Was Michal Paltiel’s Wife?

The issue is this: Michal, Saul’s daughter had originally been given to David as wife. The bride price had been 200 foreskins of the Philistines (recorded in 1 Sam 18). Later, however, Saul gives Michal to Paltiel (1 Samuel 25:44). Then, in 2 Samuel 3, David gets Michal back. The difficulty comes in verse 15-16, where the text calls Paltiel her אִישׁ (“ish”). This word could mean “man,” or it could mean “husband.” Most translations have “husband.” But was Paltiel really her husband? David says in verse 14 that Michal is his wife. Plainly he does not regard the union of Michal with Paltiel to be legitimate. Furthermore, in the second passage quoted above (1 Samuel 25:44), the text makes a point of saying that Michal was David’s wife even when she was “given” to Paltiel. I conclude that the union of Michal to Paltiel was forced on Michal without the consent of either Michal or David, and was thereore illegitimate. Therefore, in interpreting “ish” in 2 Samuel 3, I would say that there are two possibilities: either the text is ironic, saying in effect that Paltiel wasn’t really her husband, or the text is simply calling him temporarily what everyone else except David was calling him.

The implications of this passage for divorce are important. This passage cannot be used to justify the belief that a second union entered into without a proper divorce is legitimate. The passage, when properly interpreted, does not say that that union was proper. This might have application today to marriages where a divorce has happened in accordance with the will of both parties. In that case a second marriage does have to be called a true marriage. In this biblical case, Michal was ripped away from David and given to someone else. That second union was not a proper marriage, and so David could take her back again, if he forgave her any willingness on her part to enter into the second relationship. What do you all think?

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33 Comments

  1. Fr. Bill said,

    November 17, 2006 at 11:30 am

    Everything here is premised on the legitimacy of the term “proper divorce.” The discussion you present may be evaluated by those who accept this premise, viz. that there is such a thing as proper divorce. On the other hand, all of your discussion and question becomes a nullity if the premise itself is false.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    November 17, 2006 at 11:38 am

    Of course, you are right. Allow me to define the term. I would say that a proper divorce is possible (not commanded) only on grounds of infidelity (Matthew 5:31-32) or, in the case of an unbeliever married to a believer, abandonment by the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 6:12-16). One could possibly make a case that severe enough physical abuse constitutes abandonment, but we must be exceedingly careful here, since Christians are also to bear with such abuse and forgive the abuser. I suppose the degree would have to be life-threatening if we are even to entertain such a notion. Divorce is certainly often unwarranted in today’s world, where divorces are given at the drop of a hat. If the state-sanctioned divorce does not fall under any of these categories, then the church should not perform a second marriage of such a divorced person. What say you?

  3. Fr. Bill said,

    November 17, 2006 at 11:59 am

    “What say you?”

    Hmmm. I’m not angling to hijack your discussion on Michal; only to point out that the facts in her marital history point in rather different directions depending on which premise is brought to bear in evaluating those facts. Someone convinced that no divorce is ever proper could draw different conclusions from Michal’s situation than someone who thought divorce proper in some circumstances.

    As for me, my convictions are those of the church catholic (note the small “c”) and not those of the Westminster Confession. The WCF tries to answer the Pharisees’ question in Matt. 19 rather than repudiating the question itself as Jesus does. The so-called “exception” of Matt 5 and 19 addresses an entirely different question than “what is a proper divorce?” Instead it points to the only question with a proper and Biblical answer: “What is a proper union?”

    If one adopts the catholic (again, note the small “c”) conviction about divorce, then Michal’s “union” with Paltiel was — as you suggest — illegitimate, the virtual equivalent of rape. She was David’s wife by betrothal, and he maintained his claim to her, even in the face of Saul’s and Paltiel’s usurpation of this claim.

