Dancing Before the Lord
The Ark of the Covenant is barely mentioned during Saul’s 40-year reign sitting neglected in the village of Kirjath Jearim under the watchcare of a man named Abinadab.
Who is Abinadab, you ask? Why was Israel’s most holy object left on his property? (1 Sam. 7:1 cf 2 Sam. 6:2).
We have to go back some 100 years for the answer. The Ark had been taken into battle by Hophni and Phinehas in a foolish move mimicking pagan nations who believed idols enhanced prospects for victory (1 Sam. 4:4-5).
Bringing the ark onto the battlefield did have the intended effect on the mindset of the Philistine army.
And they [Philistines] said, ‘Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men, and fight!’” (4:7-9).
The Ark Captured
The outcome of the battle was the fulfillment of Samuel’s first prophecy (3:11-14).
Because of their recklessness, the raucous sons of Eli died on the battlefield and were responsible for the Philistine’s capture of Israel’s most prized possession (4:11). Now, the Ark of the Covenant stood in the temple of Dagon.
“Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon (5:1).
The Philistine’s euphoria of victory and kidnapping the Ark, however, was short-lived. The Bible records that the fish-god Dagon repeatedly fell headlong before the Ark (5:2-4). When the people began experiencing a widespread outbreak of vexing tumors and a rat infestation, the Philistine leadership organized a plan for an unmanned cart to carry the Ark back to Israel.
The plan included placing the Ark on a cart drawn by milk cows along with a box containing guilt offerings of five gold tumors and five gold rats representing five major Philistine cities and their leaders.
The Ark Sent Home
Men of Judah living in Beth Shemesh who were harvesting in the field retrieved the Ark as it passed by. Their inquisitive look inside resulted in the death of 50,070 men (6:19). The survivors subsequently begged the inhabitants of Kirjath Jearim to convey the Ark to their village. There it lodged in the home of Abinadab all but forgotten (6:20- 7:1).
Even though he had ample reason and time to do so, Saul never saw the need to relocate the Ark to a place of prominence in his kingdom. David, on-the-other-hand, realized the Ark was the symbol of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. He arranged for transport to the capital city of Jerusalem.
David’s first effort was delayed by three months when Uzzah died for touching the Ark in an attempt to stabilize the load when the oxen stumbled (2 Sam. 6:6-7). At this point, the Ark was temporarily stored in the home of Obed-Edom, a Gittite, identifying him as a Levite from a Levitical city called Gath Rimmon in Dan, not to be confused with the Philistine city of Gath (Josh. 19:45).
Housing the Ark in his own home was a source of blessing to Obed-Edom’s entire household (6:13). The text does not indicate the location of his house, but it is generally believed to have been in the environs of Jerusalem.
The obvious blessing of Obed-Edom motivated David to attempt to bring the Ark to Jerusalem a second time. Once again, the procession of the Ark toward Jerusalem was accompanied by great celebration. This time, Levites carried the Ark in accordance with Levitical specifications with no mishaps (Ex.37:5; Num. 4:15).
The text records, “when those bearing the ark of the LORD had gone six paces . . . he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep” (2 Sam. 6:13). This was not an offering made every six steps all the way to Jerusalem, but rather one of consecration made after the first six steps of the journey. There would be another offering in Jerusalem (6:17).
Between the two offerings, “David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet” (2 Sam. 6:15). It was an occasion for extreme jubilation as the people joined their king in procession to Jerusalem.
“Then David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet“ (6:14-15).
Most Christians have little context for the statement, “then David danced before the LORD with all his might” (2 Sam. 6:14). Contrary to what some think, David wasn’t making a fool of himself. He wasn’t putting on a show. He demonstrated genuine joy among his people!
One of the most emotional moments I’ve experienced took place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Erev Shabbat. Spontaneously, Hassidic men began dancing the hora at the center of the Western Wall Plaza. Within seconds, the number grew to hundreds. In minutes, there were circles with thousands of men dancing and singing “Am Israel Chai.” The extreme joy of the participating throngs was palpable, invigorating and never to be forgotten.
It seems plausible that David was dancing with his subjects in a similar fashion for the entire distance to Jerusalem. When David’s wife Michal watched from an aloof distance through the palace window, Scripture says, ”she despised him in her heart“ (5:16).
What was her problem?
Actually, David’s dancing was only a pretext for her disdain. She believed it was problematic that David was motivated to honor the Lord with the same joyful abandon as one of his subjects. She repudiated the fact that he had replaced his royal robes for a linen ephod, the clothing of a common man. Michal believed David’s behavior lacked the decorum and protocol befitting a king.
Ultimately, it would appear she shared the penchant for her father’s envy of David. Like Saul, Michal also shared her father’s attitude toward the Ark of the Covenant. It wasn’t a priority. There was no passion for the things of the Lord.
David’s attitude toward God is evident in his response to Michal.
“So David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor’” (6:21-22).
Because of her improper attitude toward her husband and the God of Israel, “Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death” (6:23). David was beloved by the people because his behavior demonstrated zeal for the true and living God.
“And when David had finished offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts. Then he distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israel, both the women and the men, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed, everyone to his house. (2 Sam. 6:18-19).
In the book of Acts, Luke provides insight that explains David’s passion and joy as he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
“He [God] raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will’” (Acts 13:22).
David had passion and joy because God was the center of his life. Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem brought worship of Jehovah to the forefront for the people of Israel. David did the right thing. He fulfilled God’s will at a critical point in Israel’s history.
1) Ark of the Covenant, Capernaum, Israel. (Photo credit: Courtesy, Berthold Werner [Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) The Ark in the land of the Philistines and the Temple of Dagon (wall painting from the West wall, register B, in the Dura Europos Synagogue. (Photo credit: Adapted by Marsyas [Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) The Chastisement of Uzzah. (Photo credit: By James Tissot [Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) The Songs of Joy. (Photo credit: By James Jacques Joseph Tissot [Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
5) David Danced Before the Lord with All His Might. (Photo credit: By James Tissot [Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
6) Michal Despises David. By James Tissot. [Public domain]/Wikiart/Enhancement: MKM Portfolios)
7) Sam Philipe statue: Ark of the Covenant with the Waldorf Astoria in the background in Jerusalem, corner of Shlomo ha-Melekh & Yitshak Kariv Streets. (Photo credit: By zeevveez from Jerusalem, Israel [CC BY 2.0]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)