There is a narrative in the Hebrew Scriptures about a courageous woman who risks her position in a patriarchal society in order to make peace. I hope someday to hear a sermon on Abigail whose story is told in 1 Samuel 25.
There are two big men with armed followers who are at enmity with one another. The threat of violence is palpable. David has been driven into the wilderness from where he wages a guerilla campaign. Nabal is a wealthy landowner with extensive properties, flocks, and hired labor. David and his men have never raided the estates of Nabal. Moreover, they have protected them from armed groups, marauders and petty thieves that stole from local farmers.
Nabal is preparing to celebrate a feast day. David sends a few representatives to request that Nabal share his bounty with his troops. The refusal of Nabal is immediate and insulting. David orders 400 of his men to prepare for battle. He vows that all the males of Nabal’s kinship group will be put to the sword.
Abigail, Nabal’s spouse, is informed that David’s soldiers are on their way to avenge his honor. She is caught between the future king of Israel and a brutal, rude husband. As a woman, she is in a place of weakness in a patriarchal culture that lives by the sword.
Abigail’s actions are a determined response to the impending loss of life. While her husband gets drunk at the banquet, Abigail orders that food be prepared for David and his men. She goes out from her home without permission to meet David. She confesses the truth about her husband and acknowledges the honorable behavior of David’s men. She entreats forgiveness for evils in which she had neither personal participation nor responsibility. She warns David of the grief and regrets that will be caused by the lives of people on both sides that will be lost in violence.
David blesses Abigail and accepts her provisions. He recognizes that she has been God’s instrument of peace. She has kept him from blood-guilt and disproportionate vengeance. “Go up to your house in peace; see, I have heeded your voice, and I have granted your petition.”
Women play a lead role in peace making in locations of violence. Simon Gasibirege’s program of Healing Life Wounds works with victims of rape in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Simon believes that these women will play an important role in the healing and reconciliation of their communities and region. Their suffering and deep personal healing gives them the capacity to work as instruments of God’s peace.