President Ulysses S. Grant held the first White House state dinner for King David Kalākaua of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) on December 12, 1874—a meal that included twenty courses. Throughout US history, the state dinner has showcased not only American hospitality, but also its influence. The meals take an average of six months to plan, and they serve up dishes ranging from jellied lobster (Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and George H. W. Bush) and roast sirloin of beef (President Carter) to greens and fava beans (President Clinton) and Caesar sashimi salad (President Obama).
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
State of the Matters: Diplomatic Hospitality
In 1 Samuel 25 we meet Abigail, who delivered the biblical equivalent of a state dinner when she interrupted David’s journey to Carmel with a caravan of food. Before we examine Abigail’s hospitality during this en route encounter, however, we must first understand its context. Years before, the prophet Samuel had foretold David’s destiny to be Israel’s king. Saul, the reigning monarch, became so infuriated that he hunted David in a cat-and-mouse pursuit that kept David retreating into rugged lands to save his life. In exile, David and his soldiers protected the massive goat and sheep herds of Nabal—Abigail’s husband—a wealthy businessman from Maon. The work was dirty and hard, and the conditions were dangerous because of invading tribes and wild animals.
When it came time to shear the flocks, Nabal traveled to Carmel, where he feasted and rejoiced in the occasion. David dispatched an envoy to request Nabal’s help in providing his men with food and drink—scarcities in the wilderness. Simply put, David called in a favor. Scholars remark that “this was not asking too much, for David had provided protection (25:16) and had never extorted supplies from them (25:7).” Nabal—a name that means “foolish” in Hebrew—scoffed at the request and blew the men off. Enraged, David commanded four hundred men to hoist swords and charge toward Carmel to kill Nabal and every male in his household.
Prudent servants rushed to inform Abigail, who leapt into action: Gather everything you can and get going! I’ll be right on your heels. Thomas Constable’s commentary takes us there: “Visualize this solitary woman, riding a donkey, approaching 400 armed men who were riding horses and were bent on slaughtering her household. It took immense courage and boldness, as well as great wisdom, for Abigail to take her life in her hands and do what she did.” Catching sight of David, Abigail jumped off her donkey and flung herself at his feet, assuming responsibility for her husband’s transgression. She wielded wisdom more expertly than David could wield a sword. In her entreaty to him, she acted swiftly, humbled herself, believed the best of David (as the future king, surely he wouldn’t want blood guilt on his hands), and gave lavishly.
Abigail’s quick countermove, and her trust in God’s ability to influence his appointed king, averted David’s wrath and spared her family. Her hospitality was informed, quick, humble, direct, and lavish.
A different woman may have heard of her husband’s behavior and justified it or done nothing. She could have responded in kind— Why should we give everything we have worked so hard to acquire to a virtual stranger, even if it’s the famed David, future king? Why should we give handouts? Or she could have shrugged her shoulders. Instead, Abigail amassed a gift of two hundred loaves of bread, two containers of wine, five sheep prepared to cook, five seahs of grain (about eight dry gallons), one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred fig cakes.
She did not just send messengers; she went in person. She did not just send a bottle of wine with a note of apology; she gave David and his men a bounty of provisions. She did not just say she was sorry; she gave David the respect he was due and took steps to right her husband’s wrongdoing. She did not just wring her hands in prayer, she acted and trusted God to work through her. Abigail shows us that, when delivered quickly, humbly, and generously, hospitality leverages power to thwart war and instead produce peace. (And, while sheep and fig cakes may not be high on our desired diplomacy meal menus, at least they weren’t jellied.)
Watch Session One
Being Generous With Your Hospitality
Consider a point of tension or conflict between yourself and a friend, a coworker, or a relative. How could you display the same hospitality of Abigail to open a door for understanding or reconciliation? What might hold you back from acting as Abigail did? Ask God to help you be generous with the goal of bridging divides and making peace.
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