Monday, August 5, 2013

She was a tragic princess

Fairy tales are full of princesses whose stories end happily, but reality shows there have been many tragic ones. There was poor Princess Diana, with her marital sadness and untimely death, and Princess Grace of Monaco, who had an equally premature death on the road. Then there was Little Princess Anastasia, casualty of the Russian Revolution, along with her whole family. Further back, there were some of the unfortunate princesses who were chosen by British King Henry VIII to be his wives. But the princess I'm thinking of lived years before any of these. She was Michal, daughter of King Saul in the Old Testament.

We first see her as a beautiful young woman who has fallen in love with David, her brother's best friend. Like many other girls, her head is turned by his heroism, dexterity, good looks and humility. At this point, Michal seems to be luckier than any of the other girls, because she's in the position to win the man. Her father is the king, and he can pull strings, especially when using her fits his plan. You may remember, David won her with one hundred Philistine foreskins.

Then comes the part where she shines as a heroine. When the life of her beloved hero husband is threatened by her jealous, aggressive father, she helps David to escape, inventing the ruse that he's sick in bed.

She gets taken away to be the wife of one of her father's generals, named Paltiel. Then some time later, after King Saul's death, David, now king, decides, "I'd like my wife back" (although he had plenty of other lovely spouses, such as Bathsheba and Abigail).

In Hollywood, this may make a great story. We'd all be cheering, thinking it's just how it should be. The heroine helps save the hero's life and now he has rescued her and they are back in each others' arms. The problem for Michal is that it is no longer this simple. Things have changed.

We see her new husband, Paltiel, following along after the chariot in tears, pleading for his wife back until David's men forced him to turn around. It's easy to surmise he must've been a sensitive guy who was deeply in love with her. Although the Bible doesn't delve into their life together (because after all, David is the main man), I imagine that life with a fellow who was so gutted over her departure may have been mutually romantic and satisfying. Would Michal have returned Paltiel's feelings?

She's no longer the girl who lovingly helped David escape. She's turned tight, bitter and resentful. She stands at the palace window watching him dance at the head of the procession while the Ark is brought home to the city, and feels scorn in her heart. She might have thought, "Look at him, going on about God's goodness. God never helped me or made things turn out well for me." Then she makes that sarcastic comment about how His Majesty has esteemed himself, dancing around like a silly lunatic, scantily clad in front of all the onlooking females. Her feelings for David seem to have changed over the years, reinforcing my opinion that maybe she did love Paltiel.

David rebukes her, saying that he has a right to celebrate, seeing how God rejected her father as king and chose him instead. Then scripture gives the impression that Michal was punished by God for this incident, and remained barren all her life. (I've read the theory that David might have ensured that she had no children, keen to eradicate all of King Saul's bloodline from his own lineage.)

I felt sad for her, because she was obviously in a very dark head space. If anyone had anything to be darkly resentful about, it was Michal. Being used as a political pawn rather than a person, torn from two husbands without her feelings being considered either time. And her beloved brother was dead. I like to think Jonathan and Michal might have been close, in their mutual regard for David way back in those early days in their father's court. If there had been psychiatrists couches back then, she would have seemed a person with a perfect right to lie on one, venting about the others, who were responsible for her bereft state and her deep depression.

I wondered why God didn't do anything for Michal? I wish he had. Those things that happened to her were not her fault. If we know enough to piece her tragic story together from scattered references in the Bible, God would have surely been aware of her plight. Yes, he could've helped her! Why didn't he?

The fact that no divine help seemed to be forthcoming makes me stop to think. What if God is always willing to provide help and comfort, but our attitudes put a wall in front of our hearts, blocking us from receiving it? Surely that snarky comment she made shouldn't have been enough to bring down the punishment of childlessness upon her head. (I can even imagine myself saying something similar, in her place.) But what if that comment was the result of a pressure build-up, just a sign of what she'd been brewing in her heat for a long time? Perhaps it was a sad matter of free will. She'd deliberately chosen the sour attitude behind the cutting comment. She'd nurtured the bitterness, resentment and grief until it was something huge. She might have wrapped it all around herself like a blanket she was loath to shed.

 Arguably, she had a right to cling to all that, but if she thought she was hurting anyone else by doing so, she was wrong. David had his other wives to console him. She was only hurting herself. Insisting on brooding about the past instead of facing the future never seems to bring happiness. Michal called David ridiculous, but maybe she unwittingly made herself pathetic too, becoming something like an ancient Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. I feel very sorry for her.

It would seem Princess Michal was not a person like Victor Frankl or Corrie ten Boom. They made the choice to forgive the perpetrators of their grief and move on into a clear future. They didn't deny their terrible memories but allowed them to make themselves better and stronger. Frankl and ten Boom were more like coffee beans, while poor Michal was more like an egg. Boiling water softened and brought goodness and flavour out of them, while it hardened her. Michal was a person who set her mind to believe that God didn't see her or care about her, and that attitude helped make it seem real for her.

Hers is not the happiest story in the Bible and I guess the best way to honour her memory, if we feel sympathy for her, is to keep a guard on our own attitudes, which are so easy to creep up on us, as Michal's did on her. As Victor Frankl said, no matter how desperately things may appear or actually be, we always have the ultimate freedom to choose our attitude.

Here's a post about another brooder, who probably even rubbed shoulders with Michal. This young guy had issues
And this one is about another young man who had a good attitude. Do the right thing just because it's the right thing. 


  1. What a great post, Paula. So in-depth

    I'd never thought of the way Michal had been treated and now I see it with clearer eyes.

  2. Hi Rita,
    Those were good times not to live in, that's for certain, especially if you were a princess.
    Thanks for dropping by,

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