Michal the Maligned; King David’s First Wife

English: Michal lets David escape from the win...
English: Michal lets David escape from the window. A painting by Gustave Doré, 1865. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not a feminist, but it doesn’t take a feminist to see the mysogeny in some Judeo-Christian circles when King David is so glorified while persons like Michal, David’s first wife, are vilified.  If Michal can be so maligned, then any woman can.  David treated Michal (and his other wives) like his property in more ways than one, and many “believing” men still see David’s actions in a righteous light.

King David, Israel’s most revered king [1], who was chosen by God for that role and for his part in God’s redeeming plan, was a poet and a bit of a prophet, but he did things that God did not approve of and which are utterly un-Christlike/un-Christianlike [2] (read about Judah and others that God used and you’ll see that He didn’t forcefully make them “saints”).  As always, we should recognize and praise the good, but we need to also recognize the bad and not repeat it.  We are also called to recognize and help the oppressed.

Background

What got “me going” on this subject at this time was a biography of David.   In the introduction the author claimed that the only thing David did wrong was have Uriah the Hittite murdered because he wanted the man’s wife (Bathsheba).  Though the author didn’t provide the reference for his claim, it comes from 1 Kings 15:5:  For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.  Since there are other things written in the Old Testament that David did that displeased God, this statement can be taken as a generalized commendation, just as other kings received generalized condemnations; and “in the case of Uriah the Hittite” David committed many deep sins, not just one.  (Note, however, that this particular verse seems to have been added to scripture later since it is not in the oldest versions of the Greek Old Testament).

So how does Michal fit into this?  First off, since I already mentioned that Michal was David’s first wife, and also just mentioned that David had someone murdered so he could take his wife, one should already get an idea of the sin that is going on in David’s life.  David was a king, and he adopted the ungodly practice of the cultures around Israel by having many wives and concubines.  Monogamy is God’s command for believers, and the rulers of Israel were not exempt from this standard (Deuteronomy 17:17); however, God had permitted David to have the late King Saul’s wives (after he left Michal and she was forcefully remarried), yet this was not enough for him (2 Samuel 12:8).  David’s lust didn’t destroy his faith in God, but it did influence his son Solomon, who, as the next king of Israel, took even more wives and ended up being led astray by them, just as God had warned would happen in Deuteronomy.

We don’t know with certainty how many wives and concubines David had altogether, but we do know that he had at least seven or eight official wives while living in Hebron:  Michal, Ahinoam (wife of the late King Saul), Abigail, Maachah, Haggith, Abital, Eglah, and Bathsheba (1 Chronicles 3:1-3).  After leaving Hebron and settling in Jerusalem, he “took more wives and concubines.”  So, who knows how many women he “took” (2 Samuel 5:15).  Although David no doubt fathered a great many children, the bible only records 19 of them, and none of these were born of Michal.

Michal and David

So let’s look at Michal’s life.  It seems to me that believing men might actually respect Michal based on her recorded actions, and even her one recorded rebuke of David if considered more carefully.   Yet she is maligned instead.   So, do they even know her at all, or consider David’s numerous failings?  Is a silent woman, no matter how used and abused, the epitome of womanhood?  Apparently so to some Christian (and no doubt Jewish) men, which is a witness that turns many from God.

Michal was King Saul’s (Israel’s first king) younger daughter.  Michal loved David, and her love is the only recorded love of a woman for a man recorded in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 18:20, 28).  Now, Michal’s father had wanted David dead for some time, and he used Michal’s love for David to try and get him killed.  While earlier attempts at getting David to marry Michal had failed, Saul won David’s interest when he told him that David only had to present him with 100 Philistine foreskins to earn Michal’s hand.  There is no mention of David’s feelings for Michal, only his eager acceptance of the 100 Philistine Foreskin Challenge.  For his part, Saul eagerly hoped that David would be slain by the Philistines.  But David really seemed to enjoy this sort of thing and turned in 200 foreskins to Saul.  David was now Saul’s son-in-law (a now possibly even more threatening since David could now have a claim to the throne in a worldly sense).

