4. Abishag (I Kings 1:1-4, 15b)Related Media
I know we’ve been talking all weekend about influence but I wonder if you ever question if what you do each day really matters?
Those Daily routines of meals, cleaning, work, carpool, childcare, doctor’s appointments, church ministries: does it all really count? for something? For Anything? I think that’s a question common to all women. Katherine Norris addresses this issue in her little book “The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work”. “Dailyness of daily life!”
“We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing even ecstasy but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were.”1
Daily, ordinary, seemingly insignificant, unnoticed are words that could describe our last woman’s life: Abishag.
There are only 4 ½ verses to read about Abishag. Just 4 ½ little verses describing how she influences the life of the King David. She does play a part in the beginning of Solomon’s reign in 1 Kings 2, but that’s another King and another story. Our focus is on the life of David; we have 4 ½ verses to cover. So, you can imagine researching material about Abishag was challenging. I googled her name and read everything I could find. I searched all my commentaries. I went on Christian and Jewish websites. I searched some 33 different theological journals’ sites. I spent more time searching for material on Abishag than what I found. And yet, I could not let her go. She intrigued me; and perhaps we are more like her than any of the other women.
At the beginning of her life, when she is young, strong and beautiful, Abishag is brought to the palace to take care of King David who is at the end of his life; he is old, fragile and dependent on her help. We will never know all the many times, day and night, that Abishag quietly cared for David’s basic needs, his ADL’s which stand for Activities of Daily Living.
All weekend we’ve been talking about how these different women, Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba, and how they affected the life of David; saved him, turned his career around, changed the direction of his life. Now this woman, Abishag, she is different from the others. She is not a wife, not a concubine, she simply ministers to her King in the ordinary, somewhat messy at times, selfless way of a caregiver, a caretaker, a custodian of life. What she does seems insignificant and unnoticed but I think we’ll be surprised by her. So, let’s meet this woman, Abishag.
I Kings 1:4 When King David was very old, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him.
The King is old. How old is he? We know he died at 70 years old. This event was in his last years, he is probably late 60’s, near 70. He is still the King, living in Jerusalem but he’s elderly and perhaps even bed-ridden. He’s cold! Very cold. He can’t get warm even when they pile blanket after blanket on top of him.
I remember when my dad got older. He would get chilled easily from his poor circulation. He could never keep warm. He’d wear a jacket all the time and his hands were always cold. When I’d visit him, in the same house I grew up in, the house would always be so hot. He’d keep it 80 plus degrees all year around, because dad was always cold, just like King David. So, the problem at court was how to get the King warm. The servants have an idea.
I Kings 1:2 So his attendants said to him, “Let us look for a young virgin to serve the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm.”
Their advice was to find a young virgin to be his nurse and to lay next to him to keep him warm. This was a common solution: warm up an elderly person not only by covering with blankets but also by putting a healthy person in bed with him or her.2 You would get warm from the other person’s body heat. It does work, you do feel warmer next to someone else. We have a grandson, Raleigh, and from the time he was a toddler, he loved to get really close when he slept with you. There’s always the chance of an arm of leg coming over on top of you, face right on your face. I can assure you, you definitely felt his body heat. David needed somebody’s body heat to keep him warm. The job description was not only to provide warmth but also v2 “to attend, to take care of him”. So, they started looking for just the right young girl.
I Kings 1:3 Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.
They looked all over Israel “for a beautiful young woman.” Isn’t it interesting they weren’t looking for an ordinary looking woman, or an older woman; they wanted a beautiful young woman!
They found her, Abishag, a Shunammite. She was from the town of Shunem in northern Israel, some 60 miles north of Jerusalem. That was quite a search for her! They brought her to the King.
I Kings 1:4 The woman was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no sexual relations with her.
In Hebrew this literally says she will “stand before” the king, describes the role of a “‘caretaker’ and nothing more”3 Abishag is not a wife, she is not a concubine; she’s an attendant, a nurse, a home health or hospice caregiver. She is a special servant, but one whose presence was ignored.
