HIS BIRTH, HIS MOTHER, HIS CHILDHOOD.
M. Joseph Hutzler, Eschatologist
"Behold, I was shaped in iniquity;
and in sin did my mother conceive me."
I know it will come as a surprise to many that the childhood of the young King David was far from ideal. But often this verse is quoted as evidence that David's mother was a harlot or that Jesse had a fling at some point that produced an illegitimate child.
Although it is easy to see if this verse was taken into isolation and not kept within the context of the chapter, we will dig a bit deeper, past the surface to find out what lies beneath. So the following is my explanation of David's childhood and the estrangement he felt within his own family and the reasons that we read his account of his challenges in Psalm 69.
Along with virtually all commentators, Albert Barnes shares his thoughts on verse 5 of Psalm 51.
The language goes no further than this in regard to the question of original sin or native depravity. The Septuagint agrees with this interpretation - ἰδού γὰρ ἐν ανομίαις συνελήφθην idou gar en anomias sunelēfthēn. So the Vulgate: in iniquitatibus conceptus sum.
And in sin did my mother conceive me - Margin, as in Hebrew, "warm me." This language simply traces his sin back to the time when he began to exist. The previous expression traced it to "his birth;" this expression goes back to the very beginning of "life;" when there were the first indications of life. The idea is, "as soon as I began to exist I was a sinner; or, I had then a propensity to sin - a propensity, the sad proof and result of which is that enormous act of guilt which I have committed."
Albert Barnes (December 1, 1798 – December 24, 1870) was an American theologian, born in Rome, New York. He graduated from Hamilton College, Clinton, New York, in 1820, and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1823.
I have become a stranger to my brothers, And an alien to my mother’s children;
So we know that David is not trying to deflect blame to his mother in Psalm 51. Which is a Psalm of repentance for his affair and ultimate death of his first son by Bathsheba? No, David is acknowledging that sin is already within the human condition at conception. A thought accepted by Christian and Jewish theologians alike. But his verse here, and in fact the whole chapter of 69, can lead quite a bit to his childhood growing up, especially when we combine this with the Jewish teachings and histories of the young David.
David is a key figure in the line of Christ, but he is not a figure without controversy. It is the lineage of David that has led many orthodox Jewish rabbis to dismiss Christ altogether as the Messiah. In fact, this challenge to the purity of the bloodline is not a new argument. Jesse, David's father wrestled with these thoughts and faced the challenges of legitimacy in his own time. But let's go back a bit further.
The parting of the Red Sea. Yup, we had to go back that far. Nahshon is the leader of the tribe of Judah at the time. His son is Salmon, whom most of you reading this perhaps have never heard of. Yet, this Prince of the tribe of Judah chooses a very odd bride for himself. Salmon married Rahab - a Canaanite prostitute from Jericho. I have a lot to say about Rahab, but that has to wait for another article.
Rahab is a mother to Boaz. Now, who is Boaz? Well, within Jewish history as well as scripture there is much said about this great man of honour. How do you get a man of honour? I think a mother plays a great part in making that man. Ah, see there I am talking about Rahab again. Anyhow, Boaz married a Moabite woman, Ruth.
So in Jesse's lineage, he has a Moabite woman and a Canaanite woman, as Grandparents. Jesse was a man who grew to become well respected in the community and marries into a 'pure-blooded' Jewish family. His wife's name is Nitzvet.
Pure-blooded Jewish families were proud to be able to list their father's back to Moses
and the Exodus. And those in the Exodus could name their father's back to Adam.
Now Boaz understood that there was a law forbidding marriage with Moabites on the books. Duet. 23. Yet Boaz understood this law to be directed towards the male Moabites and not the women. He gathered the elders to discuss this and teach on this point. Boaz held a seat in Sanhedrin in his day, the council of elders who would sit in judgment over disputes and helped to interpret the law. Boaz is eighty at the time of his marriage to Ruth in the attempt to maintain his kinsmen's line and Ruth conceived on the wedding night. This was a good thing because according to Jewish histories, Boaz dies on the same night. This led some elders to declare that it was a judgment of God on the issue, while others dismissed it as an old man, ummm, with just too much to handle for the ole ticker.
Nevertheless, Obed is born and raised to be a God-fearing man who despite some in the community has a story to talk about in regards to his birth, overall, he is greatly admired and his wisdom and respect also pushes him into a seat on the Sanhedrin. Obed, it is said in the Targum 4:22, "no sin or fault was found in him". Simply put, he was a pretty upright guy.
By the time Jesse, is sitting on the Sanhedrin and hearing the tales of his lineage, as if he didn't know, the thorns begin to sink in. The enemies plan to unseat a family that God has been looking out to have almost worked. Doubt now sets in. Jesse considers himself a 'lessor' Jew male with a sorted bloodline, who married a 'pure-blood' Jewish woman. This is the law that would make all of Jesse's existing sons illegitimate. So he comes up with a plan to try to legitimize himself. He decides to cease all sexual relations with Nitzevet. He did this out of love for her, because she, as a pure Israelite, would be sinning to be married to someone who was of impure Moabite ancestry. Furthermore, Jesse began to doubt the legitimacy of his seven sons. If he was impure, then his children were illegitimate and impure as well. So Jesse, wanting a legitimate heir, came up with a plan to have a son in the same way that his forefather Abraham had done: through relations with his wife’s Canaanite maidservant.
