Simply put, a Calebite in the Bible is a descendant of Caleb, the son of Jephunneh. Being a Calebite would have made one a member of the tribe of Judah (see Numbers 13:6).
Caleb was a brave and godly man whose great faith in God caused him, along with Joshua, to encourage the fainthearted Israelites to take possession of the land of Canaan. Caleb and Joshua stood alone against a multitude of opposing voices to claim what God had promised them all (Numbers 13–14).
Despite the great legacy that Caleb left his descendants, the term Calebite is used only once in the Bible, and it is applied to a person of less-than-savory character. Nabal was the husband of Abigail. His name means “fool,” and, according to 1 Samuel 25:3, he was a Calebite; that is, Nabal was of the house and lineage of Caleb. Because the Hebrew word translated “Caleb” also means “dog,” the Septuagint translated Nabal’s description as “he was a doggish man.” That particular portrayal would agree with the rest of verse 3, which says Nabal was “surly and mean.” Nabal acted much like a bad-tempered dog, and his selfish words in 1 Samuel 25:10–11 prove the point. One of Nabal’s servants gives this testimony of him: “He is such a wicked man that no one can speak to him” (verse 17).
The story of Nabal the Calebite and his dealings with David is a sad one. David and his men were on the run from King Saul. They had been kind to Nabal’s servants in the desert, and David (who was also from the tribe of Judah) requested that Nabal return the favor by giving them some food and other provisions (1 Samuel 25:7–8). Although Nabal was a rich man and had plenty to give, he refused David’s request and showed him much disrespect. Angered by Nabal’s churlishness, David was about to seek vengeance upon Nabal by destroying him and all he owned (verses 13, 21–22). Thankfully, David was held back by Nabal’s wife, Abigail, who brought provisions and humbly presented them to David herself (verses 18–19, 23–31). Her timely action saved Nabal from disaster and David from an ungodly act. When Abigail told Nabal how close he had come to being killed by David for his wickedness, Nabal’s “heart failed him and he became like a stone” (verse 37). About ten days later, the Lord struck him, and he died (verse 38).
The fact that Nabal was a Calebite has lessons for us today. For one thing, godly parents or ancestors are no guarantee of godly offspring. If Nabal had exhibited the same faith and respect that Caleb was known for, his end would have been quite different. In addition, great wealth is not an indicator of good character or of God’s blessings. The Bible warns us of the corrupting influence of money (Proverbs 11:4, 28; Matthew 6:24; 1 Timothy 6:10).
Another lesson we learn from Nabal the Calebite is that the wickedness of one can bring disaster to all those around him. If not for Abigail’s intervention, David and his 400 men would have carried out vengeance against Nabal, destroying his whole household along with him (1 Samuel 25:12–13, 21–22, 34).
Finally, Nabal’s sad story teaches us that, in the end, it is God who deals with the wicked. Vengeance is His, not ours. Abigail’s godly intervention saved David from having on his conscience “the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself” (1 Samuel 25:31). Responding in anger, as David was doing, is dishonoring to God, whose prerogative alone it is to repay evil. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).