Jesse is formally introduced to the reader of the OT where Samuel anointed Jesse’s son David as the future king of Israel (1 Sam 16:1-13). At the command of Yahweh, the prophet journeyed to Bethlehem for a sacrificial meal to which Jesse and his family were invited. In the course of events, seven of Jesse’s sons passed in review before Samuel, but none was chosen of God. Upon inquiry, the prophet found that the eighth and youngest son was in the field tending sheep. David was summoned, reviewed, given the divine sanction, and anointed. The indications are that neither Jesse nor David understood all the implications of Samuel’s actions on this occasion.
Jesse is next mentioned where Saul sent a messenger requesting him to allow David to come to court and play his harp to cure the king’s melancholia (1 Sam 16:14f.). Jesse agreed to the king’s request, and not only sent his son, but also a present of meat, bread, and wine for the king. This indicates that Jesse was a prosperous and generous farmer, and also one who knew the courtly protocol of his day. He was also magnanimous enough to leave David at Saul’s court when the latter made further request of his services (16:22, 23).
Jesse, on another occasion, unwittingly initiated David into his military career by sending him to the battle front at the appropriate moment. Laden with fresh provisions for his three older brothers who were serving in Saul’s army, David stumbled into camp just as the Israelites were confronted by a huge Philistine force whose champion was Goliah of Gath. The stripling David gained immortal renown by slaying the Philistine giant (1 Sam 17:17ff.).
Jesse’s safety and welfare became the concern of David during the years he lived as a fugitive from Saul. Fearing that Saul, in one of his periodic fits of depression, might harm his aged parents, David sent them away to the land of Moab until the danger was past. They apparently survived the sojourn in Moab without mishap (1 Sam 22:2-4).
Jesse is mentioned in the prophecies of Isaiah as an ancestor of the future messianic king. Here “the shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Isa 11:1) and “the root of Jesse” (11:10) were symbolic terms for that messianic personage who was to bring in the long-awaited eschaton. Paul used the expression “the root of Jesse” (Rom 15:12) to identify Jesus with the messianic prophecies of the OT. The same could be said for Matthew’s and Luke’s inclusion of Jesse in the genealogies of Jesus (Matt 1:5; Luke 3:32).
J. P. Lange, “Samuel,” Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (1877), 221f.; also “Isaiah” (1878), 162, 165; K. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, “Samuel,” Biblical Commentary (1866), 167, 178f.; also “Isaiah” (reprint 1949), 281, 288; A. Edersheim, Bible History, IV (reprint 1949), 800-884; Brown, Driver and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon (1955), 445.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(1) In 1Sa 16:1-13, where Jesse is called the Bethlehemite. Samuel is sent to seek among Jesse’s sons successor to Saul.
Both Samuel and Jesse fail to discern at first Yahweh’s choice, Samuel thinking that it would be the eldest son (1Sa 16:6), while Jesse had not thought it worth while to call the youngest to the feast (1Sa 16:11).
(2) (a) In 1Sa 16:14-23, Saul is mentally disturbed, and is advised to get a harpist. David "the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite" is recommended by a courtier, and Saul sends to Jesse for David.
"And Jesse took ten loaves (so emend and translate, and not as the Revised Version (British and American), "an ass laden with bread"), and a (skin) bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them" to Saul as a present with David, who becomes a courtier of Saul’s with his father’s consent.
(b) The next mention of Jesse is in three contemptuous references by Saul to David as "the son of Jesse" in 1Sa 20:27,30,31, part of the quarrel-scene between Saul and Jonathan. (But it is not quite certain if 1Sa 20 belongs to the same source as 16:14-23.) In answer to the first reference, Jonathan calls his friend "David," and Saul repeats the phrase "the son of Jesse," abusing Jonathan personally (1Sa 20:30, where the meaning is uncertain). The reference to David as "the son of Jesse" here and in the following verse is contemptuous, not because of any reproach that might attach itself to Jesse, but, as Budde remarks, because "an upstart is always contemptuously referred to under his father’s name" in courts and society. History repeats itself!
(c) Further references of a like kind are in the passage, 1Sa 22:6-23, namely, in 22:7,8,13 by Saul, and repeated by Doeg in 22:9.
(d) The final one of this group is in 1Sa 25:10, where Nabal sarcastically asks "Who is David ? and who is the son of Jesse?"
(3) The parts of 1Sa 17-18:5 which are omitted by Septuagint B, i.e. 17:12-31,41,48b,50,55-18:6a. Here Jesse is mentioned as "an Ephrathite of Beth-lehem-judah" (17:12, not "that" Ephrathite, which is a grammatically impossible translation of the Massoretic Text), Ephrath or Ephrathah being another name for Bethlehem, or rather for the district. He is further said to have eight sons (17:12), of whom the three eldest had followed Saul to the war (17:13).
Jesse sends David, the shepherd, to his brothers with provisions (1Sa 17:17). Afterward David, on being brought to Saul and asked who he is, answers, "I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite" (1Sa 17:58). Jesse is also described (1Sa 17:12) as being "in the days of Saul an old man, advanced in years" (so emend and translate, not as the Revised Version (British and American), "stricken in years among men"). The mention of his having 8 sons in 1Sa 17:12 is not in agreement with 1Ch 2:13-15, which gives only 7 sons with two sisters, but where Syriac gives 8, adding, from 27:18, Elihu which Massoretic Text has there probably by corruption (Curtis, Chronicles, 88). 1Sa 16:10 should be translated" and Jesse made his 7 sons to pass before Samuel" (not as the Revised Version (British and American), the King James Version, "seven of his sons"). Budde (Kurz. Hand-Komm., "Samuel," 114) holds 1Sa 16:1-13 to be a late Midrash, and (ibid., 123 f) omits
(a) "that" in 17:12;
(b) also "and he had 8 sons" as due to a wrong inference from 16:10;
(c) the names of the 3 eldest in 17:13;
(d) 17:14b; he then changes 17:15a, and reads thus: (12) "Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem-Judah, whose name was Jesse who was .... (years) old at the time of Saul. (13) And the 3 eldest sons of Jesse had marched with Saul to the war, (14) and David was the youngest, (15) and David had remained to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. (16) Now the Philistines came," etc.
According to all these narratives in 1 Samuel, whether all 3 be entirely independent of one another or not, Jesse had land in Bethlehem, probably outside the town wall, like Boaz (see Boaz) his grandfather (Ru 4:17). In 1Sa 22:3,1 David entrusts his father and mother to the care of the king of Moab, but from 20:29 some have inferred that Jesse was dead (although most critics assign 22:3 at any rate to the same stratum as chapter 20).
Jonathan tells Saul that David wanted to attend a family sacrificial feast at Bethlehem (1Sa 20:29). Massoretic Text reads, "And he, my brother, has commanded me," whereas we should probably read with Septuagint, "and my brethren have commanded me," i.e. the members of the clan, as we have farther on in the verse, "Let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren." As to Jesse’s daughters, see Abigail; Nahash.
(4) Of the other references to Jesse, the most noteworthy is that in Isa 11:1: "There shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit," i.e. out of Jesse’s roots (compare Re 5:5). "Why Jesse and not David?" asks Duhm; and he answers, "Because the Messiah will be a second David, rather than a descendant of David." Marti explains it to mean that he will be, not from David, but from a collateral line of descent. Duhm’s explanation suggests a parallelism between David and Christ, of whom the former may be treated as a type similar to Aaron and Melchizedek in He. Saul might pour contempt upon "the son of Jesse," but Isaiah has given Jesse here a name above all Hebrew names, and thus does Providence mock "society."
See also ROOT OF JESSE.
David Francis Roberts