Beauty is from the hidden woman, the gentle and quiet spirit of a woman after God’s own heart. (1 Peter 3:4) A woman who seeks God is beauty in its most purest of forms.
                Whenever I read the story of Abigail I get a sense of peace, a calming flood of reassurance that God is and always will be on her side, as well as on mine. It does not say a whole lot about her, she is only found in this chapter, but what her life leaves for us as an example is priceless. Whenever I encounter mean people one of my first reactions is the counter back and defend myself against their attack. In me there is a desire to give to them what they just gave to me. I want to retaliate. I want to give them the justice they deserve for treating me so harshly. But Abigail teaches us that retaliation only brings bloodshed, and what God desires is peace.
                Nabal was the epitome of mean. The scriptures teach us that he was a harsh man who behaved badly. When I looked up the word harsh one of the definitions described a harsh wind. Iowa is known for its harsh winters and freezing cold winds. Temperatures can get below zero quickly and the wind can blow so hard that it almost knocks you over. When you step outside and that wind hits you it’s cold cuts right through every layer of protection you have on and sends chills down through your bones. A harsh person will have the same affect. Their harsh winds of bellowing and bad behavior can cut through your armor and leave you feeling cold in your heart. If we are not careful, this coldness can become hardness and our desires to live in peace towards them can turn to hate and unforgiveness- the opposite of how God calls us to live.
                It also describes harshness as hardness. Nabal is so content being harsh and being mean that he has hardened his heart to his conscience telling him that it is wrong behavior. I have had mean people tell me that this is the way they are, I just have to learn to deal with it. Mean people are content to be mean. They have no desire to change because they do not see, nor do they want to see that their behavior is wrong. Nabal has become so justified in his own eyes that no amount of prompting or counseling is going to change his belief that he is right. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15) We will see this contrast between fool and wise man in just a few scriptures when we see David’s reaction to Abigail’s discerning spirit.
                Another thing we learn about mean people from Nabal is that his goodness, or his appearance of goodness, stems from what he can get out of it. Mean people will show kindness and compassion when it benefits them in some way, either by getting noticed and praised, puffing up their pride, or by gathering more riches unto themselves. Mean people do not show kindness and compassion because they are kind and compassionate, they show it so that people who do not know them, might think that they are.
                David’s men have come to Nabal to ask for some provisions for helping take care of his flock. Notice that Nabal did not send any men to help his shepherds; he just expected them to take care of it. Mean people have no desire to care for your well being- unless it benefits them. David’s men come and tell Nabal that they protected the flock and took care of his people. When you work you expect to get paid. When you do something out of the kindness and goodness of your heart, you usually expect to get some sort of reward out of it- whether from man or God. We shouldn’t expect something, but we do because we are humans and that is part of our nature.
“And Nabal answered David’s servants, ‘Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?’”
1 Samuel 25:10-11
                Nabal saw no benefit in giving to David or his men because there was nothing in it for him. Mean people are also greedy people. Notice Nabal asks why he should give up more than what he has already determined to give. He takes care of his own and that is enough. He gives them what they are due and more than that should not be asked of him. There is no benefit to him, no profit that he can see in helping David.
               This lack of compassion, this insult to David and his men caused a reaction from David. Most of us would probably react in the same way. If we bent over backwards to help someone and they reviled us to our faces, we would probably want to draw our swords and take them out as well. How many of us can honestly stand before a mean person and not want to retaliate back at them? Our human nature is to react to their meanness with retribution. But, that is not what God wants. God wants us to act, not react.
                Nabal’s servants hear what Nabal has said to David and his men and they know that David is going to wipe them out. David is pretty famous for his military battle skills at this point in his life, so most everyone knew he would come and destroy every last one of them just because Nabal was a mean man. Knowing that their master has just signed their death certificates they go to Abigail to tell her what has happened. The servant tells Abigail that Nabal has “railed” at the men. (1 Sam. 25: 14) He tells Abigail that Nabal sent a harsh wind upon David’s men and with violent words refused to help them. Mean people rail. They raise their voice; they will push and push at you until you are down on the ground. They will continue to rail and blow cold winds upon you until you give in and do it their way. Mean people are selfish people.
