Tag Archives: King David

Dancing in the Streets!

We recently had vacation Bible school at our church. The leaders and 20 children gathered in the evenings and opened and closed the sessions with singing, dancing and celebration. We did actions to the songs along with the accompaniment of recorded bands and it didn’t matter if we got the words wrong occasionally, came in at the wrong times or forgot the actions because we were rejoicing before God. Now think back to the last time that people in your services of worship jumped up and down, clapped along with the music, waved their arms in the air or acted out the loving embrace of God. Has this ever happened during your Sunday morning services? Has it even happened on special occasions?

In the OT dancing was a form of religious worship and community celebration. Dancing and singing and playing instruments were part of public rituals and festivals as part of communal worship. Dancing was the opposite of mourning, was a way of greeting warriors and victors home. Men danced, women danced, it was a way to worship God with your whole mind and body. Where did our dancing go?

In 2 Samuel 6 King David danced in the streets. In the OT several words are used to refer to dancing. The one used in our reading today was only used in this one place in the Bible and means “whirling.” Other words for dance referred to writhing, whirling, and skipping about. This is not the kind of practiced dancing that we see on such shows as So You Think You Can Dance. Anyone could whirl, and skip about. This speaks of a sort of primal movement, like that of children who are so excited at the arrival of a special guest that they cannot keep still. Is this not how we should be greeting God?

Why was David dancing in the first place? David had consolidated his rule and set his capitol in Jerusalem but it was not truly the center of Judah and Israel because the Ark of the Covenant of God was the center for their religion and it was not in Jerusalem. David decided that it was time to bring the Ark to the capitol. Our reading this morning had two sections separated by five verses. The move of the Ark of the Covenant did not go as smoothly as David would have liked. He gathered 30,000 men including the Levite priests and set off from Baale-judah. Things started out fine with the Ark on a new cart and being cared for by the Levites, but it ended up being left in the house of Obed-edom after Uzzah touched the Ark to steady it on the cart and was struck dead by God. David decided it was too dangerous to take into the city. After three months he was told that the household of Obed-edom had been richly blessed by the presence of the Ark and once again he set out to bring it home.       

On both stages of the journey there was dancing. From Beele-judah we read that David and the people of Israel danced before the Lord with all their might. On the second leg David left off his kingly robes and wore an ephod , probably over his tunic, and danced with all his might before the Lord. Imagine the scene. The king who had united all Israel, defeated the Philistines was not being carried on a litter, not riding a fine horse, not marching solemnly but skipping and whirling around on the streets in little more than his underclothes!

There has been a lot of speculation about the scene I just described. First there is an issue of exactly what he was wearing. The Bible says that, “David was girded with a linen ephod.” It does not say that David was naked except for the ephod. Some have speculated that he was basically naked, others that he was wearing a loin cloth of sorts, others that he was humbling himself and becoming as one with the people.

The ephod was a piece of priestly clothing made of two rectangular pieces of linen which are held together at the shoulder with buckles. Priests would have worn this over their underclothes and tunics and for the high priest under a fantastic jewelled breast plate. This was priestly garb, worn exclusively by those who served as priests. For David to remove his fine robes and signs of his sovereignty was definitely humbling, but taking up the ephod may be seen as taking for himself also the role of a religious leader as well.

Significant as all that may be, I believe that the issue of his behaviour on this journey bears more attention. As I mentioned above, David was not behaving in what we would consider a respectable kingly manner. He was not riding a fine horse, he was not puffing himself up to appear important and be admired by bystanders. Does this sound familiar at all? This King David, from whose line Jesus would later be born, was more like Jesus in this march.

And David danced! With intention and also with abandon he danced to worship the Lord and to greet the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem in the same way that people danced to welcome home victorious soldiers. Such a spectacle did he make of himself that his wife, Saul’s daughter Michal, saw it she was disgusted and turned away. If we continued to read to her greeting her husband home she rebuked him for “shamelessly uncovering himself before the eyes of his servants’ maids.” David defends his action by saying, “It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me prince over Israel, the people of the Lord that I have danced before the Lord.”

