It is too easy to overlook the women of the bible. First the biblical narrative generally subscribes women to the subtext. I think that some people kick against this, but it’s generally true. Most-all of the biblical narratives of the scriptures follow the characters of men, with important women often immediately in the background, but rarely in the fore. Second it’s probable that I have been trained – unconsciously and unintentionally – to overlook them when they appear in secondary roles. I did a self-analysis and began to reflect on times when narratives revolved around women with a man occasionally appearing in the secondary role. Interestingly, the moment a guy appears, my attention is drawn to that fact.
I’ll stop now with the analysis and let the professionals work out the web of contextual-socieo-politico-physio-whatever, and move on to the point. Today’s reading covers the all too familiar story of David from the day he was anointed by Samuel, through his battle with Goliath, unto Saul’s jealousy and pursuit of David and concluding with David taking up residence in Philistia. I want to highly what is often overlooked throughout this narrative; the women.
On Today’s Women
When David arrives on the battlefield to bring his brothers some resources he over hears some of the soldiers comment that King Saul would give “his daughter” in marriage to the man who defeats Goliath. In keeping with his word Saul offers his oldest daughter, Merab, to David. David refuses the offer claiming humility. Merab’s role in the narrative comes to an end with this comment:
However, when the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel. – 1 Samuel 18:19
I’m working without a commentary and so will leave that part of the story to simply linger.
I have a great deal of sympathy for Michal. She is – evidently – Saul’s second oldest daughter. She also happens to be in love with David. So Saul, operating under the principle of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, proposed that David marry Michal. David gives the same line of humility, “who am I to marry into a royal line?” But Saul makes David a deal: kill two hundred Philistines, than he can marry Michal. This gave David a sense of ownership and so he does.
What I want you to notice in this sad one sided love-affair is that while Michal loved David, David loved the idea of becoming the Kings “son-in-law”. For Michal it was a matter of intimacy and love. For David it was a matter of position [1 Samuel 18:27-28].
This becomes very clear in the next chapter of the story. David’s life is in danger as Saul, Michal’s father let’s not forget, is out to kill him. Have you ever felt trapped between the person you love and your parents whom you love? Amplify that feeling a hundred fold will give you a sense of Michal’s dilemma.
Like a good loving wife, she sticks to her husband’s side. Michal warns David of the danger from his father, encourages him to run from him, even plans the means of escape and then covers for him! [1 Samuel 19:11-12].
The next time we meet Michal the scriptures read:
But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel. – 1 Samuel 25:44
The story of Michal goes downhill from here if I remember correctly, but that will have to be left for another day since that part of the story is beyond today’s reading. Feel the story from Michal’s point of view. The man she loves is the man her father is trying to kill. She sacrificially rescues her husband by making a way for escape, and lying to the King about it – putting her own life on the line – and so far the narrative does not give a hint that David reciprocated neither the sacrifice, the love or the promise. Because, as we’ll soon see, David moves on to other women (plural).
Keep in mind that at this point in Israel’s narrative history, her father was the first King. So far as we know, there is no reason to assume that Saul had more than one wife (I don’t even think the one wife he did have – assuming he had one – is mentioned). So when Michal rescued her husband, I’m sure she did not think, “oh no, what if he marries other women [plural]!” The only thing she had on her mind was concern for him. Apparently he shared that one sided concern.
Finally, she is given to another man in marriage. Ouch. But this story gets even sadder when – if memory recalls – later that man will fall deeply in love with Michal only to be stripped from her later by David who has already accumulated a few other wives.
Oh why didn’t she just run away with him when she plotted his escape?
Abigail is an interesting character. The scriptures describe her as “an intelligent and beautiful women”, with emphasis on intelligent, but not neglecting that she was a looker too. Her husband (Nabal) the scriptures describe as “surly” and “mean” or, as Abigail describes him:
He is just as his name – his name is fool and folly goes before him. – 1 Samuel 25:25
It seems everyone knows who has the brains in the family because when word gets to Nabal’s servants that David is marching with troops to slaughter him because he was unwilling to reciprocate David’s kind treatment to Nabal’s land, the servants are wise enough to run straight to Abigail. She springs into action, gathers all the gifts she can to offer to David and his men as an “apology” and then she requests that David blame her for the actions of her husband.
David’s anger subsides (of course). That night Nabal is in a drunken stupor – what an idiot – and so Abigail waits until the morning to tell him what happened (prudent). She shows no fear of him. She hides nothing from him. She protects him. She “is intelligent and beautiful”. When he hears the news he keels over with a heart attack and dies little over a week later [1 Samuel 25:38].
David wastes no time – not being one to pass up a good opportunity – and seeks out and marry the new widow, Abigail. This is quite unfortunate because 1) David is already married for all intense of purposes and 2) tragically Abigail all but falls off the pages of scripture, her name only appearing in lists of David’s wives. Perhaps agreeing to be David’s wife was the first – and worse – folly decision she could have made.
The story concludes with this:
David also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. – 1 Samuel 25:43
Who is Ahinoam? Maybe we’ll find out, but I doubt it. Her claim to fame will be a mention among the lists of the wives of King David.
If I am correct in reading the tone of the text, the scriptures record this part of the story – David already with three wives – unapprovingly. Old Testament scholar Carolyn Sharp, in the book I am currently reading, reminds us that often the most important part to grasp of a narrative is not to listen to what is being said, but what is unsaid and unspoken.
The scriptures do not condone David’s treatment of women.