This week we go to 2 Samuel 3:16- a verse with a lot of moving parts- and a verse I knew well- or thought I did. Let's start out with the verse, and go into the moving parts.
2Sa 3:16 And her husband went along with her, weeping behind her, to Bahurim. And Abner said to him, Go, return! And he returned.
Moving part #1- what's going on? Well, that is the easiest part of the whole thing. King Saul has just been killed by the Philistines, and his son Ishbosheth is King over Israel- but Judah has proclaimed David King in Hebron. The war between the two has slowly shifted David's way; and like many weak rulers, the leadership of Israel has slowly shifted from the king to his leading general, Abner. Ishbosheth both relied on and was afraid of Abner, and they came to a breaking point when Ishboseth accused Abner of indiscretions over a concubine of Saul's. Not surprisingly, Abner didn't take it well.
2Sa 3:8 And Abner was very angry over the words of Ishbosheth, and said, Am I a dog's head, who shows kindness against Judah this day to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hand of David? Am I a dog's head that you charge me today with a fault concerning this woman today?
|"So now, 'dog's head' is an insult, huh?"|
Well, it was back then, and Abner said, screw this, I'm going over to David.
Moving part #2 Who is 'her husband'- and who is SHE?
The she is Saul's daughter Michal, who had been given to marriage to David way back when. Saul had offered an older daughter, Merab (who'll come into play later), to David after the big win over Goliath and his kin, but David refused, citing his unworthiness. With Michal, Saul threw in the caveat of it costing David a "dowry" of 100 Philistines foreskins. An opportunity to serve the King in this manner made it worthwhile to David, and Saul, who had an evil spirit that made him jealous of David, figured the Philistines would kill him. Instead, he doubled the dowry, and married the girl. Then, Saul figured he could use her to get rid of David, and that didn't work out either (again, we'll hit that more later). Finally, when David had to flee for his life and become an unwilling rebel, Saul married her off to the star of our verse, a man variously called Phalti or Phaltiel (again, later).
Moving Part #3: Where are they going? Abner, as I mentioned, decided to go over to David, but David said, "Do not show your face in Hebron without my wife, the Daughter of Saul." And he sent a similar message to the trembling Ishbosheth, and he sent Abner to pick up the girl and return her to his rival. Some brother, father- and in the end, husband, that Michal had there, eh?
Boiling it down: This passage connects to a couple of the most controversial "inconsistencies" in the Bible. The first of which is the relative ages of everybody here. As I dug into the timelines, I happened across a commentator that mentioned "the great difference in age" between David and Jonathan, the eldest of Saul's children and David's best friend. Age difference?, I said, and found at least one timeline that said that difference might have been as much as TWENTY-SEVEN years. Scratching my head on that, I found out the problem arose back in 1 Samuel 13:1. You see, the years of Saul's reign were SUPPOSED to be here... but check the ESV:
Saul was … years old when he began to reign, and he reigned … and two years over Israel...
Now, various versions will put a number in that first ellipse anywhere from 1 to 40, and the second was apparently (missing numeral)2- the actual numbers have been LOST. So advocates of a 30 or 40 in the first ellipse say Jonathan was significantly older. The MKJV (King James without the thees and thous), much like my own Bible which is based on it, reads:
Saul reigned one year, and when he had reigned two more years over Israel...
Which seems to fit the story better, but we really don't know. But if Jonathan WAS a lot older, it would stand to reason that his 3 brothers and 2 sisters would be too, and David would have been presented with two old maids (to the Hebrew mind) by Saul. Of course, that might have added to the reticence David had in marrying them in the first place- and he certainly never showed any reluctance to marry anyone else...
Bunny Trail: Which brings up an interesting sidelight here- The earlier verses of our chapter list off the wives of David...
2Sa 3:2 And sons were born to David in Hebron. And his first-born was Amnon, the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel.
2Sa 3:3 And his second was Chileab, of Abigail of Carmel, the former wife of Nabal. And the third was Absalom, the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur.
2Sa 3:4 And the fourth was Adonijah, the son of Haggith. And the fifth was Shephatiah, the son of Abital.
2Sa 3:5 And the sixth was Ithream, by Eglah, David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron.