    And, yes, I have declined to officiate at, and in a couple of cases even to attend, the remarriage of divorced persons whose original spouse is still living.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    November 17, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Actually, then, our position on Michal is the same: her “union” with Paltiel was not legitimate. I agree that Matt 5 and 19 are really about proper union. However, does that rule out that there is an exception clause in Matthew 5? And what about 1 Corinthians 6? Would that not be describing a legitimate divorce? I don’t view your comments as hijacking the discussion at all, by the way. :-) It is very important to have our presuppositions out in the open. I think that we both are saying that “getting tired of one’s spouse” is not a reason for divorce. I also think that we are both saying that there are way too many illegitimate divorces out there. We might perhaps differ on what is a legitimate divorce, on whether they can happen at all.

  5. November 17, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    I’m curious as to whether consent is neccesary to have a legitimate (biblical) marriage? I’d have to believe (given most, if not all marriages were arranged by the parents) some of the parties would have entered begrudingly at the least and unconsensual in some if not many cases.

  6. Seth McBee said,

    November 17, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    As far as what constitutes a “proper divorce” I would also like to know your take on 1 Corinthians 7:15 where it speaks of letting the unbelieving leave and the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases.

    Just curious…good topic. I definitely am not one who just says, “sure, go for it!” but I also am careful in dealings with those situations where there is an unbelieving spouse that wants a divorce and is leaving no matter what.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    November 17, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    David, it is quite possible that you are right. However, are there any examples in Scripture of this happening? I can’t think of any right off. But surely, after they are one flesh, one would at least need consent (among other things!) to have a Biblical divorce.

    Seth, I think that abandonment constitutes a reason for divorce. The WCF cautions us that it has to be the unbeliever who leaves, never the believer. It also cautions us that it must be an abandonment that cannot be remedied by the church or state.

  8. November 17, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    That’s right. I suppose the argument would follow the mere lack of consent may not negate the legitmacy of the marriage. Your hermeneutic seems to hinge on this doesn’t it? You say,

    “I conclude that the union of Michal to Paltiel was forced on Michal without the consent of either Michal or David, and was thereore illegitimate.”

    To be honest, I’ve never conisdered this before, but it came to me as I read your post. Arguing from this perspective, could not an unhappy spouse claim they did not consent to the marriage and sue for divorce? But then we’re dealing with the issue of what constitutes “consent”. Good post, great discussion!

  9. November 17, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    BTW this fits in well with my new post today!

  10. Seth McBee said,

    November 17, 2006 at 3:31 pm

    Lane.
    I apologize for not being specific, as I agree with your thinking and was directing my comment towards Fr. Bill.

  11. greenbaggins said,

    November 17, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    David, I would probably clarify my argument this way: no consent was given to the tacit divorce which Saul was enforcing on his daughter and son-in-law. In effect, then, Saul forced his daughter to be raped. It says nothing about Michal being a willing party to being given to Paltiel: her rejection of David does not occur until later (2 Sam 6). Therefore, her being given to Paltiel (as she was not voluntarily committing adultery) does not constitute a divorce of her marriage to David. Hence, there is no divorce, hence she is still married to David. Later in Scripture, it seems to me, a willing adultery can constitute a breaking of the marriage vow. But even in modern days, if a wife was raped, she wouldn’t thereby divorce her husband, especially if the husband truly loved his wife.

    To Seth, ah.

  12. November 17, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    I can go along with that. Saul was making of non-effect the marriage of Michal to David. Yet since they were married and not biblically divorced rather forcefully seperated, the impromt to marriage to Paltiel is the illegitimate one. John Gill says this about 1 Sam 25:44,

    “But Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Phalti the son of Laish,…Michal was his first wife, and they lived lovingly together, until David was obliged to flee from Saul, and then he gave her to another; partly to vex David, and partly if he could to break the relation between him and David, that he might not be thought to be his son in law, and he to persecute one in such a relation to him; and that this might not give David any show of claim, or be the means of his rising to the throne.”

  13. John said,

    November 17, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    I don’t know if the Bible gives us enough data to figure out if Michal was willing to marry Paltiel or not. I suspect she wasn’t, since she was still on David’s side at this point. It’s only later that she turns against David.

