Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jesse Tree Day 16 - Jesse

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
-- Isaiah 11:1

Nobody starts out wanting to found a dynasty -- or do they?  I doubt the first Rockefeller thought about it, or the Rothschilds either.  The first people in a family are usually too busy trying to make ends meet, feed the kids and keep a roof over their heads.  Still, some families, due to hard work, foresight, imagination, guts and maybe a little luck thrown in, end up with names everybody knows (even if the closest they ever come is buying a product or visiting s store or the like) and one that paparazzi love to photograph (especially when the famous are being naughty).

Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth and was a man of standing in the community, an elder and a landowner with herds of sheep. He also had a number of sons, seven if you go by 1 Samuel, eight if you read 1 Chronicles. Whichever it is, only one son really was important in history -- the youngest, David. When Samuel came looking among Jesse's sons for the next king of Israel (to replace the one they already had), all the other sons were johnny-on-the-spot and Samuel was ready to anoint any of them God chose. But God wasn't satisfied with the lineup Jesse presented so Jesse sent someone to the fields to call David in from his job with the sheep. Midrash says that David was out being a shepherd because his father Jesse had had scruples before his birth.

After six (or seven) sons, Jesse was bothered by the fact that Ruth, his grandmother, was a Moabite who had married Boaz, her husband's kinsman and a Canaanite. There was a law in the Oral Torah that fobade Israelites marrying Moabite converts, and the argument that flowed even in Ruth's time was whether that law applied to just Moabite men or whether women were included.

The Midrash continues with Jesse deciding (a bit late, perhaps) that his six (or was it seven?) sons were possibly not truly Canaanite and he needed to create some (possibly) legitimate sons. He had separated several years before from his wife, and had remained chaste -- which chafed considerably. He wanted more sons, legitimately Caananite sons, so he tried to seduce a Canaanite servant. The servant also had scruples; she knew how sad Jesse's wife was about the separation and also her desire for more children herself, so the servant tipped Nitzevet off, Nitzevet took the servant's place on the sly and as a result David was conceived. It is said that Jesse did not know of the switch and when his former wife began swelling like a watermelon he was certain it was by some other man. That, the Midrash says is why David was out tending sheep instead of being involved in the family celebration welcoming Samuel.  Sometimes the wisest man can jump to conclusions.  So can the wisest women. The trick is to know when to jump and when to hang on to the edge of the cliff.

So what can I learn from Jesse?  Scruples are one thing, but sometimes scruples can get a person in trouble if they get in the way of relationships. Another thing is that I need to treat people with fairness because the one I consign to standing outside when I'm throwing a party might be the one who ends up more important than any guest at my table. Also, like most of the people in the genealogy of Jesus, Jesse had flaws, no matter how wise or respected he was.

Sometimes scruples hurt.

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