Dear Abby, What does true submission look like?

Chapter 25 of 1 Samuel 25 seems to begin and end with unrelated incidental editorial comments. In verse 1, we are told that Samuel has died. In verses 43 and 44, we are informed that while David has gained a second wife, he has lost another (Michal). I do not think these are incidental remarks. I believe they are included for a specific purpose. David has suffered the loss of two significant people in his life. Samuel was the prophet of God who anointed him and the one to whom he could flee when pursued by Saul (see 19:18-24). We do not really know that much about Ahinoam, David’s first wife. We do know that she was a Jezreelite, and that she was the mother of Amnon (2 Samuel 3:2), the son who raped his sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Michal, however, was the second daughter Saul offered to David as a wife (1 Samuel 18), and there seems to have been a special love between the two, at least at first (18:20-29). To have her given to another man for a wife must have been a hard blow to David.

It is my conclusion that through the sequence of events described in chapter 25, God provides David with a very wise helpmeet, who compensates for the loss of Samuel and Michal. Abigail’s words to David virtually echo the prophecies of Samuel concerning David. Abigail’s wisdom enables her to be an intimate companion and counselor to her husband. Her beauty must have gone a long way to soothe the loss of Michal. To alter a biblical expression, “the Lord takes away, and the Lord gives” (see Job 1:21). How marvelous are the Lord’s provisions. It is He who deals with Nabal, far better than David. It is He who now gives the widow of Nabal to David, as a woman David can respect and love. God faithfully provides for our needs, at the time He knows we need it.

Abigail is an illustration (if you prefer, a type) of God’s provision for man’s salvation. Due to the folly of Nabal, Abigail’s entire household is in danger. Every male is condemned to death. Unless she does something, they will be killed by David. In wisdom and humility, Abigail steps forward, taking the guilt of all the condemned upon herself, offering herself in their place (see verse 24). Is this not a picture, a prototype of our Lord Jesus Christ? Due to Adam’s sin and our own, we have all been condemned to death. The day of our doom hastens, but the Lord Jesus Christ (who was completely innocent and without fault) stepped forward, taking our sin and guilt upon Himself. He offered Himself in our place on the cross of Calvary. He bore the penalty for our sins. And through faith in Him, we can enter into eternal life. And, in Him, we become Christ’s bride.

Furthermore, Abigail illustrates the essence of all true submission. No doubt this statement will take you by surprise. How can a woman who refuses to consult with her husband, who acts contrary to his will and his word, and who calls him a fool, possibly be considered a submissive wife? I would suggest that it is only in the externals that Abigail appears to be unsubmissive. She certainly acts independently of her husband. What he refuses to do is exactly what Abigail does. And yet, in heart she is truly submissive. To think that submission is mere blind obedience, or giving in to the will and the wishes of a higher authority falls short of the essence of true submission. True submission is the active pursuit of the best interests of another, by the subordination of our own personal interests. True submission is defined in Philippians 2:

1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-8).

Abigail does not act in a way that seems to promote her own interests. She would be far better off to act like the perfect wife by doing exactly what Nabal wants. Had she simply stayed at home, serving Nabal another drink, she would be “liberated” by David. Her worthless husband would be put to death, and she would be free from his tyranny. Abigail is truly submissive in that she seeks to save her husband (and all the other males in her household). In seeking to save them, she puts her own life on the line. She goes out, alone, to encounter a man who is willing and able to kill her entire household. When she encounters David, she asks that his full anger be spent on her, on her alone. She is submissive in that she acts in a way that will benefit her husband, yet at her expense. Doing nothing (and thus appearing to be submissive) will further her interests at her husband’s expense.

I want to be very careful in what I am saying, and in what you think I am saying. Most of the time, submission is evidenced by our obedience to the one in higher authority. Most of the time, our submission is evidenced as we seek to bring honor to the one to whom we are subject. But there are times when submission will look like something else. There are times when we must act contrary to the wishes of the one to whom we are in submission. This can only be in matters where God’s will is clearly contradictory to the will and wishes of our superior. This can only be when we act in a way that is costly to us, but is truly beneficial to the other.

I am trying to say that this kind of submission – Abigail’s kind of submission – is the exception, not the rule. Nevertheless, there are times when we seek to console ourselves for “caving in” to what is wrong by calling it submission. Godly submission always submits first to God, and secondarily to men in conformity with submission to God. Godly submission always seeks the best interests of the other above our own interests. And sometimes Godly submission even requires us to act contrary to the will and wishes of the one to whom we are in submission. I have said these things not so that you will throw out your definition of submission, but to expand it. Let us be careful not to turn this into a pretext for our own sin.

Finally, let us learn from Abigail that submission is perhaps the best posture from which to admonish and correct a fellow-believer. Do you notice that Abigail never attempts to correct Nabal in this situation? I would understand that this is because she has sought to reason with him before and has learned that it is unwise to attempt to correct a fool. The servant knew this as well, as his words indicate. But I wish to point out Abigail is not only in submission to her husband, she is also submissive to her future king. How can Abigail submit to God without also submitting to David as the next king? It is ever so clear in our text that Abigail, in a most humble and submissive way, seeks to rebuke and admonish David. At the moment, David is hot-headed and foolish. Her actions and words turn him around. And this takes place through her submission.

Being subject to a person (especially another believer) is no excuse for us to look the other way when we see them acting contrary to the will and the Word of God. All too often I hear people excuse themselves from their brotherly duty to admonish and rebuke another because they are a subordinate to that person. I would suggest that from our text a subordinate attitude and demeanor is the best posture from which to seek to correct another. When we seek to correct “from the top down,” it is much more difficult to display humility and godly fear. Let us face up to our responsibility to pursue the best interests of our superiors by rebuking them when required, in a way that continues to demonstrate our humility and submission.

1 Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load (Galatians 6:1-5).

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