I Kings 1:15 So Bathsheba went to see the aged king in his room, where Abishag the Shunammite was attending him.
In her role as caregiver she was present when David needed bathing, feeding, dressing, but the text is clear: she was not intimate sexually with him. We’re not told what kind of relationship they had, but he was dependent on her care. A few years ago, after my dad had “the fall,” he was in a long-term care facility. He could feed himself but needed help with his personal hygiene and walking. I thank God for all the wonderful caregivers he had, but one in particular was named Shirley. Dad loved Shirley. His eyes would light up when she came in the room and he’d say “There’s my girl Shirley!” She was kind, considerate and gentle and always concerned that he had his meals, he had his meds, that he was comfortable. She was his Abishag. When I think of Abishag, picture her in my mind, I think of all the Shirleys that right now are taking care of our elderly loved ones.
I mentioned at the beginning how little information I could find written about this woman. I’ve never heard a sermon preached on Abishag. I’ve never done a bible study about her before now. And yet, her she is forever inscribed in the Word of God; her story and her name are significant enough to be included in the Scriptures. So, as I pondered that, I wondered what can we learn from her, what lessons are in these few verses for us? As I was praying and asking God to give me something from Him that about Abishag, I read and re-read this verses, picturing this woman; imagining what her day looked like? What did she do, day in and day out, as she cared for David? Although she was at Court and he was the King, what she did was routine and ordinary, the same every day. I wondered if she ever heard a “thank you” or “you’re doing a great job” or “we couldn’t do this without you.” Maybe, or maybe not. I thought how many of us, at so many times, feel like we are unnoticed or what we do every day is seemingly insignificant. The routines of daily life seem to be going nowhere. Our ministries wear us out and we wonder if anyone cares? Taking care of a family, children, homework, car pool never has an end. At work, we question if what we do, day after day, is making a difference? Anywhere?
And then on August 21, I was reading the daily devotional from “My Utmost for His Highest” and God impressed me to pay attention: this is about Abishag and this ministry is important to Me. August 21 is titled “The Ministry of the Unnoticed”4
If you go on the website “My Utmost for His Highest’ Oswald Chambers, you’ll see on August 21, a photo of a woman from the knees down, in jeans and tennis shoes, you don’t even see her face. On one side of her is a floor mop and the other side is a mop bucket, a visual of cleaning floors, a task that we all know is definitely unnoticed!
The New Testament notices things that do not seem worthy of notice by our standards. “Blessed are the poor in spirit….” This literally means, “Blessed are the paupers.” Paupers are remarkably commonplace! The preaching of today tends to point out a person’s strength of will or the beauty of his character— things that are easily noticed….. At the foundation of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is the genuine loveliness of those who are commonplace. …If I have no strength of will and a nature without worth or excellence, then Jesus says to me, “Blessed are you….The true character of the loveliness that speaks for God is always unnoticed by the one possessing that quality. Conscious influence is prideful and unchristian. If I wonder if I am being of any use to God, I instantly lose the beauty and the freshness of the touch of the Lord. “He who believes in Me…out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). And if I examine the outflow, I lose the touch of the Lord. Who are the people who have influenced us most? Certainly not the ones who thought they did, but those who did not have even the slightest idea that they were influencing us. In the Christian life, godly influence is never conscious of itself. If we are conscious of our influence, it ceases to have the genuine loveliness which is characteristic of the touch of Jesus. We always know when Jesus is at work because He produces in the commonplace something that is inspiring.5
We may never know what God is doing behind the scenes of our common, ordinary, unnoticed lives and ministries. One thing we can assured of: if our unnoticed deeds, seemingly insignificant ministries are dedicated to The King, following His will, then we are influential women and we will accomplish eternal good.
Acts 13:36 Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep he was buried with his ancestors…
God has a purpose for each of our lives. We can lose sight of the big picture when we’re looking down at the ordinary. Abishag is a reminder of how the little deeds of our lives are important to God and that our very life can be a witness for Him no matter how young or old we are. We need to encourage each other in this truth.
