The things you choose to do reflect your character. It is that simple. In fact, you don’t need any fancy-shmancy personality test. The cheapest personality test in the world is on both sides of your nose. Yup, it’s your eyes. If you want to know about a person’s character and personality, watch what they do, because what you do reflects who you are.
We find an easy illustration of this in the person of Jesus. We see that he took time to be around outcasts and misfits and take care of their needs. His behavior reveals that he is compassionate. We see that he went undeservedly to the cross so that we would not have to. His behavior reveals that he is self-giving and self-sacrificing. The hard part comes when we start honestly looking at our own character. People can see your character by the things they see you do. That could be good or bad, depending on what your character is like. If you want to improve your character, improve your actions.
There’s a biblical story that illustrates this principle. You can read it in 1 Samuel 25. Abigail is the wife of Nabal, a wealthy oaf who lived in Maon, sheep-rearing country (though described as wilderness). She and her husband are total contrasts to each other – completely mismatched. She is a woman of beauty and good sense. He is not. The Hebrew word nabal, often translated as “fool,” designates not a harmless simpleton, but rather a vicious, materialistic, and egocentric misfit. Other passages present the nabal as an embarrassment to his father (Prov. 17:21), a glutton (Prov. 30:22), a hoarder (Jer. 17:11), and even an atheist (Ps 14:1; 53:1).Think of it like Biff from Back to the Future.
Most significant for our story today is Isaiah 32:6, in which the refusal to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, precisely the sin of Nabal in 1 Samuel 25:6, is listed among the characteristics of a nabal. The story-teller wants us to know from the start what this guy is like.
I think we all know or have known people who’s actions really reveal their character. Now, we already know what Nabal’s character is like – the story tells us. But we see that his actions match up to the description of his character. His character is described the way it is because of his actions.
In the biblical story, as David and his men are traveling the countryside, he and his men come across Nabal’s men and David looks after them. Later on, David asks Nabal to repay the favor by showing hospitality in food and drink. David’s offer to Nabal seems to be negation with invitation into covenant. David is on the run from King Saul, who is trying to hunt down David in order to kill him. David may be trying to win support and provisions from several local farmers with his assistance and protection. Nabal refuses.
David’s claim that he has earned a share in Nabal’s provisions because he guarded the latter’s men and flocks is, in fact, a challenge to Nabal’s political authority, another way of saying that Nabal, despite his wealth and his marriage, does not control Judah or even his immediate territory. Nabal recognizes David’s words for what they are, the words of a servant breaking away from his master. Not to know David or even Jesse is to refuse them diplomatic recognition. In short, Nabal declares from the start his refusal to see in David anything other than a thief, thug, and rebel. Ironically, Nabal says David is a disloyal servant, but he’s setting up the behavior of his own servants who break away, telling their mistress of her husband’s stupidity and ethical emptiness.
When David hears what Nabal said he sort of flies off the handle. “Strap on your swords! No man in the house is to remain alive!” David’s response to Nabal is rooted in the categories of shame and honor. Nabal has shamed David rather than treat him with honor. The only way for David to regain his honor and remove the shame is to take it by force. Abigail realizes that her husband’s insult to David puts the whole household in jeopardy, so she takes it upon herself to take gifts and rations to David and his men.
The structure of her plea to David consists of two tiers. First, Abigail assures David that the vengeance of YHWH will visit Nabal if only David restrains himself from usurping the divine prerogative, and she offers the present as a token of her confidence in the Tightness of David’s cause (vv 25-27). Next she speaks of YHWH’s commitment to his chosen servant, one that vouchsafes to him a security which should enable him to overlook this temporary irritation, which must in no case impede David’s ascent to the throne. David sees the wisdom of her argument and backs down from his attack.
When Abigail returns home, Nabal is celebrating like a king. Here’s an interesting thing – Abigail has just affirmed that David is the God-anointed one who will take the throne. But back at the ranch, Nabal is the one acting like a king. It’s a classic conflict between wisdom and foolishness. Wisdom is realizing what God is doing and getting behind it. Foolishness is puffing yourself up and thinking you’re hot stuff.
