by James L. Ferrell
An excerpt from The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.
The spell, if that’s what it was, was broken when Abigail passed from sight. Bewildered a bit by the experience, but still reveling in the warmth he had felt under her gaze, Rick turned to look at David. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of himself as well, just over David’s left shoulder, about four rows back among the men. Rick could tell as he looked at himself and the other men that he and they were not pleased by the turn of events. Their faces showed disgust and frustration at turning back. It was evident that Abigail had not reached them as she had David.
David himself was a picture of peace and calm, his countenance purged of the anger that had darkened it since the report of Nabal’s rebuff. As a man acquainted with war and with the mentality of those who wage it, he showed understanding as he mingled among his men, talking with and calming their spirits. Rick even thought he saw David’s arm around his twin as they ambled away. Rick could see why the men followed David: he was one of them, which made them resonate with him, but he was beyond them as well, which made them reach.
“Amazing,” Rick exclaimed to no one in particular, as the last man rounded the bend back toward Paran.
“Indeed,” his grandfather nodded. “But why? What about this experience amazes you?”
“Well, didn’t you see it?” Rick asked exuberantly, whirling to face his grandfather.
“Yes, I did. What I want to know is whether you did.”
Rick returned a puzzled look.
“Tell me what you saw, Ricky.”
“A miraculous end to a war that never began,” he answered squarely, turning again toward Paran.
“Oh, but it had begun, Ricky, make no mistake. The war began when David and his men started seeking revenge in their hearts. The swinging of blades was a mere formality.”
“Well, yes, I understand that. What I mean is-” but suddenly he couldn’t find words to say. He had been struck by Abigail’s actions, transfixed by her eyes, and had felt something powerful in his soul, but now as he tried to articulate the meaning of what he had witnessed he realized that he had mistaken the conviction he felt for understanding. What had just happened? He wasn’t altogether sure. But there was something about Abigail!
“What I mean is,” he continued, “Abigail made peace here. She changed David; I could see it in his eyes. And something about her eyes too-“
“What about them?”
“I don’t know. She looked at me, and I felt something wonderful. I felt like she knew me, I mean really knew me-my background, my situation, my hopes, my struggles, everything. And it’s funny to say, but in a way her eyes told me that she loved me, despite everything.”
Grandpa Carson looked to the crest of the hill where they had last seen Abigail. “Do you know who she was, Ricky?”
“Yes, you told me yourself. She was the wife of Nabal.”
“Yes. And who else?”
“Who else?” Rick repeated in surprise.
Rick stood pondering the question as his grandfather scrambled down the bank of the hill and onto the path. Rick followed him, and together they looked northward toward where Abigail had disappeared.
“Let me share something with you, Ricky. Walk with me.” He started climbing the road toward Carmel, and Rick set off after him.
“Three days after the death of Christ,” he began, “two believers walked the road to Emmaus, just as we are walking now, trying to make sense of the sudden and tragic end to their hopes and dreams. Jesus, their trusted Redeemer of Israel, was dead, his body gone. They wanted to believe the testimony of the women who said they had ‘seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive,’15 but seemed to struggle at the thought. In their own words, they were ‘astonished’ by the story.
“They were confused and troubled, Ricky, as you might imagine. Events had failed to unfold as they had believed they must. ‘How could the Redeemer of Israel die before Israel was redeemed?’ they wondered aloud. Faith shaken, they struggled to find meaning in a tragedy that seemed to snatch all meaning from their lives.16 Perhaps no road seemed longer than the road they were to walk that day.
“But like every long road we walk, these men did not walk it alone. The Redeemer they had hoped for not only lived, he was walking beside them. And he said to them, ‘What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?’17 After hearing their troubled response, the Lord made this key remark: ‘O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.’ And then, beginning at Moses and through all the writings of the prophets, he taught them from all the scriptures ‘the things concerning himself.’18
“In other words, Ricky, if the disciples had understood the scriptures, they wouldn’t have been surprised by the events that troubled them. All of the scriptures testified of the Savior’s life, suffering and death; they just hadn’t seen how before.
