When we shift from Samuel to Kings, we start with this fairly benign story:
King David was now old, advanced in years; and though they covered him with bedclothes, he never felt warm. His courtiers said to him, “Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, to wait upon Your Majesty and be his attendant; and let her lie in your bosom, and my lord the king will be warm.” So they looked for a beautiful girl throughout the territory of Israel. They found Abishag the Shunammite and brought her to the king. The girl was exceedingly beautiful. She became the king’s attendant and waited upon him; but the king was not intimate with her.—1st Kings 1:1-4 (NJPS)
She is mentioned once more incidentally (1st Kings 1:15). In the next chapter, after David's death, Adonijah asks Bathsheba to request Solomon to give him Abishag as a wife (1st Kings 2:13-18). She then delivers the request to Solomon:
So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him about Adonijah. The king rose to greet her and bowed down to her. He sat on his throne; and he had a throne placed for the queen mother, and she sat on his right. She said, “I have one small request to make of you, do not refuse me.” He responded, “Ask, Mother; I shall not refuse you.” Then she said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to your brother Adonijah as wife.” The king replied to his mother, “Why request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Request the kingship for him! For he is my older brother, and the priest Abiathar and Joab son of Zeruiah are on his side.”—1st Kings 2:19-22 (NJPS)
But why is asking for Abishag equivalent in Solomon's eyes to asking for the kingship? I see two options (neither of which seem compelling):
- Abishag's close relationship with David would link her (possible) husband to the throne.
- If Adonijah can manipulate Bathsheba, he could become the real power behind the throne.
After this, the text (and all of Scripture) cease to mention the woman. So what was her importance?