Friday, December 3, 2010

The Right to Be Bitter. The Power to Let Go.

My first exposure to the story of Michal, daughter of Saul, wife of David, was in a Sunday school class. I don’t remember much about the lesson, but I do remember the poster-art that was presented with the lesson. A beautiful woman, dressed in royal clothing stands at a window, watching a parade scene on the street below. A man, wearing nothing but a white towel around his waist, is center-stage, mid-leap-and-spin. But what I remember most is the expression on the beautiful woman’s face; in contrast to her beauty and the richness of her clothing and the very room she stands in, her face is contorted into a horribly ugly grimace. Truthfully, I found the picture disturbing, so disturbing that I missed the lesson. The impression I got was that Michal was an evil, wicked woman who hated David, hated God, and hated worship. It was years before I got a fuller picture of who this woman was, and who she was not.

The story of Michal and David really reads more like an epic love story than anything else. She was the daughter of the king of Israel; he was her brother’s best friend, and oh, there was that little matter of being a giant-killer and the next anointed king of Israel. She loved him, and when she heard that her father was going to give one of his daughter’s to David as a wife, she volunteered enthusiastically. She loved him. Did she know that her father, King Saul, was using her as a pawn in a political game, the ultimate goal of which was David’s death? Did she know that ultimately David would use her as a political pawn as well? There is no way to know that with certainty, but with what I know about young girls . . . no. She just loved David, and she believed that love was enough.

Must have been a grand wedding, this match of a palace favorite and beautiful King’s daughter. Like Kate Middleton and Prince William, they would have been a golden couple, but what of Saul? He saw how much God loved David. He saw how much Michal loved David, and he got scared, and he determined then and there that David had to die.

The newlyweds didn’t have long to celebrate. In a Romeo & Juliet like encounter, they are alone in their bedroom when Michal warns her beloved husband that her father the King wants him dead. He doesn’t believe it at first – after all, even Jonathan doesn’t know for sure about Saul’s plot – but she tells him urgently, you must go. If you don’t, you will die. Can you imagine those last moments? The promises – I’ll wait for you. I’ll send for you. Young and in love, Michal would have promised him everything, and David would have wanted to be her hero. They made vows, and then he climbed down the wall and was gone, and she left behind to explain.

David moved on. He was on the run for a while, eluding Saul’s henchmen at every turn. And while running, he fell in love again. Twice. Two wives for the future king, plus loads of adventure and intrigue. And where was Michal? She’d been “pawned” off again, this time to Phaltiel. Ripped away from her first love, David, she had been given to a man she had never met to be his wife. It’s a really ugly end to any love story, but . . .

Apparently, she was the kind of girl who could make the best of a bad situation. While the Bible is silent about the details of Michal’s life with Phaltiel, the emotional connection between Michal and her new husband cannot be doubted. We know that because of what happened next.

When he is approached by Abner’s representatives, David sees the benefit of a political alliance, and he also knew how to seal that political alliance – bring back wife number 1. Again, the Bible is silent in anything but cold facts. Not once is it mentioned that David “loves” Michal, only that he wants the wife he earned as a prize in battle.

Back to Bahurim, Michal’s new home. The messengers arrive, and by the royal decree of Israel’s current ruler, she must leave her life and her husband for a second time. Not at the mercy of her father the King, but at the mercy of the husband who had forgotten her. Her new husband, Phaltiel, follows the procession all the way to its destination, crying and weeping behind her. Can you imagine the feeling? The forgotten woman, watching the man who loves her weeping and walking behind her, begging her captors to return her, and then at a single sentence, he must leave, and she must take her place as one of David’s wives. Not a person with feelings. She’s like property, or at least that’s the way he’s treated her. And that’s where the bitterness begins . . .