He thought he had a cunning plan. He did not count on the fact that the maid was very loyal and loved Nitzevet. So together they form a pact and switch places like Rachel and Leah. The maid's desire to honour Nitzevet here is remarkable. Nitzevet takes the maids place on the night of the wedding and she conceives. I know, I suppose no one made love with the lights on back then.
Jesse's thinking was that if the maid gave him a son then this heir would be legitimate and legal in the eyes of the Sanhedrin, but if she did not bear him a son, his promise to free the maid would be forfeit. Yet when Nitzevet turns up pregnant instead, both Jesse and his sons assume that mother has played the harlot on poor confused Jesse. Refusing to stone her, as the sons desired, Jesse's love for Nitzevet compels him to keep her, but treat the child she bears like a servant.
"In this way, everyone will realize that his status is questionable and, as an illegitimate child, he will not marry an Israelite.” Ironically, Jesse's attempt to legitimize his line leads to the birth of David, a legitimate heir, whom he thinks is an illegitimate child. From the time of his birth onwards, then, Nitzevet’s son was treated by his brothers as an abominable outcast. Noting the conduct of his brothers, the rest of the community assumed that this youth was a treacherous sinner full of unspeakable guilt.
“Those who sit in the gate speak against me, and I am the song of the drunkards.”
On the infrequent occasions that Nitzevet’s son would return from the pastures to his home in Bethlehem, he was shunned by the townspeople. If something was lost or stolen, he was accused as the natural culprit, and ordered, in the words of the psalm, to “repay what I have not stolen.” Eventually, the entire lineage of Jesse was questioned, as well as the basis of the original law of the Moabite convert. People claimed that all the positive qualities of Boaz became manifest in Jesse and his illustrious seven sons, while all the negative character traits from Ruth the Moabite clung to this despicable youngest son.
I Samuel 16:4
And Samuel did that which the LORD spoke and came to Bethlehem.
And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, Come you peaceably?
We have the account Samuel filling his horn with oil and go to Jesse the Bethlehemite and anoint one of his sons as the next king over Israel to replace the rejected King Saul. Notice how the elders greet Samuel. They are shaking in their boots. Such is the fear and honour of this great prophet. So when Samuel commands that Jesse arrange his sons for inspection, do you suspect that Jesse, just figured, "the old man is crazy, he doesn't mean ALL of my sons."
A great feast is arranged and plans to invite the distinguished guests are made. This all takes time, and you can rest assured that the family was not going to risk any embarrassment. So the trouble-maker, the bastard boy, the family's shame is sent away, far away with the sheep.
I Samuel 16:6-12
Jesse had his seven sons pass before Samuel. Samuel said to Jesse, “God has not chosen any of them.” At last, Samuel said to Jesse, “Are there no lads remaining?” He answered, “A small one is left; he is taking care of the sheep.” So Samuel said to him, “Send for him and have him brought; we will not sit down until he comes here.”
A messenger was dispatched to David who, out of respect for the prophet, first went home to wash and change his clothes. Unaccustomed to seeing David home at such a time, Nitzevet inquired, “Why did you come home in the middle of the day?”
David explained the reason, and Nitzevet answered, “If so, I too am accompanying you.”As David arrived, Samuel saw a man “of ruddy complexion, with red hair, beautiful eyes, and handsome to look at.” David’s physical appearance alludes to the different aspects of his personality. His ruddiness suggests a warlike nature, while his eyes and general appearance indicate kindness and gentility.
God said: “Rise up, anoint him, for this is the one!”
According to the Jewish Rabbis a better reading of verse 11 would be:
“My anointed one is standing before you, and you remain seated?
Arise and anoint David without delay! For he is the one I have chosen!”
As Samuel anointed David, the sound of weeping could be heard from outside the great hall. It was the voice of Nitzevet, David’s lone supporter and solitary source of comfort. Her long years of silence in the face of humiliation were finally coming to a close. At last, all would see that the lineage of her youngest son was pure, undefiled by any blemish. Finally, the anguish and humiliation that she and her son had borne would come to an end.
And so we have filled-in some gaps and present this to you for your consideration. Naturally, this is not all divinely inspired scripture. Nope. I just wrote this up after some research and its just some thoughts. We all have our own opinions on such things. Reflecting on it, I don't see how any of it could not be true. Many make a strong argument for this. I tend to agree.
I hope this helps you if you have been thinking that David's mother was somehow a harlot or his father had an affair. There was back then a strong push to delegitimize David, and later Solomon too. Yet, God chose these men. He chose you too. Your past does not define you. God chose Rahab, Ruth, and David the same way He chose you. Because He loves you and loves showing off His kids. Give Him a chance to do that in your life.