King David in old age was stricken and would not get warm in bed. Even though his servants covered him with clothes and other needs, this did not work. His ‘physicians’ proposed to bring a young virgin to lie in bed with David, so to get him warm again.
King David is 70 years old at the time, the girl they bring over is Abishag. It is said that Abishag became a wife, others say she was a concubine. The predominant view among Christian scholars is that she got married to King David and became a wife.
One of the reasons Abishag was brought to David was to cater for all his needs, be that food, washing him, cleaning the house, or his sexual needs, the latter was the main reason.
God describes David as someone who was after HIS “heart”:
“After removing Saul, he made DAVID THEIR KING. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man AFTER MY OWN HEART; he will do everything I want him to do.‘” – Acts 13:22
King David is a Prophet according to the New Testament:
“…29 Brothers, I can tell you with confidence that the PATRIARCH DAVID died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 HE WAS A PROPHET and knew that God had promised him on oath that He would place one of his descendants on his throne.” Acts 2:29-30
According to the New Testament, he was an ancestor of Jesus: Matthew 1:1-17, Mark 10:46-48, Luke 3:23-38, Romans 1:1-4, 2 Timothy 2:8, and Revelation 22:16.
One of the strange things in this story for a modern reader is how Prophet David being 70 years old, married 12-year-old Abishag. The Hebrew word used to describe Abishag’s age is “Na’arah” (נַעֲרָה). This word according to classical ancient Rabbis refers to girls who are no older than 12 years old. Let’s read the text:
“1 Now when King David was old, and stricken in years, they covered him with clothes, but no heat came unto him.
2 Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a YOUNG (NA’ARAH) virgin, and let her stand before the king, and cherish him: and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the King may get heat.
3 So they sought for a fair YOUNG (NA’ARAH) maid throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found one Abishag a Shunammite, and BROUGHT HER TO THE KING.” – 1 Kings 1-3 (1599 Geneva Bible (GNV))
The Hebrew word ‘Na’arah in 1 Kings 1:2-3,
Let’s now look at what classical to contemporary scholars say on the Hebrew word ‘Na’arah’.
Professor Judith Romney Wegner:
“12. Mishnaic law, ‘adult daughter’ (bogeret) means one who has reached the age of twelve-and-a-half years and a day. Between the AGES OF TWELVE AND TWELVE-AND-A-HALF she is a ‘maiden’ (NA’ARAH), liable to keep precepts of Torah but not yet emancipated. Unless married off by her father during this six-month period (as normally happens), she will acquire full autonomy at the end of it.” (Jewish Women in Historical Perspective [Second edition: Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1998] by Judith Romney Wegner, page 95)
Anglican Priest Herbert Danby:
“1. Cf. Arak. 3:4.
2.Cf. B. K. 8:1.
3. The fifty shekels enjoined in Deut. 22:29.
4. Less than twelve years old.
5. Her father may sell her as a slave.
6. By her violator or seducer.
7. Heb. NAARAH, AGED TWELVE TO TWELVE AND A HALF.
8. Heb. Bogereth, more than twelve and a half.” (The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes [Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 2011] by Herbert Danby, page 249)
André LaCocque who is a Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Chicago Theological Seminary states ‘Na’arah’ designates a girl who cannot “conceive” i.e., pre-pubescent:
“…bethulah, NA’ARAH, and almah. It designates a virgin, but also a girl UNABLE TO CONCEIVE ALTHOUGH MARRIED because she is not yet pubescent. In m. Nid. 1:4, the question is raised, ‘Who is the virgin? Any girl who never in her life saw a drop of [menstrual] blood, even though she is married.’ In t. Nid. 1:6, ‘Who is a virgin? Any girl who never in her life, and even if she is married and had children, I call a virgin, until she will see the first drop [of menstrual blood]. It comes out that they did not refer [in the Mishnah] to virgin in respect to the tokens of virginity but a virgin in respect to menstrual blood’ (cf. y. Nid. 1:3, 49a; b. Nid. 8b). …” (Jesus the Central Jew: His Times and His People [SBL Press, Atlanta, 2015] by Andre LaCocque page 187)
Mary F. Foskett Wake Forest Kahle Professor of Religion, her studies are the New Testament, she says the word ‘Na’arah’ refers to someone who is twelve and a half years old:
“Prescriptions concerning bride-price reveal that virgin females were afforded a higher value than females who were presumed to be sexually experienced. They also provide us with a glimpse of how the Mishnah often understands the place of minor daughters. According to M. Nid. 5/7 and M. Qid. 2.1, a father can claim the fruit of his minor daughter’s labor, annul her vows, and arrange her marriage.
