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Two wise women

I find two of the most intriguing women who lived during the time of David are known only as “wise women.” While tradition assigns names to the wise men mentioned in Matthew, these individuals are identified only by the cities in which they lived—Tekoa and Abel. One speculation is that there were other such women in the land, and specific identification was of less importance than what they did. This post will concentrate largely on the woman from Tekoa, and incidentally with her counterpart in Abel.

The first encounter

Tragedy and heartache had visited David. His daughter Tamar was raped by her half-brother, Amnon, David’s firstborn son. In an act of passionate vengeance, Absalom (her full brother) murdered the rapist, and then fled his father’s wrath to the safety of his mother’s people in Geshur (2 Samuel 13:37-39). For three years, David mourned for his exiled son.

Joab, David’s nephew and commander of his army, was astute and knew his king well. Unless David reconciled with Absalom, the fate of the monarchial line was at stake. He devised a plan which included a wise woman in Tekoa.

Who is this woman?

Though nameless in the Bible, the fact that Joab knew of her and sought her out indicates she was a familiar figure. Presumably, she enjoyed some reputation in the environs of the area in which she lived.

What made her wise?

Claudia Camp, in her essay, The Wise Women of 2 Samuel,[1] presents a plausible scenario in my opinion. The Book of Proverbs has much to say about wisdom, its value indicated by the abundance of cautions and advice contained within its pages. Proverbs also “gives an indication of a mother’s role in the training of her children, not only as infants and toddlers, but also in the proper attitudes and actions of adult life,” she says. Furthermore, she notes that Proverbs 1:8 and 6:20 speak of the commands and instructions of fathers as a parallel to the law of mothers. Teaching children about life was a joint venture.

In Camp’s view, this woman likely heard axioms concerning wisdom repeatedly during her upbringing. She probably even memorized them and had them emphasized as object lessons at every opportunity. In turn, she passed these on to her own children. As she grew in wisdom from her life experiences, she might also have grown in stature not only in her family, but in her community as well. As others began to seek her counsel, she was gradually regarded as the village wise woman.

Wise women in action 

Both women exhibited some similarities of approach. First, they spoke with confidence and a certain authority (though not officially as a prophet or judge). They both were courageous—one in presenting a total fabrication to her king in order to change his mindset, and the other in effecting the decapitation of the secessionist and rebel, Sheba (2 Samuel 20).

Joab pursues Sheba to the city of Abel.

Joab pursues Sheba to the city of Abel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Additionally, each woman used a common wisdom device, the utterance of proverbs or sayings (14:14; 20:18). Camp comments, “A saying, then, is employed by a wise person for a particular purpose, possibly to educate another (which always involves some implicit directing as to what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’) or, as in this case [referring to the wise woman of Abel’s exchange with Joab], to exert influence over another’s action in a way that carries some authority” (pg 198).

“Acts” of persuasion

The wise woman of Tekoa, through her believable performance of a purely fictional scenario, was able to change King David’s perspective enough to bring about reconciliation and preservation of his line of succession. Though Joab had “put words in her mouth” (2 Sam. 14:3)—by essentially giving her a script—she had to draw on her own instincts and “wisdom” as to timing, and method of presentation.

The power of reasoning

On the other hand, the proverb spoken by the woman in Abel informed Joab that to attack the city to get at Sheba would be wrong (2 Sam. 20:18). After all, she reminded him, Abel’s reputation was as a “mother in Israel,” given to counsel, peace, and faithfulness. Perhaps she drew on her store of sayings, learned from her childhood, as she reasoned with this commander bent on assault. Principles such as, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger…” (Pro. 15:1) or “by long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks a bone” (Pro. 25:15) come to mind. Whatever the case, her wise words carried weight with Joab (he was willing to listen) and the citizens of Abel (they were willing to act). The imminent attack averted, a potential flashpoint for civil war among the tribes of Israel was effectively quenched.

More to learn

These two anonymous women, sought out for their wisdom, positively affected David’s reign. The Bible notes other women who exhibited good judgment and insight. We will meet them in future posts and explore the impact of wisdom in their lives and in the lives of others.

Meanwhile, now might be a good opportunity to review the sayings of the Book of Proverbs. One never knows when she might find herself thrust into the role of a “wise woman.”

[1] Alice Bach, editor, Women from the Hebrew Bible (1999), pg 201

Michal: Part 2

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.

QWhat 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).”[1]
  • “the teraphim…in all probability an image of the household gods of the size of life, and, judging from what follows, in human form….”[2]
  • “‘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.”[3]

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.”[4] 

Teraphim 4

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.[5]

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.”[6] She does not express her personal opinion. Others, such as Sue and Larry Richards,[7] 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?”[8]

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.[9] 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.

[1] From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[2] Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

[3] Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[4](1992 edition)  Volume 3, page 716.

[5] See Genesis 31:33-35.

