Last week we looked at the life of Michal, David’s first wife. Although the story is a familiar one, I still have some questions. Unfortunately, three of them have no real answers, but, as always, there are many opinions. One question, however, has a fairly complete explanation, so I will begin with it.
Q. What is a teraphim?
A. In 1 Samuel 19:13, the text says, “And Michal took an image and laid it in the bed, put a cover of goats’ hair for his head, and covered it with clothes.” The word for “image” in Hebrew is teraphim. All sources consulted agree this was a household god:
- “…’the teraphim,’ of the figure and size of the human form, used for superstitious purposes by the Israelites in the times of the judges and of Saul (Judg 17:5), until the practice was suppressed by Josiah (2 Kings 23:24). They were considered the givers and guardians of life and property, or consulted as oracles (Zech 10:2; Hos 3:4).”
- “the teraphim…in all probability an image of the household gods of the size of life, and, judging from what follows, in human form….”
- “‘Teraphim’… an image, or bust in human form, and as large as life, of a kind of household god, to the worship of which the Israelites, and especially women, were much addicted.”
However, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary poses an alternate explanation: “Since terephim is always plural, and since the idols they denote are presumably always small…the dummy was almost certainly not a single, man-sized idol. Michal’s ruse was probably effected by piling clothing, carpets, or the like on David’s bed and covering it with a garment, allowing only the goats’ hair head to show.”
Teraphim 4 (Photo credit: michaelz1)
Q. Why would such a figure have been in Michal’s room in the first place?
A. Expositor’s commentary notes that Michal’s use of household idols “doubtless reflects pagan inclination or ignorance on her part.” Further, it compares Michal’s deception with Rachel’s, when she, too, deceived her father, Laban, with teraphim. Each woman demonstrated more devotion to her husband than to her father.
If it were due to a “pagan inclination,” could this partially explain her reaction when she saw David’s dance as something repugnant? There is no record of Michal exhibiting any particular reverence for David’s God, and Israel itself had a long history of flirting with idolatry. David trusted in God, we know. What we do not know is whether Michal trusted in teraphim. The Bible is silent in this regard.
Q. What was Michal’s fate?
A. It is difficult to resist the temptation to fill in the blanks where the Bible is silent, especially when studying such a fascinating character as Michal. Following are various attempts to flesh out the scant details we do have.
Some wonder if David put Michal in a sort of confinement as he did in 2 Samuel 20:3: “Now David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten women, his concubines whom he left to keep the house, and put them in seclusion and supported them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up to the day of their death, living in widowhood.”
Edith Deen notices a rather conflicting passage in 2 Samuel 21:8 in which five sons of Michal are mentioned: “Scholars seem to be convinced that this is a scribal error, that these were not Michal’s sons but the sons of her sister Merab, and that she reared them as her own after her sister’s death.” She does not express her personal opinion. Others, such as Sue and Larry Richards, seem confident that Michal remained in David’s house as a symbol, that he never touched her again, and she died childless and alone.
At least one other ponders a different facet of her story—the reason behind such a fate. Professor Robert Alter of U.C. Berkeley asks, “Is this a punishment from God, or simply a refusal by David to share her bed, or is the latter to be understood as the agency for the former?”
As you can see, opinions and questions are plentiful, but all the Bible will say on the matter is found in 2 Samuel 6:23: “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children unto the day of her death.”
Q. Did David love Michal?
A. I Samuel 18:20 states, “Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David.” In fact, this is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where it is stated that a woman loves a man. No place does it say that David loved Michal.
Most authorities address the obvious. Michal was a pawn in her father’s hand. Saul offered her in marriage for one reason—he hoped that her bride price would result in David’s death. It was purely a matter of retaining power.
Michal, however, was looking through a different set of lenses. David was a familiar personality in the royal household. He was young. She was young. It would be logical to assume that she held at least some physical attraction for David. He definitely did for her.
After they were married, Michal defied her father by helping David escape Saul’s murderous intent. No Bible record indicates that David ever tried to contact her afterwards, or come back for her. But there are accounts that he managed to meet with her brother Jonathan on at least two occasions.
Both were thrust into new roles—he as a fugitive; she, by her father’s intervention, as another man’s wife. David took other wives, and then concubines. Years passed, and children were born. When he finally returned years later, David came as a king, replete with a royal entourage and harem.
He called for Michal once more. There is no mention of celebration or jubilation as might be expected after such a long separation. Scholars view this as a shrewd political move to assure David’s bid for the throne of a united monarchy. He just needed Saul’s daughter to help him seal the deal.
So did David love Michal? Perhaps, at least in the beginning, one would hope. However, accounts of true and lasting marital love are scarce in the pages of the Bible, especially among the households of the Royals. Politics, not love, always seem to reign supreme.
The story of Michal continues to be a fascinating one. With each reading I discover new questions and curiosities which keep me coming back for more.
 From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.
 Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.
 Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.
(1992 edition) Volume 3, page 716.
 See Genesis 31:33-35.
 All the Women of the Bible (1955), page 100
 Every Woman in the Bible (1999), p 115
 The David Story (1999), page 230
 Women in Scripture (2000), Carol Meyers, Gen. Ed., page 126