    But even if she was willing to marry Paltiel, she is still married to David. There was no divorce. Her father could not effect the divorce, nor is there any evidence that he even tried. He’s simply marrying her off to another man as if David were out of the picture (dead or divorced).

    Therefore, Michal is still married to David and, it appears, her marriage to Paltiel is invalid.

    What doesn’t appear to be countenanced is the thought that she could be married to BOTH David AND Paltiel. Though a man in the Bible may legitimately be married to more than one wife (as David himself was), a woman may not have more than one husband. There may be polygamy, but not polyandry.

    Clarification: By “legitimately” above, I don’t mean to suggest that God was pleased with polygamy. Rather, I mean that when David married another wife, he was required to treat her as a wife. The second marriage was not declared null and void because of his first marriage, as it is today when men practice bigamy.

    But when Michal married a second man, she wasn’t now married to two men. She was still married to her first husband and her second “marriage” was null and void. It’s not treated as a legitimate marriage.

    That distinction — polygamy but not polyandry — is interesting and probably has some symbolic significance, given that Israel was Yahweh’s husband and that the king is symbolically married to Israel in Scripture.

    At the same time, I have to admit that I’ve often felt a bit sorry for Paltiel, who followed Michal weeping. It sounds as if he loved her.

  14. greenbaggins said,

    November 17, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks, John, for bringing in another helpful point here. I agree with your position here. However, would you be able to support the forbidding of polyandry from Scripture? It’s probably there. I would just like to see it.

  15. John said,

    November 18, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    I can’t think of a passage that addresses it offhand. But it does seem to be assumed here in this text, doesn’t it? David can be the husband of Michal and Abigail, but Michal can’t be the wife of David and Paltiel.

  16. greenbaggins said,

    November 18, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    I can go with that.

  17. Kymanika said,

    November 18, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    I never assumed David reclaimed Michal, because she was his first wife. I always thought of it as a legal loophole. They were never divorced and as his wife and the daughter of Saul, she was a legal tie to the throne.

    I do not know the timeline of their seperation. I know I would not take a wife from another man after consumation. I agree that the original union was still binding, I am just adding what I think the reasons were for David to take her back again. I also think that is partly why her response to David is cold and harsh, as he danced his way in with the Ark.

  18. greenbaggins said,

    November 18, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    Even though one might feel a bit sorry for Paltiel, as John said, it is partially Paltiel’s fault. He should have known that she was another man’s wife, and should therefore not have taken her. We certainly cannot eliminate political reasons for why David wanted her back again. Even so, however, she still was David’s wife, and should legally be returned to him.

  19. Kymanika said,

    November 18, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    There is another point I like as well with the story. We do feel sorry for Paltiel, but we see that feeling sorry for him does not a right make. In other words, Paltiel was not wronged even though the actions against him seem rough and calouse. We have to be lead by the truth, by the standard of God. We cannot let feelings change how we act on what is right and wrong.

    We can apply this to ecumenicalism, egalitarianism, homosexuality, insert blank here.

    Just another application of the incident.

  20. greenbaggins said,

    November 18, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    Yes, I like that. we can even go in a Christological direction here in that Christ claims his church even after her whoredoms, as Hosea would say. The church is not ever married to the world, even though it may look that way. Christ will take His church back.

  21. Kymanika said,

    November 18, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    Beautiful! I love that application as well!

  22. Lee said,

    November 20, 2006 at 1:06 am

    I think I agree that Michal’s marriage to Phaltiel was illegitimate; however, I think that ‘ish’ should be translated as ‘husband’. I would like to propose a third possibility. I do not believe this text is ironic nor is it a temporary title. I believe it is referring to Phaltiel as her husband because he has been acting as her husband. I think the text is communicating to us that the relationship between Michal and Phaltiel had the full compliment of ‘marital rights’. I do not think translating ‘ish’ as husband comments on the legitimacy of relationship, just explaining the nature of what they had been doing.