Upon reaching the age of twelve and one-half, however, a daughter no longer remains subject to her father’s dominion (M. Nid. 5.7). She either passes the jurisdiction of her betrothed (or spouse) gains legal autonomy. Given the norm of marriage that permeates the Mishnah, the latter case was likely expected to remain in the minority. Ideally, minor daughters were both constrained by patriarchal authority and attributed sexual and reproductive power. As Wegner observes,
‘the young girl possesses one salient characteristic: she is a sexual chattel. Nearly all references to the girl-child under twelve (qetannah) or THE PUBESCENT GIRL BETWEEN TWELVE AND TWELVE AND ONE-HALF YEARS (NAARAH) – unlike references to minor sons- speak directly or indirectly of her sexuality, with particular emphasis on her virginity.’” (A Virgin Conceived: Mary and Classical Representations of Virginity [Indian University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 2002] by Mary F. Foskett page 48)
Cornelia B. Horn Professor of early Christianity, and John W. Martens professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota:
“The dividing line for the marriage of girls becomes clearer in m. Yebamoth 6:10. That passage states that a High Priest was not to marry a bogeret (a girl who had reached the age of maturity), but only one younger than that. The bogeret, defined by commentators as a girl of twelve and a half years of age, was set apart in m. Ketuboth 3:8 from the Katanah (less than twelve years and a day) and the na’arah (a girl twelve years and a day). M. Niddah 5:7 schematizes the stages of a girl’s life in much the same manner. The stages of childhood are compared to three stages of the ripening process of a fig. The Mishnah distinguishes between an undeveloped fig, corresponding to the yaldut, the period from three to twelve years; a ripening fig, which indicates THE NA’ARAH, WHO IS NO OLDER THAN TWELVE YEARS AND A DAY; and the ripe fig, representing the bogeret, who is no older than twelve and a half years. These ages are clearly associated with physical sexual maturity, and the concern over what constitutes a ‘pure’ marriage for different groups in Judaism, principally along the line of division between priest or Levite and layman.” (“Let the Children Come To Me”, Childhood and Children in Early Christianity [The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 2009] by Cornelia B. Horn and John W. Martens, page 11)
Rabbi Dr. Judith Z. Abrams:
“3. You will also need to know the stages a girl goes through in terms of her legal identity in the sages’ system. From birth to twelve years, she I called a ketanah, a minor, and cannot take legal action for herself (neither can a boy, for that matter). FROM TWELVE TO TWELVE-AND-A-HALF SHE IS CONSIDERED A NA’ARAH, A YOUNG GIRL, AND HER FATHER MAINTAINS SOME AUTHORITY OVER HER. From twelve-and-a-half on, she is called a bogeret, an adult woman, and her father can no longer make decisions on her behalf.” (Learn Talmud: How to Use the Talmud–the Steinsaltz Edition [A Jason Aronson Book, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, INC. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Toronto, Oxford, 2005] by Judith Z. Abrams, page 123)
Professor Rachel Adler:
