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After being threatened by Saul, David leaves his wife who subsequently is given to another man. Years later when David becomes king he requests that his wife be given back to him.

2 Samuel 3:14, 15 NIV

Then David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, demanding, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.” So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish.

But according to the law it seems David had made himself detestable and obnoxious to the Lord

Deutoronomy 24:1–4 NIV

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord.

Again Jeremiah reiterates the same law

Jeremiah 3:1 NIV

If a man divorces his wife
    and she leaves him and marries another man,
should he return to her again?
    Would not the land be completely defiled?

Did David not defile himself by taking back Michal?

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    How exactly do either Deutoronomy 24:1 or Jeremiah 3:1 apply in this particular case ? Neither has David divorced Michal, nor has Michal left David (for another man). Her father simply cancelled his contract with David, and married her off to another.
    – Lucian
    Nov 16 '20 at 14:04
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    she had a sexual relationship whilst still married to David - And you know that how, exactly ?
    – Lucian
    Nov 16 '20 at 14:28
  • Isn't the real Question, whence arose the interpretation "David leaves his wife who subsequently is given to another man…" How does your Question relate to your explanation, please? Nov 16 '20 at 23:37
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Looking at the texts of Deuteronomy 24 and Jeremiah 3, I'd suggest the key aspect of these verses are divorce:

"...her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled" (Dt 24:4)

"If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again? Would not the land be completely defiled?" (Jer 3:1)

So, the answer seems to lie in another question... did David divorce Michal?

David's perspective

For David, he had not divorced Michal, she had been given away by Saul:

"But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel " (1 Sam 25:44)

And then the fact that he comes to 'reclaim' her would suggest that he saw his marriage as continuing, and that he had not divorced her:

“Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.” (2 Sam 3:14)

Michal's perspective

On the other hand, David had abandoned Michal in Saul's house when he had fled from Saul, and decided not to take her with him. There are lots of conflicting realities here - David abandoned her, but the alternative was to take her on the road with armed men where her safety was at risk. David would have no guarantee of her safety, and feared for his own. Did Michal consider herself 'divorced'? Perhaps she was hopefully awaiting her husband's return, or perhaps she resented him for leaving her - the texts do not tell us enough to know for sure.

Saul's perspective

For Saul, David leaving his daughter behind when he fled would likely have been seen as both an insult and an opportunity to sever the link from his family to David's. Did he remarry Michal because she felt abandoned and was in need of a husband, or because it was an 'untidy' loose end of the situation, and remarrying her was another way of 'writing out' David's role in the city, and communicating to those around that he would not be returning? Unfortunately, all these things are speculation, and don't necessarily help with your question of whether David's action was lawful.


Answer

According to the law, it's not absolutely clear whether David was right or wrong to take Michal back, and especially to separate her from Paltiel. At face value, David had not divorced her, and so it seems that to him, she was still rightfully his wife, and so I'd be inclined to take his 'heart attitude' as the guide for how to apply the law here. However, he had still forcefully separated her from her new husband, and so it is difficult to know whether this was a welcome or unwelcome thing from Michal's perspective.

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    Good, thorough answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Nov 16 '20 at 10:25
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    Good answer, but for a divorce to be official and proper in the Old Testament, it seems like a formal certificate had to be given. This was also referenced in the Sermon on the Mount. It really sounds like David had not given her a certificate here, even if it's not explicitly stated. Wouldn't it be required that he had given her one, for this to be defilement under the one law? Nov 16 '20 at 19:39
  • @Panzercrisis - I suspect this is one of the reason the people had 'judges' set to resolve uncertain matters, as not everything happened according to the formulae set out in the Law. It can be tempting for us to try to reduce everything to the exact letter of the law, but we must consider that even the scribes spent hundreds of years post-exile trying to delineate the bounds of each phrase, and so not everything was considered cut-and-dry. Many scholars view Deuteronomy as a later text than 2 Samuel, so this detail may have not been present at all prior to David.
    – Steve Taylor
    Nov 16 '20 at 19:46
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Scripture comments after Michal despised David for his exuberance at the bringing in of the ark (2 Samuel 6:20-23) :

Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.

[2 Samuel 6:23 KJV]

Scripture does not say that Michal was barren. Only that 'therefore', that is to say as a result of her attitude and words, she had no child.

The inference being, that David no longer went in unto her. Or, that she rejected such advances from David.

So, although David may have not relinquished his social duties toward her and toward any dependants which she chose, later, to be responsible for, yet he, himself, did not 'defile' himself with one who had such animosity towards his own worship, exuberance and joy in serving his Lord.

So the above question of later 'defilement' does not, actually, arise.

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    ,It would seem a passage of time had passed from the time David requested her to be brouight to him and Mchal's statement.David was already living with Michal when she made her statement Nov 16 '20 at 12:26
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    . . . . . and yet still she had no child till her death. No child was produced during the time to which you refer. And no child was produced thereafter.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 16 '20 at 13:26
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    To be fair, having children can be difficult, even when you're trying! I'd incline towards the line of thought that provision of children is something generally accorded to YHWH in the Old Testament, and lack thereof is typically considered a divine reproach. Without textual evidence to suggest that David wasn't reconciled to Michal, it feels like a weighty assumption to suggest that they never worked this episode out, or to take this 'punishment' as coming from David rather than YHWH. Though some commentators do take this position, so it's good to have the viewpoint here.
    – Steve Taylor
    Nov 16 '20 at 13:52

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