    I do disagree that it was right for David to take her back. Let us not forget that he has re-married himself several times by this point. Therefore, I do not believe that David has the right to reclaim Michal. He has remarried with Abigail (1 Sam. 26) and I think one other woman. In doing so, he has released Michal via adultery or given her a divorce for her adultery with Phaltiel or at least forfieted his right to go get his first wife back. David was wrong to demand Michal return. He had remarried, ending his marriage with Michal.

  23. greenbaggins said,

    November 20, 2006 at 11:01 am

    The only difficulty with your position, Lee, is that David was a polygamist. He probably did not think of Abigail as a replacement for Michal. Otherwise, you would have to think of David as constantly committing adultery, when he has several wives later on, wives which God was said to have given to him (in the parable that Nathan tells on his real adultery with Bathsheba). The OT has no explicit prohibition against polygamy, though we have the pattern in Gen 1-2, as Jesus pointed out. According to the Mosaic law, if he had really divorced Michal, then he should have given her a certificate of divorce. This never happened. Therefore, he was never divorced from Michal. That is why I think he was right to demand her back.

  24. Lee said,

    November 20, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    While there may be no explicit rejection of polygamy in the OT, I do think it was rejected in the OT through those examples. I do think David was constantly committing adultery. I think it an important point in his story when Nathan confronts him. Until that point we see David collect wives and concubines, but after we see nothing of the previous David’s habit for women.

  25. greenbaggins said,

    November 20, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    I agree with you that the trajectory of the OT heads in a monogamous direction, and that every example of polygamy in the OT turns out bad. However, even granting that, does that really change the situation here in 2 Sam 3? If it was not a legitimate divorce, then how could it be wrong for David to take her back again?

  26. Lee said,

    November 21, 2006 at 12:53 am

    The point is it can be a legitimate divorce. David commits adultery, and Michal does not have to take him back. And because of David’s cheating, she is free to remarry. Notice that 1 Samuel 25:44 where Saul gives Michal to Phalti comes after verses 42 and 43 where David marries Abagail and Ahinoam respectively. The exact time reference of when Saul gave Michal to Phalit is unclear, but at the very least Michal’s adultery does not negate David’s adultery. Grounds for divorce exist now on both sides. David seems to force Michal back when she has legitimate grounds for divorce.

  27. greenbaggins said,

    November 21, 2006 at 10:07 am

    Hmm. That’s an interesting point. But without the certificate, there was no divorce, you agree? The law prescribed that if there was a divorce, there had to be a certificate of divorce. Under your hypothesis, Michal would have been able to refuse to come back. But she didn’t. Even though both of them had grounds, as you say, they did not prosecute a divorce. Even if grounds for divorce does exist, that doesn’t force a divorce. Just because adultery happens doesn’t mean they have to get a divorce. The point, I think, is that they never actually divorced.

  28. Lee said,

    November 22, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    We cannot prove there was a certificate of divorce or not. It should be noted that it was the government, King Saul, that gave her in a new marriage. That could be cited as proof of a divorce. It seems more likely to me that Michal was a pawn in a power struggle between two kings being forced to do things she would rather not have done. Still, is the certificate needed? David has remarried twice. Does someone who remarries have the right to ask for his first wife back?

  29. greenbaggins said,

    November 22, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    If King Saul was in a power struggle with the anointed king, then how could he be the government, which rightfully belonged to David? By your argument, he should not have kept any of his wives. We are dealing with a problem of the progress of clarity through Scripture. Are we judging David’s situation with the light of all of Scripture? This could be problematic in this case.

  30. Lee said,

    November 22, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    It is possible that we are falling into that trap. However, I am convinced that David should have had enough light to know polygamy was wrong from the seventh commandment.

  31. greenbaggins said,

    November 22, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    At any rate, I still think that comment 20 still applies.

  32. Seth McBee said,

    November 22, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    Very good comment Lane (number 20) and it very much applies in a Matthew Henry sort of way here.

  33. February 1, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    my question is did michal bear children during her time with paltiel? i read somewhere that she bore 5 children before coming back to David, but i can’t remember where i read it. The bible tells us that when she rediculed David for dancing before the ark and the young women that he never went into her again and she want barren or childless the rest of her days.


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