David Danced Why Can’t I?

In the March 8/15 issue of World magazine, Marvin Olasky references 2 Samuel 6:16 to bring up short those of us defending liturgical worship.  He quotes the passage: ” ‘As the ark of  the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.'” And then says, “Some church leaders who prefer solemnity despise those who leap and dance.  But David insisted to Michal, ‘I will make merry before the Lord,’ and some evangelicals rightly say the same.”  Do they?

Is it a case of David danced so why can’t I?  David wasn’t dancing to be dancing.  He was dancing to be humiliating himself before the Lord.  The context here is important.  David had just tried to bring the ark of the Lord from the house of Abinadab where it had been for 20 years to its rightful place.  Uzzah, one of the sons of Abinadab who had no doubt grown up with the ark, helped in the move.  David was there too celebrating the move with all kinds of musical instruments.  The oxen stumbled and to keep the ark from falling Uzzah touched the ark to steady it.  2 Samuel 6:7 says, “And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and  God struck him down there for his [literally “the”] irreverence, and he died there by the ark of God.”   Think of the tragedy.  Can you blame David that he “became angry because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah?”

Evidently, David could be blamed.  He was led to the conclusion it was his fault and not the arks by the fact that to the house of Obed-edom, where the ark was left after Uzzah’s death, came only blessing for 3 months.  Then he realized it wasn’t the Lord’s ark that was the problem but the people who moved it.  The next time David moved the ark.  He danced to a different tune: that tune being he wasn’t doing something for God but God was doing something for him by giving him His  presence at a definite place and time.  The holy God was condescending to dwell among sinners.  This ought to humble sinners.  It does Mary when she is told the Christ will dwell in her.  It does communicants who are told, “The Body of Christ.”  We rightly respond with the Orthodox, “”Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof.”

David dances before the Lord in a linen ephod which was short.  He dances and leaps, and repeatedly we are told in 2 Samuel 6 that it was “before the Lord.”  Michal his wife despised him not because he was worshipping the Lord but because he was humiliating himself before people.  She says in verse 20, “How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself [remember the short ephod] today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself.” Aristotle said some 700 years later, “Great men don’t run [in public].”  Well, they probably didn’t dance either.

When confronted with his self-abnegation, David explains, “It was before the Lord who chose me before your father and above all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel; therefore, I will celebrate before the LordAnd I will be more lightly esteemed than this and will be humble in my own eyes.”  It’s about humility not about dance, about humbling oneself not worshipping however one chooses.

The Church does a similar thing in the Palm Sunday processional.  It is meant to be humiliating to carry a flimsy palm in procession.  Originally, this was done outside of the church.  Imagine the one time the outside world saw your church was as you marched around it waving a palm signing a hymn.  No matter how big the congregation your song sounds feeble and weak in the open air.  In Germany they also used a wooden donkey.  Catch the humility?  Why I just as soon dance in a mini-skirt!

The problem is the contemporary worship movement hasn’t added dancing or bumping another rump for Jesus in humility but as a better, more enlightened form of worship.  It is more exciting.  They get more out of it.  David got less out of it.  He got the distain of his wife.  He was abasing Himself before the Lord who condescended to come to where He is.  He danced because he knew he was unworthy.  Christians bow and kneel when receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus for the same reason, and those of us who do are considered foolish by some who don’t believe anything is there but bread and wine.

The Lord had cautioned the Old Testament Church about worshipping Him in a way he had not instructed.  David was certainly not introducing or suggesting a new way.  The Lord, however, had given no such cautions about new ways of humbling yourself.  The Church has rent clothes, put on sackcloth, marked themselves with ashes, bowed, genuflected, kneeled, and fully prostrated themselves.

