Readings from the Scriptures – 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 14-19
David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
What Happens when the Dance is Over?
When last have you had a good dance? Not some copied dance moves that you self-consciously perform; mindful that others may be looking on, but a free, exuberant, uninhibited joyful expression of self!?
As Peter Wallace points out in his message “Let’s Dance; “Some of us love to dance, and would do so at every opportunity as the feeling grips us. Some of us believe that we cannot dance and therefore would not even attempt to do so, out of fear that we might become the subject of laughter. And then there are those, who for whatever reason, frown upon dancing as though it is somehow inappropriate or frivolous.”
But again I ask the question, when last have you had a good dance; especially over the past several months when so much of what we would normally do for fun were severely restricted?
As people who are made for relationships, and for whom one of the greatest gifts that we enjoy is the gift of communication, we have been blessed with different artistic ways of expressing ourselves; our thoughts, our mood and our feelings – be they joyful, sad or contemplative. We express ourselves through music and song, through visual arts, drama, poetry, storytelling, as well as dance.
Of all the many ways that we have of expressing ourselves, I find it interesting that the one which very rarely finds its way into mainstream Western Christian worship, is dance. For some reason, dance has been pushed aside, even frowned upon and treated as if it is an illegitimate form of self-expression at worst, or an amusing side show at best. This despite the fact that dancing is mentioned often in the Bible as a legitimate and frequently used means of praise and self-expression in worship.
Dancing has always been closely related to religious practices, functioning as a means of identity, storytelling and celebration.
In our scripture reading today, we are introduced to a dancing King David. Israel had won a great victory: After the Holy Ark of the Covenant had been captured and kept for twenty years in a foreign land, the Israelites were returning it to its rightful place. It was a glorious moment! The Ark of the Covenant was the most sacred object in the Israelites’ worship, because it signified the presence of God in their midst.
They were so excited about their victory that they couldn’t help but dance as they moved along the street to the capital. As they carefully carried the sacred Ark back to its home, Samuel writes: “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.” (2 Samuel 6:5) It sounds wild and uninhibited.
Imagine for a moment, what that might have been like, to dance before God so openly! Without inhibition or reservation! Imagine what it will be like if we worshiped God with all our might! What if we opened our hearts fully, without reservation to our loving God in worship? What would that be like?
Imagine how freeing, moving, uplifting and attractive that will be. A moment of pure joy and devotion! Is that a normal and regular part of our experience in worship? Is there an uninhibited offering of the self – whether in joy or in sorrow? I think that such uninhibited offering of the self should characterize our experience in worship. And the celebration of the return of the Ark of the Covenant, which was an act of worship, shows us that it can be.
But there’s another important aspect of worship that is tucked away in this story, one that can so easily be overlooked. That aspect has to do with how the experience of worship shapes our view of life in relationship with others. And a lesser known character in this story helps us to appreciate that.
This was unquestionably, David’s dance, the spotlight is on him! But we lose an important element of this story if we make this dance only about David. There was another important but overlooked character in this story – a woman, who was deeply affected by this dancing David. Her name was Michal, and she was the daughter of King Saul. We are told that Michal looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. (2 Samuel 6:16)
Where was that coming from? Why couldn’t she be happy like all the other people and join the celebration?
There has much speculation about the cause of Michal’s disgust. Some speculate that she was jealous of the other women who were celebrating with David. Some believe that it was because she felt that David was exposing himself in a way that was unbecoming of a King. But we don’t have to look for petty motives like jealously or prudishness to find a reason for Michal to despise David; there were deeper reasons.
Interestingly, Michal is identified in this story as Saul’s daughter, but it is important to remember that Michal was one of David’s wives, who throughout her marriage to David, was treated like a pawn in the conflict between her father, and David.
King Saul had grown jealous of David, who had become more popular than he was. As a result, Saul was determined to get rid of David. When Saul learned that Michal was in love with David, he decided to use her to bring about David’s demise. He offered her in marriage to David in exchange for the lives of one hundred Philistines. His Plan was to turn the Philistines against David so that they will kill him. When his plan failed he decided to get rid of David himself, but Michal, who loved David, chose the welfare of David over the wishes of her father and protected him – helping him to escape. No doubt as an act of punishment, her father gives her away to another man while David was in hiding. Later, after the death of Saul, when David became king of Judah and Saul’s son was king of Israel, David demanded Michal’s return to him in exchange for peace between them. It was a political calculation aimed at reinforcing David’s legitimacy as a member of the royal house. And so Michal was taken from her husband – who truly loved her, he loved her so much that he walked behind her, weeping all the way until he was commanded to go home.
That was Michal experience. She was a woman who was used and abused. She was a pawn in the conflict between two powerful men, who ironically, were men who were supposed to love and protect her.
I don’t believe that Michal’s disgust at David’s dance was simply about jealousy and embarrassment. I don’t think that she reacted the way she did simply because she was a spoil sport who wanted to rain on David’s parade. I suspect that Michal must have found it impossible to reconcile the disconnection between David’s exuberant worship of God on the one hand, and his selfish exploitation of her love on the other. She did not feel included in the celebration.
Are there people who similarly do not feel included in our celebrations of worship? Who see a disconnection between our worship and our works?
Michal’s disgust at what was otherwise a joyful event draws our attention to the fact that there’s more to worship than just what it looks and feels like. Worship must also open our eyes to how we treat people and how we value relationships. And it must open our minds and our hearts to what we need to do to make things right. Our worship must lead us to right the wrongs of which we are a part; to heal the wounds that we have caused; to work for reconciliation where our actions have caused separation and division. That is how we include all. That’s how we truly honour God!
Yes, let’s dance and sing and celebrate! God know that we can use some uninhibited celebrations in our lives and worship after all that we have gone through.
Let’s sing and dance joyfully, exuberantly, and worshipfully! Let’s sing and dance with openness, humility, and gratitude! But know that our worship does not end there – it cannot end with our celebration, whatever form that takes. Our worship must lead to healing and reconciliation. When the dance is over, the work of healing and reconciliation continues. Anything short of that is to miss the mark.