It is not too difficult to tell that this story is all about David! David’s name is mentioned 13 times in 13 verses. It is David who leads the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. It is David who leads the worship, the sacrificing, the singing the dancing. He’s the host of this grand celebration of the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence, into the heart of Jerusalem. And it is David who ecstatically rejoices as he dances half-naked before them all.
I have always liked this passage because David and his friends were able to sing and dance and worship with abandon. It’s so full of joy. And I like to hold this passage up to those who think worship must be sober and somber and say “See, if David can sing and dance in the presence of the Divine why can’t we at least clap?!!”
I also confess, that I am a bit envious of them – that ability to let loose, to worship with their whole being, with abandon, without worrying about what other people think - because I can’t do that. I can’t quite shake my upbringing which drilled into me that one should not display emotions in public! But I wish I could.
Well, maybe not the dance stuff. My scariest experience in worship was when my church’s youth group attended an evangelical Anglican church in downtown Toronto. The worship was good. So was the music. But at one point got up and started dancing in the aisle. I got uncomfortable. But then, they started drawing people from the pews to join them. They started with the people on the end of the pew. And, I was sitting at the end of the pew! I can tell you I was not worshipping with joy at that point. I was quacking in my boots!
But in theory I’m all for joy in my worship! And why shouldn’t they be joyous? It’s not every day that you bring the ark of the covenant into town! “It’s a pitiful thing when we’ve gotten too prim, too proper, too stuffy to make merry before God when something wonderful happens.” writes J. Daniel Day
So, I have found myself in awe of David and looking down on his wife Michal – who in turn is looking down her nose at David! I’ve tended to think of her as the ultimate wet blanket, a party pooper. The epitome of all those folks who rebel when asked to show a hint of joy in worship. She’s not even just a little bit miffed at David. According to scripture she “despises him in her heart!” What a killjoy!
But, as often happens in Scripture, things aren’t exactly as they seem. When you dig into the back story, things are a lot more complicated. And I have come to a deep appreciation and compassion for Michal.
She is one of King Saul’s daughters. As a young woman she saw David and fell madly in love with him. He is, after all, best buds with her brother Jonathan so she probably saw him around often. She was besotted. So much so that her father noticed and thought how he could turn this to his advantage. As you may know, kings are constantly aware of people trying to overthrow them. From Saul’s perspective, David is on of those. But if he marries David to his daughter that should minimize the threat. Bring him into the family and Saul will be safe. It was one of those “keep your friends close and your enemy’s closer” kind of things.
Apparently for David, the marriage is just as politically convenient. Scripture never says that he loved Michal, but becoming the king’s son-in-law, well that’s quite the perk. And quite a step on his road towards his becoming king himself! So, the marriage is arranged.
Things are good for a while but then Saul provokes an assault on David who barely manages to escape thanks to his devoted wife Michal. At great risk to herself, she sneaks him out of the castle so he can get to safety. She clearly chooses David over her dad. How romantic!
Unfortunately, David flees and never looks back! He leaves her – this woman who loves him deeply, who risked her life for him, once he’s gone he’s gone! Her father, then, marries her off to another man who fortunately loves her dearly even if she doesn’t love him. Again, David seems not to care. He does nothing to reclaim her not even after he gets back in Saul’s good books. She’s cast aside. Until David becomes king, and like his father-in-law, wants to secure his power by building bridges with Saul’s people. Then and only then does he seek Michal out. He sends a minion to bring her home. But he doesn’t even bother to do it himself. When she returns, he ignores her. David plays with and bears children with all his other wives but Michal remains unvisited and childless.
Do you get the picture? Micah is perpetually left on the margins. David, this golden boy, the love of her life never cared about her! He just used her to get what he wanted then cast her aside..
Can you imagine how she must have felt? I think I would have despised him too! Maybe you would too. Have any of you felt like a perpetual outsider always stuck on the outside looking in? Stuck on the sidelines while everyone else gets to have all the fun? To be the kid standing against the gym wall at a school dance watching everyone and wishing someone might just reach out and invite you? But no one does. Constantly left on the margins close enough to see but not join in? I suspect David didn’t even invite her to join this great national celebration!
By now, Michal has been around long enough to know this dancing and partying is not all about rejoicing in God’s presence. David has to have a personal angle! He’s dancing, he’s excited because the person who possesses the ark receives great blessings. He’s whirling around with delight because now the political and the religious power in concentrated in Jerusalem, his city, the nation’s capitol! No one can beat him now!! Michal sees right through him.
My mother used to say: “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” In this case, that someone is Michal. She is cast aside, ignored by David. Fortunately the Scripture writers don’t forget her. With one small reference to her story, her voice won’t be forgotten.
It is pretty clear that David is meant to be the centre of the story. He gets his name plastered all over the scene. But, we don’t really get the full story unless you stop to listen to Michal.
Maybe that’s the lesson for us as well. Think of all the stories our history has tried to silence, the women, the people of colour, the indigenous children. The story is not truly complete until everyone’s voice, the voice of those cast aside to the margins, are told.
May it be so. Amen.