Exploring 1 Kings 1:4 “Knew Her Not”: King David’s 12 Year Old Bride

Exploring 1 Kings 1:4 “Knew Her Not”: King David’s 12 Year Old Bride

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar



In the previous article published on Abishag’s relationship to King David, we found out that she was 12 years old when she was married off: “King David’s Marriage To 12 Year Old Abishag – Bible.

Upon the article’s publication, we received a storm of comments on social media in regards to the article. We got positive feedback and we also got angry responses from hardcore Christians for exploring and showing Abishag’s true age at the time of her marriage to Prophet David.

One of the claims made is that we are “dishonest” and somehow spreading propaganda against Christianity, they claim that she was never married off. We don’t know if some of these commentators read the entire article, Abishag being married off is a view held among the vast majority of Christian scholars, the minority hold to the view she was a concubine. Either way, she was brought into King David’s house as a wife.

Another claim they made is that King David “knew her not” (i.e., did not have sex with her) therefore they conclude that Abishag was brought over only to help, and they use 1 Kings 1:4 for their evidence:

“And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.” – 1 Kings 1:4

There are a number of issues Christian missionaries need to answer if that is the line they want to go with.

1. If Abishag was brought only to clean and help King David, couldn’t his other women/wives/concubines do the same job?

2. If she came over only to clean and help, why did the verses before 1 Kings 1:4 mention that Abishag came to “lie in the bosom” (“is a euphemistic description for sexual intercourse”) of David?

3. If she was not married to King David, why did Solomon kill his own brother for asking Abishag’s hand in marriage after his father’s death?

The reason King David did not or could not go around having any sex [1] with Abishag was to do with the fact with his old body being poor, feeble and fragile state, he was 70 years old at the time.

Furthermore, Christian scholars say that he did not have intercourse with Abishag as a result of his body being weak and no longer able to be aroused due to his very old age.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable:

“Verses 1-4
1. David”s declining health 1:1-4
It was customary in ancient times to warm an elderly person not only by covering him or her with blankets, but also by putting a healthy person in bed with him or her. [Note: Wiseman, p67.] The body heat of the well person would keep the older person warmer.

David”s physicians chose Abishag to provide nursing care for David as well as to warm him. Since David was the king, they sought and found a beautiful nurse for him. In view of David”s symptoms, he may have suffered from arteriosclerosis. [Note: Gene Rice, Nations under God, p8; and Simon DeVries, 1 Kings , p12.]

“Shunammite” is an alternate reading of “Shulammite,” a resident of Shunem in Issachar. There is no way of telling if Abishag was the Shulammite Solomon loved and wrote of in the Song of Solomon ( Song of Solomon 6:13). The fact that David did not have sexual relations with this “very beautiful” young woman ( 1 Kings 1:4) IS SIGNIFICANT BECAUSE IT SHOWS THAT HIS PHYSICAL POWERS WERE NOW WEAK. David had been sexually active, but now his sexual powers were depleted. This shows that it was time for a more energetic man to reign.” (Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable on 1 Kings 1:1-2 – online source)

John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible:

“Verse 4
And the damsel was very fair,…. And so very agreeable to the king to be in his presence, and wait upon him, and take things of her hand, as well as lie with him: and cherished the king; enlivened his spirits by her amiable countenance, her graceful behaviour, and tender care of him, and especially by bedding with him: and ministered to him; serving him with her own hands whatever he took for his sustenance:

but the king knew her not; as a man knows his wife; which shows that she was his wife, and that it would not have been criminal in him had he known her; but this is observed, not to point at the chastity of David, BUT HIS FEEBLENESS, and loss of desire after women, and that the damsel remained a virgin; and that was the ground of Adonijah’s request, and his hope of succeeding.” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible on Kings 1:4 – online source)

Professor of religion T. J. Wray:

“David, old and dying, shivers in his bed under a mountain of blankets, unable to keep his frail body warm. A beautiful woman, Abishag, is summoned to lie beside the King, to warm him with her body, but the author notes: ‘the King did not know her sexually’ (1 Kings 1:4).

This is the Bible’s way of telling us that DAVID IS WEAK AND FEEBLE, for man’s power is closely linked to his VIRILITY. …” (Good Girls, Bad Girls: The Enduring Lessons of Twelve Women of the Old Testament [Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, INC. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK, 2008] by T. J. Wray, page 132)

Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries – Professor Gina Hens-Piazza:

“… the plan to bring beautiful Abishag to the bedside of the frail king aims to REVITALIZE HIM, Instead, the gesture not only fails, but further underscores the DISABLED CONDITION OF THIS MONARCH. Though the virgin Abishag sleeps with the King, David, ‘did not know her sexually; (1:4).

