Left Off The Dance Floor

II Samuel 6:12-23
David A. Davis
July 25, 2021
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Some might remember that the conversation Jesus has with the Samaritan woman in the gospel of John is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the four gospels. Longest in terms of number of verses, dialogue, and the narrator’s portrayal of the moment. But the Samaritan woman doesn’t get a name in John. A long lingering conversation with Jesus that upset the disciples who couldn’t believe Jesus was talking to her. And she doesn’t have name. Then, pretty much in complete contrast, there is in the Old Testament, a woman whose name is Michal. Who, as you can tell from the snippets of I and II Samuel I read to you, appears briefly on the scene and then disappears for awhile only to come back again…briefly. The reader knows her name but has to work a bit, take a few notes, connect the dots, to learn of her story.

Michal’s father was King Saul. Her husband, her first husband was David. According to the biblical text, Michal loved David. For those keeping score this summer, it will come as no surprise that King Saul intended to take advantage of Michal’s love for David. Saul offers Michal to David in marriage but for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins. The intent is to put the one Michal loved in grave in the battle with the Philistines. To be blunt, Saul is trying to get David killed. But the violence of war tilted in David’s favor and David does return to claim Michal as his wife. King Saul, Michal’s father is ever more afraid, jealous and angry with this now son-in-law as he realizes that only does his daughter really love David, David has found favor in God’s sight. So Saul just keeps trying to stop David’s inevitable rise to power. At one point Michael discovers yet another one of her father’s plots to harm David. He helps her husband escape by putting a fake body in his bed, throwing some blankets over it and tell the intruders “he was just sick”

David slipped out the window and goes on the run for his life. He marries a few more wives along the way. In David’s absence, Michal’s father gives her in marriage to another man named Palti. When David becomes king he demands that Michal be returned to him reminding anyone and everyone how he risk his life for the price he paid Saul to marry Michal. As Michal is being led back to her first husband David, the bible narrator tells of her second husband, Palti, walking behind her, weeping all the way until he was told to just go home. Maybe it was his love for Palti but the bible does just come out and say that.

All of that brings back to David’s grand procession of the ark back to Jerusalem after the death of Uzzah on the threshing floor. This triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem comes with David dancing before the ark wearing next to nothing. Michael looks out the window and sees the husband she once loved leaping and dancing and according to the text, “she despised him in her heart.” “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself before the eyes of this servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shameless cover himself.” “Just like any vulgar fellow”, she says. Men. Her husband points out that the Lord chose him over her father to be king and that he was dancing before the Lord and the would humble or humiliate himself again and again and those maids will still honor him. As the story comes to an end and Michal’s appearance in scripture comes to end, the reader is told that Michael, whose father was Saul and whose husband was David, never did have any children of her own. Or as the bible puts it, “And Michal, the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.”

Scholars point out that the ancients who lean toward a pro-David narrative here in I and II Samuel likely want to be clear that Saul in no way contributed to the lineage of David. But notice, even in her departure from scripture’s page she has a name. She’s not just Saul’s daughter. She’s not just David’s wife, Palti’s wife. She’s Michal. And to know her story, to remember her story, you sort have to piece it all together. She has a story and she deserves some attention. And let’s not be historically naïve or unsophisticated in the remembering. The world of the bible is certainly not unique when it comes to a rather utilitarian view of marriage, relationships, political alliances, politics, family arrangements, expected gender roles, and hearts crumbled in a heap somewhere on the floor of career advancement and a play for power. All of it and the world of the bible; not unique then, not unique now.

But there is one aspect in the story of Michal as it is told in the context of the scripture that I find myself coming back to. According to the community of scholars, Michal is the only woman in the Hebrew bible who is described as “loving” a man. The only place in the Old Testament where it comes right and says it, “she loved him.” Michael loved David. That’s her entrance, “Saul’s daughter Michal loved David.” So to come to a point at the end of the story where “she despised him in her heart”, that’s quite a story, quite a stretch, from loving to despising. So human…..so real.