Patsy was the mother of a man in our small group from church. She was a believer in Jesus and had 5 children. Although the children were raised in the church, not all her kids were or are Christians.
Over the last 4 years Patsy’s health, mentally and physically had been declining. She had gone to live in an assisted care facility near her daughters. They would visit ever week or so. The other children would visit as they could, living farther away. In the several years that we’ve been in small group together, our group has prayed for Randy’s mom Patsy, for her health, for her living conditions, for her peace. From the beginning, as she declined, Randy would say to us and to his family “Mom is not going to die until God’s purposes for her life are accomplished” I remember every time we prayed for her, Randy was confident of that truth, not really knowing what those purposes were as her health deteriorated.
November was a huge turning point in this story. Patsy became dehydrated, very sick, to the point of death. The family gathered and it became evident that the facility had not taken the best care of their mother. So, as she recovered, she was moved to another place and most importantly one of Randy’s sisters said “I’m not going to let mom die from neglect.” She started visiting every day, then twice a day caring, spending hours and hours with her mother. Another important piece to the story is this sister was a prodigal from her Christian upbringing. She was embracing today’s new age spirituality and she had not raised her family in the faith.
But she was determined to care of her mom. Days would go by, Patsy would have moments of recognizing the family, of people she knew, but her over-all health was declining. Randy’s sister would faithfully do the laundry, check on her meals, visit and sit with her mother. We all wondered how long would Patsy live in this condition?
By summer, things declined rapidly, Randy went home to see her. He took his prayer book with him and his sister asked him to pray over their mother, to say familiar prayers, and to recite the Nicene Creed knowing his mother loved to recite it. For those of us who are not used to reciting ancient Creeds at church, the Nicene Creed dates back to 325 AD when the early church fathers were confronting different heresies. The Nicene Creed is a statement of Christian faith, an orthodox doctrinal statement about the essentials of our faith. Listen carefully to the words:
I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth
and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only‐begotten Son of God,
begotten of His Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried.
And the third day He rose again
according to the Scriptures
and ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of the Father.
And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins,
and I look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen. 6
This creed says: I believe in the Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. I believe Jesus came and died for my salvation. I believe He is coming back to judge the world and I believe in Heaven, and a Kingdom without end. This is our Christian faith.
After several days, Randy went home. One night not too long after his visit, his sister said evening prayers with her mom. She recited the Lord’s prayer and the little night time prayer many of us grew up saying: “Now I lay me, down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die, before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take. Amen.” Then she went home. When she got there, she as she was talking with her husband, processing her thoughts and emotions about her mom, she said “I just can’t stand the thought of mom not being in Heaven when she dies.” As she wrestled with that, she remembered: I know she believes in God; I know she always believed in the words of the Nicene Creed. I guess I believe them too. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe what the Nicene Creed says, so I guess I’m a Christian too. Five minutes later, the nursing home called and said Patsy had just died.
Had Patsy died before November, Randy’s sister would not have had all those days and months with her mom. She would not have had the opportunity to care for her mom; to sit with her, to pray with her, to have time for God to soften her heart. Patsy had no idea that her lingering, decaying body and mind would be used for God’s purposes in her own daughter’s spiritual life. Patsy would not die until God’s purposes for her were finished, but when they were finished, she died 5 minutes later.
Patsy, an elderly, dying woman, had like Abishag: the ministry of the unnoticed. To many people I’m sure she just was an old woman in a nursing home, but not to God. God had eternal purposes in mind for her as He did for Abishag and He has for you and me.
Influence. May we all be willing to use our influence no matter where we are, for God and His glory.
Influential Women: Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba, Abishag and You!
Each of you, every one of you, you are Influential, more than you will ever know this side of heaven. But It’s our choice whether we will use our influence for good and for God or not. I pray we will with God’s help.
1 Kathleen Norris, “The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work” New York: Paulist Press 1998, 12.
2 Constable’s Notes, www.bible.org
3 Jewish Study Bible, 671.
4 Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest” August 21.
6 As found in the Lutheran, Missouri Synod version: http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=954
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