What must it have been like to be a woman in the early Israelite Kingdom? The kings are the principal actors and women only get bit-parts.
As the daugher of our first king, Saul, Michal and her sister Meirav were used to cement his authority, as was customary then. Yet her spirit of independence shines.
Saul promised Michal as wife to whoever could defeat Goliath. When David accomplished this feat, Saul realised he had lost popularity and tried to renege on the deal by getting David to pay a dowry of 100 Philistines’ foreskins.
David presented 200 to his father-in-law. How must Michal have felt, being “bought” in this way? The Tanakh says that Michal loved David, the only place where a woman’s love for a man is mentioned. It appears he did not love her, but her love for him is displayed in 1 Samuel 19, where she helps him escape death by pretending he is on his sickbed, as he flees his jealous father-in-law.
Her own haughtiness is also used as an example. When David dances in his loincloth before the ark of God, Michal scorns his self-abasement. This comes after her return to her first husband, her jealous father King Saul having given her (despite already being married) to Paltiel of Galem, using her to show disfavour to David rather than respecting her as a person in her own right. Paltiel loved her and wept on her removal.
Could King David have paid more attention to her status as King Saul’s daughter (and therefore a threat to his own dynasty), because of her scorn, or because of her lack of loyalty? Suffice to say, she was set aside and no longer favoured by him. The Book of Samuel says that she had no children (1 Samuel 6:23) but this is contradicted by another reference to her five sons (2 Samuel, 21:8-9), whom David handed over to the Gibeonites for execution. Could they really have been his sons? Or could they, as some versions of the text suggest, have been Meirav’s?
In any case, Michal is a tragic figure of a queen trapped in a king’s world.
ω Zvi Solomons is rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berkshire, JCoB.org