Wall engraving of a Philistine warrior, from Medinet Habu
Saul decided to keep David on side by offering his elder daughter Merab as a wife.
But then Saul changed his mind and gave Merab to someone else.
This decision of Saul’s may have been influenced by the young Michal, who was passionately in love with young David.
How do we know?
Because this is the only time in the whole Bible that a woman is described as loving a man. Her passion must have been apparent to all around her.
Significantly, there is never any mention of David returning her love.
David must prove himself
Saul seemed to be pleased, and offered Michal to David. But he set a condition, that David offer a bride price of 100 Philistine foreskins.
Since the Philistines in questions would understandably be reluctant to part with their foreskins, there was an excellent chance that David would be killed, and Saul would be relieved of his presence.
Of course David saw through Saul’s ploy, but accepted the challenge anyway. Marriage to Saul’s daughter was too good an opportunity for a poor boy to miss.
David and his men obtained the 100 foreskins and presented them to Saul, who was now unable to refuse him Michal’s hand in marriage.
Replica of an ancient harp
Trapped by the situation, Saul now had real reason to fear and hate David.
But Michal was jubilant. She could marry the man she loved.
David’s status and influence continued to rise. He was also loved by Michal’s brother Jonathan, and both were actively working to help him.
Everyone, it seemed, was turning from Saul towards David, and it was only a matter of time before Saul would be ousted altogether.
Michal Saves David’s Life
One night in a jealous rage Saul hurled a spear at David, and in the mêlée that followed David fled to his house.
A socketed spear circa 1,300BC
Michal was waiting for him. She urged him to leave the city immediately, but Saul’s soldiers were already outside the house waiting in the darkness, and David would be immediately arrested if he tried to leave by the front door.
So Michal got a rope, and perhaps a basket, and lowered him down from an upper window.
Judging by later events, this may have been the biggest mistake of her life.
In the darkness, David escaped from the city and from Saul.
Michal did not flee with David. She stayed in the house to buy time, to give him a better chance of getting away. When the soldiers hammered on the door, demanding that she produce David, she confronted them and said that David was ill, upstairs in her bed.
Michal lies to save David
Of course the soldiers demanded to see him, but Michal stuffed the household teraphim (clay figurines representing the household spirit-guardians) under the bed coverings so that it looked like a human figure. In the muted light of a flickering oil lamp she was able to convince them it was David, hurt in the scuffle and now too weak to move.
They were sceptical, but she outfaced them – she was after all a royal princess and used to commanding her father’s servants.
They returned to Saul and told him what Michal had said.
Gold and pearl tiara
Saul knew that Michal loved David, and that she would take his side against her own father. So he was not convinced. He now hated David so deeply that he did not care whether David was sick or not. He told the soldiers to collect David and bring him to the palace, even if it meant carrying him on a stretcher, or on the bed he supposedly lay on.
The soldiers returned, entered the bedroom, and saw they had been tricked. David was gone. They took Michal back with them to the palace.
Michal chooses David over Saul
Saul, now beside himself with frustration and rage, demanded to know how his own daughter could have betrayed him.
Michal was calm. To save herself from his anger, she said that David had threatened her life.
This was almost certainly untrue, since her passion for David was still burning high, and David knew it. Threats would not have been necessary.
David abandons Michal
Michal expected that after Saul’s anger has subsided David would come back to her, or at least that he would send for her. She believed he would be grateful for what she has done, and want her with him.
Michael, as portrayed in the movie ‘David & Bathsheba’
But David was now a fugitive, living rough in the countryside with a band of cutthroats, and a royal princess, even though she was his wife, would only have been an encumbrance.
David betrays Michal
The months passed, and then possibly years, and there was no word from him. Instead, she eventually heard the bitter news that he had taken another wife, and then a second, women who were valuable to him because they brought money and supplies for himself and his followers.
As far as Saul was concerned, Michal’s marriage was now null and void, and she could be married off to someone else – someone who would be an ally, not a threat.
He settled on a man called Paltiel, from the city of Gallim. This time she had better luck. It was a happy marriage, and as the years passed her bitterness began to fade, as did any lingering affection she might have held for David.
David Reclaims Michal – why?
But David had not gone away. He and his followers had grown in strength, and were now a very real threat to Saul.
The Philistines were also engaged in intermittent warfare with Saul, and eventually, in one of the pitched battles with the Philistines, Saul’s forces were decisively defeated and his three sons, Michal’s brothers, were killed.
Rather than be taken alive to be tortured and made brutal sport of by the Philistines, Saul fell on his own sword. In that one day of battle she lost father, brothers, and royal status.
But for David, it was a golden opportunity, and he seized it. He led his army towards the capital, Hebron, and by allying himself with former enemies he was able to make himself king, at least over the local tribes of Judah.
His kingship was disputed by the one remaining young son of Saul’s, Ishbaal, who ruled over many of the northern Israelite tribes, and there was a power struggle between the two men.
Michal: pawn in a power struggle
David gained the upper hand and Ishbaal made overtures of peace. David agreed, but on one condition. He wanted Michal to be handed back to him, since he argued that he had paid the original price of one hundred Philistine foreskins and therefore retained the right to her. Having the daughter of the former king in his harem would bolster his claim to the throne.
The walled area in the lower right of the image shows Jebus (Jerusalem) at the time of David
No doubt Michal objected, but she was over-ridden. It was political expediency. Ishbaal tore her away from her husband Paltiel, even though she begged to stay with him.
There is a poignant description of the grief of Paltiel, who was forced to surrender the wife he loved to an uncertain future. His pathetic, grieving figure followed Michal’s entourage along the road for miles, until he was threatened by Ishbaal’s fearsome general Abner. Only then did he relinquish her.
She was handed over to David.
Once that was done, Ishbaal was speedily murdered, and David reigned supreme in Hebron for seven years before he conquered the fortress of Jerusalem.
During this time, Michal lived in the palace harem as a virtual prisoner, but she never conceived a child of her own. This suggests that she had never forgiven David for his betrayal.
David moves the Ark of the Covenant
Illustration from the Maciejowski Bible: Patriel and Michal are parted
After some time, David decided to move the Ark of the Covenant from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem, to establish his new capital as a religious center, not just a political one.
Because of his dread of the power of the Ark David left the Ark in a house outside Jerusalem for three months.
Then he heard that it brought good fortune to the people who were caring for it, so he decided it could after all be safely transported inside the city walls.
David’s unseemly behaviour
In the procession accompanying the Ark, David cavorted and leapt in a most unkingly way, dressed only in a lightweight linen loincloth. His genitals were exposed.
It may not have been mere high spirits or exhilaration on David’s part: leaping and cavorting in a religious procession was part of Canaanite ritual, so there may be a suggestions that David was not, for the moment, the Yahwist he should have been.
Michal, standing at the window of the palace, saw him behaving in a way that might titillate a serving women, but was certainly not the regal behaviour of a king. She went out to meet him, and all the pent-up anger inside her came pouring out. She was after all a king’s daughter, now forced to watch her husband behaving like a vulgar commoner.
David replied that he, not Saul, was king now, and that he would do whatever he wanted.
It was more important that the common people loved him than that he be kingly and dignified.
David abandons Michal again – for good
This blazing quarrel is the last that we see of Michal. Ominously, the text notes that she remained childless all her life.
By implication she was without love or sexual happiness until her death.
Bible Study Resource for Women in the Bible: Michal, David, and Saul