There’s a beautiful word in Hebrew חֶסֶד that’s pronounced ‘hesed’. It’s often translated as ‘loving kindness’ and is a word that describes the sacrificial love that exists between people, and that of the love God has for humanity.
It’s interesting though that the root of the word can mean both passion for someone and also passion against someone. Love and hate are closely entwined, and the most passionate love can turn very quickly into something ugly, as anyone whose marriage or relationship hasn’t turned out as they expect will know only too well.
Michal’s story involves deep love but it’s a love that is never truly shared and it turns into profound bitterness, and ultimately to hatred.
Michal was the youngest daughter of King Saul, the first king of Israel and Judah, and she is the only woman the Bible explicitly states as loving a man:
Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. Saul was told, and the thing pleased him.1 Samuel 18.20
David was a handsome young man in the king’s household who’d gained Saul’s favour by killing off his enemy Goliath. Saul was delighted with the idea of a union between his daughter and David for the sole reason that he saw it as an opportunity to get rid of his rival, and his plan is both macabre and bizarre.
In those days it was customary for the groom to offer a gift to the father of the bride, but what Saul demanded for his daughter was:
no other price for the bride that a hundred Philistine foreskins’1 Samuel 18.25
She was worth A HUNDRED FORESKINS! There is no doubt that Saul was hoping that David would be killed in the process of collecting this macabre gift, but in fact David hands over double this and the marriage is agreed.
You may remember the quote by Princess Diana when speaking about her marriage to Charles:
'There were three of us in this marriage'
For Princess Michal there were rather more as Polygamy (for men) was allowed at this time in Israel’s history and David had up to seven wives. The other person to show this deep ‘hesed’ love towards David was in fact not another wife, but Michal’s brother, Jonathan:
the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul… Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.1 Samuel 18.2-3
It’s hard to find a more beautiful description of covenanted love in the bible than the one made between Jonathan and David.. but that’s another story!
Saul’s jealousy towards his son-in-law built. His rages became more violent and unpredictable and he vowed to kill him. Both Michal and Jonathan showed ‘hesed’ love by helping David escape at great personal risk. Jonathan warned David that Saul wanted to murder him and Michal let him out of the window and then duped her murderous father into thinking he was sick by putting a dummy in his bed and dressing it up. It’s was an incredibly brave act and gave David time to escape.
As David had fled Michal was given in marriage to ‘Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim’, but once David became King he demanded she be brought back to him. Poor Paltiel was bereft and followed behind her weeping before being sent back home.
Any initial love that Michal had towards David was a distant memory by the end of their relationship.
David returned from war having claimed the Arc of the Covenant (the ancient symbol of God’s presence), and was so happy he danced in the streets with abandon:
David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might, whilst he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord2 Samuel 6.14
Michal watched him from a window: she was not impressed. David had gone back home expecting a hero’s welcome from his wife, but instead he got the full force of her fury:
When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart…. ‘How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might‘2 Samuel 6.16, 20
The argument descended as so many marital rows do. He told her he could celebrate however he liked and warned her he could become even more undignified. She accused him of losing his clothes in front of the servants and he threw at her the fact her father lost the entire kingdom!
Hurtful words said in the heat of an argument can’t easily be taken back again.
Sadly, Michal and David’s relationship (if their union could ever have been called that) never recovers and the last we hear is:
Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.2 Samuel 6.23
Reflection and Prayer
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken Isaiah 54:10
Michal is a great character isn’t she? I find it refreshing to read about a bible woman given a a full range of human emotions, from sacrificial love, to irritation, to downright hatred! She was willing to dedicate her life to David but by the end even the way he danced drove her mad with irritation.
Her story reminds us of the delicate nature of human love. It’s so easy to take one another for granted and to let the small irritations fester and grow. Let’s protect and nurture the loving relationships that we have, whether they be with a partner, friend or family member, and especially at this time of global and local anxiety. Remember that the love we have for one another is but a dim reflection of the sacrificial (hesed) love that our heavenly father has for each of us, a love that is revealed through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
A blessing from the 2nd Century for us all:
O Sovereign God, bless all thy people, and all thy flock. Give thy peace, thy help, thy love unto us thy servants, the sheep of thy fold, that we may be united in the bond of peace and love, one body and one spirit, in one hope of our calling, in thy divine and boundless love. Amen
Liturgy of St Mark, 2nd Century
(1) From Jenni Williams, God Remembered Rachel, SPCK, 2014, chapter 6