Daily Office readings for Sunday, August 4:
Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
The traditional way of looking at Michal, David’s first wife, and daughter of Saul, is problematic, and unfortunately, still quite prevalent when one does a Google search of “David and Michal.” Michal comes off as a shrew and a nag, and her punishment of her transgressions is that she is essentially “cursed” with barren-ness. She’s essentially scrubbed from the narrative at this point.
But let’s back up and look at this story in a little more panoramic view. At the beginning of the story of David and Michal, we are told in 1 Samuel 18:20 that Michal loved David (in fact, it’s the only time in the Bible that a particular woman’s love for a particular man is chronicled so explicitly.) This pleased her father Saul, and, seeing a great political bonus in this arrangement, married her off for a hundred Philistine foreskins. Yet, later in the story, as the relationship between Saul and David becomes more complicated and adversarial, we see Michal siding against her father to help David escape Saul’s wrath. Saul counters by giving Michal to another man, Paltiel–once again, a political move–and although David reclaims her, there’s something that’s been missing from this whole story–never once in this narrative do we hear that David loved Michal.
I don’t think that’s an accidental omission. In the David narratives, we hear David loved Jonathan. It’s clear David loved Bathsheba. Yet not a peep about Michal. It certainly suggests Michal’s love was unrequited.
When viewed through this lens, it changes today’s reading a bit, doesn’t it? Here’s the guy Michal loved shaking his booty all around the Ark of the Covenant, and it’s clear he prefers the admiration of his female servants more than the love of his wife. Honestly, that “rejoicing to God” story he tells, at least to me, has a bit of a lipstick-on-the-collar look to it.
We are told at the end of today’s reading “And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death,” and there’s some disagreement among scholars as to what that means. Some rabbinical interpretations suggest that Michal died in childbirth bearing David’s son, Ithream, but there is no direct Biblical reference to that. Some interpretations are that she was imprisoned. Perhaps it simply means he ceased having a sexual relationship with her. We just don’t know anything except that her role in the narrative is essentially kaput at this point.
What we do see, though, is that in verse 16, Michal finally puts two and two together, and that her long period of unrequited love turns to double-barrel resentment–one of the most common emotions we all have experienced when what we thought was love turned out to not be love at all–because love takes two. It’s hard not to be resentful when we finally get that we were in a one-sided relationship.
Love, dashed against the rocks, is one of the most painful emotions I can think of in the range of human expression, and it leaves behind one of the messiest arrays of human debris possible–yet it is God’s love for us that can give any of us the power to find the strength to channel our broken love in new and endless ways, if we choose to accept how deeply God loves each of us.
I always wish I knew what happened to Michal. But she’s another of those people in the Bible that I choose to remember when I am faced with the choice of re-channeling my abilities to love, and love deeply.
What has God shown you in those times you chose to move beyond the pain and resentment that arose from a shattered heart?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid