Literary Tool, Nagging Wife, or Real Person?
by Lia Scholl
Old Testament Reading: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
For Sunday, July 15, 2012: Year B—Ordinary 15
I sat in a Southern congregation on Mother’s Day. The pastor opened his sermon asking who among us had mothers. Everyone raised a hand. Then he said, “Fathers, you need to know that your children look to you for their first understanding of who God is.”
Moments later, he said, “Mothers, your children look to you to see how to be in relationships.” Whether he meant it or not, he said indirectly that women are not made in the image of God, but men are.
His next story was about a nagging mother.
Who’s This Really About?
Just a word of advice, pastors. If you speak of a nagging mother or a nagging wife from the pulpit, I assume that you have problems with the women in your life. I assume that you feel henpecked. And I assume your wife is probably justified in nagging you.
Michal, King David’s wife, has been presented as a nagging wife, because she disdained his dancing before God. But was she really?
Was Michal A Nagging Wife?
Let’s have a little background on Michal. She’s the daughter of King Saul. She falls in love with David. Saul sees Michal’s love as an opportunity to kill David—he sends him out to procure the foreskins of 100 Philistines (1 Samuel 18). Saul assumes that David will die, and his competition will be gone.
We’re told two times that Michal loves David. We’re never told that David loves Michal. In 1 Samuel 19, Michal shows her love is by helping David escape her father’s wrath. According to Women in Judaism, the Torah obligates a married woman to act first and foremost in support of her husband, even if his needs are in opposition to her father’s. So it’s not just her love, but it is also her commitment to Torah.
So why the upset over David’s dancing? According to Alice Bach, Michal is upset about far more than the dancing. One of the characteristics of Saul’s kingship was modesty and humility. David’s dance flies in the face of that. Also, David has taken multiple wives since his marriage to Michal. Perhaps she is jealous. In addition, Michal’s rage may have to do with David’s supersession of Saul—the people seem to love him more. She is jealous for her father.
Cutting All Ties with Saul?
But even more than that, I wonder if Michal is included in the text for another reason: to cut all the ties with Saul’s kingship. Michal says to David after the dance, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
David’s response to Michal’s complaint of his dancing is this, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour.” In other words, David is the King, and has no use of Saul’s family.
The next verse is key.
“Then Michal, daughter of Saul, had no children until her death.” This verse signifies that all blood ties with the family of Saul are lost in the Davidic kingdom. Saul’s bloodline is ended.
The Hardest Question
We have a choice with this text. We can minimize the Michal’s voice, or we can try to understand her through the text. We can see her role as a literary device—a manifestation of the loss of Saul’s kingdom. We can simplistically see Michal as a nagging wife. Or we can see her as a fuller person, justified in her criticism of David.
Which will you choose?
Rev. Lia Scholl serves as pastor at the Richmond Mennonite Fellowship in Richmond, Virginia and is a sex work ally, a Board member at the Red Umbrella Project. Her book, I <3 Sex Workers, is forthcoming from Chalice Press. Find out more at www.liascholl.com or you can find her on twitter at http://twitter.com/roguereverend.