“And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul. And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah: and Ishbosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father’s concubine? Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ishbosheth, and said, Am I a dog’s head, which against Judah do show kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father, to his brethren, and to his friends, and have not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest me to day with a fault concerning this woman? So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the LORD hath sworn to David, even so I do to him; To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba. And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, Whose is the land? saying also, Make thy league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee. And he said, Well; I will make a league with thee: but one thing I require of thee, that is, Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first bring Michal Saul’s daughter, when thou comest to see my face. And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul’s son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines. And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish. And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned” (2 Samuel 3:6-16).
The main event of this study is the return of David’s wife Michal. This probably might not have taken place but for the improper conduct and disloyalty of Abner towards King Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 3:6-11). In his anger, and as a retaliatory move against Ishbosheth, Abner seeks to be united with David. The league is agreed on the basis that his first wife is restored to him.
Abner was offended when Ishbosheth rebuked him for sleeping with one of Saul’s concubines named Rizpah, so retaliated by promising to join himself with David. “To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba” (2 Samuel 3:10). Ishbosheth was too frightened of him to respond. This is basically the same thing Abner included in his message to David, though he did leave out the reason why he desired to unite with him.
Notice that Abner was asking to make a league with David rather than with Ishbosheth. He saw himself as the true leader of Israel, and no doubt David knew that he was the power behind the throne. Abner “approaches King David, not as one who has done him a great wrong, but as one who offers to do him a great favour” (W. G. Blaikie). He was certainly a man who had no lack of self-esteem, for he placed himself above all other in the nation.
David’s acceptance of Abner’s offer was bound up with the return of Michal. David knew that Abner was a proud man, and one that, in light of his past conduct, could not be trusted, therefore the request for the return of his wife may have been an attempt to humiliate him. David refused to see Abner unless his wish was carried out. It also could have been a signal to that he was not afraid of him as Ishbosheth was, and neither would he pull the strings if he indeed united with him.
Why did David want Michal restored to him? Without doubt she was his legal wife, so he must have had affection for her, but there is a political reason too. “David demands her, both for the affection he still retained to her, and upon a political consideration that she might strengthen his title to the kingdom” (John Wesley). Having Michal back meant that he would have a direct link to Saul’s household, and would affirm that he was the rightful king over Israel. Nevertheless, the text indicates that David bypassed Abner and sent his request to Ishbosheth, which he immediately carried out by the hand of Abner. It is highly likely that Abner put pressure on Ishbosheth to comply with David’s demand.
The story of the return of Michal appears to be sad on the surface, but we cannot be too sympathetic of Phaltiel. He knew that Michal had been married to David, so ought not to have taken another man’s wife. Though it seems to be a sad event, it was in fact the putting right a past wrong. We must remember that David was the innocent party in all of this at the beginning; therefore he had every right to take Michal back. This is not to suggest Phaltiel did not truly love Michal, he obviously did, but that did not sanctify his initial sin. Some commentators suggest that David also sinned in remarrying Michal, but this is incorrect, since he had never divorced her in the first place; therefore he was still legally married to her. It is his other marriages that were a breach of God’s will.
This study is really the tale of two women, Rizpah and Michal, both of whom found themselves in an awkward situation not of their own making. Abner was now actively engaged in undermining Ishbosheth’s authority. Rizpah would later be honoured by David for her part in protecting the bones of Saul’s sons (2 Samuel 21:1-14). “And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you: Now then do it: for the LORD hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies. And Abner also spake in the ears of Benjamin: and Abner went also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel, and that seemed good to the whole house of Benjamin” (2 Samuel 3:17-19). David is not entirely guiltless here either, for he must have been aware that he was involving himself in Abner’s overthrow of Ishbosheth. “Nor does it seem possible to uphold the full integrity and honour of David’s conduct in entertaining his secret overtures for undermining Ishbosheth” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary). With Scriptural hindsight we recognise that God’s will was being fulfilled in reuniting the kingdom under David.