🔼The name Michal: Summary
- Who Is Like God?, What Is God Like?
- A Little Stream Of Water
- From (1) מי (mi), "who?", (2) כ (ke), "like", and (3) the word אל ('el), God.
- From מיכל (mikal), little stream of water.
🔼The name Michal in the Bible
Michal is the youngest daughter of king Saul (1 Samuel 14:49). Her older sister is called Merab — whose five sons are executed; 1 Samuel 21:8 — and the names of their brothers are Jonathan, Ishvi and Malchi-shua.
Michal becomes the bride of king David after he pays Saul's bizarre dowry demand of a hundred Philistine foreskins (18:25) and a hundred extra (18:27). She heroically helps her husband to escape her murderous father (19:12) but later he gives her away to Palti the son of Laish (25:44). Poor Palti (or Paltiel) bawls his eyes out when David demands Michal back, and follows her until Abner forces him to go home (2 Samuel 3:13-16).
Michal's love for David (1 Samuel 18:20) cools off when David transports the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Obed-edom of Gath and dances "with all his might" in front of it (2 Samuel 6:14-23). Seeing David carry on like that, Michal openly despises her husband. The story ends with the note that Michal remained childless, but it's by no means certain whether this was because God had "closed her womb" or because David preferred to lodge elsewhere. By this time he was also married to Abigail, the ex of Nabal of Carmel, and Ahinoam of Jezreel (1 Samuel 25:42-43).
In 2 Samuel 21:8, the five sons of Merab are ascribed to Michal. Most scholars assume that this is a scribal error, and most translations print the name Merab instead of Michal. Read our article on the infallibility of the Bible.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Michal
For a meaning of the name Michal we can go two ways. NOBSE Study Bible Name List and BDB Theological Dictionary see the name Michal as a contracted form of the name מיכאל (Michael). That would mean that the name Michal consists of:
1) The particle of interrogation מי (mi), meaning who:
The interrogative pronoun מה (ma) asks "what?" Its counterpart מי (mi) asks "who?" The latter pronoun is spelled the same as the construct-plural form of מים (mayim) and thus also means "waters of ...". Its opposite, namely dry land, signifies certainty and mental footing. A similar particle מו (mo) combines with the usual prefixes to form poetic equivalents of these particles.
2) כ (ke), the common particle of comparison, meaning like or as:
כ כי כה
The prefix כ (ke) means "as if" or "like." The particle כי (ki) means "in that," both in the sense of "because" and "when." The adverb כה (koh) means "thus."
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
Like the name Michael, the name Michal would express an inquiry after the nature of God: What's God Like? (Exodus 15:11, Psalm 35:10).
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names shows that Jones has another idea. He takes the name Michal from the word מיכל (mikal), meaning small stream. Jones refers to a Arabic cognate that means just that, but, strangely, neither BDB Theological Dictionary nor HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament treats this word beyond the observation that it's "dubious" (which means that the word is perfectly fine but the scholars are at a loss). Jay P. Green refers to the verb נהר (nahar), meaning flow or stream, which has nothing to do with the word מיכל.
Our word מיכל (mikal) occurs in 2 Samuel 17:20, in a scene where Absalom is looking for Jonathan and Ahimaaz, and a certain woman hides them in a well but tells Absalom that they had crossed a small stream of water.
Hence Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads A Little Stream Of Water.