Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Solomon, and the strange tale of Abishag

It has been said that under King David, Israel enjoyed her Golden Age. And under Solomon, the gold began to tarnish. And after Solomon, the kingdom turned to rust.

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:

  1. The leader of the failed coup Adonijah goes to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, the new king.
  2. 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.
  3. Bathsheba takes the request to Solomon.
  4. Solomon responds, saying in effect: why not just ask me to make him king?
  5. Instead of granting the request, he has Adonijah executed!
Again, to us this probably seems excessive. Why not just throw the man a bone? (Not to disparage Abishag but—like I said before, this was a man’s world.) There seems to be no harm. If a beautiful wife will keep him occupied, out of mischief, and maybe a bit grateful, it’s a win-win.

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)…


  1. Anonymous11:17 PM

    Old age brings impotence. At the time any reasons for a disaster or even simply the whimsical request for divination would be sought out by priestesses of Anath using heiros gamos. At some point in the Kingship of David, he could no longer perform, which was a bad omen in Judea, David could have kept trying (which he seems to have done) or he could abdicate the throne to someone who could (Solomon)so that the kingdom wouldn't be in trouble.
    Even though the king was still alive, the people agreed that he needed to be replaced by someone who could perform the duty of heiros gamos. Adonijah asks Solomon for the priestess David could not perform with so that he could essentially wipe away Solomons coronation as the desperate attempts of an impotent king to wipe away the failure. Adonijah probably had the priestess' permission. Bathsheba, another priestess of Anath, had her corner more than her sons, but Solomon trumps her; claiming divine right from Isac (who, like gilgamesh was a semi-divine child of Sarah, a priestess who was not supposed to have children) which essentially makes Bathsheba's divination that Adonijah should try for the throne (If adonija could perform heiros gamos perfectly, he would, in the eyes of the priestess' be chosen by Yahweh to be the new king and David was wrong- this is a big if, and Bathsheba probably assumed he would fail, because she had faith that her son was the appointed divine king) Solomon, however, refused to play games. This story ends the JAWIST or original story, at least to Richard Eliot Friedman who wrote several interesting books on the actual authorship of the bible. It continues the entire JAWIST author's theme that God is pushing man to acquire his own independence and make choices for himself as a people. Solomon, the king of wisdom, exemplifies this reliance from god and devotion to god by not playing the stupid games of his usurper brother. Yahweh already declared him king, the prophet Nathan declared him king, and like Isacc, he too was born of a priestess who was not supposed to have children, was of divine origin unlike his brother.

  2. Anonymous12:27 PM

    pretty cool stuff here thank you!!!!!!!

  3. Antwan9:56 AM

    I just finished reading 1 Kings 2 and I was bit confused...this expose cleared things up for me...thanks.

  4. Anonymous12:25 AM

    Just bring about this forum via google. Joyful to join you. I came here to learn your language . thanks all.

  5. I think you're looking at it the wrong way, yes, adonijah wanted to have the kingship, but what he probably wanted with the girl is to have her seduced by either queenship or gold to recant or to keep silent in the ritual where david talked to nathan and made solomon his succesor, remember that nathan nor bathsheba nor solomon were included in the feast in which adonijah claimed himself king after sacrificing thousands of sheep along his captains and generals, so they(nathan,bathsheba,solomon) could have easily been put down, but with abishag's testimony who has in charge of caretaking DAVID they had a leg to stand on so to speak, because she was in the INTEREST of the King not family members.

  6. Agree with you; don't agree with academic readings of the old testament that treat the bible as mythology to be compared to the cosmic mountains of other ancient religions and try to peal away supernatural occurrences as if they are metaphorical and non-literal!

  7. I appreciate your reasonable approach, this passage now makes more sense. It also encouraged me to dive into other passages that I need enlightenment on. Thank you!

  8. Song of Solomon 6:13 states that his lover is a Shulammite. 1:9's comparison to Pharaoh's daughter indicates that part of the purpose of the book is to reassure her that even he has many wives and concubines, and even though they meet in secret, he considers her special, his favorite.

    Solomon, unlike his brother Absalom, was not willing to disgrace his father's name in the eyes of Israel. Absalom had slept with David's 10 concubines in the sight of everyone - in a tent on a roof! 2 Samuel 16:22

    Solomon at least tried not to sleep with her. Song of Solomon 5:6. She wishes they could be affectionate in public 8:1, but she is able to have peace despite being their little secret 8:10.

    Bathsheba might have been jealous in 1 Kings 1:15.
    I think that it pleased Bathsheba to have Abishag spoken for, since she must have discerned that her own son Solomon liked her.

  9. What I want to know is did it not bother Bathsheba having another woman in bed with her husband?

  10. What in the world are you talking about? Where do you find the Anath priestess information? I have NEVER heard that.