“During this period, all marriages of young girls were arranged by a father or a guardian. Our Mishnah applies to girls in the category of qetanah, a minor under the age of twelve, or in the CATEGORY OF NA’ARAH, BETWEEN TWELVE AND TWELVE-AND-A-HALF YEARS, WHEN THEY ARE PRESUMED TO BE ENTERING puberty. This period seems to have been when most girls were married. A young woman over twelve-and-a-half, a bogeret, had to consent to the marriage and herself received the espousal money and the monetary settelement in her Ketubah in the event of divorce or the husband’s death. Because a qetana or a na’arah would, most likely, have returned to her father’s house, he received the Ketubah money. If married as a qetana or na’arah, but adult at the time of divorce or the husband’s death, she received the sum herself.” (Islamic and Jewish Legal Reasoning: Encountering Our Legal Other [edited by Anver Emon, 2016] by Rachel Adler, page 40)
Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin:
“The Talmud (Yoma 2a) notes that the Kohen gadol would take a new wife before beginning the Yom Kippur service so that he might fulfill the obligation of achieving atonement for his household. Rav Yaakov Meir Biderman, son-in-law of the Sfas Emes, poses the following question. One one hand, we find (Yevamos 59a) an opinion that maintains that the Kohen gadol could marry only a NA’ARAH [A GIRL BETWEEN THE AGES OF TWELVE AND TWELVE AND A HALF]. On the other hand, we find (Shabbos 89b) that a girl under the age of twenty is not considered to punishable. How was it possible for the Kohen gadol to atone for someone who was not culpable.” (Talelei Oros: The Parashah Anthology – Vayikra / Leviticus, selected and compiled by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin [Adapted into English by Rabbi David Landesman, 1997], page 178)
A girl between the ages of twelve years and one day and twelve and a half years plus one day.” (The Gospel of the Nazirenes [B’nai Ysrael Ha’Derech, Netzari Faith, 2015] by Rav Yaakov Bar Yosef page 226)
With the foregoing in perspective, we get a clear picture that the young girl who was married to 70-year-old King David, was no older than 12 years and a half.
At the time of the marriage to Abishag, he was 70-years-old. David was 30 years old when he became a King, and he reigned for forty years. This incident happened towards the end of his life as the Christian scholars will clarify further down::
“David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years.” – 2 Samuel 5:4 (New American Standard Bible (NASB))
The scholars clarified that those girls who were a “Na’arah’ most probably did not hit puberty i.e., they were pre-pubescent. This does have support from the Bible. For example, Rebecca at the time of her marriage was called a ‘Na’arah and all ancient Rabbis deduced that she was no older than 8-years old when she was married off to 40-year-old Isaac: “Bible: Child Marriage in Ancient Israelite Times“. Furthermore, pre-pubescent marriages were accepted and lawful during when Moses was alive, as his soldiers (we are told) married them: “A Detailed Historical Examination Of Numbers 31:18“.
So what reason was there for the 12-year-old Abishag being with Prophet David? As mentioned briefly earlier, according to Christian exegesis she became a wife (or concubine).
One of the needs was to keep King David warm and for her to “lie in thy bosom”, his sexual needs be met:
“1 Now when King David was old, and stricken in years, they covered him with clothes, but no heat came unto him.
2 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 CHERISH HIM: AND LET HER LIE IN THY BOSOM, that my lord the King may get heat.
3 So they sought for a fair young maid throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found one Abishag [d]a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.” – 1 Kings 1-3 (1599 Geneva Bible (GNV))
The commentators in regards to this state that she was brought to Prophet David to cater for all his needs, including his sexual needs. To “lie” in bed with Prophet David was to become a wife (or concubine as some commentaries say).
