David and Michal

David Brings the Ark to JerusalemI get emails —

In 2 Sam. 6:23 it is noted that Michal had no children before her death. As you know it was stated after she had chastised David’s behavior as the ark was being returned. We were discussing God’s view of David’s mode of celebration. In your opinion was Michal barren because of God’s censure; or could it have been because David never slept with her again? If it was God’s choice, would that mean that He did not condemn David’s wild dancing — or merely because Michal berated her husband (and despised him in her heart)?

Would appreciate your thoughts.

This is likely a question better put to others more expert in Hebrew, but I’ll give it a shot.

(2Sa 6:14-16 ESV)  14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod.  15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn.  16 As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, and she despised him in her heart.

(2Sa 6:20-23 ESV) 20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”

21 And David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the LORD–and I will make merry before the LORD.  22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.”  23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Michal was David’s first wife, after David paid a bride-price of 200 Philistine foreskins (yes, really). Saul had challenged David to kill that many Philistines, likely in hope that David would be killed in the process or else fail. But David met the challenge, forcing Saul to give Michal to David as his wife — and also giving David a place in the royal family, which made Saul deathly afraid of David (1 Sam 18).

Later, Saul sought to kill David, but David escaped thanks to a warning from Michal (1 Sam 19). But while David was fleeing from Saul in the wildnerness, Saul gave Michal to another man (1 Sam 25:44) — such was the king’s hatred of David.

After Saul died, his son Ish-bosheth had Michal returned to David, although by then David had taken Abigail as a wife. We know that Michal loved David when they first married, but know nothing of how she felt about David after he had her taken from her second husband and after David ascended to Saul’s throne — in part due to the assasination of her brother, Ish-bosheth, by others. (Ish-bosheth rules the 11 tribes others than Judah for 7 years, until his assasination, which united all 12 tribes under David.)

It’s hard to know Michal’s motivation, but when she saw David’s celebration, she may well have thought he was once again one-upping her father Saul. After all, it was Saul who lost the ark of the covenant to the Philistines, and it was David, not Saul, who conquered Jerusalem to be the place where God would dwell among his people. She may well have found it intolerable that David was eclipsing the memory of his father — and showing no respect for him.

The ark had been in Kiriath-jearim, in the land of Benjamin — Saul’s and Michal’s tribe — for 20 years before Saul had allowed it to be captured by the Philistines. David wasn’t taking it back to Benjamin but to Jerusalem, in Judea, the land of David’s tribe.

You see, David was diminishing the prestige of the tribe of Benjamin. After all, Benjamin was the smallest tribe — but at one time they were the tribe of the king and the home of the ark — the dwelling place of God! A loyal Benjaminite would see the move of the ark the ark to Jerusalem rather than back to the land of Benjamin not only as a loss of prestige but as an insult. Judea was already a large and prosperous tribe, they already had the king, and now they’d taken the ark, too!

If that’s not part of it, why would David declare, “the LORD … chose me above your father and above all his house” — that is, above Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son and Mephibosheth, Saul’s only living son, who was lame and whom David cared for in his palace?

And, of course, there was David’s evident lack of decorum in celebration. Perhaps Michal had the attitude that kings should not conduct themselves this way. But that hardly fully explains why she “despised” him — angry, yes, but one over-the-top celebration wouldn’t justify the loss of the love of David’s first wife forever.

This is the same David who wept when Saul — who’d sworn to kill David — died in battle. David would surely have forgiven a penitent Michal.

The scriptures tell us that result of Michal’s hatred of David was for her to bear no children — thus ending the line of Saul, a lineage that would have had a claim to the throne.

There are three ways this might have happened. First, David might have refused further sexual relations as a punishment. Second, God might have closed her womb. Third, Michal might have had a headache the rest of her life. Of those possibilities, I suspect it was a combination 1 and 3 — and mainly 3.

The rabbis interpreted the law as requiring a husband who marries a second wife not to deny the first wife —

(Exo 21:1 ESV) 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish [the first wife’s] food, her clothing, or her marital rights.

“Marital rights” is interpreted to mean sex.

