Since the publication of Vindicating the Vixens, I’ve received messages suggesting additional women in the Bible we’ve probably seen through negative eyes when the biblical text does not present them that way. Often I agree. But sometimes I don’t—as is the case with those who think we should add Michal, daughter of Saul and wife of David, to the list. We find her story in 1 Samuel.
To set the scene, Saul is King, and the shepherd-boy David has defeated Goliath. So King Saul offers David the elder of two daughters, Merab, in marriage. David declines with “I’m unworthy,” so Saul marries off Merab to someone else (1 Sam 18:17–20).
King Saul feels all torn up inside that the whole world loves David more than him, so when he finds out his daughter Michal is in love with David, that does it. Saul conspires to get David killed. He demands a ridiculous bride price, outrageous in its danger: one hundred foreskins of Philistine men (v. 25). But David and his merry band have no trouble killing off two hundred Philistines. So the crowds go even crazier over him—plus now the king's stuck with him as a son-in-law.
Saul seethes. He tries a couple of different ways to off David, but this God-fearing kid keeps getting away. And one of these times, Saul's own daughter Michal helps David escape through a window and then covers for him (19:11–17).
So, David is gone from home for a long time, because he’s on the run trying to escape Saul’s plots against his life. He lives at Nob. And at Gath. And at Adullum, And Mizpah. In desert country. In hill country. He’s totally a fugitive. And sometime during all this running, the King takes Michal and marries her off to a guy named Paltiel (25:44).
Sometime later, Saul falls on his own sword. And there’s this war been David’s house and Saul’s house about who will carry on the dynasty. As David prevails, he demands the return of his wife. And there’s this pathetic scene where Paltiel follows after Michal for miles weeping as she is returned (2 Sam. 3:13–16).
The only other time we see an interaction between David and Michal, David is returning the Ark of the Covenant from its exile in Baalah to Jerusalem, where it belongs. Here’s how the text describes it:
So David went and joyfully brought the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David. Those who carried the ark of the Lord took six steps and then David sacrificed an ox and a fatling calf. Now David, wearing a linen ephod, was dancing with all his strength before the Lord. David and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord, shouting and blowing trumpets.
As the ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Saul’s daughter Michal looked out the window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him. They brought the ark of the Lord and put it in its place in the middle of the tent that David had pitched for it. Then David offered burnt sacrifices and peace offerings before the Lord. When David finished offering the burnt sacrifices and peace offerings, he pronounced a blessing over the people in the name of the Lord of hosts. He then handed out to each member of the entire assembly of Israel, both men and women, a portion of bread, a date cake, and a raisin cake. Then all the people went home. When David went home to pronounce a blessing on his own house, Michal, Saul’s daughter, came out to meet him. She said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself this day! He has exposed himself today before his servants’ slave girls the way a vulgar fool might do!”
David replied to Michal, “It was before the Lord! I was celebrating before the Lord, who chose me over your father and his entire family and appointed me as leader over the Lord’s people Israel. I am willing to shame and humiliate myself even more than this! But with the slave girls whom you mentioned let me be distinguished!” Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, had no children to the day of her death (6:13–23).
One pastor wrote me this about Michal:
"The implication, I think, of the narrative is that he was not fully dressed and that he was cavorting with young women. His wife could hardly be blamed for being critical. I believe that was an early indication of the degeneration of David’s character that would lead to the sin with Bathsheba and the decay of his family. Besides, although romantic love did not usually lead to marriage in those days, I believe that when they were first married, Michal truly loved David. After she saved his life by defying her father, despite [David’s] being bold enough to engage in many heroic actions, he never went back for her. She was remarried to a man who obviously loved her deeply, and she was ripped away from him when David wanted to score a point against Saul's family by finally taking her back. By then he already had other wives. Michal had good reason to resent her husband. I don't blame her."
On the one hand, I agree. Michal would have been completely justified in being angry with David for these reasons. The Lord said he didn’t want his kings to multiply wives, but David did so. Nevertheless, the reason Michal expresses her disdain for David (as recorded in the passage) is not the thing for which she would have been justified: though he had multiple wives, he has yanked her out of a loving marriage to make a political statement.
Nope. That's not her reason. Instead, she is doing the same thing her father did: have no regard for the Lord. Whether she is infertile after doing so or, as I suspect, never again summoned into David’s bedroom, the last loose end of Saul’s dynasty dies due to lack of regard for the appropriate worship of God. And that seems to be how Michal’s vignette here functions in the argument of the bigger story recorded in 2 Samuel: end of Saul and his dynasty due to lack of fear of God.
Bible scholar David Malick puts it this way: “The Lord’s establishment, upheaval, and continuance of the united kingdom under David is worked out in correspondence with David’s expressions of covenant loyalty and his (and others’) expressions of covenant disloyalty, as well as in accordance with the Lord’s gracious provision.”
In the first eight chapters, the author is arguing that through Saul’s downfall, David’s response to God guarantees and establishes him as the sole ruler over a secure, united country. The return of the ark is the crowning moment that shows David’s priorities.
So the Michal story serves to tie up the last end of Saul’s legacy. At a time when she could still bear children and thus continue Saul’s dynasty, she criticizes David for the very thing God wanted in a king. Her father’s failure to fear God was his downfall, and the dynasty ends with her when she shows the same (lack of) priorities.
Some details bear this out:
The word “despised” (6:16) occurs here for only the fourth time in the book, an observation made by Hebrew scholar Dr. Bob Chisholm. He notes that the Lord had rebuked Eli and sons for despising him (1 Sam 2:30; 2 Sam 12:9–10). And in two other instances the person whom the Lord chose to anoint was the object of disdain: men “despised” Saul and refused to bring gifts to him after Samuel anointed him (1 Sam 10:27), and Goliath “despised” David, cursing him by pagan gods (17:42). Since Michal is the fourth party to “despise" the Lord’s anointed, the text seems to point to her being in the same camp with these others who despised what God was doing.
In this specific situation, David is shown to have a heart for God, while Michal is shown to have a heart against God. And this book is a selective history making a point. Michal would have been justified if her reasons for anger were God-reasons, but here her heart reveals those reasons are not her concern. The author will later address David’s character issues, but that is not what’s happening here.
Chisholm writes, “Coming on the heels of Michal’s argument with David, this report [that she never gave birth] appears to be the narrator’s way of saying she is in the wrong and gets what she deserves. Her childless condition also means that Saul’s family line will have no part in the Davidic royal dynasty. It is possible that a child born to David and Michal would have first claim to the throne because Michal is David’s first wife. But Michal’s failure to have children eliminates that possibility.” Interestingly, that opens the door for Solomon, the son of Bathsheba (a woman truly deserving of vindication) to rule.