Such physical IMPOTENCY in private affairs does not bode well for David’s competence in the public sphere. The loss of VIRILITY and vitality signals a political crisis. …”(Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: 1 – 2 Kings [Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2006] by Gina Hens-Piazza, page 13)

The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture – American Old Testament scholar, Professor Paul R. House:

“1:2-4 Before these questions are addressed, royal servants attempt to REVIVE the aging monarch. They seek a ‘young virgin’ to nurse the king and to ‘LIE BESIDE HIM,’ which may be translated ‘LIE IN YOUR BOSSOM’ (NASB).

Their search yields Abishag, a Shunammite’ of exceptional beauty. Indeed she does care for the king and see to his needs, but he has ‘no intimate relations with her.’ Presumably he can no longer do so, which reinforces the emphasis the King’s irretrievably FAILING HEALTH.”

(The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, 1, 2 Kings [Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995] by Paul R. House, volume 8, page 87)

American professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California, Robert Alter:

“…the king knew her not. David, lying in bed with this desirable virgin, but now beyond any thought or capacity of sexual consummation, is of course a sad image of INFIRM OLD AGE. At the same time, this vignette of geriatric impotence is pointed reversal of the Bathsheba story that brought down God’s curse on the house of David, triggering all the subsequent troubles of dynastic succession. …” (The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel [W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London, 2000] by Professor Robert Alter, page 364)

Conclusion: Reading 1 Kings 1:4 and Christian exegesis for the verse, one can clearly see the reason why King David did not have intercourse with Abishag. [2] And this reason was to do with him very old, ill and his body being very fragile. [3]


[1] Volkmar Fritz is Professor of Old Testament Studies and Biblical Archaeology at the University of Giessen and Director of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem, he states in regards to “lie in his bosom” here is a description of “sexual intercourse”.

Hence, those who argue that she came over for other reasons is not reflective of what the text states:

“’TO LIE IN HIS BOSOM’ is a euphemistic description for SEXUAL INTERCOURSE. Here it becomes clear why an exceptionally beautiful woman had been looked for within Israel. Beauty does not necessarily have to be understood as a ‘sign of youthfulness,’ since beauty not only describes bodily perfection but also reflects the inner personality.

By stressing her beauty the author pictures Abishag in the light of complete femininity. Vitality is intrinsically connected with sexual potency. The warming of David’s bosom is to restore his diminished vitality by rekindling the lost potency with help of a young woman. The restoration of the virility of the king is not just a nursing act, but also – according to ancient Near Eastern tradition – the well-being of the country depends entirely on the physical capability of its monarch.

Even if in the narrative context the debility of David has to be understood as mainly a weakness in reaching decisions, the phrase ‘to lie in his bosom’ also stresses the connection of vitality and sexual act. Thus it is necessary to look out for a young woman who still possesses the unfailing plenitude of life.”

(1 & 2 Kings: A Continental Commentary, [Translated by Anselm Hagedorn, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2003] by Volkmar Fritz, page 14)

[2] Professor of Divinity, Reverend J. Rawson Lumby, D.D., says that some of the words in 1 Kings 1:4 may have been added to explain away that King David’s son wanted to marry his father wife Abishag:
“4. Cherished the King] Being always at hand to perform, as his nurse, such duties as the weak condition of king David needed. Knew her not] THESE WORDS SEEM ADDED to explain how it came to pass that Adonijah afterwards could ask her for his wife.

(1 Kings ii. 17.)” (The Cambridge Bible for schools and Colleges – The First And Second Books Of The Kings, With Maps Introduction and Notes [General Editor: J. J. S. Perowne, D. D. Bishop of Worcester., Cambridge: At The University Press 1897] by Reverend J. Rawson Lumby, D.D., (Professor of Divinity), page 2)

[3] “The story of King David, a sinner who remained beloved by God and favored by his people, has been a favorite of evangelical Christians who support Donald Trump, even during the Republican primaries. Their reasoning is that like King David, Donald Trump has committed adultery, and like King David (or President Franklin Roosevelt, as one columnist wrote), Trump can be a great (and moral) leader even after having committed adultery.” (“The “biblical” defense of Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels”, 26th March 2018, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/26/17164268/stormy-daniels-donald-trump-bible-christian )

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