Sunday, December 14, 2008

A note on Michal

Samuel is a book largely about succession -- how one kind of order succeeds, and in so doing, succeeds another. Eli the priest is followed by Samuel the Prophet. Saul's failed kingship is succeeded by David.

These figures would be large in any tapestry representing the stories of Samuel. Others would be smaller, set in the distance - the rather large cast of such characters in varying degrees of presence and importance giving the whole work a rich dimensional sense of space and time.

Take Michal - we see and hear of her only a handful of times, but what a richly suggestive figure she is:
  • She becomes the bride of David - after he wins her by slaughtering 200 Philistines.
  • She "loved David" and helps him escape through a window from Saul's hired killers.
  • She is taken away from David and given to Paltiel by a paranoid Saul.
  • She is taken from her husband, and is returned to David - her husband follows, weeping.
  • She looks down through a window, "despises David in her heart," then castigates him for vulgarity.
  • She dies childless.
Despite an apparent prohibition in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 on re-establishing a marriage with a previous spouse who has subsequently remarried, David demands the return of Michal after he is crowned in Judah following Saul's death. It is important to note by explanation that David had not divorced Michal at this point in time but rather Saul had made the act to break the marriage[1]. Therefore they were not technically divorced and David had not issued a writ of divorcement according to the biblical law.

Thus she's been a pawn, a symbol of alliance and allegiance, a means of uniting the houses of Saul and David, and dividing them. A complicated and conflicted connector in the succession. We hear her voice once -- at the moment David arrives to bless his house, after the harmonies of his dancing before the ark. Whatever Michal feels, she seems to project the self-image of aristocracy. In her eyes, David has been vulgar - as such, he's beneath the station he's arrived at. His peasant roots are showing. (We've seen Saul's roots -- nothing to put on airs about. Yet the airs are there.) 

With this, the succession of David's house reaches a dead end in Michal. Solomon will be born to Bathsheba.

No comments: