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Michal

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Michal Gustave Doré

Gustave Doré, 1865, Michal helps young David escape.
"So Michal let David down through a window: and he went, and fled, and escaped". Samuel 1, chapter 19, 12

Michal (Hebrew: מיכל‎) was a daughter of Saul, king of Israel, who loved and became the wife of David, (1 Samuel 18:20-27) who later became king of Judah, and later still of the united Kingdom of Israel.

Their story is recorded in the Book of Samuel. It is recorded that she chose the welfare of David over the wishes of her father. When Saul's messengers are searching for David in order to kill him, Michal secretly sends him away while pretending he is ill and laid up in bed. (1 Samuel 19:11-17)

Whilst David is hiding for his life, Saul gave Michal as a wife to Palti, son of Laish, and David took several other wives, including Abigail. (1 Samuel 25) Later when David became king of Judah and Ish-bosheth Michal's brother (and Saul's son) was king of Israel, David demanded her return to him, in return for peace between them. This Ish-bosheth did, despite the public protests of Palti.[1]

These events have raised moral issues within Judaism, especially in the context of the prohibition in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. On the one hand, some argue that it is prohibited to re-establish a marriage with a previous spouse who has subsequently remarried. On the other hand, other commentators explain that David had not divorced Michal at this point in time, but rather Saul acted to break their marriage by marrying her off to another without David's consent.[2] On that view, they were not technically divorced as David had not issued a writ of divorcement according to biblical law.

After Michal was back with David, she criticized David because he danced, partially unclothed, as he brought the Ark of the Covenant to the newly-captured Jerusalem in a religious procession. (2 Samuel 6:14-22) Michal died childless, which 2 Samuel 6:23 suggests was a punishment for her criticism, though whether the punishment was from God or from David is not clear. Steven McKenzie, author of King David: A Biography, suggests that David prevented Michal and her other surviving relatives, such as Meribaal, from having children in order to extinguish the line of Saul and deny potential rivals to the throne.[3]

Michal in poetry

"Like you I am sad, O Michal ... and like you doomed to love a man whom I despise." (Poem "Michal" in her book Flowers of Perhaps.)

"Michal"
“And Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David
And she despised him in her heart”
Michal, distant sister, time’s thread has not been severed,
time’s thorns in your sad vineyard have not prevailed.
Still in my ear I hear the tinkling of your gold anklet,
the stripes in your silk garment have not paled.
Often I have seen you standing by your small window
pride and tenderness mingling in your eyes.
Like you I am sad, O Michal, distant sister, and like you doomed to
love a man whom I despise.
Or alternatively translated:
"Michal"
Though years divide, we’re sisters yet;
Your vineyard stands though weeds invade;
Still tinkle anklet, amulet;
Your red silk garment does not fade.
By a small window still you stand,
Proud but a death within your eyes.
My sister, I can understand –
Who also love whom I despise.
1927, Israel
Translated by Robert Friend

Use as a name

"Michal" had hardly ever been used as a name in pre-Zionist Jewish communities, but it was one of the Biblical names embraced by Zionism and is a very common female first name in contemporary Israel.

Michal also means "Who's Like God?" And is the feminine version of the name Michael.

Notes

  1. 2 Samuel 3:13-16
  2. Though the Book of Deuteronomy attributes itself to the period of the Hebrews' Exodus from Egypt, many historians regard it as having been actually written during the late monarchy. David's appearing to be oblivious to the prohibition laid down in it seems additional evidence in support of such theories.
  3. Steven McKenzie, Associate Professor, Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee
cs:Míkolsv:Mikal

yi:מיכל zh:米甲

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