Musings on Michal: When Bitterness Sets In

judging bathshebaOne of the biggest problems we have with understanding people in the Bible, is that we often only receive a quick, isolated snapshot of their lives. We are not presented with a well rounded image of their personality, spiritual views or life experience. Thus it becomes very easy to label people as entirely good or bad, based on what we see and without taking into account, possible reasons why they came to be at the place and attitude they have reached. If one of these snapshots is negative and it’s the first one we see, then that person is branded.

I feel deeply for King David’s first wife, Michal. The most commonly quoted Scriptures concerning her are:
2 Samuel 6:16: “But as the Ark of the LORD entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she was filled with contempt for him.”


2 Samuel 6:20-23: “When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!” David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the LORD, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the LORD, so I celebrate before the LORD. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished! So Michal, the daughter of Saul, remained childless throughout her entire life.”

This is an ugly picture.

While this part of Michal’s story serves an important purpose, teaching us a beneficial lesson about worship, it profiles Michal in a manner which sadly reflects a second stereotype within our western society: that of a haughty, power influenced royal, which we commonly tend to despise. The influence of that image was seen in 2013 in Lorde’s song, Royals.

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like crystal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.

And we’ll never be royals.
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.

In a democratic society and with what we’ve learnt from history, the terms royal, or royalty, conjure up starchy monarchs, misusing power and acting to benefit themselves, more than helping their people. This is what psychologists call a confirmation bias. When we see Michal’s attitude, all this additional cultural information comes back and she can be judged by us in an even harsher manner. That we find her stereotype hard to relate to, doesn’t help make her any more human either.

Did Michal act wrongly towards David and the Lord? Yes; however, what is an appropriate Christian response to her story?

The Bible clearly states not to judge, regardless of whether the offender is dead or alive. [Ref. Luke 6:37, Matthew 7:2, Hebrews 10:30] What we can do is take from the text, the lesson: to serve God with an open, abandoned heart and then, without judging, it can be useful to look back at the rest of Michal’s life and try to understand how she came to a place of such bitterness.

Before Michal fell in love and married David, she lived with a father who was tortured by a demon and fell prey to moods which, at the very least, would have had a significant and detrimental affect on his youngest daughter. Saul’s temper would have likely resulted in her being verbally abused and to be truthful, considering Saul’s mental state and history as a warrior and towards David, it would be unsurprising to find out that he had been violent at home. Michal could have experienced that.

She then married the young David, who she loved, and went to what would hopefully be a more stable, peaceful home. [1 Samuel 18:17-30] Instead, Saul was attempting to kill David out of jealousy, which resulted in Michal making a very brave move. Knowing the ferocity of her father, she helped David escape death, by letting him out of a window of their home and she lied to her father. In the face of a tall, murderous man, this is not a small accomplishment. It would take a lot of courage. [1 Samuel 19]

Saul got his revenge, however. He remarried her off to Palti, where, estranged from David by the war between him and Saul, she must have gone through the kind of grief and agony none of us would ever wish for. [1 Samuel 25:44]

Stop and imagine what may have gone through her mind in that seven years:
“David will be killed. I have lost my husband.”
Perhaps, “why hasn’t he found a way to come back for me? Doesn’t he love me?”
The mortification of being handed off forcefully to another man. “How can my father do this?”
Perhaps she hung onto hope, for at least a time, that David could rectify the situation. However, seven years is a long time and with only small facts and rumours of where David was and what he was doing to give her any hope, that hope could have been remorselessly smashed over and over.

In the end, Michal, with a slowly mending, broken heart, could have come to terms with her new situation. She appears to have been a good wife and may have settled. Then what happens? Her father dies, David demands her back and she is sent to what is now a palace in Hebron which houses other wives and concubines with children. She is childless and at the bottom of the pecking order, suffering from the emotional consequences of another upheaval.

In circumstances such as these, most people’s faith in both their husband and their God would take quite a beating. She has been thrown around like an old potato sack, through no fault or choice of her own.

While I do not have anywhere near as much of her story to ponder as I would like, it appears to my, from a psychological point of view, that Michal may have made the mistake of coping with her ever-changing circumstances by retreating back to the royal role she had been bought up in within Saul’s household. She became regal and from David’s response to her, it seems this wasn’t a one-off outburst.


The psychology behind this is simple and makes sense. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you can see how when her level of love and belonging needs were not met, she has compensated by moving up and placing emphasis on the esteem needs (which Maslow’s theory does not make room for and is a major criticism of his model.) If Michal felt like she didn’t belong in the new regime, plus if she still felt unsafe in any way through being moved around, and because Isra’el was at war with David, she may have focussed on what she knew and sadly, that leads us back to the verses at the top of this page. The turmoil resulted in a bitter, hardened heart and that makes me feel very sad for her.

I hope Michal turned around and was able to heal before she died. I hope that somehow, she found peace in her God. Whether she did that or not is not recorded, but my heart breaks for her when I think about what she went through. If nothing else, when I see the raw part of her story, I make an effort to remember the brave, hurting young woman who once lost everything.

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