Six wives and Michal not mentioned. One commentary suggested that she was left out because they didn't want to show David breaking some rule I never found that said a king could only have 6 wives. They then later showed that this rule was "circumvented" by something Nathan the Prophet said when he accused David of his sin with Bathsheba:
2Sa 12:8 And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if that was too little, I would have given to you such and such things besides.
Now, in all the versions I have access to- and the literal translation from the Hebrew- the phrase "such and such things" is just that, basically meaning more and more. Only one of the versions I see changes it to "double"- but in the Sanhedrin, it is translated by some to TRIPLE, which they then say means Nathan would have allowed him up to 18 wives. Crazy, huh?
As to Michal's not being mentioned, that is because of this:
2Sa 6:23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child by David to the day of her death.
The "by David" was added in by the KJV translators and appears nowhere else. Now, the Sanhedrin also clued me in that some teachers took "to the day of her death" literally- saying she died in her only childbirth, and that she was in fact the "Eglah" mentioned in 2 Sam 3:5 above. Because the name Eglah can be translated out to be an insult. But this does not end the riddle of Michal and children...
Bunny trail 2: Here we go to 2 Samuel 21, where we find...
2Sa 21:8 But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth, and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite.
"Five sons... by Adriel..." Who is this guy, and where does he fit in? Adriel was actually the guy who married big sister Merab. So the debate is, is the translation "bore to" correct, or can it be used for "brought up by", as some theorize that Merab died and Michal, being childless herself, raised them as her own with Phalti/Phaltiel. It's either that, or the scribe mixed up the sisters at some point. Perfectionists say it HAD to be a mistake, because the word translated "bore to" was never used in the Bible for "brought up by". But the other way makes a lot more sense to me. However- despite a LOT of evidence showing David could be an ass to women (for example, he never visited her from the time she helped him escape Saul until Abner brought her back)- I have a problem thinking that he would have killed children Michal raised. Michal, I am told, is the ONLY woman in the Bible ever described as loving someone, and I would think that would count for something with David. Merab's kids? Fair game.
So back to our story: Phalti has a name that means "escaped" or "delivered." It is only rendered Phalti in the verse where he was given Michal. Afterwards- the one section here where he gives her up- it is Phaltiel, which is "delivered BY GOD." Keep this in mind.
Now Phaltiel, if you just look at the surface of this verse, is a wimp. He goes crying along with the procession until Abner has enough and tells him to get lost.
This is the way I USED to see this verse. I am not alone: One Jewish source even claimed that the word for "husband" could also be used for "woman" as an insult. Phaltiel the "woman". But then I dug deeper.
The Jewish scholars also had a tradition that seems right in character for our cast. That Phaltiel saw the new "marriage" forced on him by a King he couldn't refuse, was not a LEGAL marriage- David was still her husband. And thus, when she first entered his tent, he drove his sword into the ground between them, basically telling her that the first one of them who crossed this sword to have intimacy- in his eyes, to commit adultery- he would put the sword through their heart. And that is how Michal never had kids in the decade, give or take, she spent with him. That he loved her was what we learn from our verse, although God delivered him from committing adultery with her- which is more than likely why David didn't have Abner kill him.
The Jewish tradition goes further, to compare Phaltiel with Boaz (ain't it funny how these verses all interrelate?) and JOSEPH as well. They say, look first at Joseph- he resisted adultery with Potipher's wife. For him it may have been a bit easier- not only was it way against his principles, he had to have the fear of Potipher and Egyptian justice to motivate him. Then they use the phrase, "Joseph's power was Boaz's humility". What they meant by that was Boaz, though he was not married at that point in our Ruth 3:16 story, and neither was Ruth, he would have been well within the law to sleep with her, and refused. In fact, the Sanhedrin actually gets pretty graphic in describing that he WANTED to- and still didn't, because it would have dishonored him to some extent, and her to a BIG extent in that culture. But then, they add, "Boaz's power was Phaltiel's humility". In the eyes OF the King, and therefore, the law, he WAS Michal's husband- but remained celibate at peril of their lives, because it wasn't right in GOD'S eyes.
And I learn not to judge so hastily. I always thought that Phaltiel was kind of a joke- but I found out, in God's eyes, he might have been more faithful than Joseph or Boaz- who were both ancestors of Christ! If even part of all that is true, I owe that man a big apology.