Commentators offer rather unconvincing possibilities when it comes to Michal’s change of heart. She was resentful at being forced to come back to David leaving her husband Palti behind. Or she only recently discovered that she only one among many of David’s wives (though given a world of multiple wives and concubines, that seems unlikely). That she blamed him and now despised him for the decline and fall of her own family with the line of King Saul coming to an end in her own barrenness. Though again, in helping to save David from her father’s own hand, also seems unlikely.

Remember, in her brief appearances, Michal is no passive wallflower. Michal sends word of her love for David to her father. Michal works to prevent her father from killing the man she loves. Michal hatches a plan to save her husband and gets him away from his pursuers. And in the strongest of voices, Michal compares the king to every other vulgar man on the street. In her book Just Wives: Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today, Professor Kathie Sakenfeld comes to the conclusion that in these snippets of Michal’s story, scripture portrays Michal as little more than a political pawn whose destiny is determined by others. So it must be, it must be that in that audacious ark dance from David, when he once again left Michal off the dance floor of his life, that something must have all come together in Michal’s heart.  Somehow, watching him dance pretty much naked before the ark, she realized what pretty much everyone, including David, had done with her love for him. Dr. Sakenfeld writes that she finds herself remembering Michal and lamenting. That she finds herself right there with Palti, remembering Michal with tears. And we also remember that she loved him. Michal loved David. The story if Michal is something of a tragedy in literary terms. And it’s a tragedy in terms of love. What pretty much everyone, including David, what the world had done with Michal’s love for David. Yet, I keep coming back to where the story started. She loved him.

I have told you before of a church door conversation one day after worship. The Response of Praise that Sunday had been a setting of a Desmond Tutu text Goodness is Stronger than Evil

Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate:

Light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.

Victory is ours; victory is ours through God who loves us.

The person at the door quoted the; “love is stronger than hate” and said to me, “So you really believe that?” Think of all the songs we sing when a similar church door question could come. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”. Our love, really? “He came down that we may have love, he came down that we may have love, he came down that we may love, hallelujah, forever more.” That we may have love, look around pastor, how’s that going?  You can understand those who question when the world tries so hard to stomp out love.

“Love is strong than hate” “So you really believe that?”  And the answer at the church door, the answer remains the same. Yes, I believe it…because I’ve seen it. The promise of God’s love and grace still breaking in despite the power and politics and drama of our lives, despite the world’s lust for hatred, bitterness, and violence. And every Sunday we gather here, the whole rag tag lot of us, yearning, expecting, believing, and knowing that God still blesses us and God’s world with gifts of grace, and joys of life, and yes, acts/signs/experiences of love, kindness and care. It happens again and again and again in your life and in mind, in our life together, in the life of faith, God blesses us with sign amid our own brokenness, despite our own sinfulness, and even in the world’s darkness. And stories of our forebearers remind us again and again that we ought to be vigilant lest even our best attempts at piety and faithfulness often stomp on, misuse, or overshadow God’s commandment that we love one another and our neighbor as ourselves.

In the liturgy of marriage, this phrase can be found in the wedding prayer: “may their life together be a sign of God’s love in this broken world in which we live.” When Cathy and I were being married 35 years ago next week, we were seminarians reading to offer a theological dissection of every part of the service. We shared with the friend, colleague, and mentor who would officiate at the service that we weren’t sure of that one phrase in the prayer. Our live together a sign of God’s love in the broken world? That’s a lot a responsibility. That’s a high expectation. That’s a tall order. The wise pastor looked over at us with a smile that said, “oh you young over zealous seminarians.” What he actually said was something like “when it comes to any sign of God’s love in the broken world, what other choice does God have?”

It was the Apostle Paul who wrote, “faith, hope, love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” Maybe it is historically naïve and unsophisticated, but when you tell the story of Michal, when you think of Michal, when you remember Michal, remember that she loved him.