The Pulpit Commentaries:
“Wherefore [Heb. and] his servants [according to Josephus (Antiq. 7.14, 3), his physicians] said unto him, Let there be sought [lit. as marg; “let them seek”] for my lord the king [the singular pronoun is used as representing the servant who was spokesman for the rest] a young virgin [marg; “a damsel, a virgin.” She must be young, to impart heat, and a virgin, as befitted a king. Though she was recommended as a nurse, they would NATURALLY SUPPOSE SHE MIGHT BE TAKEN AS A CONCUBINE] and let her stand before the king [i.e; as servant (Verse 4). Cf. 1 Kings 12:6, 1 Kings 12:8; Genesis 41:46; Daniel 1:5; Deuteronomy 1:38 (with Joshua 1:1) 1 Kings 10:8. In the East, servants still STAND AND WAIT THEIR MASTERS’ PLEASURE. Cf. 2 Kings 5:25], AND LET HER CHERISH HIM [So also the LXX; καὶ ἔσται αὐτὸν θάλπουσα. But Gesenius, al, “BE A COMPANION TO HIM”] AND LET HER LIE IN THY [OR “HIS,” LXX. ΑΥΤΟΥ͂, VULG. SUE] BOSOM [the expression is generally, but not invariably (see 1 Kings 3:20; Ruth 4:16) used de complexu venereo] that my lord the KING MAY GET HEAT. [THIS CLOSE EMBRACE OF YOUTH WAS AN OBVIOUS WAY OF IMPARTING ANIMAL HEAT TO AGE (“Color a corpore juvenili ac sane maxime prodest senibus.” Grotius), and was the more favoured because other and internal remedies were not then known. …” (The Pulpit Commentaries on 1 Kings 1:2 – online source)
Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible:
“ABISHAG WAS MARRIED TO DAVID BEFORE SHE LAY WITH HIM, AND WAS HIS SECONDARY WIFE, appears from its being imputed as a great crime to Adonijah that he desired to marry her (1 Kings 2:22) after his father’s death.” (Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible on 1 Kings 1:1 – online source)
Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments:
“… 1 Kings 1:2. Wherefore his servants — His physicians; said, Let there be sought for the king a young virgin — Whose natural heat is fresh and wholesome, and not impaired with bearing or breeding children. The same counsel is given by Galen for the cure of some cold and dry distempers. Let her stand before the king — That is, minister unto him, or wait upon him in his sickness, as occasion requires. AND LET HER LIE IN HIS BOSOM — AS HIS WIFE; for that she was so, may appear by divers arguments. 1st, Otherwise this had been a wicked course; which, therefore, neither his servants would have dared to prescribe, nor would David have used, especially being now in a dying condition. 2d, It appears from this phrase of LYING IN HIS BOSOM, WHICH IS EVERYWHERE IN SCRIPTURE MENTIONED AS THE PRIVILEGE OF A WIFE…” (Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments on 1 Kings 1:1-2 – online source)
Whedon’s Commentary on the Bible:
“1. David was old — As he was thirty years old when he began to reign, and reigned forty years, (2 Samuel 5:4,) he MUST NOW HAVE BEEN IN HIS SEVENTIETH YEAR.
Stricken in years — Literally, as the margin, entered into days; far gone in days, having reached an advanced period of life. …
DAVID’S OLD AGE, 1 Kings 1:1-4. …
2. His servants — Josephus calls them his physicians.
Let her cherish him — Literally, let her be to him a female nurse. IT WAS ONE PART OF HER SERVICE TO ATTEND TO HIS PRIVATE WANTS, to perform the various little items of nursing expected of a familiar attendant. All this is comprehended in the word סכנת, a female attendant. ANOTHER PART OF HER SERVICE WAS TO LIE IN THE KING’S BOSOM, THAT IS, SLEEP WITH HIM, and THUS COMMUNICATE TO HIM ANIMAL HEAT AND VIGOUR. This method of recruiting the wasted vigour of age is natural and well known; but while it benefits the old, it must needs take away from the strength of the young. The too common practice of young persons sleeping with aged aunts, uncles, or grandparents is the ruin of many a naturally vigorous and healthy constitution.
