Some complementarians like to use the account of Abigail and Nabal as support for their argument that a wife should never leave her husband, even if he is abusive. They claim that if the abuse is as bad as the woman says, that God will intervene and either change her husband or smite him so he dies, as He did with Nabal—unless it is God's will that the wife endure abuse for a reason that only God knows. With this reasoning—and it is man's reasoning—they make it clear that according to them, in order for a wife to be obedient to God, she must do nothing to protect herself or her children from harm at her husband's hands.
There are several problems with using Abigail and Nabal to make this point. First, there is no indication that Nabal was abusive to Abigail. Often when a man is abusive at home, he is seen as a pillar of society in public. But in this case, Nabal was known as being churlish and evil in society, and we have no indication what he was like at home. When Abigail told him she had fed David and his men, there is no suggestion that he yelled at her, cut her down, or beat her.
Second, Abigail did not submit to Nabal's every wish or command. In fact, when she went to David with food after Nabal had denied food to David and his men, according to complementarian teaching, she rebelled against Nabal and against God because she did not submit to her husband's authority. In other words, the way Abigail managed to stay married to Nabal was by NOT submitting to him at times.
Third, it appears that Nabal did not live in the same house with Abigail at least part of the time, which could have made it easier for Abigail to stay married because she would have had to endure less of her husband's churlishness, yet had a number of servants to get things done. We know at the time of the account that Nabal was in Carmel sheering sheep, instead of at home in Maon. We also know that Nabal had a lot of property in Carmel, which would have given him good reason to be away from home frequently. Because of our own culture, we could assume that Abigail went with her husband to Carmel, but since he was out working all day, he didn't find out about the busy beehive of food preparation and loading onto asses that happened at his wife's direction, nor about the envoy of asses that left his property, even though it could have taken quite a few hours and been hard for either Nabal or his men not to notice if they were anywhere in the area. Or we could assume that Abigail stayed behind in Maon while Nabal was in Carmel. But if Abigail was in Maon, why would David have been coming against her, instead of against Nabal in Carmel? Especially since we know David knew Nabal was in Carmel. Further, I Samuel 25:36 tells us that Abigail went to Nabal and found he was holding a feast at his house, and that he was merry and very drunk, so she waited until morning to tell him what she had done. Now it seems if they lived in the same house, the servants would have had a limited amount of time to prepare Nabal's feast in the hours after Abigail left with the asses loaded with food, and before she returned in order for her to not have known he was throwing a party fit for a king. Also, if Nabal's feast was held in a house the couple shared, it is unlikely the writer would say the feast was “in his house.”
Fourth, God does not always deal with regular people in the same way that he deals with people he has chosen and anointed for a task. David was God's anointed. Therefore, God sometimes extended extra blessing to those who helped David, and extra trouble to those who gave David trouble. Consider all the trouble Saul dealt with, probably because of his attempts to hunt down David, God's anointed, and kill him. Consider also the widow of Zarephath, who fed Elijah, God's anointed, during a famine when she was nearly out of food, and as a result neither her meal, nor her oil ran out until God sent rain. Yet, there were many other widows during that famine who received no help from Elijah. Recall the curse of leprosy that came on Miriam for her action against Moses, who was God's anointed. David was blessed for not harming Saul, who was God's anointed.
Clearly, there is a biblical pattern of blessing for those who bless and protect God's anointed, and curse or harm for those who harm God's anointed. So God's smiting of Nabal was because of his refusal to aid David, God's anointed, and had nothing to do with Nabal's treatment of his wife.
Fifth, there is a problem with complementarian logic that would require a person to remain in harms way. There are many biblical examples of people who got out of harms way. David fled from Saul, even though he had agreed to play music for him. Paul fled those who would kill him. Lot did not deliver his visitors to the demanding men at his door. Elijah fled from Jezebel. And Jesus didn't stick around to let the people throw him over a cliff, either.
Would any of these complementarians demand that a person remain with the church they had vowed to be faithful to, even after they realized the leader was taking them down a wrong path and would require them to drink poison, or otherwise harm themselves in any way? Would these complementarians demand that a person remain in a church where they are being sexually, physically, emotionally, or spiritually abused by a leader in that church?
Yet, somehow they would have us all believe that marital vows are more binding for women than other vows or agreements, even if keeping those vows leads to our illness or death, as is the case with domestic abuse and domestic violence. It is a known fact that chronic stress increases one's likelihood of getting cancer and other diseases. Recent research has shown that women whose husbands are abusive have much higher rates of illness than non-abused women do, even illnesses like bladder infections that seem unrelated to abuse. And these same complementarians seem to disregard the vow the husbands made before God and man to love and cherish their wives.
I want to know, why are church leaders focusing on wives keeping their vows and submitting, but only giving lip service to husbands truly loving, cherishing, and sacrificing for their wives?
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See www.wanetadawn.com A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.
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