David’s upbringing and the Midrash

One of my good friends Jana Diaz (who has been on some x44 films and taught at range nights with us) recently shared at our churches woman’s breakfast on the strength and upbringing of David’s tumultuous youth and transition as a king. Unfortunately, being a male, I was not allowed to attend although I am so very thankful for her incredible giftings as a teacher and her heart for a better Jesus understanding to a culture that seems lost in so many ways (-and I am not speaking merely salvifically.) So, as I did not hear her presentation, I am familiar with the content and traditional Jewish context of David’s upbringing. Whenever something is shared from a perspective of Jewish tradition there are always a lot of evangelical Christian eyebrows raised. Evangelicals often wonder, “if this is true, how can people that have been attending church their whole lives have no knowledge of things like this.” Then sometimes you get people questioning the source or even going as far as alluding that any information not found directly in the pages of the Bible is heretical. That way of thinking is always devastating to the unity of the church, and luckily to my knowledge there wasn’t any thoughts like that going around with my friend’s particular message. I only heard raving remarks and how much impact it had on the lives of the women gleaning from such a beautiful message. But at some point, nearly every Christian that dives into a biblical discussion with details they have never heard, they begin to question where someone learned about things. In this case and many others, it lies in the Jewish Rabbinical thought passed on mostly orally from generation to generation. In many ways it isn’t much different than the story of job that took many generations of being passed before it was penned or several other scriptural examples. Of course, Job is soundly part of the canon, and the Jewish rabbinical sources are not nor would anyone that is familiar with them treat them in the same way. But they are still incredibly useful to scholars and lovers of the Bible alike. I have been profoundly touched and strengthened in my discipleship as a result of reading them. Many of my messages of first century culture and older have been influenced by such works. So first let me share the story of David and his tumultuous upbringing. Then let me circle back to discussing the sources from which the following information comes from and shed light on how we might use or treat them.

First, let’s refamiliarize ourselves with much of the themed messages that we get from the biblical writings of David.

-I am wearied by my calling out, and my throat is dry. I’ve lost hope in waiting . . .

-More numerous than the hairs on my head are those who hate me without reason . . .

-Must I then repay what I have not stolen?

-Mighty are those who would cut me down, who are my enemies without cause . . .

-I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons.

-Out of envy for Your House, they ravaged me; the disgraces of those who revile You have fallen upon me . . .

-Those who sit by the gate talk about me. I am the taunt of drunkards . . .

We know of David’s hardship later in life, being pursued for 14 years after being promised to be king and often associate his feelings in the psalms with the turmoil of this stage of his life. But it seems these psalms aren’t limited to his later in life experiences, many of them describe his early life rather than later situations. Many remember when Samuel was looking for the next king that David was not presented. We get an inkling that he was being shunned by his family (“I have become a stranger to my brothers”), by the Torah sages who sat in judgment at the gates (“those who sit by the gate talk about me”) and by the drunkards on the street corners (“I am the taunt of drunkards”)? It seems that Davids’s hardships started long before he was being hunted by King Saul. In fact, when you dive in, you find that the 28 years of his life leading up to him being coronated as the king might not have been any better than the stories we know of his despair as he ran for his life.

David was born into the family of Jesse, who was the head of the sanhedrin. It might surprise you in such a prominent family that David was not permitted to eat with the rest of his family but was assigned to a separate table in the corner, or even treated like the animals. It is also thought that he was given the job of a lowly shepherd in hopes that he might be devoured by the lions and bears. Typically speaking a family of such stature would have likely hired help for those jobs. To understand the situation better I would point you towards the Midrashim; or specifically the Yalkut HaMachiri, as well as Sefer HaTodaah (section on Sivan and Shavuot) where you get the idea that David was more of the unwanted stepchild than one fit for a king. These sources also share that it was David’s mother, Nitzevet bat Adael, who continued to pour life into David and didn’t give up on him.

David’s father (translated as Yishai) was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. The story of Ruth is interesting as it hardly mentions faith in God. I would suggest starting with our video series here. Yishai was likely ridiculed for his lineage from Ruth as she was a Moabite and according to the Torah, Boaz would have been forbidden to marry her. According to the sages, many devout Israelites were doubtful about the legitimacy of Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. You will notice when you read Ruth in the Bible there is a matter of a distant relative, however when you try to find record of this law in the Torah you likely won’t, at least it is unclear. Some scholars believe it to have been a rabbinically accepted and transmitted “oral law” that not all would have been familiar with or accepted, and certainly would have not been admirable in the Sanhedrin. You might remember that you were connected or personally responsible to 4 generations behind and 4 ahead. To make matters even worse, most evangelical Christians are not aware that Boaz died the night after his marriage after Ruth had conceived a son that would later be known as Oved (Obed) the father of Yishai. As you can imagine during that time the supposed marriage to a woman described by the amazing term “ESHET CHAYIL” was steeped in rumors and contempt with every scenario possible being alluded to. Was Boaz duped and murdered? This was likely worse than your typical Soap Opera of the 1980’s. There was also an idea of the retribution principle coming from God, that you get what you deserve and perhaps God had taken Boaz’s life because he was outside of the Torah.

In an ancient context they that lived by the idea of the retribution principle to mean that the only way you could essentially prove God was with you and you were honorable before Him, was if blessings reigned on you to 4 generations. In other words, time would tell over the next 4 generations displaying whether or not God had smiled on the union. In this case, it was said that most eventually considered Jesse’s household to have been blessed or redeemed or to be considered as of honorable decent, but many would still question him three generations later (because 4 had not been reached yet). As the ancient tale is told as handed from one generation to another; Yishai chose to make an honorable decision not continue to engage in marital relations with his wife. Surprisingly according to the acceptable situations of Rabbinical law, he could engage in relations with his Canaanite maidservant. This is where we start to see how the Rabbinical law was tainted and far from what God wanted of his people. This is also why the trajectory of Jesus treated much of the pharisaical contingents to be more opposite of His father than for Him.

