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Abishai (Hebrew: אבישי, ʼAḇīshạy; "Name means::father of a gift") (b. ca. Born::2922 AM) was one of King David's most trusted military commanders. He began as commander of one-third of the army of the United Kingdom of Israel and ended as commander of what was probably the first-ever special service force. But the story of Abishai is one of overzealousness that required near-constant correction by his superior and king.[1][2]


descendant of::Obed
grandson of::Jesse
son of::Zeruiah
brother of::Joab
brother of::Asahel

Abishai was the son of Zeruiah and thus David's nephew.


A Valuable Lesson

In or about the summer of 2945 AM (1059 BC),[3] David and his followers were camped in the wilderness of Hachilah. King Saul was camped in the nearby hills. David asked Abishai and another follower, Ahimelech the Hittite, whether they would come with him to enter the camp of Saul. Abishai volunteered. He and David were able to enter the camp unobserved and to walk to the spot where Saul was asleep. Saul's spear was thrust into the ground by his head. Abishai told David that he could kill Saul then and there with one thrust, and would strike him only once. David forbade him to do this, saying that Saul was still God's anointed king, God would solve the problem of his removal, and no man had the right to strike God's anointed king. Instead, David ordered Abishai to take the spear and the jug of water next to Saul. Abishai did, and the two men left the camp as easily as they had entered it.

David crossed a valley, climbed a mountain opposite Saul's camp, and called out to Saul and his chief of staff, Abner, from this position. He accused Abner of failing to guard Saul properly, and offered the spear and the water jug as evidence. He asked Saul to send a runner to reclaim his spear. Saul did, David gave back the spear, and David moved to another place. (1_Samuel 26 )

The Pool of Gibeon

In the spring of 2949 AM, King Saul died in battle. David captured the city of Hebron and established his capital there as king of the tribe of Judah. Abishai and his brothers Joab and Asahel were joint chiefs of staff for David's army. Saul's son Ishbosheth established his own capital at Manahaim and called himself king of the United Kingdom of Israel. Abner was Ishbosheth's chief of staff.

For two years, the two kings were at relative peace, while Abner concentrated on chasing the Philistines out of the territories other than Judah. Then Abner broke the peace with a shocking provocation.[3] Abner and his men challenged Joab and his men to a bizarre contest at the pool of Gibeon. Twelve men from each side met at that place, and the twenty-four men killed one another. Then the rest of the armies met in full-scale battle, and Abner's men lost. Asahel pursued Abner relentlessly, and then Abner turned and killed him with a thrust with the butt of his spear. The other two brothers continued to pursue Abner and his men to the hill of Ammah. There Abner begged Joab to cease the pursuit before any more men died, and Joab sounded the retreat and returned to Hebron, which was David's capital. Abner and his men crossed to the eastern side of the Jordan River and returned to Mahanaim.[4] (2_Samuel 2:12-29 )


Five and one-half years later, Abishai and Joel took their revenge against Abner. Abner had fallen out with Ishbosheth and was now arranging to hand the kingdom over to David. But Joab was not satisfied. He secretly summoned Abner to return to Hebron for further consultation, and then lured him aside and killed him. (2_Samuel 3:24-27 ) The Bible says that Abishai participated in the murder, but does not say exactly how. (2_Samuel 3:30 ) David held a public funeral for Abner, and publicly declared that Joel and Abishai had acted without orders, without proper authority and without justifiable cause. (2_Samuel 3:39 )

Absalom and Shimei

When in 2977 AM Absalom revolted against David and chased him out of Jerusalem, a Benjamite named Shimei ben-Gera shouted curses at David and pelted him with stones. Abishai requested permission to cut off Shimei's head. David denied this permission, saying that if his own son had made an attempt on his life, this Benjamite couldn't say anything worse. (2_Samuel 16:5-12 )

In the final battle against Absalom, Abishai commanded one-third of David's army. (2_Samuel 18:2 ) After Absalom was dead, Abishai renewed his request for permission to have Shimei the Benjamite executed. David asked in frustration whether Abishai and Joab were now turned against him. (2_Samuel 19:22 )

Further career

The Bible credits Abishai with saving King David's life on the battlefield in a battle against the Philistines. David had come under attack by a giant named Ishi-benob, an apparent descendant of Goliath. Abishai killed the giant and then advised David that he ought to stop personally leading troops into battle, because he had become too old to fight effectively. (2_Samuel 21:15-17 )

The Bible does not say how long Abishai lived or how his career or his life ended.

A Biblical summary

The Bible says that Abishai was in command of a small elite force known as "the thirty." (2_Samuel 23:13-39 ) These men were the most fierce warriors in the royal army, and one could probably describe "the thirty" as the first "special service force" in history.

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  1. Blank W, "Abishai," Daily Bible Study, n.d. Accessed January 30, 2009.
  2. Kent CF, "Abishai," The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. Accessed January 30, 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jones, Floyd N., The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, pp. 99-100
  4. "The Unified Kingdom Part II in Biblical Archeology," n.d. Accessed January 1, 2009