Welcome back to our mini-series titled “Bad Girls of the Bible” by Liz Curtis Higgs. Liz is a fabulous writer and she has shared several bad girls in the Bible. Today’s bad girl is named Michal. Let’s see what Liz has to say. Be warned, this is a lengthy lesson, so grab your coffee mug and curl up with your Bible and a notepad.
Everybody loved David. Only one person (on record) loved Michal, bless her heart. The women of Israel in particular thought David was hot stuff, literally singing his praises: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.“ Everybody loved David except King Saul, who feared the young lad’s popularity. “And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.” 1 Samuel 18:9
At one point Saul offered David the hand of his older daughter Merab in marriage with the understanding that David would continue to fight on his behalf (and thinking that David would fall to his death at the hands of a Philistine). That was a no-go of course. David’s humility wouldn’t allow him to marry the daughter of a king. (On the other hand, maybe Merab was as ugly as a mud fence.)
Meanwhile, Merab’s younger sister, Michal, was standing in the wings, watching the handsome young warrior-poet as he played his harp for the royal court. In no time David stole her maiden’s heart.
“Now Saul‘s daughter Michal was in love with David…“ 1 Samuel 18:20
Her name, like the male counterpart Michal, means “Who is like God?” It’s pronounced Mee-kal with a soft k sound.
What was it about David that made him so irresistible to men and women alike, and especially to Michal? Well, David was a looker, ruddy with a fine appearance and handsome features. In other words, he was a hottie.
Not that his good looks had anything to do with David’s being chosen as God‘s anointed one. Not hardly. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.“ 1 Samuel 16:7
David had a heart for God, and that alone made him attractive, not only to his creator but to earthly types as well. He also had talent; a musician and songwriter, David was without parallel. More than 70 of the Psalms came from his musical pen. What woman wouldn’t love a man who could sing her to sleep with an original lullaby written only for her? But there’s more. He was a shepherd, tan and muscular from working outdoors. He was young and innocent, not yet hardened by life. He was crowned a hero for killing the giant Goliath. And he was humble, always an admirable trait in a man.
How Michal’s hopes must have soared when David humbly refused the hand of Princess Merab, her older sister. Michal didn’t have to dip her sister’s tresses in ink or tie the girl’s pantyhose in a knot. Without any effort on her part, Michal watched as the bridal baton was passed down to her.
Thanks to some court gossip, the word soon traveled to her father’s chambers that Michal had a thing for David.
“And when they told Saul about it, he was pleased.“ 1 Samuel 18:20
Saul saw this as a perfect opportunity to let someone else kill David without a spot of blood hitting his royal sandals.
“I will give her to him,“ he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.“ 1 Samuel 18:21
The word “snare“ in Hebrew, “moquesh” suggests something that would bait or lure David into a net and lead to his destruction. If King Saul wanted to keep tabs on David‘s whereabouts, what better way than to marry him to his lovely young daughter?
So Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.“ 1 Samuel 18:21
But the humble musician had his own reasons for nobly refusing to marry her: as a lowly shepherd from an impoverished family, he didn’t have the money – the necessary bride price to seek Michal’s hand in marriage.
“But David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king‘s son-in-law? I am only a poor man and little known.“ 1 Samuel 18:23
Saul no doubt anticipated such a reaction since David had made the same argument when offered Merab’s hand. The king suggested a different price tag, one that suited his own taste for blood – both that of this young upstart and of the hated Philistines. However, that’s not how he phrased it for his attendants.
“Saul replied, “Say to David, “The king wants no other price for the bride than 100 Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.” 1 Samuel 18:25
UGG. Foreskins? Couldn’t David just bring home their dog tags?
“Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.” 1 Samuel 18:25
For Saul, it was a two-for-one deal. He’d get rid of both enemies in one bloody swoop. For David, it was the perfect solution. To his way of thinking, the price for his bride was a bargain.
“When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law.“ 1 Samuel 18:26
It does not say David was “pleased to become Michal’s husband“; rather, he was “pleased to become the king’s son-in-law.“ The whole thing was politically motivated. We are told that Michal loved David but never that David loved Michal.
