Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Abigail: Beauty AND Brains!

        It is fairly likely that Abigail will be a name you’ve heard from the Bible, but a character whose story you know relatively little about. In fact, hers is a story which we are told very little about – she appears only in a single chapter: 1 Samuel 25. But the small amount we do know speaks volumes about her character. Upon discovering that her husband had refused to repay the kindness that David had shown him – as was the custom – Abigail recognised that ‘disaster was hanging over (her) master and his whole household’ (1 Samuel, 25:17, NIV), because her husband had acted with selfishness and self-righteousness. She hurried to restore her family’s good name by offering gifts to David and begging for His forgiveness. Her display of the deepest humility – ‘she…bowed down before David with her face to the ground’ (1 Samuel, 25:23, NIV) – and her demonstration of wisdom, courage and knowledge of battle led David to accept her plea and give up his quest to kill every male in her community, thus saving countless lives which the actions of her own husband would have sacrificed.

        Abigail was ‘a beautiful and intelligent woman’ (1 Samuel, 23:3; NIV). Why is that important? Simply because we are told so! The Bible is not a book of fancy, descriptive fiction. It rarely dwells on details of physical appearance, so the moments when it does are pivotal (among the few other women described in a similar way are Bathsheba, Esther, Sarah and Rachel – all dominant forces within God’s work across history). The Theology of the Body (Pope John Paul II/Christopher West) tells us that the human body reflects God’s image and is a key part in His plan for us. Therefore we are each given our appearance for a reason that serves that plan. Did Abigail use her looks to get what she came for? Absolutely! But rather than the worldly flesh-flauntation which immediately springs to mind, she used the body God had given her to do His work. 

        In my research for this post I read about a – let’s say ‘stocky’ – youth worker who was grateful for her lack of stereotypical beauty because it meant that she could reach out to the young people she worked with without the males lusting over her and the females being jealous of her. It seems comforting to think that however we look – whether we conform to stereotypes of beauty or not – God made us that way for a purpose. Not only does that mean those of us with insecurities about our appearance can be encouraged, it also means that those whose natural beauty is often recognised must strive to avoid becoming conceited or taking it for granted, but instead ask God why they were made that way and aim to fulfil that purpose.

        Abigail’s wisdom and cunningness not only saved her husband and family from destruction at the hands of David’s army, it also saved David from his own sin. For a woman to approach a man of authority (in a way mirroring the story of Esther approaching the king) was an extremely dangerous move. Yet Abigail’s courage in standing up to David actually rescued him from himself, putting him forever in her debt – ‘May you be blessed for your good judgement and for keeping me… from avenging myself with my own hands.’ (1 Samuel 25:33; NIV). For her actions, and in recognition of her beauty, Abigail was rewarded with the greatest accolade: when her husband died just ten days later (most likely from the shock of sobering up and realising the potential jeopardy he had inflicted on his family) she became David’s wife and queen. 

        In a culture where it is disappointingly common for women to be lumped into the category of either beautiful OR intelligent, Abigail offers hope that we can be recognised for both. She is proof that beauty and brains can be reconciled, and can be used in unique combinations by God. Alternatively, if the world tells you you’re unattractive, ask God to show you yourself the way he views you. Similarly, if the world constantly reminds you that you are ‘hot’ by its standards, ask God how He plans to use that for His will – and pray for the grace to acknowledge that God-given beauty in your heart rather than your head. Most of all, never let yourself fall into a worldly category: to God you are one of a kind, and His plan for you is one that only YOU can carry out – not just ‘any clever person’ or ‘any pretty person’!

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