“And 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’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!’ And David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord —and I will make merry before the Lord.’” (ESV – Read the chapter)
The Scriptures don’t give us a truly inside look at very many of the lives of the various characters who appear in it. We get even fewer inside looks into the marriages it presents. What we see here is a rare thing in the Scriptures. The tension between David and Michal here is thick. Emotions are running high. They both thought they were right and were upset at the other. If you’ve been married longer than, say, a week, this is no doubt a situation you have experienced in kind if not in detail. What should we make of it?
Well, the standard interpretations I’ve heard of this passage usually make Michal the villain and David the hero. David generally always gets made the hero in all of his stories, though, so that’s not really surprising. In this case, David was dancing and celebrating before the Lord and Michal only sees her husband, the king, dancing in his underwear and humiliating himself doing it, and has the nerve to criticize him. David then, with righteous indignation, insists that as long as he’s worshiping the Lord, he’s going to keep right on debasing himself. Shame on Michal, hurray for David, end of story.
My take? Not so fast. Let’s look at the bigger picture for a minute. Michal had had a rough life. Yes, she had grown up as the daughter of the king and that certainly allowed her access to certain privileges that no one else got, but being a rich kid doesn’t mean life is all sunshine and roses. Every station of life has its own challenges and difficulties that folks who don’t live there can’t imagine and don’t see from the outside looking in.
Think for a minute about what we know Michal had been through from what the author of 1 Samuel reported. At one point she really was in love with David and he with her. She had initially seen her older sister offered to him as a wife, which he refused out of humility. Then, in order to win her hand, he had gone on an impossible quest as designated by her father in hopes that he would die while attempting it. In other words, her dad had used her as a lure in hopes of killing off David as potential rival to the throne. But, David loved her so much, and he was such a brave warrior, that he successfully completed the quest and the two were married. No doubt they were blissfully happy for a time in spite of the fact that her dad wanted her husband dead.
But, life gets complicated and quickly. Saul’s jealousy of David grew to the point that he was actively trying to murder him. Michal defied her father and helped her husband escape. Then, when Saul confronted her with her betrayal of him, she lied and said David her threatened to kill her if she didn’t help him escape. This lie probably saved her life from her jealous and insane father, but it functionally ended her relationship with her husband.
Not long after this Michal was given in marriage to another man. And, from the description we get later on in the text, this marriage was an apparently happy and loving one. We can presume this because when David became king and was working out the terms of unification between his forces and the remaining forces of King Saul with Abner, Saul’s general and the functional leader of his house after the latter defected to his side, one of David’s demands was to have his wife Michal back. So, Abner, ignoring the fact that she was currently married, got her. Her current husband followed them on the road to David crying after her until Abner told him to quit and go home.
Now Michal was married to a David again, but she was one of several wives and had to learn to play second or third or fourth fiddle to these other women. It’s not so hard to imagine what that did to her level of insecurity. And then one day she looks out the window and sees her husband, the king, dancing in his underwear alongside a bunch of young women with all of them laughing and celebrating and having a good time. Without her. It’s no wonder she was a little hot under the collar when he walked back in the house.
For David’s part, he responded in kind. He angrily defended himself and his integrity, insisting that he was not only innocent of whatever charge she was bringing against him, but that he would do the same thing again and even more if it meant worshiping the Lord in freedom. He responded to her angry, jealous, biting sarcasm in kind and from the last word of the chapter never treated her as his wife again. That means she was basically stuck in his harem for the rest of her life without even a child to raise to give her some relational relief. It is a pretty hard, sad end to her story.
So what do we make of this? Well, marriage can be tough. Communication can be challenging. If we don’t slather a huge layer of grace all over the whole thing it can easily wind up as a big mess with everyone upset for reasons of wounded pride and misunderstanding.
What is absolutely essential if we want our marriages to last is to intentionally develop the discipline of assuming the best. No matter what the situation we find ourselves in may be, no matter what our partner has done or said, we must work diligently to have the intentional response of assuming the best about it. We must find the most generous possible explanation for what the other has done and—this is really important—move forward and respond to them as if that explanation were true whether or not it actually is.
Now, this doesn’t preclude having hard conversations from time to time, especially if the other is doing something willfully hurtful or otherwise destructive of the relationship. But, the vast majority of the conflict we encounter in marriage (and in life generally for that matter) stems from little things that could be avoided if we have this discipline in place. It certainly could have helped David and Michal here.
So, the next time you find yourself facing a situation where your spouse (or anyone else) has done something that could be construed in such a way as to hurt your feelings or make you upset somehow, put this into practice. Assume the best. Figure out the most generous possible explanation for whatever it is (sometimes this takes some work and creativity) and then respond and move forward as if that were true regardless of whether or not it actually is. In other words, give grace. Unleash grace into your relationship and see, over time, just how powerful the results can be.