Eager to be welcomed into the king’s household, David wasted no time earning his right to claim Michal.
“So before the allotted time elapsed, David and his men went out and killed 200 Philistines.“ 1 Samuel 18:26 – 27
He doubled the lot. Saul asked for a 100, and David brought him 200.
Remember, this wasn’t the outcome the king had hoped for at all. He was forced to keep his promise. Like it or not – not – his daughter now belonged to his sworn enemy.
“Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.” 1 Samuel 18:27
And so the two became one flesh without question but one heart? One spirit?
Despite her godly name, Michal showed no evidence of being a woman who yearned to please God the way her husband David did. David was called a man after God’s own heart; Michal was a young woman who was after David’s heart. David loved God more than he loved Michal. That was good. Michal may have loved David more than she loved God. That was bad. A poor pairing. Saul would have agreed but for an entirely different reason.
“When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David…” 1 Samuel 18:28
Double whammy! Saul had neither the Lord’s allegiance nor his daughter’s loyalty.
“Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.“ 1 Samuel 18:29
Plenty of husbands have trouble with their in-laws but fathom being the mortal enemy of your wife’s father. Never give up Saul told Jonathan to kill David, but instead, the levelheaded son warned David, then convinced his father that David was their friend, not their foe. It didn’t work for long. Once again, while David was playing the harp, Saul threw a spear at him.
“Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning.“ 1 Samuel 19:11
Apparently, David and Michal lived in their own separate quarters yet near enough that Saul could send over henchmen to do the dirty deed by daybreak.
“But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.“ 1 Samuel 19:11
How courageous she was in this scene, not only in warning her husband but in sending him away, knowing she might never see him again. Putting his needs above her own, Michal helped hubby make his getaway by the dark of night.
“So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped.“ 1 Samuel 19:12
“Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goat’s hair at the head.“ 1 Samuel 19:13
The Hebrew word for idol – teraphim – indicates a household idol. God had clearly forbidden such graven images, which means the house of Saul had not completely embraced Jehovah God, no matter what sort of public posturing they did. Inside their own walls, they had idols.
“When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.” 1 Samuel 19:14
We must resist the urge to judge Michal for her deception. Like Rahab, Michal lied to ill-minded men to protect a good man. But Saul didn’t take “ill” for an answer.
“Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.“ 1 Samuel 19:15
Saul’s approaching madness was dotting the horizon and whether he was saying or not, Saul’s men did his bidding.
“But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed.“ 1 Samuel 19:16
Sounds like they picked up the bed and the thing rolled out and went clunk on the floor. A dead giveaway. Word quickly got back to the king, who was not amused.
“Saul said to Michal, “Why did you deceive me like this and send my enemy away so that he escaped?“ 1 Samuel 19:17
Michal risked her future, her very life, for any number of reasons, including her boundless love for David, her delight in acting as the heroin, and even her long-awaited chance to tick off her father.
When we look at those possible explanations, one problem surfaces. What initially appeared as the selfless act of a loving wife might turn out to be the selfish game–playing of an immature, infatuated girl.
Desperate to avoid her father’s unpredictable temper, Michal lied again – this time not to protect David but to save her own pretty neck.
“Michal told him, “He said to me, “Let me get away. Why should I kill you?“ 1 Samuel 19:17
Michal suggested her own life was at stake. Few things would soften a father’s heart like seeing his daughter’s life threatened. Her accusation didn’t paint David in a very good light, though. Was she sorry he hadn’t taken her along on his midnight ride? We don’t hear of Michal again for several chapters while David hid in the hills and Saul sentenced priests to death by the dozens. David chose a second wife – the beautiful and wise Abigail-and a third, Ahinoam of Jezreel. What happened to poor, neglected Michal?
“But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel, son of Laish, who was from Gallim.” 1 Samuel 25:44
Men could marry many women simultaneously; Women could only marry one man at a time.
