A Heated Argument
One of the most memorable of spousal interchanges in Tanakh is that between David and Michal in Shemuel II 6 after the bringing of the Ark to Yerushalayim. As Michal watches David dance in front of the Ark, royal dignity abandoned, her heart fills with scorn:
(כ) וַיָּשׇׁב דָּוִד לְבָרֵךְ אֶת בֵּיתוֹ וַתֵּצֵא מִיכַל בַּת שָׁאוּל לִקְרַאת דָּוִד וַתֹּאמֶר מַה נִּכְבַּד הַיּוֹם מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר נִגְלָה הַיּוֹם לְעֵינֵי אַמְהוֹת עֲבָדָיו כְּהִגָּלוֹת נִגְלוֹת אַחַד הָרֵקִים. (כא) וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל מִיכַל לִפְנֵי י"י אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בִּי מֵאָבִיךְ וּמִכׇּל בֵּיתוֹ לְצַוֺּת אֹתִי נָגִיד עַל עַם י"י עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְשִׂחַקְתִּי לִפְנֵי י"י. (כב) וּנְקַלֹּתִי עוֹד מִזֹּאת וְהָיִיתִי שָׁפָל בְּעֵינָי וְעִם הָאֲמָהוֹת אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתְּ עִמָּם אִכָּבֵדָה. (כג) וּלְמִיכַל בַּת שָׁאוּל לֹא הָיָה לָהּ יָלֶד עַד יוֹם מוֹתָהּ.
(20) Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said: 'How did the king of Israel get him honour 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! ' (21) And David said unto Michal: 'Before the Lord, who chose me above thy father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of the Lord, over Israel, before the Lord will I make merry. (22) And I will be yet more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight; and with the handmaids whom thou hast spoken of, with them will I get me honour.' (23) And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.
What is it about David's dancing that so upsets Michal? Why does David respond by commenting about his being chosen as king in place of her father? How is that relevant to the conversation? Finally, though David gets the final say and appears to be the victor in this war of words, is he in the right? How should the actions of both Michal and David be evaluated?
Michal and David's Prior Relationship
In several other instances in Sefer Shemuel, the narrative discusses David and Michal's relationship. How, if at all, do the couple's prior interactions shed light on their behavior in Chapter 6?
- Shemuel I 18 – After recognizing that Michal loves David, Shaul offers her to David in marriage, and David provides 200 Philistine foreskins as a dowry.
- Shemuel I 19– Michal saves David's life as she helps him escape from Shaul.
- Shemuel I 25 – While David is on the run from Shaul, he takes two new wives. Michal, in the meantime, has been given away to Palti b. Layish.
- Shemuel II 3 – During the civil war after Shaul's death, David makes an alliance with Avner contingent on his returning Michal to him.
- Shemuel II 21 – The last mention of Michal is at the end of Sefer Shemuel, after their argument. To appease the Givonites and stop a famine, David gives away Michal's five sons to the Givonites to be killed.1
The brief passage raises several smaller questions as well:
- מִיכַל בַּת שָׁאוּל – In three out of the four places in the unit where Michal is mentioned she is referred to as Michal, "the daughter of Shaul". Is this significant? Why does the text go out of its way to remind the reader of Michal's connection to Shaul?
- לִפְנֵי י"י – David's retort to Michal begins and ends with the words, "לִפְנֵי י"י", an unnecessary doubling which makes the entire sentence sound awkward. How is the doubling to be understood?
- "הָאֲמָהוֹת" – Both Michal and David refer to David's mingling specifically with the maidservants, suggesting that this lies at the heart of their argument. Why did this trouble Michal so greatly?
- "וּלְמִיכַל... לֹא הָיָה לָהּ יָלֶד עַד יוֹם מוֹתָהּ" – Is the mention of Michal's barrenness meant to suggest that she was punished for her part in the argument, or is it an unrelated fact?