As interpersonal conflicts increase, how should we best deal with them? What are some of the strategies of biblical conflict resolution?
From the time of Cain and Abel, offenses and conflicts have been incessant human problems. And the Bible warns that in the end time, many will be offended (Matthew 24:10).
Have you ever witnessed someone being offended? Have you ever been offended? Have you ever offended someone else? It is very likely that you have.
Offenses generally produce conflict. The Cambridge Dictionary defines conflict as “an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles.”
And resolving conflict is no easy task! It can be uncomfortable and difficult because of the hard feelings and strong emotions that are involved.
Small offenses may require little more than extending forgiveness to the person who’s committed the offense. Our blog post “Conflict Resolution: Should I Say Something?” explains, “With the majority of small offenses, the best response is usually simply to forgive the offense, recognize we have similarly offended others and bear with the other person in love (Ephesians 4:2).”
The purpose of this article is to explore the situations when a more involved response is needed.
No doubt, you will face conflict at some point in your life. Countless books have been written on this subject, some of which have proven to be very helpful. But, more important, God Himself provides us with some conflict resolution strategies within the Bible, His inspired Word.
What is the lesson of Abigail in the Bible?
The courageous example of Abigail provides a good illustration of an individual with exceptional conflict resolution skills. Her reaction to a very difficult situation—the strategies that she used to address conflict—can help us be prepared to resolve potential conflicts in our own lives.
We find the story in 1 Samuel 25:
We will continue to see increased numbers of offenses and conflicts in the world around us, and you will most likely face difficult conflicts in your own personal life. But the Bible provides a way for us to deal with them.“Now there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel, and the man was very rich. He had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. And he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. The name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. And she was a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance; but the man was harsh and evil in his doings” (verses 2-3).
It is here that we’re first introduced to Abigail, along with her husband, Nabal. Verse 3 provides us with a key description of Abigail: She was a woman of “good understanding.” This good understanding was beneficial throughout Abigail’s life, both to her and to those around her.
It is not unreasonable to conclude that being married to a harsh man whose name literally meant “fool” left her vulnerable to moments of conflict.
We have no way of knowing every conflict that Abigail faced, but we are made aware of one significant situation that she faced. This tense situation involved her husband and another man who became extremely angry. Strong emotions and hard feelings often accompany moments of conflict.
David and Nabal
Nabal was a successful businessman; he possessed thousands of animals and was very rich. And while he was shearing his sheep in Carmel, along came David with a band of his men.
As background, it’s important to understand that when Nabal’s shepherds had been working in the fields, David’s men had provided security and protection for Nabal’s men and animals.
So David sent some of his men to remind Nabal of this. They were sent to entreat Nabal to share some supplies with them.
David’s message was, “Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and to your son David” (verse 8).
They were simply asking this wealthy man to be hospitable, which was the custom at the time. It was not an unreasonable request from David. They were not forcing Nabal’s hand; they were simply asking him to share whatever he was willing to give at this festive time. After all, they had provided some protection for his men and animals.
True to his name, Nabal’s reaction was churlish. He rudely responded with an insult in verses 10-11:
“Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat [notice his emphasis on my throughout] that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?”
Nabal made it quite clear that he had no intention of sharing anything with David. Not only was he unwilling to share, but he verbally insulted David as well.
Enter conflict. Nabal’s unkind reply greatly offended David and made him angry. He gathered up his men, told them to get their swords, and vowed to kill every male within Nabal’s camp.
Nabal was upset with David for asking him to share, and David was upset with Nabal for being unwilling to share. Nabal incited David by hurling insults, and David threatened to kill all of Nabal’s men.
Abigail and David
Standing in the midst of this very tense conflict was Abigail.
In verses 14-16, Abigail received a quick briefing on what was going on. She was informed of what her husband had done, as well as how David had reacted to Nabal’s conduct. The servants affirmed that David’s men did exactly as they said they had done, describing the men as a “wall [of protection] to us both by night and day.”
“Now therefore, know and consider what you will do” (verse 17).
Abigail was faced with this difficult question. As she faced the possibility of an attack by David, what would she do?
There is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution, but Abigail’s response does provide a few important lessons about biblical conflict resolution.
1. Face the problem—don’t hide from it.
Abigail discerned the situation and acted quickly to address the problem. She didn’t ignore it, hoping that it would go away. She didn’t try to hide from the problem. Abigail faced the matter head-on.
Notice the first four words in verse 18: “Then Abigail made haste.” She quickly gathered a collection of gifts for David and rode out on a donkey to meet him.
“Now when Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground” (verse 23).
Takeaway: When we’re faced with a conflict, we must be willing to address the situation. Avoiding the issue does not help resolve it.
2. Base your response on Scripture.
Abigail did not address the situation by angrily accosting David, but expressed genuine humility instead. When it comes to conflict resolution, there is quite possibly no passage more significant than Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (See “Dealing With Difficult People” and “5 Tips for Dealing With Difficult People” for further reading on this topic.)
Through an attitude of humility and incorporating the biblical principle of a soft answer, Abigail’s approach helped defuse David’s anger.
“So she fell at his feet and said: ‘On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be! And please let your maidservant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your maidservant. Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal. For as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him! But I, your maidservant, did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent’” (1 Samuel 25:24-25).
She essentially told David, “I didn’t know that any of this had happened. Please forgive us for offending you.” She presented her gift of food, fulfilling what David had wanted in the first place. And she let David know that she knew he was fighting God’s battles (verse 28).
Once she’d softened him up, Abigail provided David with some encouragement to change his mind.
To paraphrase her reply, Abigail said, “Please forgive me. God will reward you and defeat all your enemies. I believe He has restrained you from taking revenge so you won’t have any regrets in the future.”
As you break down Abigail’s response to David, you can clearly see the resulting fruit of a soft answer turning away wrath.
Takeaway: Each situation is unique and may require a modified approach, but our response should always be based upon biblical principles.
3. Seek God’s help and know He is with you.
If we seek God’s help and strive to act as He tells us, we can know that He will be with us (Hebrews 13:5-6).
“Then David said to Abigail: ‘Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!’” (1 Samuel 25:32).
That’s an important statement that should not be overlooked. The Lord God of Israel sent Abigail to meet with David. God was with her. She had to do her part as well (see lessons 1 and 2), but God was with her as she faced this conflict. Through Abigail, He helped address and resolve a situation that affected many people.
Takeaway: As we face moments of conflict in our lives, we must recognize that God can be right there with us. (See “God Is There for You” for further reading on this subject.)
Prepare to apply these conflict resolution strategies
We will continue to see increased numbers of offenses and conflicts in the world around us, and you will most likely face difficult conflicts in your own personal life. But the Bible provides a way for us to deal with them.
As you face those tense moments of conflict, let Abigail’s example be a source of encouragement. Resolving conflict is no easy task, but it is attainable.
Learn more in our three-part blog series on conflict resolution, beginning with “Conflict Resolution: Should I Say Something?”