“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” (1 Kings 1:1-4).
We are now entering into what would be the last days of David. We find that he is now old, bedridden and obviously unhealthy. Though he is only in his seventieth year, he is close to death; therefore the events of these final studies must have taken place within the last year of his life at the most.
No one, regardless of what we rub on our skin, can avoid the inevitable, for we all age and will one day die. Like it or not, God had made an appointment for you. “It is appointed unto men once to die …” (Hebrews 9:27). Our life is just a preparation for meeting our Maker, “Prepare to meet thy God” (Amos 4:12), and face the judgement, “After this the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27).
David, as mentioned above, was seventy years old, which for that day was not a remarkable age, though he had written, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). It is almost prophetic when we take into account David’s age. We know David was around seventy at this stage by calculating the timing of several events in his life. “He was thirty years old when he was made king in Hebron 2 Samuel 5:4; he reigned in Hebron seven years and six months 2 Samuel 2:11; 1 Chronicles 3:4; and he reigned thirty-three years at Jerusalem 2 Samuel 5:5” (Barnes Notes on the Bible). It is interesting to note that, with the exception of Solomon, no king of Israel or Judah lived beyond sixty years of age after David.
So why did he die so young? The answer is probably found in the amount of energy he used to unite the nation, as well as the years of sorrow, hardship and conflict he had endured. “David had been exhausted with various fatigues, and especially by family afflictions, so that he was much older in constitution than he was in years” (Clarke’s Bible Commentary). Life itself took its toll on his body, nevertheless, though he was frail in the flesh, his mind and spirit were still healthy.
We are told that David could not get warm despite having extra clothes on. We can suppose that he would have been in a warm room, so the lack of heating would not have been the problem. It seems that his circulatory system was shutting down as he neared death. It is also likely that he had the usual aches and pains from not being able to stay warm.
David was advised to allow a young woman to sleep next to him to keep him warm. While some see nothing wrong with this, the fact remains that it was neither good advice nor good practice. Though there was no intimate relationship between David and Abishag, to use a sinful means to remedy a problem is still wrong. There is an indication for why this was wrong in our text. They had to make a thorough search for just the right girl, who had to be beautiful. If all David needed was warmth, then the ugliest girl in town would have been sufficient for the job. This kind of thing was not unheard of in polygamous societies, but why should a worldly practice be used? Abishag in effect became another member of the king’s harem, which in turn was not fair on her, for we have to assume that she would not have chosen to snuggle up to a wrinkled old man every night. She would be at the root of further problems for David’s family after he was dead.
David had subdued his enemies and there was peace in Israel as he neared his final days. While he made preparations for the coming Golden Age under Solomon’s reign, he is still found acting unwisely. There must have been other methods for keeping warm, so there was hardly any need to bring in yet another woman. David had several wives; why could not one of them keep him warm? Bathsheba still seems to have been a lively person if we take her involvement in bringing Solomon to the throne into consideration. Were his wives no longer attractive enough for him? This thought lies at the heart of why the Abishag incident was both spiritually and morally wrong.