As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. (II Samuel 6:16)
This little glimpse into David’s unhappy home life in the midst of a political celebration adds a layer of nuance to the reading appointed for today from the sixth chapter of Second Samuel. Michal is the daughter of King Saul. Her marriage to King David was a political "arrangement." Like so many women in the Bible, Michal is hardly ever referred to by her given name: she is alternatively “David’s wife” or “Saul’s daughter.” Given the political climate of the day, it’s impossible for her to be both at the same time.
When Michal sees her husband leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despises him in her heart. (No good ever comes in any relationship when words like “despised” characterize the feelings of one partner toward the other!) And then there is a direct encounter between David and Michael which the lectionary did not include today. Listen:
David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!” 21David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord. 22I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death. (emphasis mine.)
It’s like two people going through a divorce who are trying hard not to fight in front of the kids: the lectionary chooses to keep this private encounter from us. But the Bible itself includes it, and I think that’s worth noting. All along, for weeks now, all of our attention has been focused on David. But we get a whole new angle from this little verbal exchange. Beneath all of those official press releases about how great King David is, there’s another story waiting to be told and the text itself points us that way, if only for a fleeting moment. We see how David looks from the home front, through his wife’s eyes. Think about what might happen if Michal ever got to sit down with Barbara Walters! I’m sure she’d be quite eager to tell us that old King David was no picnic to live with! In just two weeks we’ll hear about David’s affair with Bathsheba and the very public political scandal that ensues. But this little scene today keeps us from being too surprised about that.
This daughter of Saul/wife of David refuses to be simply a passive pawn caught between two powerful men. In the sixth chapter of Second Samuel she breaks into the narrative to offer her own point of view and to reveal something of the great King David's "shadow side." In this moment the official narrator is pushed aside as Michal claims her name and points us toward the story she would tell, if only we would listen. We get this little glimpse of her looking out the window, and then in private telling her husband, the king, that he’s such a jackass! Michal suggests an alternative narrative, apart from the David propaganda machine.
We’ve been rolling along and rolling along for weeks now. And then all of a sudden, this encounter invites a double-take, and a second look. It may even invite us to what the feminist scholars call a “hermeneutic of suspicion”—to go back to the very beginning of the whole unfolding story we’ve been hearing to ask: who is telling us this story? What is their angle?
To linger on this scene invites us more deeply into the complex world of the Bible, which is not a rule book or a morality play. Learning to read and mark and learn and inwardly digest this way may even give us the skills to read our own lives in the same way.
What are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are? And who are the Michals for us—those people who make us uncomfortable by holding up a mirror, demanding that we take a closer look?
This is a portion of the sermon I preached today at St. Francis. The full manuscript will be posted on the parish website.