In 1 Samuel 18:17, Saul offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to David. Now, remember that Saul had promised this for the man who killed Goliath, so he’s really just getting around to something he has already promised. He offers his oldest daughter, Merab, to David, asking in return for David to continue to fight his battles, because Saul thought to himself, “Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.”
Saul is still focusing on how he can get rid of David.
But David declines the hand of Merab, and she’s given to another man.
Verse 20 explains that Saul’s younger daughter, Michal, loved David. And when Saul found out, it pleased him—not because his daughter might then be happy… not because he could then reward David the way he had promised… but because he assumed she would then be a distraction to David, and perhaps at last the Philistines would prevail against David. Saul sends his servants to suggest this marriage to David, and David replies, in verse 23, that he has no way of paying the bride-price.
Now, I would say the concept of the bride-price is salt in the wound of our sensitive, politically correct, romance-is-everything society. Daughters being rewarded to warriors and arranged marriages are barbaric enough. But then the groom has to pay the father-of-the-bride money as compensation? This is basically purchasing yourself a wife like she’s a piece of property, right? Well, no, it’s not that simple—or that barbaric.
We have to understand that the family, for most of history, was an economic unit of society. Your household was your livelihood. And children were a blessing not just because they’re a delight to have around, but because they contributed to the household economy—and with numbers come stability and security. Well, when you had a daughter, she was loved by the family, and she participated in the household enterprise, but it was understood that she was at some point going to leave and become a part of someone else’s household; and she was then going to be contributing and benefiting their family, and their clan. So, as a gesture of gratitude and good faith, the groom would give a sum of money to the father of the bride as a recognition that as he gave his daughter to be married, his household was also losing a valuable contributor to their welfare. That’s the point of the bride price—that’s most of it. The other side of it was that it proved that the groom was, as they say, all in. It was a way of showing that he had skin in the game. He showed he was serious. He really was going to take care of his bride.
David is saying that he can’t give a gift of the amount that would be appropriate for the king’s daughter. That’s what he means when he says, “does it seem to you a small thing to become the king’s son-in-law?” He’s saying: it’s not. To marry Michal, propriety would demand a gift to Saul that David could never afford. So, Saul replies that he’s perfectly fine with receiving no money from David if David is able to deliver to him the foreskins of a hundred Philistines. Now, that seems bizarre, and it is… but collecting a body part of the men you’ve killed was a fairly common practice in order to count the dead, or sometimes as a temporary trophy; and collecting foreskins was the way to ensure that it was actually Philistines he killed, and not fellow Hebrews. Yes, it’s gross. The point, though, is that Saul is simply trying (still) to get David killed. This is stated explicitly in verse 25: “Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.” So this whole time, Saul is just trying different things to get David killed. After he couldn’t do it himself, he’s now tried several ways to get David killed by the Philistines. But David always finds success and victory. In this case, David takes his men and kills twice the number of Philistines Saul required.
Now that’s a way to get a wife!
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