When did dancing change from being a primary act of worship to being something that some denominations actually consider a sin? Even by the time of the New Testament dancing is no longer associated with worship. It is still a celebratory act but more secular in nature. Even as the people of Israel were dancing to the Lord, those of the polytheistic religions were dancing to their gods. Perhaps the change began as a way of differentiating themselves from the polytheists. Over time dance, now a secular activity, took on other purposes. We know that the nature religions dance in ceremonies, that there are dances used to whip up fighting spirit before battle, that dance is used for seduction, for spectacle, for art. But we no longer dance.

I am not really suggesting that we need to be literally dancing in the streets in praise of God, nor am I suggesting that we need to clear dance space in our places of worship. But I do think that there is something of the being physically swept up in worship that has dried us out. Are we dancing in spirit? When we worship do we feel like skipping and whirling? When we leave church after a service do we feel light on our feet? When was the last time you felt so excited you just couldn’t be still?

There is a very popular quote from Mark Twain about dancing which seems to fit well here.

“Dance like nobody’s watching

Love like you’ve never been hurt

Sing like nobody’s listening

Live like it’s heaven on earth.”

If we are dancing with all our might before the Lord then it doesn’t matter who else sees us or what they think of our dancing skills. It doesn’t even matter if they think we are crazy for dancing! We really have something to sing about because, while this may not yet be heaven, we are already living the resurrection life.

2 Samuel 6: 1-19

Samuel Anoints David/ It’s Not About Appearance!

Old Testament    1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

New Testament  2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17

God was finished with Saul!  While his reign continued into its 42nd year (give or take), it was at this point that God rejected him as King of Israel and secretly chose his successor, the eighth son of a man from Bethlehem.  For the rest of Saul’s life he would have to go back to relying on and taking pride in his chariots and horses.  Chariots break and horses go lame…


How do we choose a leader? 

Every couple of years in Canada we have an election of one level of government or the other, and through those elections we seek to choose the best people to make the decisions on behalf of and for the best interests of the country, province, or city.  What do we really know about these people?  We know what they tell us, bragging of their chariots or horses, and we know what their opponents tell us.  Sometimes we also get the scoop from some investigative reporters who uncover interesting and almost always negative or scandalous information which they can reveal in prime time.  This is all a show!  There is nobody involved in the process without a personal stake or a chance for personal gain of one kind or another.  With all the information and media attention the voters are most often just as much in the dark as they were at the start of the campaign.  In the end, not even the candidates really know what kind of leader they will be.


My students were writing their exams this past week.  For some this was no big deal as they were well prepared and had a firm understanding of the material.  Some had big gaps in their preparation and were rightly worried coming in to their exams.  Strangely, or not so strangely perhaps, there were those who were well prepared who were panicked and those who were unprepared who were calm and cool.  If you looked in on my classes as they wrote, you would not have been able to identify which students were which.  You might have been able to tell little bit about preferred activities or social class, but not how much they knew nor whether or not they would be able to express that knowledge on the exam. 

One thing no one can know when they look at someone, even their own reflection in the mirror, is their potential to make a positive difference in the world. 


As humans we have a natural tendency upon meeting someone new to size-them-up.  Possibly some residual effect from our days as both hunter and prey, we look to see how they measure up in comparison to us.  How likely are they to be a physical threat, a rival in love, competition at work, or even useful to us in some way?  When we do this we make huge assumptions; smaller is craftier, bigger is dumber, stronger is better, small eyes means sneaky, overweight means lack of self-control, slim means obsessed with appearances etc.


Samuel was at home in Ramah, having dealt with Saul for the last time.  Given that he had just told Saul that he was finished as King of Israel, that God was no longer on his side, it seems reasonable that Samuel would now avoid any contact with the man who could so easily have him killed.  God, however, sent him on a trip to Bethlehem which would take Samuel right past Saul’s home in Gibeah.  Even more frightening would be the fact that the purpose of his trip was to anoint a new king.  But shouldn’t the new king be the eldest son of the king?  And, why anoint the new king before the current one is dead or at least on his death bed?  God told him to take a heifer with him and to say he was going to make a sacrifice to the Lord.  So, nobody in Gibeah or Bethlehem knew the true purpose of Samuel’s journey and would only come to understand its significance in hindsight after David became king.


