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Why the Biblical Figure of David is More Than a Shepherd Boy

Why the Biblical Figure of David is More Than a Shepherd Boy

By Kirt A. Schneider

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the great patriarchs of the Jewish people—but there is another towering figure that comes later, one who exemplifies and embodies the Hebrew tradition as much as those early figures do: King David. He is one of the great characters in the Hebrew Bible, a man whose life is tied to Israel for all time.

Like Israel, David was once too young, too small, and too unremarkable for anyone to notice him. But also like Israel, we see him slay giants and achieve impossible exploits through God’s power. David’s story often seems larger than life. It begins with wonder and deep love for God yet also entails him getting it disastrously wrong sometimes. But David would eventually see where he went wrong and turn to the Lord in repentance and humility. He recognized that the
presence of God is what set him apart, and he made God’s presence central to his life. David would not be a perfect king, but his reign would come to represent Israel at its best and mark its glory years.

Jesus was a Descendant of David

It is no coincidence that Yeshua was born in Bethlehem, David’s hometown. Bethlehem is still referred to as “the city of David,” for it was here that the prophet Samuel anointed David to be king over all of Israel (1 Sam. 16). Some eight centuries before Yeshua was born there, the prophet Micah wrote, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Mic. 5:2).

Isaiah, whose name means “God saves,” lived approximately seven hundred years before the birth of Yeshua. He received his call during the reign of King Uzziah when the glory of God awesomely and sovereignly fell upon him (Isa. 6). Like Micah, Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would be in the lineage of David and pointed to Messiah’s eternal nature.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. —Isaiah 9:6–7, emphasis added

A David Yet to Come

From one prophet of the Hebrew Bible to the next, we see that Messianic prophecy explicitly revealed that Messiah would come into the world through the line of David. One of the clearest passages comes through the prophet Ezekiel: “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them…‘Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken’” (Ezek. 34:20, 23–24,
emphasis added).

David was long gone by the time the prophet penned these words. In other words, Ezekiel lived after David already died. So who is Ezekiel referring to when he says, “My servant David”? Was Ezekiel claiming that David would be reincarnated to once again rule and reign over the people? No, Ezekiel was not writing about the David who lived four hundred years before Ezekiel wrote his book; he was writing of the Messiah, who identifies Himself as David’s offspring. Yeshua said of Himself, “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16).

Notice how David is ever present in Yeshua’s use of the psalms. For example, in Matthew 22, Yeshua quotes David’s words from Psalm 110:1 in a verbal battle with the Pharisees: “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: ‘What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?’”

The Pharisees answered Him, “The son of David” (Matt. 22:42). Yeshua then asked, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying [from Psalm 110:1], ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” (Matt. 22:43– 45). Yeshua was blowing their minds! He asked them, “Whose son is the Messiah?” They said, “He’s David’s son.” So Jesus replied to the Pharisees, “How is He David’s son if David calls Him his Lord?”

This straightforward question that Yeshua posed brought much confusion and agitation and was unanswerable to the Pharisees. The Bible says they didn’t ask Him any more questions after that.

Yeshua was revealing Himself through the stories and texts the Jewish people had known and read all along but had not fully understood. In this exchange, He is pointing out that Messiah is physically Lord and from the line of David at the same time. This was a fresh revelation to the religious leaders of Yeshua’s day.

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