Michal, ma belle

I once made a study of every mention of women in the Bible. By far, my least favorite bit was the life and times of Michal, Saul’s youngest daughter (She’s strewn throughout 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles).

Here’s her background: Once upon a time, David brought Saul the foreskins of 100 Philistines, and as a reward, Saul let David marry his daughter. This bit is actually pretty romantic. The elder daughter (Merab) was supposed to marry David, but she married Adriel instead, and David and Michal let Saul know they were madly in love, and he was cool with it. Saul, treacherous as he tended toward David, wanted Michal to be a snare  to get David out of the way, but Michal went double agent and kept David a step ahead of Saul’s fiendish plots.

When Saul realized Michal was selling him out, he took her back from David and married her to a guy named Phaltiel. David was true to her, though, and when Saul finally wanted to make peace, David refused to even show his face for reconciliation unless he got Michal back. It’s hard to say how Michal felt about all this, except that Phaltiel followed her along the road weeping the whole way. Heart breaking, right? Get ready for my least favorite part, though.

I get the idea things were never quite the same between Michal and David, and it wasn’t long before they had an irreparable tiff. After David was anointed king, he managed to win the war against the Philistines. To celebrate, he put on a linen ephod (which was a ritual item but apparently sort of scanty) and led a parade with the Ark of the Covenant through the City of David. Michal looked out the window at his dancing and despised him in her heart. David cluelessly went about blessing and celebrating with the people, but when he came home to bless his household Michal met him and told him off.

MICHAL: “How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!”

JEALOUSY, right? And David did not take it well.

DAVID: “It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel” (TRANSLATION: The Lord picked me over your screwed up family, so shut up! You don’t know anything about it!) “Therefore will I play before the Lord. And I will be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.” (TRANSLATION: If you don’t like a dancing husband, you don’t deserve a husband at all!!!! Say goodbye to this body because those maidservants are the only ones who are getting any of it from here on out.)

Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death. She did adopt five sons who David later gave to the Gibeonites to be slain as part of a peace treaty (But that repulsive story is for another day.), so… yeah, bum deal, right?

So, in addition to providing evidence of a long tradition of marital discord in the human family, I’ve seen a lot of morals assigned to Michal’s life. My very least favorite in the world was the interpretation that Michal was right – David should’ve been more modest in dress and action – but she needed to learn to give her husband some time to unwind after work, and she deserved barrenness as punishment for speaking out of turn. Ugh. Never tell me this is what those verses mean, or I will imagine-slap you and out loud simply stop respecting you. UGH. Oppressive patriarchy perpetuated through misinterpretation of scripture.

I talked to a rabbi about the story a few days ago, and his interpretation was almost exactly opposite of mine and also consistent with my understanding of Jewish philosophy in general. One of the basic tenets of Judaism is that God has commanded us to celebrate life. Holidays and festivals are all requisite, and you’re accountable for anything awesome in life that you’re not enjoying. So, basically, David was out celebrating as commanded and having a jolly old time, and Michal–that spoiled, bratty princess–got jealous and wanted him to only have fun with her. She was a controlling trollop who wanted David to do her bidding rather than what the Lord had commanded. I told him I still didn’t think it was fair that David wouldn’t give her any kids just for that one oversight, and he told me it was God who wouldn’t give her any kids and David had nothing to do with it. I presume some of this information was Talmudic, but I’m sure he’s also studied those chapters far more carefully (and in Hebrew) than I have, so, I’d say his ideas have some credence.

In finale, Michal had a shockingly bad home life, and I feel sorry for her, no matter how you put it. But if I have to draw a lesson from her story, I prefer the one in which life is a celebration not to be inhibited. And if you mention the other interpretation to me, ever, just be glad I don’t have mind powers or your cheek would be smarting for days.

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