Contradictions – Michal’s Children?

Next up – did Michal have children or not?  2 Samuel 6:23 says she did not, while 2 Samuel 21:8 seems to give the impression that she did.  Which is right?  How can we trust the Bible when it contradicts itself like this (that’s one implication that might raise this question)?

Michal was King Saul’s youngest daughter (of two) – 1 Samuel 14:49.  As King Saul’s relationship with David deteriorated, he sought to marry David to his oldest daughter, Merab, perhaps to eliminate a potential rival or to co-opt some of David’s popularity for himself.  But David humbly declines.  When Saul finds out that his younger daughter Michal is in love with David, he decides to marry her to David instead.  He sets a bride-price for her that will tempt David to try and win her hand, but which could get him killed in the process.  Either would appear to Saul as a good outcome, but David is able to pay the bride price and is married to Michal (all of this is in 1 Samuel 18).

Eventually Saul and David’s relationship is so toxic that Saul wants to kill him and David has to flee for his life, leaving his wife Michal behind.  Michal actually helps David escape, but tells her father that David would have killed her if she hadn’t helped him (1 Samuel 19:17).  In David’s absence, Saul marries Michal off to a man by the name of Palti (1 Samuel 25:44).  During the war that erupts between David and Saul, David’s strength and popularity reach a point where he is able to demand that Michal be returned to him (2 Samuel 3).  Nothing more is said at this point about Michal’s opinion about this, and she likely had no choice in the matter.  It is clear that her husband, Palti, loved her deeply though, and mourned her departure bitterly.  It might be that their marriage was a very good one, and that she did not return to David happily.

This might explain her disgust with David in 2 Samuel 6.  She mocks and taunts David for making a fool of himself before the people, dancing and worshiping God as the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem.  It is implied in 2 Samuel 6 that Michal’s contemptuous treatment of her husband is divinely judged by her not being given the honor of bearing children.

All of which would be fine if it didn’t say in 2 Samuel 21:8 that David atones for Sauls’ slaughter of the Gibeonites by putting to death Michal’s five sons.  There is further confusion in that this verse says that Michal bore these sons not to David or to Palti, but rather to a man named Adriel.  Adriel is the name of the man that Merab (Michal’s older sister) was married to after David declined to wed her.  (If your translation of 2 Samuel 21:8 says Merab rather than Michal, don’t worry – I’ll explain that in a moment!).

Proof that the Bible is not inerrant after all?  Probably not.  There are a couple of different ways that we can approach an explanation for this apparent contradiction.

Perhaps the most common approach is to say that rather than the original manuscripts being wrong (which we don’t have), what likely happened was that someone copying the text a very long time ago accidentally wrote Michal instead of Merab in 2 Samuel 21:8.  Many very reliable modern translations therefore simply render 2 Samuel 21:8 as Merab rather than Michal, since that is most likely the correct reading.   Nowhere are we told that Michal is married off to anybody else, let alone her sister’s husband!

The second explanation is that the Hebrew word translated as “bore” can have several different meanings.  It can mean give birth to, but it can also mean act as a midwife for, or even to rear/bring up.  It is possible that because of Michal’s status, she brought up her sister’s children when her sister was unable to.

It might be argued that deferring to an original text that we don’t have is cheating, that we could make the original text say anything we wanted, any way we wanted in order to solve problems.  However I don’t think that’s a reasonable objection in this case.  I tend to prefer the second explanation – the related but different uses of the Hebrew verb, but I don’t think that the first explanation of a copyist error is outrageous either.


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