More notes from UCLA’s Hirshleifer Tanakh Reading Group, battling its way through First and Second Samuel:
In Chapter 6 David, having consolidated his power internally and externally, decides to bring the Ark from Baale-judah to Jerusalem, now the City of David.
He gathers “all the chosen men of Israel” to accompany the Ark. (The Ark is still in the House of Aminadab, where we left it in 1 Sam. 6 after it had been recovered from the Philistines, but Eleazar the son of Aminadab is not in evidence).
Curiously, although David almost always “inquires of HaShem” before taking any military action, in this case he seems to act on his own. That may explain his subsequent lack of confidence in his choice.
The Ark is accompanied with all sorts of musical instruments, the Israelites playing with “all their might.” The rabbis note that only the shofar should have been used. Moreover, it is carried in an ox-cart, rather than by human bearers. The oxen slip, and Uzzah, one of Aminadab’s sons, reaches out to steady it. The “wrath of HaShem” “flares up” against him, and Uzzah is struck dead.
On one reading, this is unjust, reflecting a pre-modern view of the divine. On another, it reflects instead a “scientific” viewpoint: the power of the Ark no more respects the good intentions of Uzzah than would the third rail of a subway system. But the attribution of the event to the wrath of HaShem seems to support the first reading. In either case, telling the story this way, emphasizing the hazardous nature of the Ark, might be calculated to reduce the resentment of those not admitted to the Holy of Holies once the Temple had been built.
David is wrathful in his turn; the joyful ceremony has gone badly awry, and his capacity to determine what HaShem wants him to do is in question. Consequently, instead of bringing the Ark up to the city, he leaves it in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. When Obed-edom enjoys three months of good fortune as a result, David seems to be reassured, and then completes the move.
The simplest interpretation is that David is willing to let someone else have the bad luck, but wants to appropriate to himself the good luck. An interpretation more favorable to David would be that he accepted Obed-edom’s good fortune as a signal that HaShem is not angry with the people on account of the Ark, and that it may be brought up without offense.
The second move of the Ark is accompanied only on the shofar, which the rabbis approve of. Now, instead of playing with all his might, David dances, dressed in a linen ephod: once again appropriating for the monarchy the symbols and duties of the priesthood. (Once the move is complete, he will undertake still more priestly actions: offering sacrifice and blessing the people “in the name of HaShem.”)
The ephod is not naturally a modest garment; in Leviticus the priests are commanded to make themselves underwear to avoid exposing themselves as they go up to the altar. David’s ecstatic dancing, so clad, draws the contempt of his wife Michal: “she despised him in her heart.” When David returns from the ceremony (and the distribution of delicacies to the people) Michal confronts him, saying sarcastically that he has acquired honor by exposing himself to the slave-girls like some no-account.
Why is Michal angry? Has she, a king’s daughter, just realized that she has married beneath her station, to a man who still has the vulgarity of his shepherd-boy origins? Has she gotten wind of the roving eye that will later lead David to pursue Bathsheba, and is it her sexual jealousy that comes out? Does she resent being taken from Paltiel, who loved her enough to follow her, weeping, when she was taken from him? Is she angry about having been treated as a political pawn, taken from David and returned to him without her consent in either case? We can only guess.
David is in no mood to take any guff. Michal, as the daughter of Saul, was important enough to David that her return was a condition precedent for his negotiation with Abner. But now that his power is consolidated, his political need for her is less. As to his emotions, we were told earlier that Michal loved David, but not the other way around; he is said to love Jonathan, and later at least two of his sons, but he is never said to love a woman; Bathsheba he finds beautiful, but that is all.
Of course Michal did save David’s life, incurring her father’s wrath in the process, but gratitude isn’t David’s forte.
For whatever reason, David apparently doesn’t feel he needs to put up with Michal’s attitude. He was, he says, dancing before HaShem, who chose him over her father’s house to rule Israel. And in doing so he is happy to be honored with the slavegirls (implying, “rather than with you, sweetheart”).
Michal is childless until she dies. (Is that an expression of divine wrath, or does David decide to shun her bed? The text is silent.)
This story has its own dramatic drive, but it could also be seen as solving a problem for the narrator. The marriage of the usurper to the daughter of the displaced house is an obvious way to prevent civil strife and restore legitimacy. (That’s why, for example, Henry I of England married the Saxon heiress of the line of Cerdic and Henry VII married a daughter of the House of Lancaster). The logical consequence of such a marriage is that the child it produces can reign undisputed. But that doesn’t happen in this case.
Perhaps the narrator confronted historical (or folk-tale) facts that David married Saul’s daughter, and that David’s successors were not her descendents. The story of David’s estrangement from Michal and her barrenness provides that explanation.
And David again gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him, from Baale-judah, to bring up from thence the ark of G-d, whereupon is called the Name, even the name of HaShem of hosts that sitteth upon the cherubim.
And they set the ark of G-d upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart.
And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was in the hill, with the ark of G-d, and Ahio went before the ark.
And David and all the house of Israel played before HaShem with all manner of instruments made of cypress-wood, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with sistra, and with cymbals.
And when they came to the threshing-floor of Nacon, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of G-d, and took hold of it; for the oxen stumbled.
And the anger of HaShem was kindled against Uzzah; and G-d smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of G-d.
And David was displeased, because HaShem had broken forth upon Uzzah; and that place was called Perez-uzzah, unto this day
And David was afraid of HaShem that day; and he said: ‘How shall the ark of HaShem come unto me?’
So David would not remove the ark of HaShem unto him into the city of David; but David carried it aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.
And the ark of HaShem remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months; and HaShem blessed Obed-edom, and all his house.
And it was told king David, saying: ‘The HaShem hath blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that pertaineth unto him, because of the ark of G-d.’ And David went and brought up the ark of G-d from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with joy.
And it was so, that when they that bore the ark of HaShem had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.
And David danced before HaShem with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.
So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of HaShem with shouting, and with the sound of the horn.
And it was so, as the ark of HaShem came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before HaShem; and she despised him in her heart.
And they brought in the ark of HaShem, and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before HaShem.
And when David had made an end of offering the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings, he blessed the people in the name of HaShem of hosts.
And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to every one a cake of bread, and a cake made in a pan, and a sweet cake. So all the people departed every one to his house.
Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said: ‘How did the king of Israel get him honour to-day, who uncovered himself to-day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!’
And David said unto Michal: ‘Before HaShem, who chose me above thy father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of HaShem, over Israel, before HaShem will I make merry.
And I will be yet more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight; and with the handmaids whom thou hast spoken of, with them will I get me honour.’
And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.