Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Image from QSR Magazine

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.
1 Kings 1:1-2

Electric blankets were not an option, but a fellow human, generating his or her own body heat was considered the best way to counter ongoing hypothermia, the condition from which David suffered in his old age. Perpetually cold and unable to be warmed by blankets or fleeces only a human body was considered adequate to warm the king. Enter Abishag the Shunammite, the human hot-water bottle. It is made clear that Abishag was not another concubine, And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.1 Whether this was through choice or impotence is not explicit, and much has been written about David and Abishag's relationship, most famously perhaps by Joseph Heller in his novel God Knows where David is portrayed as passionate and loyal to Bathsheba up until his dying day, with no interest in Abishag, or indeed any of the women Bathsheba sends to him in her stead, being herself utterly disinterested.2

Abishag herself is a non-speaking character whose presence in the story seems to be to solely to move the plot along. All we learn of Abishag is her virginity and her beauty. Beyond this she is an object, a possession of David, and after David's death a spoil that his eldest remaining son, Adonijah, attempts to claim for his own in a move to overthrow his brother Solomon from the throne. He fails and is executed.3

Life happens around Abishag, but we never hear of it happening to her. She remains the silent property of the royal family until she fades from the picture. Abishag's story (or lack of story) touches me as it makes me consider the stories of all those I encounter on a day-to-day basis, those like Abishag who are in service to others, the baristas, supermarket checkers, bus-drivers, those who move my story along and are quickly forgotten, or more accurately never known. I don't own or command such people but my relationship with them is not dissimilar: they serve me and I forget them. And yet I know that every time I make the effort to engage with a stranger I learn something wonderful about their life. We are surrounded by story and it doesn't take much effort to tease it out. It just takes curiosity and a little time. It requires slowing down—and warming up.

1 1 Kings 1:4
2 God Knows by Joseph Heller, 1984
3 1 Kings 2:13-25