Who was Abishag in the Bible?


By BibleAsk Team


Abishag was a young Shunammite woman, who served as King David’s caretaker and attendant (1 Kings 1 & 2). When David reached the age of seventy (2 Samuel 5:4), he was physically weak and sick. His servants “put covers on him, but he could not get warm” (1 Kings 1:1). 

Therefore, the king’s royal attendants, Josephus terms them “physicians” (Antiquities vii. 14. 3), proposed a remedy of seeking a healthy young woman to impart warmth to the king’s enfeebled body. This remedy was practiced in ancient times when medical knowledge was limited. Similar remedies can be seen in medieval Europe and the modern East. 

Abishag was selected and brought to the king’s palace to assist as a nurse and provide warmth for the ailing monarch. This young woman was a “very beautiful” virgin (1 Kings 1:40). Abishag was considered part of the king’s harem, but the king had no physical or intimate relationship with her. 

What does the name Abishag mean?

The name Abishag is of Hebrew origin and is derived from the combination of two elements: “Abi,” meaning “father,” and “shag,” which is often interpreted as “to err” or “to wander.” However, in the context of names, it is typically understood more positively. The name Abishag is traditionally interpreted to mean “my father is a wanderer” or “my father strays,” but it is more commonly rendered as “father of error” or “father of wandering.”

Adonijah’s Treason  

The story of Abishag involves also one of the king’s sons by the name of Adonijah. In addition to the king’s bodily afflictions, there was the rebellion of this son. Adonijah was the fourth son of David (2 Samuel 3:4; 1 Chronicles 3:2). His mother was Haggith (2 Samuel 3:4).  

When David’s elder sons, Amnon and Absalom passed away, and probably Chileab, Adonijah was next in line for the throne. So, he determined to take the needed steps to make himself a king without King David’s consent, against the divine plan (1 Chronicles 22:5–9). David wanted the younger brother Solomon to be king because he was better qualified than Adonijah to serve as a ruler of Israel. 

With the support of the commander in chief, Joab, Adonijah planned to set himself king. On a set date, the rebellious prince threw a great party and announced himself king. Immediately, the prophet Nathan informed Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, that Adonijah is setting himself as king (1 Kings 1:9-11). She in turn told King David of the wicked plan.  

So, King David, asked the priests to, “anoint Solomon king over Israel” (1 kings 1:32-34) and they did. When Adonijah heard that King David appointed Solomon king in his place, he was afraid that Solomon would kill him. So, he went and took hold of the horns of the altar as refuge. And he said to the king’s servants, let King Solomon swear to me that he would not put me to death. So, Solomon pardoned him (1 kings 1:50-53). 

Solomon offered mercy and pardon to his brother yet making it clear that forgiveness had been granted only upon condition of faithfulness to the king. If Adonijah proved himself a good man, living peacefully as a noble citizen and yielding to the new king, he would be unharmed. 

Adonijah’s Request to Marry Abishag 

Unfortunately, the rebellious prince had evil intentions and continued his plans to seize the throne. For after King David’s death, he asked Bathsheba to ask Solomon that he may marry Abishag, David’s concubine (1 Kings 2:13–17). In the ancient Orient, the wives of a king were taken over by his successor. For Adonijah now to ask for Abishag was seen as asking for the throne itself. His request was equivalent to treason. 

The young man had a dangerous character, and his plans should be stopped. His plot was not only against the king but also against God, who had set Solomon upon the throne after his father David. The previous conspiracy had been forgiven, but this new attempt against God’s plan could not be ignored. So, Solomon acted wisely and ordered his death (1 Kings 2:23–25). 

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