She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say.” [1 Samuel 25:24 (NLT)]
While visiting my son last summer, I was walking in his neighborhood when a car raced out of a blind driveway and, without even slowing to look for cars or people, sped down the street. If I hadn’t paused briefly by the gate to get a flower photo, I would have had an intimate encounter with the vehicle. After thanking God that I hadn’t become road kill, I continued down the road and turned onto the walking path. I was a little disconcerted when a car approached and stopped but, when the driver lowered his window and called out to me, I realized it was the driver of the speeding car. After offering an earnest apology, he explained he’d been late for a meeting but added that his tardiness was no excuse for his recklessness. Ashamed of his behavior, he’d returned to make sure I was OK. Assuring him I was fine, I wished him well. I was both shocked and touched by the unexpected apology. While unnecessary, it was much appreciated since I knew the driver probably lost another ten minutes by turning around to find me and apologize.
The story of David, Nabal, and Abigail highlights the importance of apologies. David and his men were hiding from King Saul in the wilderness when they came across Nabal’s shepherds and flock of sheep. Rather than stealing any animals for themselves (as might be expected by a hungry army), David’s men formed a line of protection around the flock so that no harm would come to them or the shepherds.
When sheep shearing time arrived, David sent ten men to Nabal to request provisions for David’s troops. This was not an inappropriate request. By accepting David’s protection, Nabal’s shepherds had obligated their master to make provision for the men. With 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats, Nabal was a wealthy man and some of that wealth was because David’s men had guarded it! Moreover, Israelite law and tradition demanded that hospitality be offered to travelers. While an honorable man would have met his obligations, Nabal (whose name meant “fool”) lived up to his name and refused the request with rudeness and contempt. When the men reported Nabal’s boorish response, the angry David gathered 400 of his men and set out to kill every man in Nabal’s household.
In the meantime, a servant reported his master’s rashness in offending David to Nabal’s wife Abigail. Knowing an apology can do a lot to diffuse a difficult situation, the wise woman quickly packed up an enormous quantity of food and wine and went to meet David. After humbly apologizing for her husband’s boorish behavior, she offered the provisions to David’s men. Considering Nabal’s personality, this probably was not the first time Abigail had to apologize for her husband’s foolish and offensive conduct. Her heartfelt apology averted the senseless tragedy that would have occurred had David carried through his attack. Upon learning of his wife’s generosity, Nabal suffered a stroke and died ten days later. In what could be called poetic justice, David ended up marrying the lovely and wise widow.
An apology isn’t just saying we’re sorry, especially when, as often is the case, it includes justification for our poor behavior. A true apology is like the driver’s and Abigail’s. It is offered with a humble heart, admits being in the wrong, expresses regret, and makes restitution for any offense. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus; one of the ways we make peace is with an apology!
Never ruin an apology with an excuse. [Benjamin Franklin]