Abigail is the personification of wisdom. Nabal is the personification of foolishness. So she waits until he has sobered up to tell him what happened with David. And when she tells him about her encounter, he has some sort of stroke or attack and becomes like stone. Ten days later, Yahweh takes his life.
It seems strange that David acts so quickly to take Abigail for a wife. There are probably political motivations that underlie the scene. To marry the wife or concubine of a ruler was to make a bid for his status and power. This was the story of Oedipus Rex. Oedipus kills the king on the road. Later on, he marries the king’s wife and takes the throne. This was true even as late as Shakespeare’s day. The whole set up of Hamlet is that Hamlet’s father, the king, is killed by Hamlet’s uncle, who then marries Hamlet’s mother and becomes king. David marries Abigail and secures her a new social position and estate. But he also gets something out of the marriage. Nabal was a Calebite, a necessary part of being ruler in Hebron. David’s marriage to Nabal’s wife was the pivotal move in his ascent to kingship at Hebron. David takes over Nabal’s land, his possessions, and his right to lead in Nabal’s place. Abigail is a fantastic prize that set’s David up for his future kingship.
The David of chapter 25 is a man who kills for a grudge. The episode with Abigail and Nabal is the very first revelation of evil in David’s character. He can kill. This time he stops short. But the cloud that chapter 25 raises continues to darken our perception of David’s character. By the time we get to 2 Samuel we find David killing an innocent and righteous man just to take the man’s wife!
The end of the story notes that Abigail is not the only woman married to David. In fact, David has another wife, Ahinoam. Only one other person in the Hebrew Bible bears her name, and she, amazingly enough, is a contemporary of David’s. In fact, her husband is King Saul (1 Sam 14:50)! Could it be that David swaggered into Hebron with the wife of a Calebite chieftain on one arm and that of the Israelite king on the other? A remark of Nathan’s to David suggests that there was but one Ahinoam, wife of Saul, then of David, “I gave you the household of your lord and the wives of your lord in your bosom, and I gave you the Houses of Israel and Judah. A little longer, and I would have given you more like these” (2 Sam 12:8). Nathan alludes to David’s marriage to Saul’s wives, as if it were well-known. The suspicion grows that v.43 and v.44 are connected by more than a similarity in subject matter. Saul’s action in v.44 is a quid pro quo to David’s in v.43. He deprived David of Michal when David asserted his right to the throne through marriage with Ahinoam.
The story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 precedes the story of David and Bathsheba chronologically, and in some ways it is a mirror image of it. First of all, Bathsheba’s husband Uriah is a good man while Abigail’s is quite repulsive and evil. Despite Uriah’s goodness, Bathsheba apparently does nothing (or can’t do anything) to save him. Abigail, on the other hand, resorts to elaborate measures to save her husband. Secondly, the story of Bathsheba capitalizes on illicit sex. This is completely absent in the Abigail story. Although David is obviously attracted to Abigail, as witnessed by the speed with which he married her when she becomes widowed, there is no hint of any unseemly behavior between the two, although there are opportunities. Finally, in the Bathsheba story David commits murder because of a woman. In the Abigail story David, as he himself recognizes, David refrains from committing murder because of a woman.
We are the sum total of all that we do, i.e. what we do is who we are. Abigail reveals herself to be wise and virtuous. Nabal reveals himself to be an evil, spiteful man. David reveals himself to be a man with a short fuse who is easily moved by a woman. But we are no different. Our own actions reveal our character. This is true because as adults we make deliberate choices in our actions. Therefore, our actions describe our inner selves, what sacrifices we’re willing to make, what evil we’re willing to carry out or tolerate. Our actions are the blueprint of our character.
We need seriously to ask what we want our character to look like. Then we need to make sure that our actions reflect the character we say we want. What actions are we doing to reveal that character? It’s time to take serious account of our character; what it is and what we want it to be. And then, after taking account, we need to make sure our actions line up.