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The Shnummite woman who became David’s hearth

King David died at the age of 70 in his 40th year on the throne. As he approached 70 years of age, no matter how much he wrapped himself in clothes and covered himself with blankets, he felt chilled instead of warm. In other words, his energy was almost gone. His servants suggested to him.

Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm.”

1 Kings 1:1~2

Apparently, David couldn’t resist.

His servants searched all over Israel for an attractive young maiden and found one in the Shunmmite region named Abishag. She was so beautiful that the men’s hearts melted at the sight of her. The servants wanted to be the first to embrace her, but they had to resist their desires in order to give her to the king.

The Shnummite woman Abishag was chosen as the means of David’s rejuvenation

Abishag never left the king’s side, tending to him as his strength declined. He rubbed David’s increasingly chilled arms and legs to keep the blood flowing throughout his body, but the king’s plan to restore his strength by placing a beautiful young maiden in his arms did not work.

To lie in the king’s arms meant to have relations with the king. Since ancient times, it has been said that if an old man has sex with a young woman, he will rejuvenate.

There are many stories of rejuvenation in this way in ancient Chinese texts. An old emperor had a relationship with a young woman and tried to restore the old emperor’s lack of energy with the energy of the young woman.

David’s subjects also used this practice to rejuvenate him so that they could retain their vested interests. But while David accepted Abishag’s favors, he never consummated the relationship. Perhaps he didn’t even have enough virility left to engage with a young woman. Or perhaps he thought it unseemly to borrow a virgin’s body to rejuvenate himself.

David’s children’s battle for kingship in his old age

While David was under Abishag’s care, a fierce struggle for kingship was raging among the princes. Amnon, David’s eldest son, had been killed by Absalom, and Absalom, who had led the rebellion, was dead, so the throne was now in the hands of Adonijah, the son of Haggai, the concubine. But Adonijah, sensing that Bathsheba had ambitions to place her son Solomon on the throne, rallied his followers and hastily proclaimed himself king while David was still alive.

When Bathsheba learned of this, she joined with the prophet Nathan to plead with David to put Solomon on the throne as soon as possible. When Bathsheba came to David about this, Abishak was with David as his servant. Bathsheba, who had committed adultery with David while her husband was still alive, must have felt sorry for David, who was now an old, wrinkled man.

When Solomon ascended the throne as David’s rightful heir, the weak Adonijah eventually surrendered to Solomon, barely escaping with his life. Adonijah makes a bold demand of Solomon upon David’s death, even though he would otherwise be forced to hide like a mouse.

Adonijah, whose excessive greed led to his death.

But rather than come directly to Solomon, Adonijah goes to Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, to make his demands.

13 Then Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon. And she said, “Do you come peacefully?” He said, “Peacefully.” 14 Then he said, “I have something to say to you.” She said, “Speak.” 15 He said, “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel fully expected me to reign. However, the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the Lord. 16 And now I have one request to make of you; do not refuse me.” She said to him, “Speak.” 17 And he said, “Please ask King Solomon-he will not refuse you-to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.” 18 Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak for you to the king.”

1 Kings 1:13~18

Adonijah’s one wish was to ask Solomon to give him Abishag the Shunammite, the woman who had served David, as his wife. Bathsheba promised to grant Adonijah’s wish, knowing that if she could appease Adonijah, her son Solomon would not go astray.

When Bathsheba went to Solomon and told him of Adonijah’s wish, Solomon became angry and said, “Why?”

22 King 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.”

1 Kings 2:22, NIV
David and the Shunammite Woman

Why do we think Solomon would have loved the Shunammite Woman also

Solomon, pushed to the point of insanity by Bathsheba, sends Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, to strike Adonijah dead on the spot. Adonijah would have been spared if he had remained silent, but he was killed trying to get his hands on Abishag, whom he had always coveted. Perhaps Solomon also had a desire to hold Abishak in his arms.

Analyzed in terms of René Girard’s “Triangle of Desire,” it is likely that Adonijah’s desire for Abishai led Solomon to desire Abishai, the object of Adonijah’s desire.

Also, from Solomon’s point of view, Adonijah’s desire for Abishag, his half-brother’s woman, may have been motivated by a desire to regain the throne. He was worried that Adonijah might plot against him, so he killed him for good measure.

When Solomon later sings of sensual love in the Song of Songs, a Sennemite woman appears, and it is theorized that she is Abishak.

Return, return, O Shulammite,
return, return, that we may look upon you.
Why should you look upon the Shulammite,
as upon a dance before two armies?

Song of Songs 6:13, NIV

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