[6] All the Women of the Bible (1955), page 100

[7] Every Woman in the Bible (1999),  p 115

[8] The David Story (1999), page 230

[9] Women in Scripture (2000), Carol Meyers, Gen. Ed., page 126

Michal’s window


Young David had made quite a name for himself. Who had not heard the glorious tale? Imagine! Felling Goliath, the Philistine giant, armed with only a slingshot and his faith in the God of the armies of Israel (I Samuel 17). Word had it that such a deed would not go unrewarded. “It shall be that the man who kills him the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father’s house exemption from taxes in Israel” (vs. 25). The future looked bright for the handsome lad.

David and Saul

David and Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From that momentous day, David served Saul wherever he was sent, and word of his exploits spread throughout the land. He soon became a familiar figure in the royal household, often soothing his tormented king with music. He and Jonathan, the king’s son, forged a lasting friendship. Did he notice the princesses Merab and Michal watching him with admiring eyes as he went about their father’s business?

Hero or menace?

He often went into battle, and always returned victorious. Women danced and swayed to the rhythm of their tambourines, singing jubilantly of his conquests. “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” The king’s mood turned dark toward this young hero; no rewards were forthcoming, only sudden fits of anger and malevolence. David’s acclaim grew. So did Saul’s paranoia and fear. His troubled mind devised a plan to rid himself of this perceived threat.

Of traps and snares

First, there was the promise of Merab’s hand in marriage. Just fight for me, the king had said, hoping for David’s death in battle, and you can have her to wife. But when David failed to fall into his trap, Merab was abruptly given to another.

Then word came that his younger daughter Michal was in love with David, and Saul immediately saw her as the snare to bring this interloper’s demise. It became increasingly clear that life with Saul was going to be a challenge.

A window of escape

Michal could hardly believe it. David provided  the bride-price Saul requested: one hundred foreskins of his enemies, the Philistines–in fact he doubled it. Only after a tally of the grisly payment were they allowed to wed. When her father should have felt secure as David repeatedly proved his loyalty, he only grew more obsessed. Even her brother Jonathan couldn’t reason with him, and became alarmed at their father’s murderous intent.

What could she do? Even in the dark, she felt the presence of her father’s assassins waiting near the courtyard below. Slowly a plan crystallized. Perhaps it was her trusted servants, or even Jonathan himself who helped her quietly lower David from her window to the ground. She leaned out after him, watching him disappear into the inky night.

Michal’s feint

Now she must move quickly. Her father’s messengers of death could enter her room at any time. Michal managed to pivot a household image onto David’s bed, and disguise it with goats’ hair and clothing. After a few minor adjustments she was satisfied it would pass for her sleeping husband—at least temporarily. By the time Saul’s henchmen discovered her ruse David was well on his way to Ramah.


Saul’s rage would not be cooled until David was dead, that he proved by an endless, merciless pursuit. Michal’s fugitive husband was forced farther and farther away. There was spotty news of him now, usually from the mouth of an itinerate tradesman, and what little she did receive only caused her heartbreak and despair. Could it be true—he had another wife…was her name Abigail? And then another? Why had he not sent for her?

As if unknowing was not enough, her father did the unthinkable. He gave Michal as wife to another, one Paltiel, and with the passing years, she made a new life. When she learned that her father and brother were killed in battle, there was still no word from David—only reports that he had been made the king of Judah.

Key to the contest

Now some fourteen years later[1], David laid claim to the throne of Israel in order to unify its tribes with Judah. Once again Michal found herself helpless, now in the midst of a contest for a united monarchy. Key to David’s ascendency as she was his rightful wife and daughter of Israel’s deceased king, he wasted no time in demanding her return. In spite of Paltiel’s tearful pleadings, Michal now found herself  in David’s palace.

English: "David danced before the LORD wi...

English: “David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod”; 2 Samuel 6:14; watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A window of judgment

Once again she stood at her window, drawn by sounds of trumpets and shouts of jubilation. The ark of the Lord was coming to Jerusalem! As she watched the nearing crowd, she spied her husband, leaping and whirling, in an ephod[2]. Disgust filled her heart. He should have stayed a shepherd. Such dancing in public and he, the King!

Hours passed before David returned home. His day had been filled with celebration, offerings, and gifts for the whole multitude of Israel. Now his own household would receive his blessings. Michal met him with cold anger and disdain. “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”[3]

Unintended consequences

Michal had gone too far. David met her derision with a stern rebuke. “It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.”[4]

Michal’s scorn for her husband ended with the ultimate curse for a woman of her day: “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.”

[1] The Woman’s Study Bible, Topic “Michal,” says, “Fourteen years later and seven years after the death of Saul, David was still not the king over all of Israel. As condition of a treaty with Abner, David demanded the return of Michal in order to stabilize his position over the Kingdom. Once again, Michal was used for political advantage” (page 475).

[2] The ephod was a linen vest worn by a priest over his robe. It was much shorter than the usual outer garment, which made it convenient for dancing. The Woman’s Study Bible, reference, 2 Samuel 6:14.