In Bethlehem, after assuring the local elders that he was not bringing any judgement down on the town, nor its people, Samuel invited Jesse to the sacrifice.  The arrival in town of one of God’s great prophets, the one who anointed the King of Israel and was in regular conversation both with the King and God, would have been exciting and a little disturbing.  Certainly this was going to be a day that would go down in Bethlehem lore for generations.  “Where were you the day when, out of the blue, Samuel came to perform a sacrifice to God?”  Jesse had eight sons, although the Bible only records names for 7, but he brings only seven to the sacrifice, one son would have had to answer, “I missed it all! I was out tending our sheep and didn’t even know about it until after Samuel was gone!”  


In order of birth and priority for inheritance Jesse’s sons were; Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah, Nethaneel, Raddai, Ozem, number 7 and David.  In our reading from 1 Samuel names are only provided for the first three young men, we only have the names of the others from the lists in the book of Chronicles and it is assumed by that time brother 7 had either died, was childless, or had done nothing of distinction to warrant mention.  Given his lack of invitation to the event and his very low social standing as an eighth son, it is quite amazing that David was the one God chose for Samuel to anoint that day in Bethlehem.  In human terms David was the least appropriate choice.  He was not the eldest son of the king, he wasn’t even related to the king.  Even if one were going to a different family for your candidate, there were seven men in that family more entitled to honour and rank than David.  He was the youngest, the smallest, he was the shepherd.  He was a mustard seed.


It is interesting to note that, while this passage is a narrative; people say things, do things, time passes etc., in another respect it is an ongoing conversation between God and Samuel.  Samuel is not sent out on an errand and then left to it.  There is never any indication that Samuel should look for the most suitable candidate for king.  “I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”  Basically he sent him out and said, “we’ll talk later.”  If God was going to tell him whom to anoint, why didn’t he tell him up front…”go anoint the 8th son of Jesse of Bethlehem named David.”?  Instead he remains in conversation with Samuel and allows for each of Jesse’s sons to be presented, and considered in Samuel’s own mind before ultimately being rejected by God.  One by one they pass by, being noted for their appearance, their height, their physical attributes which, of course, were all that Samuel could see.  After Eliab, God tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see;  they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”


As the last of Jesse’s sons passed by Samuel he would have been confused.  God had clearly said that he was to anoint one of these men, the sons of Jesse.  So he asked if these were all the sons and found that there was one left, out looking after the sheep.  This unnamed eighth son was sent for even despite the delay it would cause in proceedings; Samuel made it clear that they would not continue without him.  When David arrives the writer once again goes to the natural human reflex and comments on his appearance.  “he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.”  When I read this, coming as it does on the heels of God saying to stop looking at outward appearances, I did a double take.  If we aren’t supposed to be looking at appearances, then why do it again?  First, as I said, it is a reflex.  There are a couple things about this that are worth noting.  First, if this is the son who wasn’t even going to be presented one might have been assuming there was something wrong with him.  The terms ruddy and handsome may be more of an expression of surprise than the earlier judgement of the more obvious choices.  Still, are we to think that he was chosen because he was good looking?  No!  It may be a stretch, but the mention of his eyes as beautiful seems significant to me.  The eyes are often referred to as the window on the heart and it is by looking on the heart that God judges people.


Once David is on the scene God tells Samuel to anoint him, not privately but in front of all his brothers.  And the story is basically over then.  Samuel anoints David, the spirit of the Lord “came mightily upon David from that day forwards.”  It is in this line from the very end of the story when we first hear the name of this newly selected king, David.  And then what?  We never hear how the brothers reacted to their sibling’s anointing.  There is no talk of celebrations, singing or dancing.  Samuel sets out for home and undoubtedly David heads back out to the sheep wondering what all that had been about.


If only we could see people, not for their appearance, but for their hearts!  In 2nd Corinthians this is what Paul is urging.  He says that since we are convinced of Christ’s death that all may have life and live that life for Christ, who died and was raised for us we should change our point of view…our paradigm.  “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer I that way.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  How much better would we be able to choose our social and political leaders?  How much more often would people be able to avoid trusting people who would later hurt them?  How many bullies would be helped because we were able to see that they needed help?  How many of us who get left in the fields with the sheep would get to come to our potential in helping in the world?


In his convocation address to the students at York University, newly honoured Dr. Michael Enright gave some great pieces of advice.  For me the one which stood out was, “The next time you give a dollar to a homeless person on the street, take a moment and talk to him and find out his story.”  It takes time, not a glance, to know a person and every person deserves a little time!  Amen.