“They were not alone in this, either. The remaining apostles were struggling with the same issues as they gathered in an upper room. The resurrected Lord appeared to them as well and said, ‘Peace be unto you.’19 But they were terrified, thinking he was a spirit. And then he told them, ‘These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.’20 Then, Ricky, he opened their understanding,21 just as he had opened the understanding of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He showed them how everything about his life and death was revealed in detail in the scriptures at a level that would survive the loss of plain and precious things-not only through direct prophecy but also indirectly through types, shadows, metaphors, and allegories. The prophet Nephi, in the Book of Mormon, put it well when he said, ‘All things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of Christ.’22
“So, Ricky,” he said, as he stopped and faced him, “what might this suggest about the story of Abigail?”
“You’re saying she’s a ‘type’ of Christ.”
“I’m saying it’s worth pondering whether she is. After all, David himself said that she came at the Lord’s direction and acted on his behalf.
“I’d invite you to consider what you have witnessed here in Abigail,” he continued. “You may discover things in her that remind you of the Lord. In fact, if she turns out to be a type of Christ, her story may illuminate and clarify things about the Savior that you’ve never really thought about before-beautiful things, cleansing implications, saving truths. That is what her story has done for me. She has illuminated for me an aspect of the atonement that has blessed my life ever since. I believe it may bless yours as well. That is why we have come.”
Rick’s experience with Abigail had already riveted his attention, but this comment sobered him as well. “Okay,” he began deliberately, “so you’d like me to think about Abigail and Christ-or rather, about how Abigail points to, or is a type of Christ.”
Rick thought he noticed a slight nod, which he took to be assent, so he continued. “Well, let’s see.” His mind whirled back over what he had just witnessed. “Yes, I think I see what you mean. Abigail brought to David everything he needed-bread, wine, sheep, and so on-just like Jesus does for us, who is himself the bread of life, the true vine, and the lamb of God.”
“Yes, Ricky. Good. That’s an excellent insight.”
“So in that respect Abigail is a ‘type’ of Christ,” Rick continued, mostly to himself, feeling comfortable with his discovery. “I see it.”
“Okay. But do you understand what difference it makes?”
“What do you mean?”
“It is one thing to notice what might be a type of the Savior and quite another to understand its purpose and meaning. So Abigail supplied David with everything he had asked for and more-so what? What’s the practical relevance? What’s the point?”
“Does it have to have another point?” Rick asked, his confidence still strong. “I mean, here we have a story where the central peacemaking figure acts in similitude of the Savior. That strikes me as pretty significant.”
“Yes, Ricky, but if you’re willing to settle merely for that intellectual insight, then you will miss nearly everything Abigail has to offer. You have to ask more of the story than that. You have to dig into it, replay it, ponder it, savor it. If the story reveals something about peacemaking, as you say it does, but you yourself have not been brought closer to peace because of it, then either it is a trifling story or you haven’t yet penetrated it-or allowed it to penetrate you. Don’t be so quick to understand.”
“Okay,” Rick said, pensively, “then what am I missing?”
“Are you willing to look for it?”
“At what you have already seen. The story is rich, Ricky. Here David was, armed for battle, resolved to wipe out an entire estate and household, and a moment later he wished peace for the household and sent the family’s matriarch and her servants away with his blessing. How did it happen, and what does it mean for us? Dig into the story, Ricky. As I said before, replay it in your mind-ponder it, savor it. Put yourself in it, which should be doubly interesting in this case since it seems you already are in it! What did Abigail say? What did she do? What did or didn’t change in David? What did or didn’t change in his men? Don’t just watch, Ricky, search and learn.”
“Okay,” Rick said, beginning to feel a little perturbed. “As I said, the first thing Abigail did was bring to David the provisions Nabal had denied him. And you want me to get inside of that, to understand its relevance.”
“I think that would be helpful, yes.”
Then why don’t you just tell me what you want me to say? he thought to himself. Don’t make me guess your thoughts.
“I’m not interested in your guessing my thoughts, Ricky. I’m interested in your discovering your own.”
Rick was stunned. “You can read my thoughts?”
“Sometimes. When the stakes are high.”
“And the stakes are high now?”
“As high as they can get.”
This sobered Rick immediately, and he began working anew on his grandfather’s question as they walked.
“Maybe an analogy would help,” his grandfather said, rescuing them both from the silence. “I remember how you loved baseball, Ricky. In fact, I still remember attending your games. You were a gifted shortstop.”
Rick smiled at the compliment.
“We had some great times at those games, your family and I,” Grandpa added. “Remember the state championship game your senior year?”
