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O turn unto me, and have mercy upon me; give thy strength unto thy servant, and save the son of thine handmaid. (Psalm 86:16 KJV)

Reading this Psalm today today it struck that the psalmist describes himself as the son God's handmaid. However, I was surprised to see few if any commentators mention this. Does this refer to David's mother? Some possibilities:

  • The handmaid's son is David. Although his mother is not named in the Bible, the Talmud knows her as Nitzevet daughter of Adael. David calls her God's handmaid because she was a righteous and obedient woman. On the other hand David is also thought to have written: "Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) These two apparent references to his mother are hard to reconcile.

  • The handmaid's son is a different person from the psalmist, who is praying for God's strength in one phrase, and asking God to save the (unknown) handmaid's son in a separate plea.

  • The handmaid's son is the psalmist, but the writer is not David. This approach fits with the attitude of critical scholars who believe that most of the psalms attributed to David were not actually his own compositions.

  • The handmaid's son is Christ, whose mother, Mary, identified herself as God's handmaid in Luke 1:28; and David is speaking prophetically.

In case the answer is that the handmaid's son is David, what is known about his mother? How can her conceiving David in sin be reconciled with her being God's handmaid?

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    Psalm 51:5 is the writer's reflection about being shaped in/by a world separated from God and that his mother delivered him into such a world. It is not a reference to illicit sex on his mother's part, if that is what you're inferring.
    – enegue
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 21:15

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I will take the conservative approach and assume that Ps 86 is what it says it is - a "Psalm of David". It is certainly consistent with Davidic literature, phraseology and themes.

However, whether this is true or not, is almost beside the point. "son of your maidservant" is quintessential literary device, the verbal/literary equivalent to bowing to a person of greater authority. We see this in Ps 116:16 -

Truly, O LORD, I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant; You have broken my bonds.

In commenting on this verse, the Cambridge commentary records:

the son of thy handmaid; So Psalm 86:16. ‘The son of thy handmaid’ is a synonym for ‘thy servant,’ but denoting a closer relationship, for servants ‘born in the house’ (Genesis 14:14) were the most trusted dependents. Cp. ‘of the household of God,’ Ephesians 2:19. It is hardly, as Delitzsch thinks, an allusion to the piety of the Psalmist’s mother.

Thus, there is nothing in this Hebraism to suggest anything other than a show of humility before God, to whom the entire psalm is addressed.

Lastly, there is also nothing here to prevent Psalm 86 being read as a type of the sufferings of Messiah, as with many of the psalms, eg, Ps 16, 22, etc. That is, some of the psalms had a secondary/dual application.

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The speaker is any supplicant or supplicants who sing this Psalm in a time of distress, not necessarily the author or the Psalm. The first person can also be construed as the collective Israel.

The handmaid is the collective Israel who are referred to as the maidservant of YHVH, as in Psalm 116:16. The term "maidservant" is used in these verses as more appropriate than "wife", and refer to the allegory of Israel being YHVH's bride or wife.

The intent of the expression "son of your handmaid" is to identify the supplicant as a descendant of the people who God's prophets said would receive His mercy and therefore himself worthy of mercy.

The expression בן אמתך, "son of your maidservant" is also an expression of humility, as the maidservant is in human society the lowest in the social order, the son is even lower. (RASHI)

Assuming that the person singing this Psalm views this Psalm as having been said by David, then the maidservant is David's great grandmother Ruth, who uses the same term for maidservant, אמתך, in Ruth 3:9 (NIV):

“Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”

The husband-wife allegory of God to Israel and the promise of mercy is developed in:

Jeremiah 2:2 (NIV):

Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: “This is what the Lord says: “‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.'"

Isaiah 54 (NIV):

  1. "Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD.
  2. "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.
  3. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.
  4. "Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
  5. For your Maker is your husband-- the LORD Almighty is his name-- the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.
  6. The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit-- a wife who married young, only to be rejected," says your God.
  7. "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
  8. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your redeemer.
  9. "To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.
  10. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Hosea 1-7:

Chapters 1-7 of Hosea are an allegory of the covenant between God and Israel from the marriage of Hosea to Gomer.

Song of Songs:

Most scholars see in this allegory the justification for the inclusion of the erotic Song of Songs in the canon.

There is no reference to "Messiah" in this verse because at the time that this verse was written there was no concept of messiah with a capital "M" in Judaism. That was a post destruction concept. At the time that this verse was written there was a priest who was anointed (messiah) and a king who was anointed (messiah).

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  • interesting interpretation. I hadn't considered this possibility. Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 19:04
  • @DanFefferman I added more comments regarding Ruth and Hosea. The books of the OT are connected by common and recurring themes. One theme is the theme of Israel as God's servant. Another theme is the marriage or consort allegory of God's relationship with Israel and yet another is the metaphor of Israel as a prostitute. This verse is best interpreted in the context of these recurring themes. Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 13:05
  • Thank you. The bride/whore duality is definitely an OT theme regarding Israel's relationship to God. I had not thought of it in this case though. I agree with you that there was no idea of a Messiah yet, at least not a well known one. It depends on when one think some of Isaiah's prophecies were written... in the days of the historical Isaiah or at the end of the exile. (Duetero-Isaiah) Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 16:47
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In view of all the above and other explanations still David is the son of Jessie. It looks strange that David was despised, forsaken, uncared for, and not respected at all by his elder brothers like (Joseph was treated) earlier. So they left him to take care of their sheep which is considered as it is a mean job. So his mother some called her Nitzevet.

Topic: David's Mother
Marilyn Rubin from Scottsdale, AZ & Jerusalem wrote:

Dear Rabbi, I would like to know the name of King David's mother. Where is this written in the Torah? I believe that his father's name was Jesse (Yishai).

Dear Marilyn Rubin,

David's mother's was Nitzevet daughter of Adael. This is not written in the Torah, but rather is recorded in the Talmud, Tractate Bava Batra 91a. The Talmud there also gives the name of Avraham's mother, and of Haman's mother.

So I conclude that without believing anything it is better to believe something which some Bible commentaries. Psalm 86:16; 116:16

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