I received a two part question based on my sermon on 1 Samuel 19 this past Sunday:
How is it that David allowed idols in his home? Is Michal and David’s marriage not God’s will as they seem to be unequally yoked?
These are great questions. I think there are a few elements to this.
First, from the start, Israel was a syncretistic people. Not all of them, but many of them. They worshiped YHWH, but also kept rituals and traditions of paganism, and even partook in the worship of other gods. They needed to be told over and over again to cease their use of idols and their worship of false gods (Josh 24:14, 23, Judg 10:16, 1 Sam 7:3, 1 Kings 15:12, 2 Kings 23:24, 2 Chr 15:8, and many times in the prophetic books). The reason God forsook Israel (2 Kings 17:6-18) and then Judah (2 Kings 21:10-15) was because of idolatry and the worship of other gods. It is a theme throughout their entire history. They worshiped YHWH, but they also worshiped the gods the world worshiped.
This is not very different in the church. We all worship God, but many of us worship the idols of the world. There are even sects of Christianity that have statues and images they literally bow down to. I do not believe that everyone who worships idols is reprobate. Many are Christians that are weak in faith and/or ignorant of what the Bible really teaches. Many are those that worship God on Sundays, then worship the idols of the world other times. They wouldn’t see it this way, of course, because their idols aren’t necessarily physical images they worship, but in practice they worship money, pleasure, status, etc., in addition to God.
When it comes to Michal, I can’t say with certainty that she believed in YHWH, but I can’t say she didn’t. She was definitely an idolater, but her syncretism doesn’t necessarily speak to her salvation or reprobation. She may have just been a very immature, ignorant, confused believer who mixed paganism in with her worship of God.
As far as David allowing this to happen in his home, there are two possibilities. First, he may not have known. Marriage relationships then are not what they are today. Actually, many marriages today – even Christian marriages – are far from ideal. Many husbands and wives are not connected emotionally, physically, or spiritually. One often has no idea what the other is doing. This is how affairs happen so often and why even in the church divorce is common. In the Ancient Near East circa the 11th century B.C., that would be the norm. Wives and husbands were not equal, even in Israel. The couple were not even seeing each other every day, necessarily. The average husband certainly didn’t know what his wife did in her down time. David was without a doubt a believer, but he may not have known or cared what Michal did. Second, David may known, and may have even condemned her actions, but that doesn’t mean she did not continue to be an idolater. She could have kept it a secret from David. He is already gone by the time she pulls out the idol (1 Sam 19:12-13). Again, the norm would not be for David to know what his wife was doing on any given day. And as a commander in the army, he may have spent very little time at home with her.
As far as whether or not David and Michal’s marriage was God’s will, I would say that it was more God’s will than David’s other marriages, since she was his wife first. While God gave Israel laws about multiple wives and about concubines, His original design was for one man and one woman to be married and exclusive (see Gen 2:24). God also gave laws to regulate divorce, but as Christ said, that was because of the sinfulness of man (Matt 19:8). God gave laws to protect women in a patriarchal society. They were given to protect them from the results of sin: polygamy, adultery, and frivolous divorce. In addition to that, the only commands God gave to Israel about intermarriage were about not intermarrying with those of other nations. David and Michal were both Israelites. While not all of physical Israel were truly saved, the physical nation typifies the spiritual people of God.
Now we come to the “unequally yoked” part. This expression is often used by Christians to refer to the marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. It comes from 2 Corinthians 6:14. Many Christians point to this as an injunction against a believer marrying an unbeliever. But that is not what Paul is talking about here. Marriage is not in view at all. Paul is expanding on what he began back in chapter 2. This is part of his defense of his apostolic authority that runs throughout the letter. The unequal yoking he is warning against is about believers and unbelievers in the local church. The believers in Corinth are not to align themselves with unbelievers, like those who deny his authority and seek their own glory.
When Paul speaks about marriage, he talks about marriages between believers and unbelievers and assumes they exist (1 Cor 7:12-16). Of course, he may just be speaking practically to the first generation Christians who converted after already being married to someone who remains in unbelief, which I believe he is, but that doesn’t mean there is not application for us to be found here. Regardless, the only possible express command against marrying an unbeliever is given to Christian widows (1 Cor 7:39), and even then there are multiple interpretations and of what Paul is saying here. But even assuming he is forbidding intermarrying with an unbeliever, does that apply beyond widows? Paul earlier talks about unmarried virgins and widows together (1 Cor 7:8-9). Some point to this and conclude his command in verse 39 therefore applies to both, others point to it and say Paul is speaking only to widows in verse 39 since he expressly includes the unmarried in verses 8-9 and excludes them here.
Does this mean I personally believe believers and unbelievers should marry? No. God forbade Israel from intermarrying with the nations around them because they would lead Israel into idolatry (Deut 7:1-4 and elsewhere). And that is exactly what happened. This is typological of the church and the world. Marrying an unbeliever will result in temptation for the Christian to compromise with the world (1 Cor 7:28, 32-35). I personally would not knowingly perform a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. I would counsel a believer not to marry an unbeliever. But we need to be very careful about saying the Bible outright forbids this (with the possible exception of Christian widows). The command in Deuteronomy 7:1-4 includes the complete destruction of the nations in the land and an injunction to show them no mercy. Yet no Christian would say we should not show mercy to an unbeliever. Neither would we say that close friendships with unbelievers is forbidden. We are not to be friends with the world, but that doesn’t exclude relationships with the unsaved.
All that to say, God’s prescriptive will for marriage between believers and unbelievers is only drawn by inference from the Bible and good, Godly people have inferred different things.