Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth- for your love is more delightful than wine.”
— Song of Songs 1:2
Love: God's Holy Ideal
The Song of Songs is a poem about love: explicit, intoxicating, unadulterated love. It’s written by a man and a woman who take turns lavishing praise upon each other.
The Bible is filled with such poetry, as well as songs and historical records. The books of poetry and songs are beautiful. The historical books tend to be very matter of fact: Gideon defeats the Midianites, the Israelites are exiled, the exiles return to Jerusalem, and Nehemiah built a wall.
Occasionally some feelings get thrown into the mix: Jonathan was like a brother to David, Samson loved Delilah, King Ahab was jealous of Naboth, King Saul felt depressed when God chose David, but these emotional states get reported in a straightforward manner. In the history of God’s chosen people, there’s not much room to record feelings. This is understandable; the focus is on history, not humanity. Yet it is a disservice, while the historical records deal with humanity, they ignore the essence that drives humanity: the emotional self. And out of all the emotions, which is greater than love?
Proverbs 19:22 tells us that “what a man desires is unfailing love.” The Song of Songs sings how love is as strong as death (8:6), while Paul teaches that love is the greatest of all the spiritual gifts (1Corinthians 13). The Bible mentions love so many times that we know it must be important.
Is there anything more comforting than the verse "My lover is mine and I am his”? (Song of Songs 2:16) How lucky are those who can rest in the goodness and purity of another person’s true love? How tragic is it for those who are trapped in a loveless relationship? God had designed mankind to become one with their romantic partner. When it all goes according to God’s plan, it’s a glorious thing, but when it goes awry, it leaves heartache, pain, and sadness in its wake.
The Bible was inspired by God but transcribed by men. We know that it was men and not women who wrote the books from the male perspective from which they were written. Isaac loved Rebecca, David lusted after Bathsheba, Jacob loved Rachel, and Samson loved Delilah.
In fact, in all the history books of the Bible, there is only one recorded instance of love from a woman’s perspective*. 1 Samuel 18:20 “Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David.”
*Not counting the Song of Songs which contains poetry written by a woman.
Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens.
— Song of Songs 2:2
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you; Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.
— Song of Songs 8:4
Michal Loved David
Unfortunately for Michal, she was a princess. Modern Americans have romantic ideals of princes and princesses. They seemingly have the golden ticket; born into a life of luxury and ease, and answering to no one but the king and queen. Sadly, as is often the case in life, the reality doesn’t match the dream. In real life, especially in ancient times, princess were married off to foreign princes to secure alliances. Their thoughts and feelings in the matter were of no consequence. Michal was doomed to a similar fate; her marriage was for political gain. Unlike most royal unions, Michal actually got to marry the man she loved, sadly, he never returned her love. Her emotions were exploited by two men for their own glory. Worse still, the men were the only two men on earth who should have loved her, defended her, and protected her-- her father and husband.
When King Saul found out that Michal loved David, he knew that he could use that information to trap David. The king sent his men to approach David and inform him that Saul was pleased with him and wished for him to become his son in law. David declined, stating that he was unworthy of such an honor. So Saul offered Michal to David in exchange for one hundred Philistine foreskins, ostensibly for David to prove his worth and earn his prize. This practice, not dissimilar to scalping, was win/win for Saul. The Philistines were a much hated enemy to the Israelites, if David succeeded then that meant the death of one hundred of his enemies. However, Saul felt that by sending David into man-to-man combat against a hundred men, eventually David himself would get killed. And if he died taking out a few Philistines; all’s the better. As it turned out, David killed two hundred Philistines, double the number that Saul had demanded.
David was all too happy to accept the request, 1 Samuel 18:26 tells us that David was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. It does not say that David loved Michal; that he wanted to marry her, cherish her, or honor her. She was merely a stepping stool to a lofty position. Yet, Michal loved David. The Bible tells us often that he was handsome and brave. What young girl wouldn’t fall for a dashing hero? She loved him with the passion of youth, the uncontrollable fire of a first love. Yet with the temperance of an astute woman rather than a brash youth. She knew that her father hated David and couldn’t be trusted.
In contrast, Michal’s brother Jonathan loved David too; but with all the naïveté, boldness, and bravado that fills the hearts of young men. But, as is so often the case with many young men, Jonathan was impetuous in his devotion to his friend. He trusted his father, he tried to appeal to Saul’s sense of decency and honor. Jonathan believed that Saul would do the right thing, but when he tried reason with Saul, he grew enraged. He threw a spear at Jonathan and tried to kill him. Jonathan felt a mix of anger and betrayal, but also grieved at how far Saul had fallen. Michal harbored no such delusions about her father. She knew that he hated the man she loved, and she also knew that she couldn’t save David if she didn’t keep her wits. Jonathan was willing to die for David. Michal knew that she would be of no help to David if she was dead.
