As I was researching a text for my book on Calvinism, I stumbled across the Jewish tradition that David was born as the result of an alleged adulterous relationship. Have you ever heard of this idea that David’s mother committed adultery? I hadn’t either. But I researched it, and checked with several of my Rabbi friends, all of whom said that this is the traditional Jewish history regarding David and David’s mother.

I am sharing it with you because it has many surprising parallels to Jesus.

The tradition is based on Psalm 69

The mystery behind David’s birth, the ordeal he passed as a result of his birth and how God intervened to turnaround his story as he said in Psalm 118:21-24

“I will praise You, for You have answered me, and have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 69:8

“I have become a stranger to my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s children.”

The above Psalm describes the life of a poor, despised, rejected, lowly, and a victim of circumstances of life, who lacks comfort and defence even from his immediate family members. It is the voice of a tormented soul who has experienced untold humiliation and disgrace because of the mystery surrounding his birth. David passionately gives voice to the heaviest burdens of his soul, refers to a period of twenty-eight years, from his earliest childhood until he was crowned as king over the people of Israel by Prophet Samuel. David was born into the extremely distinguished family of Yishai (Jesse), who served as the head of the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court of Torah law). Jesse was one of the most distinguished leaders of his generation. David was the youngest in his family, which included seven other illustrious and charismatic brothers. Yet, when David was born, this prominent family greeted his birth with utter derision and contempt. David was not permitted to eat with the rest of his family, but was assigned to a separate table in the corner. He was given the task of shepherd because “they hoped that a wild beast would come and kill him while he was performing his duties, and for this reason he was sent to pasture in dangerous areas full of lions and bears.

That is why David said in Psalm 23:4

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Only his mother, Nitzevet bat Adael had a deep and unconditional bond of love for the child whom she alone knew was undoubtedly pure. She felt the intensity of her youngest child’s pain and rejection as her own. Torn and anguished by David’s unwarranted degradation, yet powerless to stop it. Nitzevet stood by the sidelines, in solidarity with him, shunned herself, as she too cried rivers of tears, waiting for the time when justice would be served.


To understand Psalm 69:8 better, we need to dig deep to the mystery surrounding David’s birth. David’s father, Yishai (Jesse) was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. During Ruth’s lifetime, many individuals were doubtful about the legitimacy of her marriage to Boaz. The Jewish traditional law explicitly forbade Hebrew women from marrying Moabite men because of how the Moabites treated the Israelites when they were wandering in the wilderness, after being freed from their taskmasters in Egypt. Boaz and the sages understood this law as per the classic interpretation transmitted in the “Oral Torah” as forbidding intermarriage with converted male Moabites (who were the ones responsible for the cruel conduct), while exempting female Moabite converts. With his marriage to Ruth, Boaz hoped to clarify and publicize this Torah law, which was still unknown to the masses. But Boaz died the night after his marriage with Ruth. Many believed that his death proved that God had condemned Boaz’ marriage to Ruth, and had punished him accordingly. Ruth conceived on the night she met with Boaz and subsequently gave birth to their son Obed, the father of Jesse. Jesse married Nitzvet, an Israelite.

However, after Jesse had fathered seven sons with Nitzevet (after many years of being together, he had gained honor as a righteous man and spiritual leader in the community) doubts began to fill his mind about whether or not his line and seed were permanently polluted by his Moabite blood. It was at this point that he resolved 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. If he has a son from this union, the son would be recognized by all as a legitimate heir, thus securing Jesse’s family line. When the Canaanite woman was told of this plan, she did not want to participate, for she loved Nitzevet, and had seen the pain that she had gone through by being separated from her husband for so many years. So she told Nitzevet about Jesse’s plan, and the two of them decided to do what Laban had done so many years earlier with Leah and Rachel. With a prayer on her lips that her plan should succeed, Nitzevet took the place of her maidservant. On that night, Nitzevet conceived, and Jesse remained ignorant of what had taken place.