I know how Michal feels. She got dealt a really bad hand in life – it wasn’t fair. And yet in spite of all the bad stuff, she built a pretty good life for herself. She became content in exile, and she created happiness in captivity. Then, just when she works hard enough to build herself a safe place, up shows the “man after God’s own heart” to drag her back to a place she really doesn’t want to return to, and best of all, she gets to be one of his three wives. David’s not asking for her out of love and longing, and she knows it. She’s watched love and longing follow her all the way from Bahurim, and she saw it dismissed without a thought.

And then comes that famous moment at the window. She’s dressed in the clothes of the palace. She beautiful, but she’s also incredibly alone. And seared in her memory is Phaltiel, weeping with an outstretched hand. Down below on the street? Well, there’s the one who caused it all. Leaping and dancing for the Lord as if he’d never done a thing wrong. Well, what about what he’s done to HER? To Phaltiel? Don’t they matter? How can he worship like that – how can people believe in his sincerity – when they have all seen what he did to her?

2Sa 6:16 It was so, as the ark of Yahweh 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 Yahweh; and she despised him in her heart.

I’ve read all the commentaries, and I know that conventional wisdom says that she despised worship in general, but I want to offer an alternative. My question isn’t why she’s bitter, but rather, who wouldn’t be? Can anyone really doubt the fact that Michal had every right to be BOTH angry AND bitter? I don’t. She had every right. What David did to her wasn’t fair. Her entire life was unfair. She was a human being with feelings, with a heart that had been broken many times, with dreams and ambitions that had all been beaten down to nothing. I would be angry. Wouldn’t you?

Haven’t we all been there? Life’s been unfair, but we’ve rebuilt. We’ve worked hard to make the best out of bad situations, and then, we see them. The very people that hurt us so badly, and they are prospering. Others that we admire congratulate them on their good works and good fortune, and somewhere in our minds, we say it too: “How can they congratulate him? Don’t they know what he did to me? How can he lift his hands and worship like that in church? Don’t they remember how badly he hurt me?” It’s our moment at the window, when, like Michal, we are looking down on the parade below. Then we have a choice: To be bitter, like Michal, or to let it go.

Yes, Michal had the right to be bitter, but in the end her bitterness destroyed her. Her anger boiled over, and she went on the offensive:

2Sa 6:20 Then David returned to bless his household. Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!

2Sa 6:21 David said to Michal, [It was] before Yahweh, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of Yahweh, over Israel: therefore will I play before Yahweh.

2Sa 6:22 I will be yet more vile than this, and will be base in my own sight: but of the handmaids of whom you have spoken, they shall honor me.

2Sa 6:23 Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Worse than a death sentence for a woman of her time, having no children and no legacy was the worst thing that could happen to Michal. The Bible only mentions Michal once more, in connection with Rizpah. Michal had made another attempt to rebuild – she’s raised five sons not her own. They were executed by a ruler as part of a political game. Once again, Michal’s attempt to love was destroyed.

So, back to the basic statement: Michal had the right to be bitter. You probably do to. But what did bitterness do for Michal? It destroyed her. What will you do with your bitterness?

Here’s the ugly truth about bitterness: it feels good for a moment. In the moment of anger and pain, it is so incredibly satisfying to lash out and to show everyone that you were wronged. To reach for revenge is sweet, but only for a moment. The fallout of bitterness is so very costly. It costs you everything. You cannot love and be bitter. You cannot move forward and be bitter. Bitterness gets you stuck in the pain, unable to get out. Oh, my friend, you have the right to be bitter, but you have the power to let it go.

Close your eyes for a moment. Are you like Michal, standing at the window watching those who have hurt you prosper? Can you relate to that pain? I can. I know what it is to have someone treat me in a way that no human being should ever be treated and walk away with no consequences, only congratulations. I know how it feels to want to lash out and wallow in the bitterness and pain. But I have also learned that there is a better choice. Turning that pain inward makes you bitter. Turning the bitterness outward destroys you. That means there is only one place to put the pain – in His hands.

If you are like Michal, choose to give Him your pain. He will take it, and I know from experience that He will redeem your life. You have the right to be bitter, but there is a better choice. You can choose to give your pain to God and move on.