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ABISHAG (ăb'ĭ-shăg, Heb. ’ăvîshagh, the father wanders, or errs). A Shunamite woman who nursed David in his old age (1Kgs.1.3, 1Kgs.1.15). She reappears in the story (1Kgs.2.17ff.) when Adonijah, Solomon’s elder half-brother, asked permission to marry her. For this Solomon had Adonijah executed. It may help us to understand Solomon’s action when we consider that Absalom’s behavior (2Sam.16.20-2Sam.16.22) shows that the household women of a former king were used as pawns in registering a claim to the throne. This may have been Adonijah’s motive.

ABISHAG ăb’ ə shăg (אֲבִישַׁג). (Meaning uncertain. Possibly my father is a wanderer). A beautiful young woman of the town of Shunem in Issachar given to David in his old age to keep him warm (1 Kings 1:3, 15). She was present when Bathsheba reminded David of his oath to make Solomon his successor. After David’s death, Solomon executed Adonijah because he asked to marry Abishag. Evidently Abishag was considered the wife of David. Consequently, Adonijah’s request involved pretensions to the throne (1 Kings 2:13-25).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ab’-i-shag, a-bi’-shag (’abhishagh, apparently, "father of wandering," that is, "cause of wandering," or "my father wanders"): The Shunammite woman who became nurse to King David (1Ki 1-4,15; 2:17,21,22). She was chosen for the service with great care on account of her youth and beauty and physical vigor. She ministered to the king, that is, waited on him as personal attendant and nurse. She also "cherished" him in his feebleness--gave to him through physical contact the advantage of her superabundant vitality. This was a mode of medical treatment recommended by the servants of the king, and it appears to have been not wholly unsuccessful. She had an intimate knowledge of the condition of David, and was present at the interview of Bathsheba with David which resulted in the placing of Solomon on the throne. If that act had been questioned she would have been a most important witness. By reason of this and of her personal charms, she might become a strong helper to any rival of Solomon who should intrigue to supplant him. Adonijah sought Abishag in marriage. On the basis of this and of such other evidence as may supposably have been in his possession, Solomon put Adonijah to death as an intriguer.

Willis J. Beecher