1 Samuel 19 tells that Saul had yet again tried to kill David. He sent men to David’s house to watch it with instructions that he be taken in the morning. Michal found out about the plot and urged David to flee. She helped him down a window and he was able to escape. Michal then took an idol and placed it in David’s bed, covering it with a garment and putting goat’s hair on the head. The following morning the men came to capture David, but his devoted wife sent the men back to Saul with the note that David was in bed, sick. Saul told the men to go back and bring David to him, bed and all, that he would kill him anyway. But when the men returned to David’s house they found the idol. When a furious Saul confronted Michal, she told him that David threatened her.
By chapter 25, we learn that Saul married Michal off to Paltiel, son of Laish. Michal’s first marriage to David was political; Saul had intended that David die acquiring the dowry of foreskins, while David saw the advantage of a royal marriage. Michal’s second marriage was political as well. Michal was still legally married to David, her first love. By giving Michal to Paltiel, Saul was declaring to the world that David was no longer a member of the Royal family, he was now an enemy of the State.
Michal loved David, she had helped him escape her father’s irrational fury. She knew that by doing so she would be separated from the man she loved, yet she still did that to save his life. She was willing to sacrifice their togetherness that he may live. And now, here she is, forced into marriage with another man. A man she remains married to for years until her father is killed in battle.
After the death of Saul, David becomes king of the tribe of Judah while Saul’s son, Ish-Boshet, reigns over the other 11 tribes of Israel. The tribes of Ish-Boshet warred with the tribe of David and all the while David continued to have wives and concubines who bore him many sons and daughters. The war lasted for many years until Abner, leading general of the army of Ish-Boshet, entered into a secret alliance with David. David is more than willing for Abner to doublecross Ish-Boshet and only asks one thing of him: that he bring David Michal, now the wife of Paltiel. In an apparent attempt to hedge his bets, David makes the demand to Ish-Bosheth as well, 2 Samuel 3:13: “Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me.” So once more, Michal is married to David.
Reunited Doesn't Feel So Good
Yet again, Michal is in a political marriage, and as before, nobody thought to ask her opinion on the subject. David did not wish to have his adoring wife back by his side because he loved her. He makes no statements to the contrary. Michal helped him avoid certain death from Saul, but that did not earn her David’s love or loyalty. Note the wording. David did not demand that Abner bring back Michal, his wife. He told Abner to bring back Michal, daughter of Saul. An alliance with Saul’s daughter would give David familial ties to the palace and help secure his rule over all twelve tribes. As with their original union, Michal was the key for David to gain access to the throne. Nothing more, nothing less.
By this time, Michal and Paltiel had been married for many years. True to form, the Bible doesn't explicitly state that Michal loved him, but he loved her and we have reason to believe that the love was returned and that their marriage was a happy one. 2 Samuel 3:16 says that when Ish-Bosheth gave the orders to have Michal brought to David, Paltiel followed behind, in tears. It is only when Abner ordered him to leave (presumably that demand was backed with force), that Paltiel left her. We know from 2 Samuel, that Paltiel was in love with Michal and was crushed when he had to leave her. The Bible doesn’t say how Michal felt when she was reunited with her first love, but later clues indicate that this act destroyed whatever love Michal had left for David.
When Michal first married David, she was deeply in love with him. A love that was never returned. Saul didn’t give her the love and respect that a father should give to his daughter. And David never returned her love, even after she risked her father’s wrath to save his life. The two men who should have been her champions, instead used her for their own gain. It was only after she married Paltiel did she experience the love that a husband should give to his wife. Going from a loveless father to a loveless husband probably felt normal to Michal, who had never before known love. Paltiel loved her the way that God intended a husband should love his wife. Once she experienced that love she didn’t want anything less. Michal was now older and wiser, she was no longer in love with the husband she so childishly adored in the past. She now loved Paltiel and she couldn’t have him.
The man who Michal had loved so much in her youth, by now, had other wives, concubines, and multiple children. He didn’t want want Michal. Ripping her from Paltiel and treating her like property left her hurt and bitter. He never tried to understand her or atone for his sins against her. The only other mention we have of her is in 2 Samuel 6 when David succeeded in bringing the ark of God into Jerusalem. David danced with joy, and as she watched him, she was filled with loathing. When he returned she greeted him with the kind of scorn that only a rejected woman can display. Dripping with sarcasm, she confronts him, “How the king has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls and servants as any vulgar fellow would.” (6:20)
David repaid her attack in kind, making it personal by attacking her family. “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- I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” (6:21,22) David, for all his faith and goodness, was not above using the Lord as a weapon. He also showed a touch of arrogance by telling her that he didn't need her favor- he had plenty of other women who wanted him.
The last thing that we hear is that until her dying day, Michal never bore children. The Bible speaks often of women who were barren or whose wombs were “closed.” And it is often mistakenly believed that Michal herself was barren. We have no reason to think this, however, as the Bible only says that she never had children. It is very likely that after Michal was taken by David the second time, the two were never intimate. it is more than likely they slept in different rooms, if not seperate wings of the palace.
The story is a tragic one, but it's better than some. Michal grew up unloved, and she died unloved; but somewhere in between, if only so briefly, she was loved.
© 2018 Anna Watson