I’ve read through 1 and 2 Samuel my fair share of times. Apart from reading it on my own, really who has been to church and not heard about the ascension of Saul, his downward spiral, and King David’s rise to power? Those stories are important and, if you go to church in America, inescapable.
The last two times I’ve read through these books though, I realized that there were a number of female figures that I had never noticed before. Over this short blog series, I’m just going to share excerpts about these women along with my own thoughts and some snippets of amateur research. My writing won’t be asserting that somehow these women were an integral part of the story, rather my purpose is simply to pull them form the background and take a moment to consider the fact that they were mentioned, who they may have been as people, and the roles they played in brief episodes from ancient Israel’s glory days.
Michal And Her Grief
Michal was the younger daughter of Saul, King of Israel. By the time Michal enters the scene in 1 Samuel, Saul has displeased the Lord, signifying the beginning of the end for him, and David has already defeated Goliath and been prophetically anointed king. In 1 Samuel 18, we find out that Saul has promised his first daughter, Merab, to David. However, when it’s time for them to marry, Saul instead gives Merab in marriage to another man.
Then, in verse 20, it says that Michal loved David. Michal loved Israel’s hero, her father’s armor barer, the man who had been so close to Saul, playing music to soothe him when his demons came to call, her brother Jonathan’s dearest friend. Michal loved David. When Saul finds out, it says he is pleased. However, Saul isn’t pleased because he can make his daughter happy by allowing her to marry the man she adores. No, Saul is pleased because this is a golden opportunity for him to use his daughter as a pawn to “be a snare for [David]… that the hand of the Philistines may be against him”.
Again, Saul tells David that he may marry one of the king’s daughters. This time, though, David must prove himself by presenting to the king the foreskins of 100 Philistines. Saul fully expects David to die in the attempt, which would free him of his rival while devastating the daughter who loves David.
Luckily for Michal, David defies the king’s expectations and returns victorious with his grotesque trophies. David and Michal marry and in chapter 18 verse 28, we are told again that Michal loves David.
After the couple’s wedding, the mood in Saul’s house grows darker and the king attempts to kill David. Michal encourages David to flee and aids in his escape.
Then, while David flees the wrath of the king and takes two more women as wives, Saul marries Michal to a man names Paltiel. Michal is taken from the man that she loved and given to another, while David marries two other women and tries to escape her bloodthirsty father.
The next time we hear from Michal is 2 Samuel 3. David is king, he’s stomping out opposition, and he wants what is his. So he sends for Michal. She is taken, once again, from her husband and Paltiel follows along the road “weeping after her”. It is a painful image to me, a woman used as a piece in the game of two kings, taken from the man she loved, then taken from yet another. I wonder if she also wept as her husband cried out on the road behind her. I wonder what she wanted for her life. According to four different sources online, Michal was married to Paltiel somewhere between 7 and 17 years before David demanded she be returned to him.
Our last glimpse of Michal is in 2 Samuel 6. David is returning to Jerusalem victorious, after retrieving the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Abinadab, where it had resided since being taken back from the Philistines before the reign of Saul. In this passage, the circumstance in which I most often hear Michal talked about, everybody is rightfully rejoicing. David is going all out in worship, to the point of being completely undignified, and Michal watches from her window, disgusted by him. This is usually all I hear of Michal in sermons. This terrible woman, this shrew, despises a man for worshiping the Lord. How dare she.
In the context of her life though, I understand. The man she loved, who fled and abandoned her, who tore her from a second marriage, is joyous, exuberant and completely victorious while she watches in a state of ruin. How could she not hate his freedom, his glory, his joy? Michal expresses her displeasure to David when she sees him, and he defends himself by reminding her of the fall of her father, the man who had only ever seen her as a tool. We’re left with the knowledge that Michal had no children, meaning she failed to achieve what a woman was ultimately valued for in her day.
Michal died with no children to comfort her after enduring a father who only sought to use her, two marriages cut short prematurely, and an adulterous husband.
I’m not saying Michal was right in all that she felt, but I would argue that what she felt was completely understandable.
When we teach about Michal, yes let us teach honestly about her poor reaction to the worship of a king, but let us also teach about her pain, grief, suffering, loss, and loneliness. Let us teach about her not only as a sinful woman, despising David as he praised the Lord, but also as a woman who was cruelly abandoned and passed around, powerless to prevent any of it. Let us teach about Michal as a whole woman, existing as more than one singular moment of scorn, just as we teach about David as a whole man, so much more than his murder, adultery, and numerous other sins.
Sources about the timeline of David’s life: