Bible Commentator

Articles

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

moshereiss@moshereiss.org

STRIFE IN THE HOUSEHOLD OF KING DAVID


When the book of II Samuel begins, King Saul and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua have fallen in the lost battle against the philistines. Thereafter, his cousin Abner, who had been his military commander, managed to install Saul’s remaining son Ishbaal 1 as King over the northern half of Israel, with its capital east of the Jordan river in Mahanaim. David became king over his own tribe of Judah, with its capital at Hebron.


After years of civil warfare between the two parties, Abner negotiated an agreement with David, bringing the northern tribes to his side, thus reuniting all Israel as a single kingdom. Soon after, first Abner and then Ishbaal were murdered, both crimes perpetrated without prior knowledge of David and invoking his wrath upon the killers. He was then recognized by all as King of Israel. He soon proceeded to capture Jerusalem from the Jebusites and make it the capital of his united kingdom – a capita; that came to be known as the City of David. There he established his royal household and his growing family of wives and children.


MICHAL

David’s first marriage had been contracted in the long past days when he was a young hero at the court of King Saul, and Michal, the King’s younger daughter, fell in love with him. This is a unique instance of the Tnakh telling of a women in love with a man (I Sam. 18:20,28). It does not tell that David loved her, only that he was quite willing to wed the princess, and be the King’s son-in-law (18:26)., this despite the King’s setting a bride-price that required the would-be groom to risk his life by bringing the foreskins of 100 Philistines. .David in fact provided 200 of them. When Saul later sought to slay his son-in-law, Michal braved her father’s often violent wrath to help her husband escape (19:11-13). She herself however was left behind and the King gave her in a second marriage to Paltiel ben Laish.


When David was first approached by Abner, he demanded the return of Michal as one of his terms for negotiation. He even sent the demand to Ishbaal, with a reminder of the perilous mission – the pride price of Philistinian foreskins he had undertaken to win her. Ishbaal actually acceded to this demand, and had Michal sent back to David, with the forsaken Paltiel, wailing and lamenting, following her part way back to her first husband.


Perhaps david was so determined to regain her because he expected that his re-marriage with their Princess would consolidate the loyalty of the northern tribes. Perhaps he hoped that Michal would bear him a son who would found a dynasty that united the claims of the houses of Saul and David.

 

Nothing more is said of her relationship with David until the great day when the Ark was brought up to Jerusalem. In the past, it had been kept in Shiloh, then it had been captured by the Philistines. Then it had been returned by them and had stood at Kiryat-Jearim, virtually neglected, for some thirty years. David, having made Jerusalem the royal and national capital of Israel, now made it the religious capital by bringing the Ark there. In celebration of this occasion, complete with sacrifices and blasts of the shofar, the King himself, girt in the linen ephod wron by priests, ‘whirled with all his might before the Lord’ (II Sam. 6:14).


Michal, here specifically identified as the daughter of Saul, ‘looked out the window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord, and she despised him for it’ (6:20). She did not even wait for him to enter the palace, but went out to met him, the sooner to pour out her rage and venom: ‘Did not the king of Israel honor today – exposing himself’ (6:20). These are very strong words to describe the feelings of the woman who had once loved David and risked her life for him: remarkable scornful and sexually debasing language from a once devoted life toward her husband and king. Did she, perhaps, sense that he demanded her back from a loving husband, because she was valuable dynastic property and a pawn in his political game?


To what did Michal allude when she said he ‘exposed’ himself? He was wearing an ‘ephod’, the priestly robe. Did she mean he was not wearing a royal robe? That unlike her father, he was not a king with legitimate, sovereign status/ Saul had let the Ark languish at Kiryat-Jearim and had not linked the sacral past to the monarchic future. Conversely, David directly connected the past to the future and appointed two high priests: Abiathar, who was from the House of Eli in Shiloh in the north, and Zadok, who was from Judah. David’s understood how to join the northern tribes and Judah together, a task Saul had been unable to accomplish. He also established the monarch as a vassal of God, with both Divine and secular legitimacy, an issue Saul had ignored.


David responded by telling that the Lord had chosen him over her father and her father’s house, and made him prince over all Israel. He added that he would find honor among those she had scorned (21-22). The passage concludes with the remark tat Michal remained childless all her life. She was barren as a punishment for her insolence. In any case it thwarted any plan David may have had for an heir who would link his house to Saul’s.