This is where the story gets bizarre but is reminiscent of several of Biblical stories that are also a bit messed up based on the accepted culture. The maidservant felt compassion for Nitzevet and the two of them plotted a conspiracy saying, “Let us learn from your ancestresses and replicate their actions. Switch places with me tonight, just as Leah did with Rachel.” That night, Nitzevet conceived and Yishai remained unaware of the switch. Genesis 38 and Midrashim commentaries would tell us that as her pregnancy became apparent, Nitzevet would not embarrass her husband by revealing the truth of what had occurred. In the same way that her ancestress Tamar, who was prepared to be burned alive rather than embarrass Judah. Nitzevet took a vow of silence (which has parallels to the story of John the Baptist and Elizabeth) and like Tamar, would see blessings as her offspring would be the seed of the Messiah. By law Nitzevet could have been killed along with the fetus, but Yishai decided against it but is believed to have said that this child may not marry an Israelite which was the cultural way of disowning an illegitimate child without killing them. It was the expected action of a father which parallels the opposite response of the father in the story of the prodigal son that Jesus told and would no doubt have had the Pharisees understanding the implication to have been pointed at his 4th generational ancestry. It is also notable that David and Nitzevet may not have been allowed to live in the main house, but likely lived in the lower room or stable, which I am sure has your head spinning with messianic implication.

As you can imagine, now you can understand why David was nowhere to be found when Samuel visited the family to choose a king. It was common knowledge that he was treated as an outcast which is also confirmed in the psalm where David says he was a “stranger” to his brothers, the Hebrew word for stranger, muzar, is from the same root as mamzer—bastard, illegitimate offspring. In the psalms it was a recognizable idiom or play on words. He was likely the “butt” of every joke and probably even abused by his brothers and other family members and that is likely where the words “repay what I have not stolen” come from. You also may recall when Samuel came to choose the next king the text tells us:

At last Samuel said to Yishai, “Are there no lads remaining?”

He answered, “A small one is left; he is taking care of the sheep.”

If you read this in Hebrew you would notice something, Samuel says, “Are these all the lads?” Had he asked if these were all Yishai’s sons, Yishai would have answered affirmatively, that there were no more of his sons, since David was not given the status of a son. But he asks are there no lads remaining? In Hebrew this is very telling. It meant that either Samuel knew or God gave him the knowledge. We also might read into some of the other text,” David’s physical appearance alludes to the differing aspects of his personality. His ruddiness suggests a warlike nature, while his eyes and general appearance indicate kindness and gentility.2

It is said that Nitzevet ended her 28 years of silence that day as she wept for David in Joy. It showed that the lineage of her son was pure and undefiled. 3 and that Nitzevet exclaimed, “The stone that was reviled by the builders has now become the cornerstone!” as we read requoted in Psalms 118:22. 4

The Midrash tradition tells over and over how it was Davids mother that gave him the fortitude to face his adversaries and the dignity to rise above the worst of accusers. In fact, it is thought that David’s mother was the strength of His Psalms and the source of his incredible heart’s connection to the Lord.

It is also said that she spoke truth over him, and it came to be through the power of the Lord God almighty.

Why haven’t evangelicals ever heard this. Well, one reason is because scripture was written in a man only context. I am an Egalitarian and truly believe that the Bible and especially Jesus taught a very woman forward way of thinking compared to the cultural context. I love this aspect. But I also think that sometimes evangelical are afraid to open the floodgates. They may not truly believe that the bible can stand alone. This is unfortunate to me because I think as we examine the known biblical commentary, we expand our insight and love for Jesus and the father. David was said to have spoken a voice many years before his time that would go on to console and empower the remnant believers during the exile and diaspora. You likely picked up that this is an exodus like redemption story that will give way to David’s descendent the Messiah and the redemption of the world often described as the NEW EXODUS. The details on David’s mother don’t change the Biblical story, but they help us to understand what could be more of the full spectrum the grace of God has shown outside of the scriptures we accept as inerrant. I have also found that they lead me to a better understanding of the lens of God’s complete love for His people.


The final part of this article is intended to address concerns of Midrash source. As you have witnessed much of this story most evangelical Christians won’t know. Yet most traditional Jews and Messianic Jews will accept openly, nearly as if it were infallible scripture. Most of the Midrash was written from 400-1000AD. They are traditional rabbinical information and tales handed down from one generation to the next orally and finally put to writing when writing became dramatically easier. As I alluded to earlier, it isn’t much different than how we got the other parts of scripture handed down to us, these just came a little bit later and most scholars feel they take the shape more of historical documentation or commentary than they resemble scripture. If you follow the sources I have provided and are able to read them, you will quickly understand what I mean by this. I personally would hold them one step less than the regard I hold for a Josephus writing that most people are considerably more familiar with and pretty openly accept as factual history. Is every story real, likely not, but we may never know. Some are more believable and hold better context than others, but many paint a beautiful picture or mosaic that we can glean from such as the details of the story of Davids mother. If you are wondering if the story is true or accurate, you’re probably not seeing it for the beauty that it is.

  1. Siftei Kohen, Vayeishev
  2. Malbim
  3. Bereishit Rabbah 63:8
  4. Midrash Tanchuma

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