Saul’s feelings for David didn’t warm because he was a son-in-law.  In fact, Saul’s desire to have David dead seemed to only increase.  He eventually ordered that the men in his household kill David.  But then he relented.  This “kill David, don’t kill David” pendulum continued afterwards, however.  During one of Saul’s “kill David” phases, Michal bravely warned David, who fled, and deceived her father in order that her husband could safely escape (1 Samuel 19:11-17).  David never returned for Michal.

After David fled and before Saul died, Saul had given his daughter Michal to another man in marriage, Paltiel son of Laish of Gallim.  “After Saul’s death, David went and got Michal back.”  That would be nice if that were true, but it didn’t happen.  Instead, David married Saul’s wife Ahinoam, and then he married the “beautiful and intelligent” Abigail, the wife of one late Nabal.  Both of these women, and others, gave birth to sons while David ruled over Judah (only) from Hebron.  It’s like he had a chick coop there (and his coop only got larger when he moved to Jerusalem).  Once the opportunity arose, David used Michal to solidify his rule over both Judah and Israel.  We do not know of her feelings for her second husband Paltiel, but when Michal was taken from him at David’s demand, Paltiel was seriously heart-broken, following Michal and her escorts in tears until forced to stop his pursuit.

I wonder what Michal thought and felt.  Did she think, somehow, that David actually loved her, after having so many relationships with other women?  Did she still love him, hoping that she would be his favorite?  Even if she had thought or hoped anything like these things, she would come to be disappointed sooner or later.  No doubt, being forced into the beds of men she had no say in could make her angry and bitter.  Considering her husband Paltiel’s response, it may be that they had a good and loving relationship.  I wonder if all the men who malign Michal would react better than she did in a former spouse’s household, a former spouse who was very much now polygamous and who apparently only sought her out for political gain.  After all, this is what (ungodly) kings in the eastern world did.

How did she react?  The only recorded incident involving her after her forced divorce from Paltiel is when she rebuked David for dancing half-naked (wearing only a priest’s ephod) in front of everyone, including young women, when the ark of the covenant was returned to Israel.  She considered it vulgar, and considering his seemingly insatiable appetite for women, no doubt sexual as well.  David retorted, saying it was all for the Lord, and the passage ends with the implication that he didn’t sleep with her again (she had no children, which would convey in that culture that she was not blessed) (2 Samuel 6:16-23).  I’m sure that was no sacrifice for him . . .

This rebuke of hers is what Michal is most remembered for, and men will often stand behind David and his “strong” response.  The second part of it is a nice sentiment regarding our relation to God (“I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes”), until one might be turned-off by the overall context.  He also said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel.”  While this is true, it seems to be simply an insult towards Michal as this was not news to her, and, in fact, he had taken her from her husband in order to solidify his kingship over Israel–a seeming “move of man” and not one said to be of God.  He seems to despise her as well, the woman who first loved him and helped save his life from the very father David speaks of.  David’s honor, so often repeated in the scriptures, doesn’t really seem to extend to women. [3] 

David punishes Michal
From the bricktestament.com. Michal crying in background after David insults her, while he goes off with his other women.

What makes Christian men strong, or any spirit-led person strong, is their love and care for others, their unselfishness, and when it comes to spouses, their love, respect, and consideration of their husband or wife.  If David had but one wife, would he simply rebuke her back and then be done with her?   Probably not.   We are to work things out with our spouses, not just dump them when they wound our pride.  But, since he took it upon himself to heap up women, David wouldn’t have felt compelled to work on his relationship with Michal.

david and the ark, artist unknown
An unknown artist’s depiction of David dancing about the ark. This seems to be what wearing an Ephod alone would be like.

Regarding Michal’s disgust at what David had done (taken alone and without consideration of what David had already done to Michal), wouldn’t most of us feel the same today?  Would any of us think it good if we saw Billy Graham dancing wildly down the street (for some religious reason you can make up on your own) with only a grilling apron on?  How many of the same men who put down Michal would be joyous over such a scene?