“From the historical books we learn that ephods were worn by persons other than the high priest. Thus, the boy Samuel was girded with a linen ephod while assisting the aged high priest (1 Sam 2:18); the priests at Nob, 85 in number, are described as men wearing a linen ephod (22:18); and David was girded with a linen ephod when he danced in the procession that brought the ark into Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:14). (from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright © 1996, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.)

[3] 2 Samuel 6:20

[4] 2 Samuel 6:21-22

Courage: also known as


So far, we’ve seen courage exhibited as the nerve to step forward, or the determination to go back. Each decision was fraught with its own unique “what-if”—what if Naaman was outraged at the thought of consulting the spokesman for the God of Israel, and took it out on the little maid? She would be defenseless. Or, what if Naomi met hostility and harsh judgment for having gone to Moab in the first place, much less for staying on indefinitely? Then what would she do?

Both embarked on a course of action, willing to meet the resulting consequences—unintended or otherwise. Their stories ended on a positive note.

In other words

I thought it might be interesting to explore more characteristics of courage as manifested in the lives of several other women from the Book. The broad definition of courage appears simple and concise, i.e., boldness or braveness, but its nuances reveal many fascinating, complex facets.

For this post, we will consider a list of its synonyms, and then revisit some Bible accounts of this attribute at work in its various forms.

First the synonyms…

















intestinal fortitude












Meet the women: courage at work

English: Jael Smote Sisera, and Slew Him, circ...

English: Jael Smote Sisera, and Slew Him, circa 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) or follower, gouache on board, 5 7/16 x 7 3/8 in. (13.9 x 18.8 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Jael (Judges 4:17-23):  the Kenite woman who killed Sisera, Israel’s formidable enemy during the time of Deborah. Jael witnessed a man running towards her from some unseen threat. She recognized him as Sisera, and instantly knew his problem: Barak and ten thousand of his men were in hot pursuit. Always resourceful, she invited him into her tent, implying sanctuary. With customary hospitality, she gave him a drink of fermented milk, lulling him into a false sense of security and eventually, sleep. Jael, with quiet deliberation, picked up a hammer and proceeded to drive a tent peg through his temple, thus fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy: “…for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (vs. 9).
  • Jehosheba (2 Kings 11:2; 2 Chron. 22:11):  the half-sister of King Ahaziah who saved her nephew from assassination. After Ahaziah died in battle, his mother, Athaliah, attempted to kill all her grandsons while usurping the throne. Spurred by the horror of impending disaster, Jehosheba rescued Ahaziah’s youngest son, the infant Joash. With the help of her husband, the righteous priest Jehoiadah, she hid the boy in the Temple for six years until he was old enough to be proclaimed the rightful king. Jehosheba’s act preserved “the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), from which Jesus was descended.
  • Jochebed (Ex. 2:1-4): the mother of Moses who devised a plan to save him from the Pharaoh’s death decree targeting all Hebrew baby boys. After three months, she knew she could no longer safely hide Moses herself. So she secreted her infant among the reeds along the riverbank, and stationed his older sister Miriam to stand vigil. Jochebed’s valiant efforts to spare her child succeeded, and she possibly lived to see Moses become the revered leader and liberator of the people of Israel.
  • Michal (1 Sam. 19:10-17): king Saul’s younger daughter, and David’s wife. Michal learned of her father’s demented intention to kill her husband, and her only thought was to save her beloved. She helped David escape through a window, and used her quick-thinking to devise a plan. Through subterfuge, she deceived her father (a risky activity given Saul’s often unstable state of mind), and assured her husband’s getaway.
  • Rahab (Joshua 2:1-6): the harlot who secretly housed two men sent by Joshua to scout out Jericho, and helped them avoid apprehension. First, she hid them in stalks of flax on her roof; and then, after sending the king’s messengers on a false trail, Rahab let the spies down the outside wall by a rope through the window of her house.

    Judah and Tamar (painting circa 1650–1660 by t...

    Judah and Tamar (painting circa 1650–1660 by the school of Rembrandt) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Tamar (Gen. 38:6-30): the widow of Er, the wicked firstborn son of Judah who was slain by the Lord. According to the law of levirate marriage, Judah’s second son, Onan, should have married Tamar. Their first child would have been regarded as his brother’s, and carried on his name. However, Onan refused to comply, and Judah encouraged Tamar to wait for his third son, Shuah, to reach maturity. Time passed. Shuah grew to manhood, but no marriage union was forthcoming. Undaunted, Tamar devised a plan. She tricked Judah himself into having sex with her in order to produce offspring, and secure her family’s rights of inheritance as part of Judah’s posterity.
  • Servant girl of En-rogel (2 Sam. 17:17): the girl who carried military intelligence obtained by Hushai, David’s spy, when Absalom’s revolt forced David to flee Jerusalem. It is possible that females of her status (she may have worked in the temple complex or for a wealthy loyalist) had freedom of movement in and out of Jerusalem, thereby allowing her to go unnoticed as she went about her covert activities.
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