Name Meaning—This name is allied to the previous name, Michaiah, and also to Michael, and mean the same—“Who is like Jehovah?” Michal, along with its cognates, illustrates the comparatively small class of proper names composed of more than two words. It is a name describing an admiring acknowledgment of the transcendant unapproachable majesty of the divine nature.
Family Connections—Michal was the younger daughter of Saul, Israel’s first king. Her mother was Ahinoam. She became David’s first wife, was given to Phalti the son of Laish, of Gallim for a-while, but was recovered by David. As the aunt of her sister Merab’s five sons, Michal cared for them after the somewhat premature death of her sister.
Michal, although a princess, does not appear to have had a very commendable character. Desire for prestige, fervor of infatuation, indifference to holiness, and idolatry mark out this Jewess who knew the covenant God yet persevered in idolatrous practices. Closely associated with David, her career can be broken up thus—
What young woman would not be attracted by such a strong, athletic young man, who was “ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to”? Further, David was the young shepherd who defied and killed the giant Goliath who had terrified Michal’s father and his people. Thus Michal grew passionately fond of David, and made no effort to conceal her love for this much-lauded champion of Israel. While there may not be very much to admire in Michal, we cannot but express sympathy for her experiences in an age when women were treated as chattels, being thrown from one husband to another. But while “Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David,” she did not love the Lord as David did. What a different story might have been written of her if she had been a woman after God’s own heart!
Saul had vowed that the man who killed Goliath would become his son-in-law, and Merab, Saul’s first daughter should have been given to David, but Saul, regretting his promise, gave her to another man. David was now a veritable hero among the people, and Saul’s jealousy prompted him to devise means whereby David would be slain by the Philistines. Learning of Michal’s love for David, Saul asked as a dowry, usually paid to a father according to Eastern custom, the foreskins of 100 Philistines. David slew 200 Philistines, and Saul was forced to give his daughter to wife to the man whose death he had planned. As David had been victorious, Saul dared not go back upon his word. How Saul illustrates the adage that “Jealousy is as cruel as the grave”!
Still bent on destroying David, Saul had David’s house surrounded. In a frenzy of envy Saul had messengers “watch David to slay him in the morning.” But Michal’s love smelled danger and, discovering her father’s intention, “let David down through a window; and he fled and escaped.” Then, as a truehearted wife she tricked her father and his emissaries. With her husband safely out of the way, Michal put a hair-covered image in David’s bed, and when the men burst into the supposedly sickroom, they found that they had been cleverly tricked. When Saul heard he had been outwitted, he accused his daughter of disloyalty to her father, and was most bitter in his reproach. Michal, however, pretended that David had threatened to kill her if she did not help him to escape.
After this incident, Michal’s love for David waned. Where was the pleasure in being the wife of a man forced to spend his days a fugitive, hunted like a wild animal in the wilderness? Phalti of Gallem was a better catch, she thought, seeing he was on his way to royalty which she was eager to secure and hold. So Michal became the wife of Phalti. This was an illegitimate union seeing David was alive and was in no way lawfully separated from Michal as her husband. That Phalti cared for Michal is proven by the way he followed her, weeping, when she decided to leave him for her former husband.
With Saul’s death, circumstances changed for David whom God had already chosen to be king over His people. Michal and her husband Phalti were living to the east of Jordan during the short rule of Ishbosheth. Abner made an arrangement to assist David to take over the kingship of the nation, and David made the restoration of Michal the one condition of the league. So despite Phalti’s sorrowful protest, Michal was forcibly restored to David as he returned from his wanderings as king. Evidently his ardor for Michal was the same as at the first, and his desire to claim her proves how he wanted her as queen in Hebron.
How pathetic it is to read of Phalti with whom Michal had lived for some considerable time. We see his sorrow as he went with her in tears, only to be rudely sent back by Abner! We do not read of Michal weeping as she left the man who had showered so much affection upon her. It did not require much force to make her leave Phalti. Her pride and love for prestige left little room for weeping and although she knew she could never become David’s ideal love, seeing she had been the possession of another man, yet as his first wife Michal thought of the position that would be hers at court.
The closing scene between Michal and David is most moving, for what love Michal might have had for David turned to scorn and disdain. After making Jerusalem his capital, David brought the sacred Ark of the covenant, the ancient symbol of Jehovah’s presence, to Moriah. On the day of the Ark’s return David was so joyful that, stripping himself of his royal robes, he “danced before the Lord with all his might.” Michal watched from a window and seeing David—the king—leaping and dancing before the Lord, she “despised him in her heart.” Although she had loved him, risked her life for his safety, she now abhors him for his loss of royal dignity. Her haughtiness was shocked by David’s participation in such an excitable demonstration.
Nursing her contempt Michal waited until David returned to his household. When they met, she with a biting sarcasm, revealing “her self-pride, and lack of sensitiveness to her husband’s magnificent simplicity,” sneeringly said, “How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!” For her there were no pious and affectionate feelings at the return of the Ark to Zion. Like her father, Saul, she had no regard for the Ark of God (1 Chronicles 13:3). But David, mortified by Michal’s pride as a king’s daughter, was curt in his reply. Resenting her reproach, he made it clear in no uncertain terms that he was not ashamed of what he had done “before the Lord” who had chosen him rather than any of Saul’s family to reign as king. Michal had missed the essential significance of David’s career, that in spite of his failures he was a man after God’s own heart. As Alexander Whyte put it, “What was David’s meat was Michal’s poison. What was sweeter than honey to David was gall and wormwood to Michal.... At the despicable sight [of David dancing] she spat at him, and sank back in her seat with all hell in her heart.... Michal is a divine looking-glass for all angry and outspoken wives.”
After such an outburst of reproach we read that “Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death,” and such a final flat statement practically means that she lived apart from David, more or less divorced (2 Samuel 6:16). The estrangement between them likely became more acute because of the other wives now sharing David’s prosperity. Childless till her death was a punishment appropriate to her transgression. David was given many sons and daughters, and her sister Merab bore five sons, but Michal never achieved the great attainment of being a mother. She ended her days without the love and companionship of a husband, caring for her dead sister’s five children, all of whom were ultimately beheaded.
What can we learn from this story of Michal and David? Misunderstanding arose in their relationship because of a clash of temperament, outlook and purpose. Had Michal shared David’s faith in God how different life would have been for both of them. But Michal made no effort to understand her husband’s Godward desires and so passed a wrong judgment upon him. How certain we should be of a person’s motive for his acts or attitudes before we condemn him. Further, had Michal loved David enough, she should have sought his forgiveness after he had explained his demeanor before the Lord. “She worshipped him when he was poor and unknown and now that he is King ‘she despised him in her heart’ ... David realized they could never love the same God. Therefore he cut her from his heart.” But being eaten up with pride there was no tolerance in her heart and so harmony was impossible. Love brings harmony and understanding into every human relationship. A fellow-minister confided in Alexander Whyte that he preached and prayed best when his wife stayed at home. This was something of the gulf between David and Michal. How different it is when husbands truly love their wives and wives sincerely reverence their husbands!