None of this explained the vehemence and sexuality of Michal’s reaction to her husband David. The last time she had lived with David she was a princess and the wife of hero. Now he was King. When David demanded her return could she have thought of herself as ‘Queen’? She arrived home and discovered that David had two other wives and children. One was Abigail whom David may have loved; he requested her to marry him (I Sam. 25:40). Another wife was Ahinoam.of Jezreel (I Sam. 25:43). Ahinoam is very unusual name for a woman since it means ‘brother of Noam’. Saul’s only wife and the mother of Michal was named Ahinoam ben Ahimatz (I Sam. 14:50). Is it possible that David married Saul’s wife and Michal’s mother as another form of trying to connect the House of Saul and the House of David? Could her vehemence be related to coming home and discovering her mother in her husband’s bed?


AMNON AND TAMAR

We are told that Amnon, the first born son of David ‘loved’ his half sister Tamar. He pined for her to the point of making  himself sick. His cousin Jonadab suggested a plan. .

When his father David came to visit him he asked to have Tamar ‘prepare the food before my eyes that I may see and eat from her hand’ (13:5). And Amnon asked his father to have his sister Tamar ‘fry two cakes before my eyes that I may eat from her hand’ (13:6). The term ‘fry’ and ‘cakes’ have the same root in Hebrew ‘lavav’. coming from the word for heart, meaning love cakes. The double use of ‘lavav’ for  love cakes is used by Amnon to his father David and he then said ‘that I may eat from her hand’. How could David be so blind as to not realize the implied lustfulness of his son’s request? David co-opts Tamar to prepare food for Amnon. Tamar came, at her father’s request, and kneaded the flour and made the love cakes before his eyes. The terms kneaded the flour (ha’betzek va’taloosh) is used in Hosea (7:4) as a male sexual organ rising. 2  These sexual innuendoes and the double entendre seem clear. Amnon asks everyone to leave and says to Tamar ‘bring the cakes into the room that I may eat from your hand (13:10).  Amnon then said ‘come lie with me my sister’.  (These are the precise words Mrs Potiphar used in trying to seduce Joseph - with the exception of my sister.) She refused and implored him to ask David for permission for them to marry. Such a union may have been permissible given that they had different mothers.  (Whether that was a ploy by Tamar or a serious suggestion is irrelevant.) Amnon rejected this proposal and ‘overpowered her and forced her (13:15). He raped his virgin half sister. At once, he began to hate her as much as he had once ‘loved’ her and literally threw her out of his house. Was this ‘love’ for her merely a pretense for a physical lust?


Amnon manipulated King David with premeditation, using his father to facilitate his purpose of raping his father’s daughter. This rape can only be seen be viewed as pathological behavior by the eldest and favored son., the heir to the throne.  We are told that David ‘became very angry’, but we read of no punishment. 3 What did David feel towards his daughter?


Tamar fled to Absalom, her full brother, for refige. Absalom now driven by hatred of Amnon, took two years to plan his revenge. Finally. He arranged a celebration to which he invited David. David declined, but agreed to Absalom’s request that Amnon and his brothers should attend. It is not reasonable to suppose that David was unaware that Tamar had taken refuge with Absalom, or of Absalom’s feeling toward his sister’s fate. Why then did he agree that Amnon should be a guest at Absalom’s feats? Did Amnon himself not know of his half brothers rage against him for his crime?


 As Absalom planned, he used the occasion to have Amnon killed, thus avenging Tamar. For the second time, a son of David manipulated his father in order to facilitate a fraternal crime. David had played his assigned role as unwitting accomplice, first in the rape of Tamar and then in the murder of Amnon.


David distressed at Amnon’s death, ‘mourned his son all the days (13:370. Absalom, knowing of his father’s anger, fled to his maternal grandfather, the King of Geshur. Perhaps, had David not reacted so passively to the rape of his daughter, Absalom would not have perceived his father as weak and taken the law into his own hands. After three years, Absalom came back to Jerusalem with his father’s permission, where he later gathered a force and rebelled against his father.


 

1 He is also called Ishbotheth. The word Baal has two meanings: lord or master and the idol ‘baal’. At some point in Jewish history, ‘baal’ names were no longer acceptable and Ishbaal became Ishboseth. 

2 Gray, Mark, Amnon: A Chip Off The Old Block, JSOT, 77, 1998,

 pg. 45.

3 According to the Septuagint the text continues: ‘But he did not trouble his son, Amnon, because he loved him’.