A man who is “churlish” is, according to Webster, rude, difficult to work with or deal with,
intractable, ill-bred, stingy, boorish. Maybe you have known one or two of them. In 1 Samuel 25,
the Bible describes a churlish man by the name of Nabal: “…but the man was churlish and evil in
his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb,” (1 Sam. 25:3). The ESV renders this as “harsh, and
We see the full flavor of Naples, unpleasant temperament when David approaches him from
the wilderness of Paran with a kind and reasonable request. Rather than showing hospitality to
David at a time when such was sorely needed, Nabal responds harshly. Even though he was very
wealthy and had 3,000 sheep, and 1,000 goats (vs. 2), he completely denies David’s request with
an insulting reply to David as follows: “Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there are many
servants now-a-days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and
my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men of whom I know
not whence they are?” His response was belittling, aggressive, and rough. He was needlessly harsh.
Why would a man act this way? Obviously, he had allowed God’s blessings of riches and
great possessions to puff him up and create in him a heart of arrogance and pride. We see his
insecurity, for he treats David as a threat to his own pompous status and prestige, and seems
compelled to let others know that he is better than David. He needlessly casts aspersions upon
David, labeling him as a runaway slave. In thinking only of himself and his own shearers, his
selfishness is on full display.
Thinking about our own attitudes and behavior, consider what we lose when we respond to
others this way. David was not asking for charity. He was requesting kindness and hospitality
during his time of need. He had 600 men to clothe and feed in the wilderness, and he approached
for assistance a man who could easily help. We need to guard against the tendency to judge harshly
those who come to us for assistance. “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, When it is
in the power of thy hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and come again, And tomorrow
I will give; When thou hast it by thee,” (Prov. 3:27-28).
There is even more to the story. The presence of David’s army had been greatly benefiting
Nabal and his sheep-shearers. David had been providing security in dangerous territory, for “they
were a wall onto us, both by night, and by day, all the while we were with them, keeping the
sheep,” (vs. 16). It would have been easy for David’s men to plunder Nabal’s servants and his
possessions, but they were careful not to do that. They were kind and courteous. But their kindness
and courtesy was repaid with rudeness and churlishness.
Nabal’s selfishness did not trouble his conscience at all. Immediately after this event we find
him feasting in his house like a king, making himself merry and drunken. He should have been
pondering and repenting of how he treated God’s servant. When we make a mistake and treat others
impolitely, we should pause, reconsider, and apologize. Nabal was actually proud of his arrogance!
He was glorying in his supposed superiority, which is a very dangerous place to be. “Boast not
thyself of tomorrow; For thou knowest not what a day may bring forth,” (Prov. 27:1). Ten days
later Nabal would be dead.
Like many foolish men, Nabal had a wife better than he. Abigail was “of good understanding,
and of a beautiful countenance,” (vs. 3). As soon as she learned about her husband’s disgusting
behavior, she prepared and presented to David a generous offering in apology (vs. 18). Some men
need to listen to the wives more. If Nabal had done that, he might have grown and benefited from
the encounter—and survived.
Christians must constantly be growing more like Christ, cultivating an attitude of kindness
and humility. We need to recognize that the material things we possess are gifts from God, and we
are responsible for how we use them. There is nothing to be gained in being harsh and churlish
with others, even if we think we are better than they!
– by Robert C. Veil, Jr.
A Churlish Man