Streams of Mercy

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The Scriptures are full of grace stories. But then again, God’s grace is the point of the book!

Tucked away in the middle of the adventures of David hides yet another example, another picture of the cross.

1 Samuel 25 tells us the familiar story of David’s encounter with Nabal. Let’s set the scene. David is still on the run from Saul. As the “Robin Hood” of his era, David and his men had occasion to act on behalf of the people in the neighbourhoods through which they traveled. Nabal appears to have been a wealthy landowner and sheep farmer. As the story goes, David’s men had provided a service for Nabal by protecting his shepherds and his sheep (25:7, 8, 15, 16). But when David asked for a few provisions for himself and his men, Nabal treated him with disdain and insult (25:10, 11), with the result that David set out to punish Nabal for his inhospitable attitude: “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the desert so that nothing of his is missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him" (25:21, 22). Nabal’s wife, Abigail, having heard about the incident, intervened (25:18, 23-31). She met David before he could get to her husband and provided what David needed. As well she begged for forgiveness and offered to receive the punishment on her husband’s behalf: “My lord, let the blame be on me alone…May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name is Fool and folly goes with him…Please forgive her servant’s offence…” (25:24, 25, 28).

And David responded to her plea.

Now rewrite the scene. Nabal is representative of mankind. Foolishly, we take what God blesses us with and provides for us, and then when He asks something in return, we reject Him. This offense requires a response on His part. This was the role played by David in this story. But Abigail, as a type of Christ, steps in-between us and the punishment we so richly deserve. Abigail only offered to accept the punishment for her husband’s sin; Christ took the punishment for ours, and God’s anger was appeased.

But we notice in the story that Nabal died unrepentant (25:36-38) and because of continued rebellion he still paid for his sin. Abigail’s intervention gave him a chance—one that he refused to take. Though the Scriptures do not mention it specifically, it seems that when Abigail told him what she had done, his anger was so fierce that he brought on the heart attack that eventually killed him (25:37, 28). His window of opportunity closed (25:38) as does mankind’s, despite the fact that Christ has provided the means by which we can be saved.

As I thought about this story, the words of an old hymn came to mind:

Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.”*

This vivid portrayal of those “streams of mercy” as found here in 1 Samuel, reminds us of that debt of gratitude that we owe God. What we deserve we didn’t get, and won’t get, because of Christ’s intervention on our behalf. When we take advantage of the opportunity to acknowledge our dependence on Him as the Mediator between us and God, and accept His work on our behalf, we make peace with God because Christ becomes our peace.

Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Nabal missed that. We who haven’t missed it need to be thankful. Those who like Nabal, are in danger of missing it, need to pay better attention than that “fool” once did. Life depends on it.

*Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson, 1758


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