How could he forget? His team led by one run in the top of the final inning. Runners were on second and third with two outs when Rick committed an error that nearly cost them the game. On a routine ball to him that should have been the final out, he threw over the first baseman’s head and the runners scored. If not for a miraculous two-run home run in the bottom of the inning by his teammate, Jason Taylor, to this day Rick would have been the goat in his hometown. As it was, most people had forgotten his error.
“Yes, I remember.”
“I bet you started to offer up some mighty prayers after your error on that play-right out there on the field and in the dugout at the bottom of the inning. Am I right?”
Rick remembered both his embarrassment and his hope for a miracle rally. At first he had been too embarrassed to feel anything but shame, but as the inning closed with his team behind and their crowd anxious, Rick remembered hoping beyond hope that a teammate would make up for his error and win them the game. “That’s true. When Jason hit that home run, it was the sweetest feeling. It was probably all the sweeter to me because of what he saved me from-not just a loss but also from a personal but very public failure. I felt redeemed, to tell you the truth.”
“That’s why I chose the story, Ricky. It’s redemption that I’m interested in, and this story, combined with Abigail’s, illuminates the atonement that makes redemption possible.”
“Well, you’re saying that your error put the team in a hole-not just you, but all your teammates as well, and also your fans, for that matter. Your error would result in a stinging loss for the team unless someone could do something to make up for it.”
“Yes, I guess that’s right, although I’d prefer if you would downplay the pain part a bit,” Rick offered, only half in jest.
Grandpa Carson smiled. “Now think about the Abigail situation-“
“I get it,” Rick interjected. “You’re saying that Nabal and I each created a difficulty for others that someone else had to make up for, and that in that respect our stories are similar.”
“Yes. Both you and Nabal increased the burdens and hardships of others, and in both cases, someone atoned for the wrongs of another-Jason in your case, and Abigail in Nabal’s.”
“Okay, I understand that.”
“Yes, I think so,” Rick answered matter-of-factly.
“Then tell me what this reveals about the atonement.”
“Well, it illustrates how Christ paid for our sins-that’s what the atonement is about.”
“So tell me then, Ricky, whose sins did Abigail atone for?”
“Nabal’s, of course.”
“Is that what the story reveals? Is it Nabal who is redeemed in Abigail’s story?”
The question stumped Rick, and he puzzled over it. On the one hand, the story was clearly about an atonement for Nabal’s sins-wasn’t it? Yet just as clearly, Abigail came to David, not Nabal, so perhaps it was an atonement for David. Wait a minute, that’s not right, Rick countered within.
Abigail came to David in order to save Nabal. Nabal was the one who was saved here, for if it hadn’t been for Abigail’s atonement, David would have wiped him out.
“Yes, Nabal was definitely the person who was saved in this story.”
Grandpa Carson looked oddly unconvinced. “Let’s think about it a little more carefully,” he said. “If the atonement is for the redemption of sins to save the sinner, in order to understand who is redeemed in this story, perhaps we should first be clear on the identity of the sinner.”
“That’s easy: Nabal. Nabal is the sinner and David is the sinned-against, the aggrieved party, the victim.”
“Are you sure about that?” his grandfather questioned. “I rather think this is primarily a story about David’s sin and redemption, not Nabal’s.”
“David’s sin? Why not Nabal’s? What did David do?”
Grandpa Carson took a long look at Rick. “Remember when I told you about Uncle Joe?”
“And remember how you kept insisting that I had done nothing wrong, that Joe was the one with the problem-the ‘sinner,’ in a sense?”
“Sure. And I still actually think that. Although I suppose you did play a part in the fourteen-year period of silence,” he allowed.
“But you’re only thinking about our actions, Ricky. What about our hearts? Remember the Pharisees-they of the perfect actions. Their hearts were corrupt and the Savior branded them as the vilest sinners of the day, notwithstanding their outwardly righteous acts. We sin when our hearts are sinful, no matter what we do on the surface. The law and the prophets hang on the two great commandments of loving God and others because if our hearts fail to love, neither the law nor the prophets, nor anything else-including outward ‘righteousness’-can save us.
“So ‘what did David do?’ you ask-what was his sin? He carried a sinful heart, my boy, a heart that burned with envy and rage, a heart that had turned from the Spirit. Unless and until he was redeemed from that sinfulness, he would never taste eternal life.”