Where the pagan philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche said, “I would believe only in a God that knew how to dance,”  the Christian writer Marvin Olasky appears to say he believes only in a God who accepts dance as a way of worshipping.  The pagan is closer to the truth.  I don’t know if my God, Jesus, can dance, but I do know He has the flesh and blood to do it if He wants to.  Well then, do I believe only in a God who rejects dance as a way of worshipping?  I believe in a God who wills to be worshipped in Spirit and truth, and from dancing around the golden calf to limping around the altar to get Baal’s attention, from rain dances to fertility dances, dancing doesn’t have a lot to commend it.  Humbling oneself does.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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5 Responses to David Danced Why Can’t I?

  1. Pingback: Outer Rim Territories » Blog Archive » David Danced Why Can’t I?

  2. Bart Goddard says:

    I watched the video and had several reactions. The last
    reaction was “What? No rousing applause at the end?”
    My chief reaction was to the most repeated line of the song,
    “We lift You up on our praises.” I seems to me, first, that
    it was our _sins_ which lifted Jesus up, and, second, perhaps
    we can, in some sense, lift Jesus up on our praises, but
    on Easter, His raising of _Himself_ ought to be the
    focus. The dance and song shows that Jesus can’t
    entertain us without our help and that He can’t raise Himself
    without our help. Maybe it’s not a matter of whether we
    can dance before the Lord, but whether we can blaspheme
    before the Lord.

  3. cathi says:

    ///quoting/// …It is more exciting. They get more out of it. David got less out of it. He got the distain of his wife. He was abasing Himself before the Lord who condescended to come to where He is. He danced because he knew he was unworthy. .//..unquote/////

    I think you meant “disdain”?

    David didn’t get “less” out of it! If you read Psalms prayerfully, you will find that for yourself.

    Whenever we humble ourselves, we don’t get “less out of it.” We are enriched instead.

    “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent!” (Psalm 30)

    Those who humble themselves will be _exalted_.

    Where the Spirit of the Lord is — there is liberty.

    It would be more appropriate to say: “David danced because he knew that the Lord loved & forgave him, and he was _filled_ with the Holy Spirit. David danced because he was grateful,” etc.

    Of course, there are also Psalms that say that we ought to praise the Lord in dance.

    Holding a palm frond doesn’t sound like a humiliating idea to me, nor does it sound like something that was _meant_ to be humiliating. I’m sure it is for some people!

    ///quote//// David wasn’t dancing to be dancing. He was dancing to be humiliating himself before the Lord. ////unquote////

    Nor do I advocate dancing for the sake of excitement or “to be dancing.”

    You can’t bring yourself to say that the Lord enjoys seeing us having fun as we worship and praise, because it seems impure to you. — Yes, there are some idiots (who act and dance impurely) who are NOT doing it for the Lord. … But that doesn’t mean that the Lord doesn’t grant joy to His own children! He fills them with His Holy Spirit, and they dance and praise — Not for any other reason but because they love Him! — They do not dance in ORDER TO humiliate themselves; nor did David. They dance (as David did) as a form of sincere worship. Humility is a _part_ of that sincere worship; so is gratitude, trust, adoration, thankfulness . . . It bubbles up.

    And it warms the heart, sustains the spirit, and shines out from bright faces of those who love the Lord and are full of His Spirit.

    “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

    • “Got me”; it is disdain the noun though distain could be made to work as verb. The poster ignores the context of David’s dance but is right that humbling oneself is part of worship as is rejoicing. However, in and from the world, we certainly do get less from expressing Christian humility and joy. The poster apparently doesn’t understand what even Muslims do. Palm Sunday was a humiliating event. Up till the 19th century in some Muslim countries Christian’s were required to ride donkeys not horses. In the Imperial pages quarters in Rome dating to the 2nd century there is a crude sketch on a wall of a crucified man with the head of donkey. The inscription reads, “Alexmenos worships his god.” As far as what I can’t bring myself to say: Theologians of the cross call things what they are; theologians of glory call things what they want them to be. N.B. I said nothing about dancing being impure; she did.

  4. Interesting take on this Scripture, one which I had not yet encountered. Thank you for your well-reasoned argument. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in your post, but you caused me to think about this Scripture in a new way. I like that.

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