3. Abishag a Shunammite — So called from her native city Shunem, in the tribe of Issachar, the modern Solam, at the base of the Little Hermon. See on Joshua 19:18. A needless controversy has been raised as to whether Abishag really became the acknowledged wife or concubine of David. In what respects she served the king is here precisely told, and all beyond this is fruitless speculation. The fact, however, that she slept in the king’s bosom placed her virtually in the position of a concubine, so that Adonijah’s subsequent effort to obtain her as his wife was construed by Solomon into an attempt to invade the royal harem, and thus establish a claim to the throne. …” (Whedon’s Commentary on the Bible on 1 Kings 1:1-3 – online source)
John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible:
Wherefore his servants said unto him,…. His physicians; so Joseph’s physicians are called his servants, Genesis 50:2;
let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin; not only a young woman, but a virgin, that has more natural heat than women that have bore children have, which is abated thereby:
and let her stand before the king: minister to him, serve him with whatsoever he should want to eat or drink; and so by being in his presence, and taking things at her hand, she might be the more ingratiated into his affections: AND LET HER CHERISH HIM; AS THE HUSBAND THE WIFE, SO SHE HER HUSBAND, AS DOUBTLESS DAVID WAS; AND THAT BY GIVING HIM CORDIALS TO CHEER HIS SPIRITS, AND EVERYTHING THAT WAS CONVENIENT FOR HIM, AND PARTICULARLY BY LYING WITH HIM. … the Targum is better, “and let her be near him,’ LIE CLOSE UNTO HIM, AND EVEN IN HIS BOSOM, as in the next clause: and LET HER LIE IN HIS BOSOM; which shows that it was proposed that he should marry her, at least that SHE SHOULD BECOME HIS CONCUBINE WIFE, since this phrase is descriptive of a wife, Micah 7:5; nor can it be thought his physicians would advise, or he agree to have a young woman admitted to his bed, without marriage; … Verse 3 So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel,…. Not only a damsel, but a beautiful one, that she might be the more acceptable to the king; who otherwise, if deformed and ugly, would not have endured her in his sight, or received at her hands, and much less suffered her to lie in his bosom: and found Abishag a Shunammite; a native of the city Shunem, a city in the tribe of Issachar, Joshua 19:18; and brought her to the king; for his approbation of her, and TO MAKE HER HIS CONCUBINE WIFE, as he did.” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible on Kings 1:1-3 – online source)
Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible:
1 Kings 1:1-4. Now King David was old, &c.— It appears from 2 Samuel 5:4-5 that HE WAS SEVENTY YEARS OLD. The strength of nature was so far abated in him, that clothes could not keep him warm in his bed. His physicians therefore advised, that a fair and youthful virgin should be sought for, who might cherish his vital HEAT; THE NATURAL WARMTH OF A YOUNG HEALTHFUL HUMAN BODY BEING, as the physicians observe, best fitted for that end, both in kind and degree. If it be asked, how the beauty of the person to be employed for this purpose was concerned in David’s health; I answer, that the beauty here required, is evidently beauty of complexion, which, as it indicates the health and temperament of the body, might be of importance in this case. … We should remark, however, that CONCUBINAGE WAS NOT AT THAT TIME DEEMED CRIMINAL; …” (Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible on 1 Kings 1:1-3 – online source)
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:
“The polygamy of the age and country may account for the introduction of this practice; and it is evident that Abishag WAS MADE A CONCUBINE OR SECONDARY WIFE TO DAVID (see on 1 Kings 2:22).” (Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible on 1 Kings 1:1 – online source)
David Guzik Commentary on the Bible:
“a. KING DAVID WAS OLD, ADVANCED IN YEARS: This was the twilight of a glorious reign. David was now so old that he could not even keep himself warm, much less rule the nation.
i. DAVID WAS ABOUT 70 AT THIS TIME. He seems even older than his years; but for David, it wasnt just the years – it was the mileage. He seemed to live the lives of four or five men in his lifetime.
