As King David lay dying, his oldest surviving son Adonijah launches a coup to make himself the next king. In fact, he has himself declared king while David was still alive.
1When King David was old and well advanced in years, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him. 2So his servants said to him, "Let us look for a young virgin to attend the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm." 3Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful girl and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4The girl was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no intimate relations with her. 5 Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, "I will be king." So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. (1 Kings 1:1-5)Here we have the first mention of the beautiful virgin Abishag, who was charged with keeping the dying king warm. It was a man’s world indeed. Scripture tells us that David did not sleep with her. Why this information? Considering just this passage, you’d probably assume that the intent was to avoid impugning David’s (rehabilitated) good name. Even then, it seems a bit odd. But like many other occurrences in scripture, its purpose is found elsewhere. Hold that thought.
What is happening? Following in his brother Absalom’s footsteps, Adonijah tries to wrest the kingdom by connivance. In classic coup strategy, he begins to line up coconspirators, including Joab, David’s most trusted general (a mistake that would cost the brutal Joab his life.) This is a power struggle of the highest magnitude. David had already sworn an oath to his wife Bathsheba that her son, Solomon, would be king.
When David hears about the extent of the betrayal, he acts—successfully arranging for Solomon to be declared as king.
After Solomon is made king, Adonijah comes to Bathsheba (yes, that Bathsheba) and, after acknowledging that Solomon is king, asks Bathsheba (remember not his but his half-brother Solomon’s mother) to ask the new king to grant him this same Abishag as his wife. Bathsheba agrees and does ask Solomon:
19So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king's mother, and she sat on his right. 20Then she said, "I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me." And the king said to her, "Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you." 21She said, "Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah your brother as his wife." 22King Solomon answered his mother, "And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also, for he is my older brother, and on his side are Abiathar the priest and Joab the son of Zeruiah." 23Then King Solomon swore by the LORD, saying, "God do so to me and more also if this word does not cost Adonijah his life! 24Now therefore as the LORD lives, who has established me and placed me on the throne of David my father, and who has made me a house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this day." 25So King Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he struck him down, and he died. (1 Kings 2:19-25)The Old Testament is so interesting! To reiterate what transpired:
- The leader of the failed coup Adonijah goes to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, the new king.
- He requests just one favor: that Bathsheba ask her son the king to send Abishag, the young woman who had kept King David warm on his deathbed, to him to be his wife.
- Bathsheba takes the request to Solomon.
- Solomon responds, saying in effect: why not just ask me to make him king?
- Instead of granting the request, he has Adonijah executed!
Not so fast. What appears to be happening here is that Adonijah is still a force to be reckoned with. The kingdom is Solomon’s but at this moment his grip upon it is tenuous. In some strange eastern political calculus that I cannot fully appreciate, having the hand of Abishag, the woman who had comforted the beloved King David, would, Solomon feared, give Adonijah just the boost in credibility and extra political capital that he needed to still pull off his stalled coup. It may have caused a few more officers to defect.
Solomon understood Adonijah’s plan. But here is the kicker: Adonijah’s plan was only feasible in the first place because Abishag did not sleep with the king. If she had, it would have been illegal for Adonijah to request her hand—so his failed plan could never have been launched. Maybe he would have tried something else—perhaps something with a better chance of success. God’s sovereign plan is surely a thing of beauty.
Anyway—I believe that is why we were told that detail way back in 1 Kings 1:4.
An unanswered question is why Bathsheba brought the request to Solomon. Here we can only speculate that she knew that the request in and of itself was useful intelligence for Solomon. It told him, as his response verifies, that Adonijah still had designs on the throne. In this case Bathsheba played the part of a dutiful member of the court and matriarch of the royal family. Solomon, I bring you a request from your half-brother (wink, wink, nod, nod)…