Abigail and Mary: From Handmaid of the Lord to Salvific Queen

What if I told you that I could prove most of the “controversial” Marian doctrines, such as Our Lady’s status as Mediatrix of All Graces and Co-Redemptrix, from the words of the Annunciation and the Visitation? And on top of that, the key to unlocking the mysteries of these two passages comes from the First Book of Samuel?

Mary: The Blessed Handmaid of the Lord

I start my case with two expressions found in the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel:

1.) At the Annunciation, Our Lady consents to the archangel Gabriel’s message with the following words (St. Luke 1:38):

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Douay-Rheims translation)

Here’s the Latin version from the Vulgate:

Ecce ancilla Domini: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.

Here’s the Greek:

Ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου· γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου.

The keyword we’ll focus on below is handmaid, ancilla, δούλη.

2.) At the Visitation, St. Elizabeth blesses Our Lady with the following words (St. Luke 1:42):

Blessed art thou among women . . .” (Douay-Rheims translation)

In Latin:

Benedicta tu in mulieribus . . .

In Greek:

Εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν

Here, the word we’ll focus on is blessed, benedicta, εὐλογημένη.

Abigail: Handmaid of David Her Lord

In St. Luke’s Gospel, Our Lady declares herself the handmaid of the Lord. Immediately thereafter, St. Elizabeth declares Our Lady to be blessed among women. There is a passage in the Old Testament where another woman declares herself “the handmaid of the lord” and then another person declares her “blessed.” It occurs in chapter 25 of the First Book of Samuel (which is called the First Book of Kings in the Vulgate/Douay-Rheims version). To understand what I am about to write, you need to stop here and go read that chapter.

In I Sam. 25, David and his band of warriors arrive at the house of Nabal, who inhabits a mountain in Judah named Carmel (this is not the more famous Mt. Carmel on the sea). At this time, David is fleeing the persecution of King Saul. He and his men defended the flocks of Nabal in the wilderness, so they expect recompense. Specifically, they expect Nabal to give them food.

Instead, Nabal refuses, and he treats David with contempt. He rhetorically asks, “Who is David? and what is the son of Isai [Jesse]?” (I Sam. 25:10).

David is furious, and vows to kill Nabal and all of the men of his household. Famously, he vows to kill “any that pisseth against the wall” (I Sam. 25:22). With all of Nabal’s household facing imminent death, one of the servants of Nabal approaches Nabal’s wife Abigail and pleads with her to do something. She responds by secretly preparing all of the food that David and his men need, thereby disobeying her husband.

Abigail then approaches David with the food. Here’s what she says:

[24] And she fell at his feet, and said: Upon me let this iniquity be, my lord: let thy handmaid speak, I beseech thee, in thy ears: and hear the words of thy servant. [25] Let not my lord the king, I pray, regard this naughty man Nabal: for according to his name [which means Fool], he is a fool, and folly is with him: but I thy handmaid did not see thy servants, my lord, whom thou sentest. [26] Now therefore, my lord, the Lord liveth, and thy soul liveth, who hath withholden thee from coming to blood, and hath saved thy hand to thee: and now let thy enemies be as Nabal, and all they that seek evil to my lord. [27] Wherefore receive this blessing, which thy handmaid hath brought to thee, my lord: and give it to the young men that follow thee, my lord. [28] Forgive the iniquity of thy handmaid: for the Lord will surely make for my lord a faithful house, because thou, my lord, fightest the battles of the Lord: let not evil therefore be found in thee all the days of thy life. [29] For if a man at any time shall rise, and persecute thee, and seek thy life, the soul of my lord shall be kept, as in the bundle of the living, with the Lord thy God: but the souls of thy enemies shall be whirled, as with the violence and whirling of a sling. [30] And when the Lord shall have done to thee, my lord, all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have made thee prince over Israel, [31] This shall not be an occasion of grief to thee, and a scruple of heart to my lord, that thou hast shed innocent blood, or hast revenged thyself: and when the Lord shall have done well by my lord, thou shalt remember thy handmaid.”

Note how often Abigail calls herself David’s handmaid and calls David her lord. In Latin, the term used here for handmaid is ancilla; in the Greek Septuagint, δούλη. It’s the same term that Our Lady uses to describe herself at the Annunciation.

Abigail: Blessed of the Lord

David responds graciously, and accepts her homage and the food as satisfaction for Nabal’s sin. He decides not to kill Nabal’s household after all. He also calls Abigail “blessed”:

“And blessed be thou, who hast kept me today, from coming to blood, and revenging me with my own hand” (I Sam. 25:33).

The Latin is, Benedicta tu. In the Greek Septuagint, David says εὐλογημένη σὺ, the same words that St. Elizabeth addresses to Our Lady at the Visitation.

Mary and Abigail: Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces, Holy Servitude

(Note: Due to constraints of time, I cannot write out the following conclusions with the degree of precision that I would wish. Therefore, I assume that you have read I Sam. 25 and prayed about it a bit.)

