There are two women named Ahinoam in the Old Testament. The first woman was Saul’s wife: “The name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz” (1 Samuel 14:50). The second woman named Ahinoam was David’s third wife and the mother of Amnon, David’s firstborn son.
By the time David married Ahinoam, he already had two wives. David’s first wife was Michal, the daughter of Saul: “Saul gave [David] his daughter Michal as a wife. . . . and that Saul’s daughter Michal loved [David]” (1 Samuel 18:27-28). However, because of the animosity between Saul and David, Saul gave Michal to another man: “Saul gave his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Palti son of Laish, who was from Gallim” (1 Samuel 25:44).
Because Saul had given Michal to another man, David married two other women, Abigail and Ahinoam: “Abigail rose . . . and with five of her maids in attendance she followed David’s messengers; and she became his wife” (1 Samuel 25:42). David then took another wife, “David also married Ahinoam of Jezreel” (1 Samuel 25:43). Both Abigail and Ahinoam became David’s wives after Michal was taken from him.
Although David married Abigail first, Ahinoam’s name is always mentioned first, except in one context. Linda Schearing (2000: 48), in her article on Ahinoam said that “Of the five contexts in which Ahinoam appears, only in her marriage notice (1 Sam 25:43) does she come after Abigail.”
Ahinoam was from Jezreel. David married her at the time he was fleeing from Saul. At the time David left Saul’s service, he found refuge with Achish, a king of the Philistines: “David stayed with Achish at Gath, he and his troops, every man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail of Carmel, Nabal’s widow” (1 Samuel 27:3).
While David was away from Ziklag, together with the Philistine army at Aphek in preparation to fight against Saul and the army of Israel (1 Samuel 29:1-3), the Amalekites attacked and conquered Ziklag and Ahinoam was taken as a spoil of war.
Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid on the Negeb and on Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag, burned it down, and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great; they killed none of them, but carried them off, and went their way. When David and his men came to the city, they found it burned down, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept, until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel (1 Samuel 30:1-5).
David and his men wept bitterly because of the devastation caused by the Amalekites. In her analysis of David’s tears, Gafney (2017:209) wrote,” Although David’s tears could signify his care and concern for his two wives, they could also be tears of rage.” David and his men attacked the Ammonites and brought Ahinoam back: “David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken; and David rescued his two wives” (1 Samuel 30:18).
After Saul’s death, David and his family moved to Hebron where David became king over Judah. When David became king of Judah and established his kingdom at Hebron, Ahinoam was there with him: “So David went up there, along with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel” (2 Samuel 2:2).
David ruled over Judah seven years and six months: “At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years” (2 Samuel 5:5). While he was at Hebron, several sons were born to David. His firstborn was Amnon, the son of Ahinoam, David’s wife from Jezreel (2 Samuel 3:2). His second son was Chileab, the son of Abigail the widow of Nabal, a man from Carmel (2 Samuel 3:3). Chileab is called Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1; “These are the sons of David who were born to him in Hebron: the firstborn Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelite; the second Daniel, by Abigail the Carmelite.” Nothing else is said about Chileab in the Old Testament. It is possible that he died as an infant.
Although Abigail was David’s first wife, Ahinoam is always listed first and she gives David his firstborn son. Josephus, Ant 6, 13, 8 seems to imply that Ahinoam was David’s first wife: “Now David had a wife before, whom he married from the city Abesar; for as to Michal, the daughter of king Saul, who had been David’s wife, her father had given her in marriage to Phalti, the son of Laish, who was of the city of Gallim.”
Although David married Abigail before Ahinoam, it was Ahinoam who gave David his firstborn son. Gafney (2017: 207) said that David wanted to make sure Abigail was not pregnant with Nabal’s child before he slept with her. She wrote, “Abigail does not give birth until after Ahinoam, suggesting that David did not sleep with her until he was sure she was not pregnant with Nabal’s child.”
In his article, “I Samuel 25 as Literature and as History” Jon D. Levenson suggests on the basis of Nathan’s words to David (2 Samuel 12:8) that Ahinoam was Saul’s wife and that David married her before Saul’s death. He wrote (1978: 27): “Could it be that David swaggered into Hebron with the wife of a Calebite chieftain on one arm and that of the Israelite king on the other? A remark of Nathan’s to David suggests that there was but one Ahinoam, wife of Saul, then of David, ‘I gave you the household of your lord and the wives of your lord in your bosom, and I gave you the Houses of Israel and Judah. A little longer, and I would have given you more like these’ (2 Sam 12:8). Nathan alludes to David’s marriage to Saul’s wives, as if it were well-known.”
Levenson supposes that David had married Ahinoam while Saul was still alive. This view means that David took Ahinoam, Saul’s wife, before Saul died. Most scholars reject Levinson’s proposal. In her article on Ahinoam, Diana Edelman (1992: 1:118) rejects Levenson’s proposal. She wrote: “Such a presumption would require David to have run off with the queen mother while Saul was still on the throne, which seems unlikely. In view of the possession of the royal harem as a claim to royal legitimacy, Nathan’s comment can be related to David’s eventual possession of Saul’s wives after he ascended the throne in the wake of Eshbaal’s death. Nathan refers to David’s possession of more than a single wife of Saul’s in v 23, which precludes the application of the phrase to Ahinoam alone.”
In the Old Testament, Ahinoam is known for two important things: for being David’s third wife and for being the crown prince’s mother. Ahinoam was the mother of David’s firstborn son Amnon. It is doubtful that Amnon was the only son of Ahinoam. In the list of David’s children by his many wives, only the firstborn sons of his wives are mentioned. This is one of the reasons the author of 2 Samuel emphasizes that Amnon was David’s firstborn son.
Amnon, Ahinoam’s son is well-known for raping his half-sister Tamar. Tamar was the daughter of David and Maacah and the full sister of Absalom. Amnon fell in love with Tamar and by pretending to be sick, he tricked Tamar into coming to his house to take care of him. When she arrived, Amnon seized her and forcibly raped Tamar and then sent her away.
When David heard what Amnon had done, he became very angry but refused to punish him “because he loved him, for he was his firstborn” (2 Samuel 13:21). Absalom made plans to kill Amnon and two years later, he fulfilled his vow to kill his brother.
It is unknown whether Ahinoam saw what her son had done, the shame her son had brought to her family, or whether she was alive to mourn the death of her firstborn because the Bible is silent on what happened to her after she gave birth to Amnon.
NOTE: For a study of David’s family, including the names of all David’s wives and sons, read my post “David’s Family.”
Edelman, Diana V., “Ahinoam (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992, 1:118.
Gafney, Wilda C., Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.
Levenson, Jon D., “I Samuel 25 as Literature and as History,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (1978): 10-18.
Schearing, “Ahinoam 2,” Women in Scripture. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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