Barren guilt by association

Welcome to barren Mondays, the place where our places of greatest barrenness—physically, emotionally or spiritually—provide fertile ground for the beauty of the Kingdom to break through. Two weeks ago my post titled  "Where does every infertile woman get a child?" revealed my grief in finding that in the Bible, the infertile woman always appears to get a child. This week, I discover the one exception. And in the next and final installment, I reveal how I am surprised to finally find comfort in the first chapters of Genesis.


Last week's post included this prayer, a cry of lament: Seriously, Lord, the women you trumpet as barren and dried up, depressed and despairing, the ones with no fruit on the vine, always get a baby in your Book? Seriously? And this is supposed to bring me comfort how? Could not one of them remain barren, could not one of them find a way to joy beyond childlessness, could not one of them be the poster child for a kind of spiritual fertility that makes the dried-up womb bearable somehow, redeem-able somehow?

After my initial discovery that every well-known barren woman in the Bible ended up with a baby (In Hannah's case, six of them!), I made another less-than-pleasing discovery. There was indeed a woman declared permanently barren in the Bible: Michal, the "obstinate" first wife of King David. 

Do you see where this is going?

2 Samuel 6:16, 20, 23, NRSV As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart . . . David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!” . . . And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

(Note: 2 Samuel 21:8 is used by some to say she did indeed have children, but today's translations believe this reference was to her sister, Merab.)

David, the "man after God's own heart" was mistreated by his first wife, or so the story goes. I had always placed Michal in the category of Scripture's "bad girls of the Bible," believing from early Sunday School lessons that she dampened the praise David willingly offered to God, and obviously paid for it. She is the villain; David is the hero. End of story. So she gets no baby.

In this scenario, barrenness *appears* to be a punishment from God, making a barren woman like me feel a sort of "guilt by association."

If Michal is barren because she did something wrong, than I am barren because I've done something wrong, too. It is not hard to see how one might draw this conclusion, considering that every other woman in the Bible who mourned her barrenness received a baby!

Unless...we have misread our Bibles. (Say it isn't so!)

A closer look at the above passage has me asking, Where does it say God punished Michal by making her barren?

It does not. Perhaps instead of casting stones at Michal, we ought to look at the desperateness of her situation:

As for Michal, who can guess her emotions? She had loved David dearly during the short time she had been his wife in the rustic simplicity of her father's court. But to discover, on her arrival at Hebron, that she was only one of a number of wives in the royal harem would have been a bitter pill to swallow and cause her to wonder whether her return was an affair of the heart or a matter of politics. To have the daughter of Saul as wife would undoubtedly be a point in David's favor when he appealed to the men to change their allegiance. - The IVP Women's Bible Commentary

Oh, dear. This woman, whose name means "who is like God?" seems to have been played like a royal pawn between her father and her husband. She has returned to find David dancing after her father Saul had given her marriage for political favor to another until David demanded her back. She may not have been so opposed to David's dancing before the Lord as she was to being treated like a pawn rather than a person.

And here is where reality bites: it's quite possible that "Michal the daughter of Saul had no children until the day of her death" because a) David refused to be with her again; hey, he had options; and b) David wanted the lineage of Saul extinguished that he might gain favor with the people. Who is the victim in the story, then? Is it David—or Michal?

Let me just say it outright: polygamy never ends well in the Old Testament. 

As I've read the story of Michal through to its conclusion, my attitude on her barrenness has changed from one of anger at feeling lumped in with the Bible's well-known "praise-basher" to a wistful sadness. I wish her story would have played out differently, I wish she would have been treated as an image-bearer of the living God, I wish she would have had the agency and options in her life that I take for granted.

Michal and I are still in the same boat, of course, as far as childlessness goes. But I have the power of a resurrected Savior in front of me, surrounding me, promising me that there is new life in Christ, no matter how dried up the womb. For this, I find it hard to express my thanks. But I will try; yes, I will try.

How about you? How has reading someone's story helped you through a time of physical, emotional or spiritual barrenness?