So, Abigail starts by declaring herself the “handmaid” of her lord (David), and in return her lord declares her blessed. This is the same sequence of events in St. Luke’s Gospel. We can conclude that Abigail is a type of Our Lady. If so, what does this typology reveal about Our Lady’s role in our salvation?

1.) That Our Lady plays a key role in our salvation. In his wrath against Nabal, David was going to kill all the men of Mt. Carmel. Abigail saved everyone by her intervention with King David.

Our Lord is the Son of David. At our particular judgments and the Final Judgment, He will be our just Judge. Through the intervention and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary–the blessed “handmaid of the Lord”–we sinners are saved.

Abigail alone among those on Mt. Carmel was able to defy Nabal and provide David the food that he and his men needed. Our Lady alone out of the entire human race was able to provide Our Lord her perfect fiat, which allowed Him to become incarnate and dwell among us and save us.

2.) That Our Lady liberates us from sin. One of Nabal’s servants calls him a “son of Belial,” i.e. the Devil. Nabal is the type of sin. David initially sent ten messengers to Nabal to request food from him. These ten messengers represent the prophets whom God sent to Israel to prepare for His Coming. They also represent the Ten Commandments, which Nabal rejects.

Unlike the servants, Abigail was not under Nabal’s sway. She freely rejected him and served David. After Abigail feeds David and his men, she waits until Nabal is thoroughly sated from his feasting. Then she announces what she has done. Stunned, he suffers a stroke and dies ten days later–again, the number ten signifies the Ten Commandments. In defeating Nabal and delivering her people, Abigail is like Judith and Holofernes, or Esther and Haman, or Jael and Sisera.

Like Abigail slaying the “son of Belial,” Our Lady crushes the Devil under her foot. Being immaculately conceived, she is free from Original Sin, free from the fault of the Old Adam. That is how she is able to liberate the human race (represented by the people of Mt. Carmel) through her Annunciation and Visitation and the totality of her life in Christ and for the Church.

3.) That at the Annunciation, Our Lady ushered in the Reign of Christ. The affair at Mt. Carmel comes while David is still fleeing from Saul. When Abigail pleads with David, she describes the sort of reign that he should have–one of mercy and justice, not of wrath. Abigail gives sustenance to David and his men.

Our Lady gives Our Lord His Body and Blood. He initiates His Kingdom at the Annunciation, when He assumes human nature through the service of His handmaid.

4.) That Our Lady is the Co-Redemptrix of the human race. Though personally innocent, Abigail tells David to treat her alone as guilty. To expiate for the sin of Nabal that has consigned his household to death, she offers the food to David.

Our Lady is also free from sin, but offers her suffering in union with Christ’s Passion as satisfaction for our sins. David alone saves; he alone has the power to kill or to spare. Of her own, Abigail can do nothing. But David hears the plea of Abigail and accepts her service as “handmaid,” deciding to spare Nabal’s house. Likewise, Our Lord alone merits our salvation in strict justice, but He communicates this grace to us through the merit of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

5.) That Our Lady is Mediatrix of All Graces. The servant of Nabal did not defy his master directly. Rather, he turned to Abigail, the mistress of the house. It was her intercession with David that saved the people on Mt. Carmel.

Our Lady is our Mediatrix, intervening with God on our behalf. The grace of the Gospel comes to us through Our Lady’s fiat, first at the Annunciation, later at Calvary, and now in Heaven where she pleads for us.

6.) That Our Lady is the New Eve. Abigail became the mother of the living–everyone on Mt. Carmel was alive on account of her. Likewise, we live the life of grace through Our Lady’s fiat at the Annunciation. Considered in this way, Nabal represents Original Sin, inherited from Adam. Abigail was free from Nabal’s sin, just as our Lady, the New Eve, was preserved from the sin of the Old Adam and Eve.

7.) That to be saved, we must practice holy servitude to Our Lady. The household of Nabal was spared because they did as Abigail ordered, helping her prepare the food for David and his men. They found favor and life with King David by participating in Abigail’s fiat. To be saved in the New Covenant, we must also follow Our Lady’s direction to find favor with Our Lord.

8.) That Our Lady is the Messianic Queen. After Nabal’s death, David married Abigail. By making herself “David’s handmaid,” Abigail became one of his royal wives. Likewise, by becoming “the handmaid of the Lord,” Our Lady became the Queen of the Messianic Kingdom.

All of this “high Mariology” is implicit in St. Luke’s narrative of the Annunciation and Visitation, with its evocative expressions ancilla Domini and benedicta tu. The story of Abigail provides the necessary context for understanding Our Lady’s unique role in communicating the life of divine grace from Christ to His People.

P.S. St. Alphonsus in his Glories of Mary cites Abigail as type of Mary. See also this Marian devotional book.

 

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