Michal and David: Michal Was King David's First Wife

Michal Helped David Survive to Become King

David and Michal, engraving by Calzi from painting by Francesco Podesti, from Album: Exhibition of Fine Arts in Milan, 1844
David and Michal, engraving by Calzi from a painting by Francesco Podesti, from the Album: Exhibition of Fine Arts in Milan, 1844. De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images

David's first marriage to Michal (pronounced "Michael"), the younger daughter of his rival, King Saul, was a political alliance that scholars still debate. Some biblical experts claim that Michal was David's favorite wife, while others insist that her loyalty to her father blighted the marriage of Michal and David.

Michal Was Caught in a Family Feud

Michal was the wife who found herself in the kind of family feud that many women face, except that Michal's family feud was on a scale that determined the future of Israel. She was a woman who was used as a pawn, first by her father, King Saul, and then by her husband King David in the Bible.

As the "bride-price," or dowry, for Michal, Saul demands that David bring him 100 foreskins from the penises of Philistine warriors. Gruesome as this sounds, it held great significance for the Israelites. First, it would prove David's prowess as a warrior. Second, because circumcision was the physical symbol of their covenant with God, foreskins would prove that David had killed Philistines and not some other tribal group. Finally, the collection of so many foreskins would demonstrate Israel's military strength to its neighbors.

Saul was sure that David would be killed attempting such a monumental task, thus removing a strong rival to Saul's kingship. Instead, David presented Saul with 200 Philistine foreskins and claimed Michal as his wife.

Michal's Love for David Was Unrequited

1 Samuel 18:20 says that Michal loved David, the only place in the Bible where a woman's love for a man is recorded, according to footnotes in The Jewish Study Bible. However, there is no biblical record of David having loved Michal, and the later story of their marriage seems to indicate that he didn't, even though some rabbinical interpretations dispute this, according to Jewish Women, an online encyclopedia.

Michal risked her father's wrath by helping David to escape out a window in 1 Samuel 19. Then she fooled her father's envoy by putting a statue of a household idol called a "teraphim" under a blanket on a bed, topping it with a net of goat's hair. She told the envoy that David was sick and couldn't go to her father. When her father Saul learned that David had escaped, Michal flat-out lied to protect her husband. "You gave him to me as a husband," Michal told her father. "He's a soldier and a violent man, and he held a sword on me and made me help him." Thus she put the onus for David's escape back on her father. By helping David escape, she made certain that would survive to become king.

A short time later, Saul tried to block David's claim to the throne by giving Michal to another man, Paltiel. After Saul died, David returned to claim Michal as his wife -- not because he loved her, but because her lineage strengthened David's claim to the throne, according to footnotes to 2 Samuel 3:14-16. Paltiel was so grief-stricken that he followed weeping as Michal was taken away until one of David's envoys made Paltiel turn back. Yet nothing is recorded of Michal's feelings in the matter, an omission that footnotes in The Jewish Study Bible say indicates her marriage to David had been solely a political alliance.

David Dances and Michal Rebukes Him

The interpretation that Michal's love for David was unrequited appears to be borne out in 2 Samuel 6. This text tells that David led a procession to bring the Ark of the Covenant, containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, to Jerusalem. Wearing nothing but an ephod, a type of apron worn by priests, David danced and whirled in ecstasy in front of the Ark as the procession made its way toward the palace.

Aghast, Michal watched this spectacle from her window. After all she had sacrificed for David, including her adoring spouse, Paltiel, Michal saw her royal husband cavorting down the street showing his near-naked body to women and men alike. Furious, Michal later rebuked David for his behavior, accusing him of showing off his sexuality just so women would look at him. David fired back that God chose him to be king of Israel over her father, Saul, and that his dancing was religious ecstasy, not sexual vulgarity: "I will dance before the LORD and dishonor myself even more, and be low in my own esteem; but among the slave girls that you speak of I will be honored."

In other words, David told Michal that he'd rather have the sexual admiration of his female servants than the respect of his royal wife, whose lineage justified his kingship. How humiliating this must have been for her!

Michal's Story Closes Sadly

2 Samuel 6:23 closes Michal's story with a sad report. It says that out of the many wives of David in the Bible, "to her dying day Michal, daughter of Saul, had no children." An entry in Jewish Women says that some rabbis interpret this to mean that Michal died in childbirth bearing David's son, Ithream. However, there are no direct scriptural references to Michal having children to support this argument.

Did David refuse to have sex with his first wife in order to deny her children, considered the greatest blessing of Israelite family life? Did David imprison Michal for disloyalty, since she is consistently referred to as "daughter of Saul" rather than "wife of David"? Scripture does not say, and after 2 Samuel 6, Michal disappears from the list of the many wives of King David in the Bible.

Michal and David References:

  • The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 2004).
  • "Michal, daughter of Saul: Midrash and Aggadah," http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/michal-daughter-of-saul-midrash-and-aggadah Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
  • "Michal," Women in Scripture, Carol Meyers, General Editor (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000).
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Your Citation
Astle, Cynthia. "Michal and David: Michal Was King David's First Wife." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, learnreligions.com/michal-and-david-116670. Astle, Cynthia. (2020, August 26). Michal and David: Michal Was King David's First Wife. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/michal-and-david-116670 Astle, Cynthia. "Michal and David: Michal Was King David's First Wife." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/michal-and-david-116670 (accessed March 26, 2023).