                Notice, however, that Abigail did not go to her husband and tell him that David was on his way to wipe out their entire town. Why do you think she did not tell him? I believe it is because she knew her husband and she knew his hardened heart so well that he would not receive wise counsel, let alone from his wife, even worse, from a woman. Abigail did not cast her pearls towards him because she knew, from past experience, that he would just trample them under his feet. Abigail did not get upset or run away either. Instead she confronted the onslaught that her husband had created due to his bad behavior and faced it head on. She raced into action and got ahead of the storm. I truly believe that this was not the first time she had to go and be the buffer for her husband; she had probably been doing it for over twenty years.
                Because Abigail was a woman who sought the Lord, she knew what she needed to do and what she needed to say to bring this storm to an end. She became the levee so the river wouldn’t burst and flood the town. She became the shelter for the people she loved because she did not want to see them suffer anymore for her husband’s temper. When we encounter mean people, and we will encounter mean people, our first response is to retaliate. But Abigail teaches us that retaliation will only make things worse. We need to discern the situation and put into action the wisdom of God.
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”
Romans 12:17
                “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15
“Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9
                Scripture teaches us that evil exists and we will encounter it. People will be mean to us and our hearts will seek to retaliate against them. We will want to repay their evil with our evil. But, the truth of God prevails and shows us that no one is benefited through retaliation. All it causes is bloodshed and the death of many relationships, not to mention that it hurts our relationship with our God, who calls us to live for peace.
“When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, ‘On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. Let not the lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he, Nabal is his name and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent.’”
1 Samuel 25:23-25
                The other thing that I noticed about Abigail was that she made no excuses for her husband’s behavior. She humbly admits to David that her husband did wrong, and there is no excuse for his behavior. She does not ask for his forgiveness but instead turns David’s attention onto her. She asks him to let his fault be on her head. A sign of a true Christian is one who is willing to carry the sins of others for the sake of peace. In this we exemplify Christ, who for our peace bore our sins. Peter reminds us that love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
                However, what was also brought to my attention was that these scriptures are not about Nabal, they are about Abigail and David. Both of them were godly people who were seeking after God’s heart. We see the difference between a hardened heart and a willing heart in Nabal and David. Abigail did not go to her husband because she knew his heart was hard and would not receive godly counsel, so instead she goes to David whom she knows loves the Lord and will receive godly counsel. One of the things I think we can learn from this story of Nabal, Abigail and David is that mean people exist. Every single one of us will encounter or have already encountered men and
women just like Nabal. But God blessed Abigail and David, not because they were wronged but because they acted instead of reacted.
                God sees the proud and arrogant people of this world, but He also sees us too. The blessing that Abigail and David received was a result of their obedience to God’s word, and not because of Nabal’s wrong doing. God does not reward you because someone was mean to you- He blesses you when you follow His word. God is more concerned with how we act in these situations then He is with the one who caused it. David reacted, but God used Abigail to speak peace to his heart, and because they chose to follow God’s word, the Lord brought justice upon Nabal, eventually.
                Mean people exist my friend, there is no escaping them. Some of them are our bosses, some are people we work with, we may live with one, but God, through His word shows us that reacting to them only creates a bigger storm. He desires us to act towards them and for them, just as Jesus acted for us, laying down His life for our good. We too must follow the same example. We do not have to make excuses for their behaviors, but we do have to answer for ours. God sees their actions, but he sees ours too. Abigail was wise and David was willing, we must learn to be both.

                May these words give us the strength to live godly and righteously before mean people. Maybe, through our example they may come to know Jesus for themselves. To Him be all the glory, now and forever, amen and amen.