“Okay, but what about Nabal?” Rick blurted, thinking about Carol while he said it. “Didn’t he carry the same kind of heart?”
“Yes, it certainly appears that he did, Ricky,” Grandpa Carson responded, measuring Rick for a moment. “So the story of Abigail is not merely the story of a single sinner, is it? It is rather the story of David responding sinfully to the sin of another.”
This satisfied Rick for the moment.
“You have learned since you were young that the atonement was for the sinner,” his grandfather continued, “and that certainly is true, but it is only half the story, and the second half is not nearly so well understood. The story of Abigail suggests that the atonement is as much for the benefit of the sinned against-the victim of sin-as for the sinner. But her story goes beyond even that. It suggests also that one of the effects of sin is to invite those who have been sinned against-David, in this case-to become sinful themselves, and that the atonement provides the escape from such provocation to sin. This is David’s story here. What Abigail provided for David was a way of escape from his sin of sinning against a sinner!” Grandpa Carson paused for a moment to give time for those thoughts to settle.
“When Abigail knelt before David with all that he needed,” he continued, “her purpose was to redeem David from his sin. Perhaps she would later kneel before Nabal and offer a similar redemption.” After a brief pause, he continued. “Now when-“
“Wait, Grandpa,” Rick interrupted. “I want to make sure I understand what you are saying. Walk me through this again-what you’ve just been explaining.”
“Sure. What I said was that when people think of the atonement, they most often think about how the Savior filled in the gaps for their own sins, which he surely did. That is, we are all sinners, and someone had to bridge for each of us the otherwise impassible chasm between us and eternal life that we have created through sin. So normally we think of the atonement as something that Christ has done for us-for ourselves. But Abigail invites us to look at the atonement from a different angle-not from the perspective of how Christ has atoned for our own sins, but rather from the equally true perspective that he has atoned for the sins of others. And part of that atonement, Abigail suggests, is the idea that the Lord offers to those who have been harmed or potentially harmed by the sins of others the help and sustenance they need to be made whole.
Those deprived of love can receive his love. The companionless can find a companion in him. Those with a cross to bear can find another who carries and makes it light. With their burdens lifted in this way, the sinned-against are saved from the provocation to sin and are therefore redeemed from their own sins.”
Grandpa Carson paused. “Does that make sense to you, Ricky?”
In truth, Rick was struggling. He understood the ideas with his mind, but his heart was lagging behind, fighting the implications. It was comfortable and clear to equate Carol to sinful Nabal, for example, and himself to a righteous David. He could now begin to think about David as being sinful, but he couldn’t get past the thought that Nabal was worse and that somehow that should matter. He wasn’t perfect, he was willing to admit that, but Carol was far worse. And given that, he didn’t see how he could be expected to be much better than he was. He also hadn’t felt much, if any, of the atoning help his grandpa was talking about, and it seemed to him that if anyone deserved it, he did. “I see your logic, Grandpa,” Rick said after a few moments. “But I’m still trying to understand it. I’m not entirely sure what it means yet, practically speaking.”
At that, Rick paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. But they resisted collection. “Do you believe what you’re saying, Grandpa?” he asked finally. “I mean, really? Do you believe that the Lord offers the kind of help you’re talking about to those who have been hurt? Has he given it to you?”
Grandpa slowed to a stop. “Do you remember Joseph in Egypt, Ricky? Have you ever marveled at how he was able to receive his brothers so graciously after what they had done to him?23 Or Daniel, and Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-nego, who were strengthened by the Lord in the trials they suffered at the hands of others?24 Or the people of Alma in the Book of Mormon whose heavy burdens at the hands of the Lamanites were made light so that they ‘could not feel them upon their backs’?25 Or David, here, whose own hardships because of others’ sins were atoned for and eased and who, as a result, was able to love Saul all his days even though Saul never stopped trying to kill him?26 Yes. I believe it, Ricky, and I’ve felt this help many times myself. The Lord packs for each of us, as it were, living bread, water, sheep, corn, raisins, and figs, and comes to us with that offering, inviting us to accept of his atonement for others’ sins. And when we do, as David, Alma, Joseph, Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach, or Abed-nego did, we find ourselves blessed with all that is needful, and we also find that we are cleansed from sinfulness ourselves.
“So, yes, Ricky, I believe it. In fact, my knowledge is sure concerning it. My question is, will you believe it?”
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.