A character in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, was one of David's chief warriors. He wanted to kill Saul but David restrained him. He helped his brother Joab kill Abner.

(ah bee' shai) HEBREW: AVISHAI
"father exists" or "father is Jesse"

A warrior to the core, Abishai was one of David's inner circle of military leaders and a staunch defender of the king. He was the eldest of three brothers, the others being Joab, who became commander of David's army, and Asahel, a soldier known for being fleet of foot. The brothers were David's nephews, sons of his sister Zeruiah. Their father is not identified in the Bible.

Abishai seems to have been the first of the three to join his uncle, when David was an outlaw fleeing from King Saul. He initially appears as a volunteer who went with David on a perilous mission in which the pair of them crept into Saul's camp, right up to where the king was sleeping. The hotheaded Abishai was eager to kill Sail, to "pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear," but David forbade him to do so. "Who can put forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless? (1 Sam. 26:8,9), David asked his companion before leading him away from the enemy camp.

After Saul's death, Abishai and Joab developed a blood feud against Abner, Saul's chief commander, who had killed their brother Asahel and was then supporting the claim of Saul's son Ish-bosheth to the throne. Later, when Abner agreed to a truce with David and was ready to back him as king, Abishai helped his brother take revenge and murdered Abner. David was so angry that he gave Abner a state funeral. "These men the sons of Zeruiah," David said, "are too hard for me" (2 Sam. 3:39). Still, David took advantage of what Abishai and Joab had done to consolidate his power over the kingdom.

Once during David's wars with the Philistines, Abishai saved the king's life. David faced one of the Philistine giants in battle and was on the point of being killed, when Abishai "came to his aid" (2 Sam. 21:17) and slew the Philistine. Abishai rose to be a senior commander of David's army and was in charge of the Thirty, an elite corps of warriors in Israel. He became famous for heroic exploits, especially one in which he killed 300 men with his spear.

The writers of the biblical narrative often describe Abishai's tendency toward violence in order to contrast his character with that of the more gentle David. When David was fleeing from the rebel Absalom and a man named Shimei cursed the weakened king, Abishai was ready to "take off his head" (2 Sam. 16:9), but David restrained him. After David's victory, Shimei begged David's forgiveness, but Abishai wanted to execute him. Again, the narrators highlight David's compassion. Much of the blame for violence in David's reign is laid on Abishai and Joab, thought David often used these fierce warriors to his advantage, as when he sent them in relentless pursuit of another rebel, Sheba.

Abishai evidently died before David, since he is not mentioned in the conflicts over the succession in which his brother Joab was on the losing side.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

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