But several months later, Nitzevet began to show that she was with child, and her seven sons, as well as her husband, all believed that she had committed adultery. The sons wanted to kill their adulterous mother by stoning (as the law called for) and her illegitimate baby with her, but out of love for his wife, Jesse intervened. Nitzevet did not reveal to her husband that the child was his, for she did not want to embarrass him by revealing the truth of what had happened. Instead, she chose to bear the shame of their son. Unaware of the truth behind his wife’s pregnancy, but having compassion on her, Jesse ordered his sons not to touch her. “Do not kill her! Instead, let the child that will be born be treated as a lowly and despised servant. In this way everyone will realize that his status is questionable and, as an illegitimate child, he will not marry an Israelite.”

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.

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 16:1-13 give account of how God instructed Prophet Samuel to fill 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.

In verse 5, he told Jesse and his sons about his mission. When they came, Samuel saw Eliab (Jesse’s oldest son), and he thought, “Surely God’s anointed stands before Him!”

But God said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his physical stature, because I have refused him. God does not see with mere eyes, like a man does. God sees the heart!”

Then Jesse called Abinadab (his second son), and made him pass before Samuel. He said: “God did not choose this one either.”

Jesse made Shammah pass, and Samuel said, “God has not chosen this one either.”

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.”

So he sent for him and had him brought. He was of ruddy complexion with red hair, beautiful eyes, and handsome to look at.

God said: “Rise up, anoint him, for this is the one!” (I Samuel 16:6–12)

A messenger was dispatched to David who, out of respect for the prophet, first went home to wash himself 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 differing aspects of his personality. His ruddiness suggests a warlike nature, while his eyes and general appearance indicate kindness and gentility.

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 twenty-eight 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.

Facing her other sons, Nitzevet exclaimed, “The stone that was reviled by the builders has now become the cornerstone!” (Psalms 118:22)

Humbled, they responded, “This has come from God; it was hidden from our eyes” verse 23.


King David would have many more trials to face until he was acknowledged by the entire nation as the new monarch to replace King Saul. During his kingship, and throughout his life, up until his old age, King David faced many ordeals.

King David possessed many great talents and qualities which would assist him in attaining the tremendous achievements of his lifetime. Many of these positive qualities were inherited from his illustrious father, Yishai, after whom he is fondly and respectfully called ben Yishai, the son of Yishai.

But it was undoubtedly from his mother that the young David absorbed the fortitude and courage to face his adversaries. From the moment he was born, and during his most tender years, it was Nitzevet who, by example, taught him the essential lesson of valuing every individual’s dignity and refraining from embarrassing another, regardless of the personal consequences. It was she who displayed a silent but stoic bravery and dignity in the face of the gravest hardship.

It is from Nitzevet that King David absorbed the strength, born from an inner confidence, to disregard the callous treatment of the world and find solace in the comfort of one’s Maker. It was this strength that would fortify King David to defeat his staunchest antagonists and his most treacherous enemies, as he valiantly fought against the mightiest warriors on behalf of his people.

Nitzevet taught her young child to find strength in following the path of one’s inner convictions, irrespective of the cruelty that might be hurled at him. Her display of patient confidence in the Creator that justice would be served gave David the inner peace and solace that he would need, over and over again, in confronting the formidable challenges in his life. Rather than succumb to his afflictions, rather than become the individual who was shunned by his tormentors, David learned from his mother to stand proud and dignified, feeling consolation in communicating with his Maker in the open pastures.

She demonstrated to him, as well, the necessity of boldness while pursuing the right path. When the situation would call for it, personal risks must be taken. Without her bold action in taking the place of her maidservant that fateful night, the great soul of her youngest child, David, the forebear of Moshiach, would never have descended to this world.

The soul-stirring psalms composed by King David in his greatest hours of need eloquently describe his suffering and heartache, as well as his faith and conviction. The book of Psalms gives a voice to each of us, and has become the balm to soothe all of our wounds, as we too encounter the many personal and communal hardships of life in galut (exile).

As we say these verses, our voices mesh with Nitzevet’s, with King David’s, and with all the voices of those past and present who have experienced unjustified pain, in beseeching our Maker for that time when the “son (descendant) of David” will usher in the era of redemption, and true justice will suffuse creation.

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