b. LET HER LIE IN YOUR BOSOM, THAT OUR LORD THE KING MAY BE WARM: This sounds strange – perhaps even immoral – to us, but this was proper of David to allow. This did not bring a moral cloud over the last days of Davids life. …
ii. It was proper because David almost CERTAINLY MADE THIS YOUNG WOMAN HIS CONCUBINE. While it was unwise for David to take more than one wife, it was not at that time illegal or specifically prohibited by God. … Whose beauty might engage his affections, and refresh his spirits, and invite him to those embraces which might communicate some of her natural heat to him, as was designed. (Poole)” (David Guzik Commentary on the Bible on 1 Kings 1:1-3 – online source)
The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann:
“v. 1. Now, King David was old and stricken in years, advanced in days, BEING ABOUT SEVENTY YEARS OLD at that time; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. …
v. 2. 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, as a servant and nurse, and let her cherish him, be his constant attendant, and LET HER LIE IN THY BOSOM, THIS MANNER OF WARMING CHILLED AND ENFEEBLED BODIES BY CONTACT WITH YOUNG, VIGOROUS, FULL-BLOODED BODIES BEING ADVOCATED IN ANCIENT TIMES, THAT MY LORD THE KING MAY GET HEAT. This was the only object of this arrangement, which must be looked upon from the standpoint of the time, WHEN POLYGAMY, ESPECIALLY IN THE CASE OF KINGS, WAS ALTOGETHER IN ORDER. … Abishag, her relation to him being looked upon as that of a WIFE.” (The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann on 1 Kings 1:1 – online source)
Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible:
“Stricken in years; BEING IN THE END OF HIS SEVENTIETH YEAR. He got no heat; …
His servants; his physicians.
A young virgin; whose natural heat is fresh and wholesome, and not impaired with BEARING OR BREEDING of children. The same counsel doth Galen give for the cure of some cold and dry distempers. Let her stand before the king, i.e. minister unto him, or wait upon him, (as this phrase is oft used,) in his sickness, as occasion requires. LET HER LIE IN THY BOSOM, AS HIS WIFE OR CONCUBINE; for that she was so may appear by divers arguments. … And seeing this was easily prevented by his taking her for his concubine, which then was esteemed allowable, it is absurd to think that he would not choose the safer way. Secondly, … Thirdly, it appears from this phrase of LYING IN HIS BOSOM, WHICH IS EVERY WHERE IN SCRIPTURE MENTIONED AS THE PRIVILEGE OF A WIFE AND CONCUBINE, AS GENESIS 16:5 DEUTERONOMY 13:6 2 SAMUEL 12:8 MICAH 7:5. …” (Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible on 1 Kings 1:1-4 – Online source)
Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament:
When king David had become so old that they could no longer warm him by covering him with clothes, his servants advised him to increase his vitality by LYING WITH A YOUNG AND RBUST VIRGIN, and selected the beautiful Abishag of Shunem to perform this service. … DAVID WAS THEN IN HIS SEVENTIETH YEAR, this decrepitude was not the natural result of extreme old age, but the consequence of a sickly constitution, arising out of the hardships which hehad endured in his agitated and restless life. The proposal of his servants, to restore the vital warmth which he had lost by bringing a VIRGIN TO LIE WITH HIM … the whole affair is to be judged according to the circumstances of the times, when there was nothing offensive in polygamy.” (Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament on 1 Kings 1:14 – online source)
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible:
Since the Jewish law allowed polygamy, David‘s conduct in following – what has been said to have been – physician‘s advice, was blameless.” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible – 1 Kings 1:2 – online source)
We deduce from the above evidence:
1. King David was 70 years old at the time of this incident.
2. Abishag was brought over to cater for all of Prophet David’s needs.
3. Abishag became a wife (or concubine as some commentaries say) and she was lawful to lie in bed with David, as polygamy was legal.
4. At the time of Abishag’s marriage, she was pre-pubescent and 12 years old when taken into Prophet David’s house.
Reading 1 Kings 1:1-3 and the Hebrew word used to describe the girl who was married off to King David, shows that child marriages (as we call them today) it was quite accepted in the society Prophet David lived. The Hebrew word Na’arah used in the verse, according to ancient scholars described girls who were no more than 12 years old and pre-pubescent.
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