Now, it’s not certain whether this passage was understood in the manner in Bronze Age, but it seems more likely to me that Michal refused David than the other way around. After all, the text says she despised him. And so I suspect that the proud daughter of the first king of Israel could not bear David’s joy at what she saw as the shaming of her father and his people.

Of course, we know that it was God’s will that the ark go to Jerusalem, and that God had never asked that the ark be kept at Kiriath-jearim. In fact, Saul had behaved abominably in many ways, not the least of which being allowing the ark to be captured by the Philistines — and God had to miraculously intervene to have the ark returned.

God had big plans for David and Jerusalem — and there really was no insult to Benjamin or even to Saul’s memory. But it’s easy to see how his daughter, raised as a princess, would see things that way.

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9 Responses

  1. I’ve always been intrigued by this couple and 2 Samuel 3:16 has always gotten me. I agree that she refused David once they were back together and resented him for taking her away from Paltiel.

  2. You state:

    “The scriptures tell us that result of Michal’s hatred of David was for her to bear no children — thus ending the line of Saul, a lineage that would have had a claim to the throne.

    There are three ways this might have happened. First, David might have refused further sexual relations as a punishment. Second, God might have closed her womb. Third, Michal might have had a headache the rest of her life. Of those possibilities, I suspect it was a combination 1 and 3 — and mainly 3.”

    I disagree based on scripture. Reading through 1st Samuel to 2 Chronicles, it can be noticed that when a new king took over by force that the whole family of the king being overtook was mass-murdered. This was the clear way they did things in order to prevent being taken back over by a relative of the conquered king. So, Michal, being the daughter of king Saul would have borne children with the right to ascend to the throne through the usual procedure of mass-murdering the current king and family. So I think it is #2 first of all, and throw in 1 & 3 as a definite maybe.

  3. Does that make sense?

  4. Paul,

    It makes sense, and your view of history is largely correct. But I disagree. Unlike the kings of the northern tribes, David did not kill all Saul’s children.

    The heir to Saul’s throne was Mephibosheth — his only surviving son. He was lame, and David, out of respect for Saul and Jonathan, fed Mephibosheth at the king’s own table — even though Mephibosheth had standing to claim the throne — and doubtlessly had supporters willing to help.

    As a result, Mephibosheth remained loyal to David to the end — even when Absalom rebelled against David and threw him out of the palace.

  5. Jay, a couple of things:

    1. Saul did not lose the Ark of the Covenant. It was captured while Eli was the priest when Samuel was just a boy – long before Saul became king (1 Samuel 4)

    2. Mephibosheth was Saul’s grand-son, being Johnathan’s son (2 Samuel 4 and 9).

    Blessings,
    Alan

  6. Alan S,

    Thanks for correcting me.

    I think the overall thesis of the post still works, though. Mephibosheth remains the heir apparent to Saul’s throne — and hence a threat to David. And the ark was kept in Benjamin tribal lands when lost.

    I really need to brush up on my united kingdom history.

  7. Interesting post & comments. It is interesting that we seem to automatically read it as if it is punishment to Michal for her despising David (not sure what that says). If 3 is the greater factor, Michal may have been exerting her power and influence over her womb not to provide David an heir through her. “I’ll show him.”

    The overall result is a too-often seen mess, resulting in a straying eye, a wandering husband, and an affair. It’s a good reminder of the concentric circles of consequences of an unhealthy relationship with your spouse, and the sad truth of Proverbs 25:24.

    Whew! We humans are a complicated mess, aren’t we?

  8. This is a little off-target, but can you imagine adding MORE children – this time from Michal, and whom she might instruct to take the throne back for her family and tribe – to David’s already convoluted and self-destructive family? Wow. I hadn’t given it much thought until you made this post. Another good one, Jay!

  9. I guess I’m just not very sophisticated. I don’t read all these other political sub-plots and motivations into this episode. There was an action on David’s part and a response on Michal’s part. David knew exactly why Michal despised him; just read his response. He also knew that he had God’s approval, and knew that others could see it.

    Whether David cuckolded Michal or God closed her womb, the end result of her action was the same. The path to influence for a royal wife was to bear an heir to the throne. No such thing for Michal.

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