And what was Michal’s opinion of being handed off to another man? We’re not told, because it didn’t matter what she thought. As was so often the case with biblical women, “Michal the princess becomes Michal the slave.“ She had no voice. She had no choice. And her love for David? An issue for father and son-in-law alike. Welcome to womanhood, 1000 BC style.
After the death of Saul, David was anointed king of Judah, but war continued between the house of Saul and the house of David for a long time, long enough for David to father six sons by multiple wives.
“David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.“ 2 Samuel 3:1
Abner, the commander of Saul’s army was no fool. He saw which way the wind was blowing and so he sent a messenger to David, saying “Let’s make a deal.”
“Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.“ 2 Samuel 3:12
David liked the idea, but he countered with a surprising stipulation.
“Good,“ said David. “I will make an agreement with you. But I demand one thing of you: do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me.“ 2 Samuel 3:13
It’s only been 14 years.
“Then David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, demanding, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of 100 Philistine foreskins.“ 2 Samuel 3:14
He remembered the price but not the princess all those years. As one scholar noted, “Even though she is a princess, she is treated like a trophy.“
Why was she the pivotal point of this exchange? Politics. Her father was dead, and the kingdoms were being united. Suddenly Michal had value to David. But not as a woman. As a training card in a biblical game of winner-takes-all.
“So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. 2 Samuel 3:15
Though Michal had no children, she’d lived with Paltiel as her husband, legally or not, for all her adult life and had spent only a brief time with David. Any woman would understand if Michal were angry, bitter, resentful, or despondent. Paltiel, also a victim of the king’s whim, was devastated.
“Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim.“ 2 Samuel 3:16
“Then Abner said to him, “Go back home!“ So he went back. 2 Samuel 3:16
More battles, and more bloodshed as David conquered Jerusalem, was anointed king of Israel, and then defeated the Philistines. Once again there’s no mention of Michal. What was she doing?
We know what David was doing. He was busy collecting more concubines and more wives – at least 20 in all. David was a busy man since 11 more children were born to him in Jerusalem. But what he wanted more than anything was to bring the ark of the covenant into the City of David. When he did so, it was a serious party.
“David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums, drums, and cymbals. 2 Samuel 6:5
“David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might…“ 2 Samuel 6:14
Ditching his robe, his tunic, and all other symbols of class and wealth, David sported only a simple ephod – a ceremonial apron or loincloth that probably covered very little of his manhood. David wasn’t an exhibitionist. On the contrary, he wanted to humble himself and identify with his people as their priest, not as their king.
“While he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sounds of trumpets. 2 Samuel 6:15
“As the ark of the Lord was entering the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window.” 2 Samuel 6:16
Is it significant that both of Michal’s big scenes took place in windows – first when she helped him escape, and here, as she watched him dance before the Lord?
It wasn’t her altitude that was the problem. It was her attitude.
“And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.” 2 Samuel 6:16
His leaping was the last straw, but the haystack had been building for a very long time. David had deserted her, ignored her, married other wives, fathered other children, and then neglected even to include her in his life until it was politically expedient.
Underneath the queenly sounds of Michal beat the heart of a hurting young girl, abandoned practically at the altar, then years later forced to share her handsome husband with other women. Imagine competing with the wise and competent Abigail and, later, the comely Bathsheba – two among many who provided David with strapping sons.
We identify with Michal’s jealousy and shattered emotions. But when it came to godly obedience, Michal was off the mark. Even if she no longer loved the man, she should have joined him in worshiping God. But perhaps Michal never fully understood David’s God. Perhaps she never openly embraced Jehovah as her own, never grasped the value of worship.
“When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him…“ 2 Samuel 6:20
One minor note: She is called “daughter of Saul” here, not “wife of David.” Was that a clue to her allegiance? Was blood thicker than her see-through sham of a marriage?
“And she said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” 2 Samuel 6:20
Michal has three problems with David’s dance: (1) He removed most of his clothes, (2) the lowest women in the kingdom saw portions of David that were supposed to be the queen’s territory alone (3) he looked like a common jerk (that’s the Lizzie revised version) or as more scholarly types have phrased it, “foolish”, “base”, “indecent”, “worthless”, and my favorite, “a dirty old man.”
