(1 Kings 1:1-4) Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat. So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.
This is a very tender and beautiful love story. But not the kind of love story that you would normally think of. For as you can see from verse four there were no sexual relations involved.
Let's take a look at the role this young girl played in the life of perhaps the greatest human king that ever lived.
When reading this passage I had often wondered why it was necessary to bring in Abishag to fulfill the role that she was asked to fulfill. The obvious answer lies in the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter four and verse eleven, "Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?" This was the very situation David was facing at the time. He was very old, a little infirmed, and was having a difficult time keeping warm as he was approaching the end of his life.
So his servants very wisely recommended to him that he have his very own "arm-strong heater." This made good sense. David's servants were very wise. It is obvious they loved him very much and wanted to make him as comfortable as they could. Perhaps they were even around, and were the inspiration for this verse, when Solomon became king and he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes.
David needed someone who could climb in bed with him and give him the body heat he needed to stay warm and keep him from getting any sicker. But the question still remains, why Abishag?
David had many wives. He had many good wives. The most famous perhaps and the one usually associated with David was Bathsheba. Why didn't she come to mind? Why wasn't she recommended by the servants? Why didn't she qualify? In just a few verses from our text we will see her visit David and bring him news that Adonijah has declared himself king while David is still living. We know that David loved Bathsheba. He had her husband murdered in order to have her for himself. Why didn't she fit this position?
One of the most virtuous wives that David had was Abigail. Who can forget how she took the blame for her husband Nabal's transgression, upon herself, in order to spare his life, and prevent David and his men from was shedding blood. David was so impressed with her virtue that when Nabal died he took her for his wife. When Abigail was taken captive by the Amalekites David went after her and rescued her. David loved Abigail. Yet even she was not worthy to fill the position.
David had many other wives that are named in the Bible and probably many concubines. What was wrong with them? David's own daughter, Tamar, was a beautiful woman. Just what were David's servants looking for?
Let's stop for a minute in our search for an answer and consider who David was. At this time he was the king of all Israel. While God speaks highly of several other men (Abraham, Moses, Daniel) God Himself said of David that he was a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). This is not said of any other person in the Bible. More importantly for this story, David is a type of Christ.
David represents the King of Kings. Therefore, not just any woman would do for this king. She had to be pure and undefiled and, as a virgin, Abishag was. I believe, she represents a type of sacrifice - a pure, unspotted lamb without blemish.
This woman had to be pure and undefiled. Bathsheba, Abigail, David's other wives and concubines, even Tamar his daughter, were all defiled. They were no longer pure and could not be used for this position. Abishag was a virgin. I believe she is a type of offering or sacrifice fit for a king. "And if he bring a lamb for a sin offering, he shall bring it a female without blemish." (Leviticus 4:32)
All the other women mentioned in David's life were defiled - they were no longer pure. They would break the type and could not be used.
The Bible tells us three things about Abishag.
Abishag was beautiful
This represents what kind of sacrifice we are to give to our King, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In recognition of His birth the wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. These were not only symbolic but the best they had to offer. Likewise, when we are invited to a birthday celebration we do not go into the attic, basement or garage and pull something old, rusty, tarnished or marred in any way out of an old box on a shelf. We try to bring something useful and new, shiny and in perfect condition. We are showing our respect.
As children of the King we shouldn't give God our old, rusty, tarnished or marred sacrifices. As King of our life He deserves the best that we can give Him. Not second best. Not second rate. Not second class.
We don't pray all day because we are too busy and then at bedtime fall asleep on our knees. We forget to read our Bibles every day but sit in front of the TV for hours each evening. We leave church early to get to the flea market, the stadium or the restaurant before the crowds. We read through the Sunday school lesson we are going to teach in the morning late on Saturday night because we didn't have the time during the week to prepare. Do I have to continue? By the way, that annoying voice inside your head is the Holy Spirit convicting you. (Maybe you should take a moment and get things right with God while He is dealing with your heart.)
Too many times we give God the leftovers. Yet He gave us His best, His only begotten Son. God thinks more highly of us than we think of God. That should make us fall on our knees and seek His forgiveness.
Abishag was the best that could be given to David. She was pure and undefiled and beautiful and a gift fit for a king.
Abishag cherished David
She lay in his bosom and she wrapped herself around his body but did not have sex with him. Some think that David was too old at this point to be interested in sex or to do anything anyway. A young girl lying next to an old man, close enough to give him her body heat, and for him to feel her form against his body, will excite the sleeping passions in any man, no matter his age or his physical state. Just ask one.
But that is not what she was there for. She was not called upon to become one of his wives or concubines. She was there to take care of David and to see that he was given the proper respect he was due as king up until the final moments of his life. That may have meant feeding him, washing him, soothing any physical pain he had and keeping him warm because he was too weak to do it himself.
Cherish has two meanings that apply to our text:
- To treat with tenderness and affection; to give warmth, ease or comfort to.
- To treat in a manner to encourage growth, by protection, aid, attendance, or supplying nourishment. (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster 1828)
This is what Abishag did for David. She did not love him physically but she was tender with him as he was very old and sickly. She gave him warmth. She eased his last days and provided comfort for his dying body. She also protected him and gave him physical nourishment. There was nothing wicked or shameful in what she did.
NB: You will not find the word cherish used in any other version but the King James. How would you know what Abishag did for the king without the proper word to describe it? Think about that.
Abishag ministered to David
Again let's go to the dictionary for our definition of minister.
- To attend and serve.
- To afford supplies; to give things needful; to supply the means of relief; to relieve.
- To give medicines.
Once again we see Abishag performing a much needed service for David. She waited on him and she served him. If he needed his pillows fluffed, she did it. If he needed the drapes drawn or opened, she did it. If he was receiving visitors and he needed to prop himself up in bed so he could talk to them, she helped him. When he needed his medicine, she gave it to him. She brought his slippers to him and wrapped blankets around him when he wanted to get up and stretch his legs. She was his servant and she ministered to him.
That is what we as Christians are called to do. We are to be ministers for Christ. Not just in words but also in actions. We are to minister to our Lord by serving Him and by serving others. Those who are in nursing home ministries are ministering to the elderly. Those who are in hospital visitation programs are ministering to the sick and dying. Those who are in prison work are ministering to the forgotten. Those who work with children are ministering to the largest mission field in the world. (Read "The Calling")
Abishag's ministering to David is an example to us. If you re-read our text you will see that Abishag did not apply for this position. She was sought for. We are not told of her qualifications for the position other than the fact that she had to be a virgin. I believe Abishag is a type of the Church mentioned in Ephesians 5:27, "That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." This is why she had to be a virgin.
As Christians we have been washed in the precious blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Someday we will be presented to Him as part of His bride, not having spot or wrinkle. There is a crown waiting for those who look forward to His appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8). In the meantime we are to serve Him while we are here on this earth (Luke 19:13). Are you, like Abishag, doing your part in cherishing and ministering to the King of Kings?