Let’s Ease Up on Michal

Posted on July 11, 2019


By David Ettinger

The Incident
Within 1 and 2 Samuel is the story of David’s first wife, Michal. She is regarded as somewhat a notorious personality for one particular event. As the ark of God was being carried into Jerusalem, David stripped down to his inner garment and “was dancing before the Lord with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:14).

This displeased Michal: “As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart” (v. 16).

She made her discontent known to David: “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (v. 20).

David responded sharply to his wife’s rebuke, and the episode ends this way: “And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death” (V. 23).

Did Michal deserve such a fate? And was she really the villain she has been made out to be over the centuries? I say no.

A Political Pawn
Michal was the second daughter of Israel’s first king, Saul. She truly loved David, which pleased Saul (1 Samuel 18:20). Eventually, Michal proved her love for David by rescuing him from her father, who sought to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1-17).

Following this event, David, fearing for his life, fled from Saul – a flight which would last about 10 years. During this time, “Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim” (1 Samuel 25:44). This made an adulteress – though an unwilling one – out of Michal as she was still married to David. 

Richard Gere as King David

We don’t know who Paltiel was, but he must have been a man of standing to be deemed worthy to marry a king’s daughter. He was no doubt a supporter of Saul, and could well have been a political ally, making the marriage politically beneficial to Saul. If this was the case, Saul saw his daughter as a political pawn, using her to serve his diplomatic purposes.

Following Saul’s death, David was made king of the tribe of Judah. A few years later, Abner – the commander of Saul’s army (1 Samuel 14:50) and later that of Saul’s son Ishbosheth – had a falling out with then-King Ishbosheth and sought to bring all of Israel under David’s rulership.

David was thrilled with this offer, but demanded of Abner: “Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me” (2 Samuel 3:13). Why was this? Did David still love Michal? Did he miss her? This is possible, but keep in mind that by this time David had acquired another six wives (2 Samuel 3:2-5).

Or was David politically motivated as was Saul? The house of Saul was far larger than the house of Judah, what if they rose up in civil war against him? David needed a buffer. What better way than to have Saul’s daughter restored to him as his wife, hence merging the two political factions.

And so Abner, conferring with King Ishbosheth, did what David asked of him: “So Ishbosheth gave orders and had [Michal] taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, ‘Go back home!’ So he went back” (2 Samuel 3:15-16).

We don’t know how Michal felt about Paltiel, but it is evident Paltiel loved her. We don’t know what kind of marriage they had, but it appears that Michal, at the least, was torn away from a man who cared for and cherished her.

A Final Humiliation
So not only was Michal twice wrenched away from two husbands and given to others, there is the matter of her never having children.

I used to view this as God’s punishment upon her for disdaining David. However, the Bible never says this. Furthermore, we have no idea what intimate relations were like between Paltiel and Michal stemming from the fact that she was married to another man.

For David and Michal, however, there would have been no barriers; they were free to have intimate relations. But I believe David deliberately held back having relations with Michal as punishment for her criticism. After all, he had multiple wives as well as concubines (2 Samuel 5:13) and could easily forego relations with Michal, though she had no such option.

A Harsh Sentence
Was Michal innocent? In the incident regarding David’s dancing, she was not. She did not possess the same spiritual acumen David did, and could not understand why David would dance with such abandon before his Lord. She deserved a reprimand, but to deliberately sentence her to childlessness was too harsh.

Furthermore, I believe Michal was a victim when it came to her treatment at the hands of Saul and David as they mercilessly used her as a political pawn. She was no saint, but neither was she a villain. She deserved better than she got, and those who unfairly criticize her should ease up on her. There are far worse women in the Bible!