The truth is, Michal missed the point. She didn’t comprehend the purpose of David’s dancing. She saw it as a passion of the flesh when David knew it was a spiritual passion for God that set his feet in motion.
“David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel.“ 2 Samuel 6:21
Obviously, David’s temper was heating up as well. He reminded her, none too gently, that the Lord had chosen him instead of selecting someone from Saul’s household.
“I will celebrate before the Lord.“ 2 Samuel 6:21
He made his purpose and future plans clear.
“I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.“ 2 Samuel 6:22
In other words, “you thought that was bad, Michal? Baby you ain’t seen nothing yet! I intend to make a blooming full of myself.“
“But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.“ 2 Samuel 6:22
We are never told that David divorced Michal. Nor is she ever spoken of again, except for one sad closing verse.
“And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.“ 2 Samuel 6:23
Still called the daughter of Saul to me was the whole problem in a nutshell. Michal never left her father and mother and cleaved to her husband. To his grave – and hers – she was daddy‘s girl.
In the same way, she never reached out to her heavenly Father and never gave her heart to God. Though her caustic words to David made Michal bad for a moment, in truth she never depended on the goodness of God to make her whole. The last verse is a telling one. To die with no children was the ultimate disgrace for a Hebrew woman.
Not that she didn’t have the chance to care for little ones. When her sister Merab died, Michal raised her sister’s five sons, only to suffer a mother’s anguish when all five were literally hung out to dry on a hill at Gibeah.
As King David’s first wife, Michal had the opportunity to learn true worship from a flawed but passionate man after God’s own heart. Instead, she threw away such blessings with both hands and determined to be miserable forever. And so she was.
What lessons can we learn from Michal?
1) When God says dance, strap on your tap shoes!
Sometimes we don’t know what to do around Christians whose exuberance for the Lord includes lifting hands, clapping or dancing. If we join in strictly to please men, our motives are wrong, and the Lord won’t be glorified, no matter how fancy our footwork is. But if we dance unto the Lord, as David did, even in the privacy of our own homes, we just might experience the same attitude adjustment that David discovered, including a whole new wardrobe of joy! “You turn my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.“ Psalm 30:11
2) Nothing stops worship like unconfessed sin.
Michal wouldn’t have seen her unsupportive, critical words as a sin –but we would. She didn’t merely reject David; she ridiculed his God. When the appeal of worship alludes us – when we find ourselves judging the soloist, the choir, the robes, the flowers on the altar, whatever – that’s a sure sign that sin has hardened our hearts. As one writer phrased it, “Michal was proud and cold of heart-toward God, toward her people, toward her husband.“ Before we fall into the same trap, sisters, let’s confess, repent, and start singing with a lighter heart! “An evil man is snared by his own sin, but a righteous one can sing and be glad.“ Proverbs 29:6
3) Words spoken in the heat of anger are sure to burn.
Michal has been called “a divine looking glass for all angry and outspoken wives.“ If only I could take back every angry word I’ve ever spoken! When our tempers flare and words follow, they scorch the listener, but the flames lick at our own souls too. How many times do you suppose Michal eyed other wives with their arms full of babies and regretted her angry diatribe? Hot words may eventually cool, but the burn scars last forever. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.“ James 1:19-2
4) Wise is the woman who rises above her circumstances.
Michal had a right to feel hurt, to feel abandoned, to resent how the men in her life – her father, her brothers, her husbands – passed her around like a moldy fruit cake at Christmas: “Here, you take her this year!” Yet other women in scripture were similarly misused and still managed to transcend such situations to honor God. It isn’t circumstances that should determine our actions; it’s the desire to please God above all things. So easy to say, so hard to do, and don’t I know it!
Let’s keep reminding ourselves: Bad girls blame their situations. Good girls rise above them.
“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” Ecclesiastes 7:14