I am not commenting on David’s sincerity when he claims he danced ecstatically for God, but frankly, he could very well have had mixed motives.  There are a lot of men (and women) who say they do things for God but who are either false or self-deluded.  In David’s case, a part of him surely meant well while perhaps a part of him did not.

King David and Uzzah
From the bricktestament.com. David was upset with God for killing Uzzah, but David did not follow God’s instructions.

Look at David’s irreverent role in attempting to bring back the ark the first time, in 2 Samuel 6:1-8.  David did not follow God’s direction concerning the transport of the ark (see Numbers 4:15), and Uzzah died because of this.  Then when he went to transport it again, we can know from what Michal said that David was not wearing the full priestly garb but was “half-naked.”  Thus David’s response seems a bit self-righteous, and taken with his insult towards Michal, it’s hard to see the humility he spoke of.

Concluding Thoughts

If the bible (which I do believe is inspired by God) didn’t tell me that David was a man after God’s own heart, I might have a hard time believing it.  Michal and the ark both could be seen as things that reflect David’s power acquisitiveness.  In a secular context, David’s actions regarding the ark could be taken as joy over simply gaining power.  Many of his psalms are asking for God’s help, which is all well and good, but then David disobeys God’s word so that someone is killed accidentally (Uzzah) and he even arranges for a woman’s husband (Uriah) to be killed due to his lust.

So where does that leave his intentions?  While many people find David to be just another person who used religion to gain power, I believe the biblical stories are truly instructive in a spiritual sense.  God will love anyone, and work with anyone, who is willing to have God do so.  Humans were created by God as free beings, and we mess up.  But it’s a wonderful thing to know that we can seek God and He’ll respond, and we can learn from the examples of others (good or bad) in His word that He wants us to read and consider.  Although we often forget to revere God as we should, God still wants us, messed up and all.

 Notes

[1]  Which isn’t saying much, as one can see even from the little I wrote here of Israel’s first two kings.  God Himself was very disappointed in Israel for wanting kings to begin with, since He was supposed to be their king (1 Samuel 8:10-18).  He warned the people how bad the kings would be for them, and indeed, peace was in the land under Samuel’s judgeship prior to Saul becoming king.  The people, however, cried out because of the corrupt actions of Samuel’s successor sons.  Still, the people could’ve asked for new judges, not a king.

[2]  Sinful things David did (remember, some of these relate to God’s commands regarding Israel only):  (A) He took a census of Israel (2 Samuel 24); (B) he evilly abused his power in the events with Uriah and Bathsheba (he didn’t lead his troops against the Ammonites, he slept with Bathsheba and got her pregnant while his troops were fighting [they abstained from sex during campaigns] while at the same time trying to make Uriah the Hittite sin [but Uriah wouldn’t obey the king in order not to sin!]; (C) he had Urriah killed, just like Saul had wanted David killed earlier; and (D) God said that David had too much blood on his hands to build his temple in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 22:8).  David’s sins and lack of godly family life led to very serious and awful consequences in his latter years that God allowed to happen.

[3] As mentioned above, women were treated as property and objects of political exchange in ancient times (this is still the case today in some areas of the world).  I think the case of David is a prime example of how a person can’t have a real and rewarding relationship with someone who is not equally free and respected.  David was very close with Jonathan – a free being – saying of him “Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women” (2 Samuel 1:26b).

Most women want nothing more than to have a relationship with their husband that is the best and deepest of their lives, but such a relationship is not possible when there are others involved.  It is odd that David couldn’t understand this.  How could Bathsheba, say, love David like Jonathan did when he forcefully took her only because of his lust for her body, and killed her husband to do so?  This makes David out to be incredibly obtuse in some ways.  David is a good example of someone who understood God and His spiritual realm more than many others of his day did, but he did not understand, apparently, that the good and revered relationship between a  free man and a free woman reflects how our relationship with God is supposed to be.

Sources Not Cited by In-Text Hyperlinks

David’s Downfall (2 Samuel 11-24)

Michal and David – Michal was King David’s First Wife

Question: “Why did God strike Uzzah dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant?”

The Many Wives of David in the Bible

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s