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Lessons from King David's wife Michal—not what you are expecting!

When I first came to faith some 39 years ago, I had heard that David danced naked before the Lord as the Ark came into Jerusalem. But I have not heard such claims in many years. The text is very clear that he was clothed.

And David danced before the LORD with all his might, and David was girded with a linen ephod. (2 Samuel 6:14)
And David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, and all the Levites that bore the Ark, and the singers, and Chenaniah, the master of the song with the singers: David also had on him an ephod of linen. (1 Chronicles 15:27)

Some might think he might as well have been naked, with just a linen cloth. But he was not wearing just a linen cloth. He was “clothed with a robe of fine linen” and “also had on him an ephod of fine linen.”

The question is then, why have some people claimed he was naked?

As the Ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal, daughter of Saul, watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart…When David returned home to bless his household, Michal, daughter of Saul, came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (2 Sa 6:16, 20)

Michal accuses him of going around “half-naked.” The Hebrew word is the passive form of גילה gi-lay, which is נגלה nig-la, and means to be revealed. Her meaning in 2 Sam. 6:20 seems to be “to expose oneself.”

But we must remember that this is an accurate account of what Michal said, but not necessarily an accurate account of what David actually did. Particularly because the text itself says that he was clothed. So, what could be her meaning?

The issue is not that he was naked, but that he was not dressed in the clothing of a king, but in those of a priest. “David’s use of the ephod suggests that he possessed the credentials of a priest…. [thus], David’s energetic dancing could not have exposed his nakedness and so violated the Torah’s requirements (cf. Exod. 20:26) since he was wearing a linen undergarment.”[1]

“Michal’s words drip with the ‘how’ (v. 20) of sarcasm,”[2] as she is not being literal. She is mocking him for the way he dressed and how he danced before the Lord and all the people. In her mind, he was not acting in the fashion of a king. And let’s not forget, Michal grew up in the household of a king, so as she saw it, David was acting like a commoner or even a crazy man, “as any vulgar fellow would.”

From here, let me make two points.

  1. David loved the Lord. Despite being a king, he was willing to be humiliated if it meant he was able to give God glory. We should all be willing to express our exuberance for a God who so graciously saved us. But that point is obvious.

  2. There is possibly another angle here. Think about Michal’s life. Her father was a psychopath. She was given away in marriage. At one point, she had a crush on David (like every other girl in Israel [1 Sam. 18:7]). The text says that she was in love with him. But this was not real love. This was an infatuation with the hero David. But look how Saul responds.

Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” (1 Sa 18:20–21a)

He used his own daughter to try to get David killed. Then, later on, after David escapes Saul, Michal is given to another man in marriage (1 Sam. 25:44). After Saul’s death, David takes her back by force. It appears Michal had a real relationship with the second husband, as he weeps bitterly as she’s taken away (2 Sam. 3:12). We don’t hear from her again until that fateful day when the Ark came into Jerusalem.

If we read about such a person in modern times, we would expect that this person would need serious counseling and deep inner healing. Most scholars fault her as being bitter and jealous.

In rejecting David, Michal was also rejecting the Lord because it was he who “chose” David in preference to Michal’s “father or anyone from his house” to lead Israel. More probably, Michal’s rejection of David actually was symptomatic of an underlying problem in her relationship with God.[3]

I think that is very poor exegesis. First, Michal chooses David over her father several times and helps him escape from Saul (1 Samuel 19:11ff). Second, to speak about her “relationship with God” while ignoring her dysfunctional upbringing is nearsighted. Maybe she was simply deeply wounded and even traumatized.

I knew a couple many years ago in ministry. The husband was very zealous for the Lord, and the wife was very critical. He would often respond carnally, just like David, saying he would even be more zealous for the Lord. To him, it sounded spiritual, but it was really rooted in pride. The longer this went on, he began to verbally and vulgarly attack his wife. He would tell her that God had rejected her; he would never forgive her. She was not innocent in the way she spoke to him, but he was self-deceived into thinking that he was righteous, despite his violent and vulgar behavior towards her. In her words, she just wanted to be loved.

I have often wondered how things would have turned out if when Michal was so rude to the king, David had humbled himself before her, the way he humbled himself before the Lord and the people. What if, instead of rebuking her, he loved her? What if he sought to bring healing to her bitter heart? It is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). While I love David’s zeal, I see a little bit of pride and childishness in his response to his wife.

Michal was responsible for her own life, and judgment came upon her because of her bitterness. She remained barren until the end of her life. But I think David could have brought healing to her wounded heart.

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Shalom from Israel! I am Ron Cantor and this is my blog. I serve as the President of Shelanu TV.

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