For most of my life, I’ve never been all that comfortable dancing.
Sure, occasionally I would dance at the odd banquet or homecoming, or prom, or wedding, but dancing, though it is fun, is also an awkward enterprise for someone who, like me, is kind of clumsy on the best of days. That said, whenever I do dance, I usually enjoy doing it, even if I look like a fool.
With DeSay’s permission, I’ll share a quick story about our wedding. For months beforehand, we had decided on our first dance as husband and wife. It was a waltz. In addition to that, we had planned to take some dancing lessons to get really good at it and show off for all our friends and family. Yeah, well, funny thing: we got so caught up in all the other planning, we forgot to take dancing lessons. So here we go, we still have our waltz, but we haven’t planned out a routine or anything like that. We get up there, and honestly, though we didn’t really know what we were doing to any degree we had planned on, we still danced, and we looked good doing it. We danced, and we had a great time doing it. It was exhilarating, and exciting, and more fun than anything we’d ever done before, because it was our wedding, and we had finally been joined as husband and wife.
Like any dance, though we may not always know what we’re doing, dancing is an act unlike any other. It’s music expressed through the movement of the human body, which has a beauty and an art all on its own. And yet.. Have you ever seen someone dance and you were really embarrassed by them dancing? Not your own dancing, but someone else’s? Perhaps you saw the dancing as beneath you, or just not right? Perhaps undignified?
When we talk about dancing, seldom do we do so in a religious context–unless you are of the particular religious belief that one shouldn’t dance. (I’ve never really understood that particular prohibition, simply because dancing is everywhere in the bible).
You may think I’m exaggerating, but dancing is everywhere in the biblical tradition. In fact, there was probably more dancing than you even realized. When the bible talks about “prophesying,” in the ancient Hebrew tradition, to prophesy involved singing and dancing.
When we read about David today, we see him participating an prophetic, religious act in dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. What the CEB translates as God’s chest, we know from history to be the Ark, the box in which the remnants of the Ten Commandments were said to reside. David, in an effort to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem, dances for a strange but important reason. Ultimately, though, we’ll see that he does so because of the high value he places on God in his life, and in the life of his country.
The Ark of the Subplot
Because we’re skipping around in the books of Samuel quite a bit, there’s a lot you might have missed if you don’t know the story already. That being: The subplot involving the Ark of the covenant.
I’ll give you a reader’s digest condensation of the story. Back when Samuel was in charge of Israel, The Ark was in the nation of Israel’s hands. However, since they were not always so successful, in one of the battles with the Philistines, Israel lost the Ark of the Covenant along with the battle. So for a long time, several decades, The Ark was in the hands of the Philistines. The symbol of God’s power and secret weapon of the Israelites now belonged to the Philistines.
Bad news for Israel, good news for Philistia, right? Well, not really. See, God being God, still didn’t much care for the people attacking God’s people Israel. So, when the Philistines tried to open, use, or do anything of any tactical advantage with the Ark, bad things happen. Things like boils and skin lesions would break out onto the philistines. So it basically was still wreaking havoc on the philistines. Still, they couldn’t just give this incredibly powerful box to the Israelites, right? So they held on to it, and kept it hidden.
Eventually, David finally defeated the philistines who had control over the Ark, and it fell back into Israelite control. Which leads us to the events of today.
An Unfortunate Smiting
David, seeing as he is the new king of ALL of Israel, and now doubling the size of the territory he’s in charge of, is a pretty shrewd ruler. You see, he knew that if people were going to respect him as king, and recognize him as ruler, he’s going to need to show them that he has their best interests in mind. If he doesn’t, he’s in for a pretty brutal assassination, and he really didn’t need that.
So to prove that he’s worthy of being their king, he decides to finally return the Ark of the Covenant out of the hands of the Philistines and into his brand new city of Jerusalem. Easy peasy, right? I mean, it’s just a box! How much trouble could it be!
However, he wisely decides to take thirty thousand of his best soldiers with him, just in case of ambush or something horrible happening. Again, David is shrewd. He also knew that having the Ark back would be a holy mission for himself. He’s king of Israel, and if he’s going to honor the God of Israel, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have God’s box back where it needs to be.
Then, something really unexpected happens to David’s entourage. Along with him are the sons of the man who had been taking care of the Ark, Uzzah and Ahio. On the way to Jerusalem, the oxen who were pulling the cart upon which the Ark rested… well, they tripped. Can’t really fault them for that, oxen’ll trip, it’s what they do. In an effort to steady the Ark in case it fell over, Uzzah reached out and touched the Ark. That’s when things got bad.
Now, a quick word on holy objects. In the way Hebrews thought about things, it’s on a plane of four directions. On one axis it’s clean and unclean. On the other axis, it’s holy and profane–meaning every day, normal. Clean and unclean, we don’t need to talk about today. Profane and holy, that is what I’m concerned with. See, holy things are things that are set apart for God, meaning people can’t touch it. Holy objects, truly powerfully holy objects, in the ancient way of thinking, were kind of like “high-voltage.” The Ark was the holiest of holy objects, meaning there is no sign we could construct to adequately convey how “high-voltage” the Ark was.
That being said, when Uzzah touched the Ark, the text says he was “struck down.” In a word: God smote him. Smote him dead. Now, if you think grazing against a box is a death-worthy punishment, then you have no problems with this, but David… he had different ideas.
David was angry at God. Yes, angry. God had killed an innocent man for trying to save the Ark from falling over and getting damaged. And honestly, he’s not wrong. This seems pretty senseless. But nonetheless it happened. It happened because God, in being God, needed to give David a lesson in holy objects, as well as God’s holiness.
You see, God is not some political object to be idly handled from one politician to the next. God is not a flag to be captured. God is God, and deserves respect. This is a lesson David needed to learn now that David was king. David could no longer take God for granted. True, God loved him, and God was going to take care of him, but God wasn’t going to be mistreated. Should David run afoul of God at some point, he might just end up like poor Uzzah.
David’s Embarrassing Respect for God
Needless to say, David received the message. However, that signaled another issue. How was David going to get the Ark into Jerusalem, considering it’s as high voltage as it was?
David needed some time, so he left the Ark in a nearby town for three months. After three months, David resumed to the march to Jerusalem, but this time, with some extra religion added just in case.
He brought with him priests, a band, and lots and lots of cattle. Why the cattle? Here’s why: “Whenever those bearing the chest advanced six steps, David sacrificed an ox and a fatling calf.” EVERY SIX STEPS. That’s a lot of cattle! But, David did this because he wanted to make sure God wasn’t going perceive David as taking God for granted.
That’s not all. All this time, during the marching and the sacrificing, David was wearing a ceremonial ephod. What’s an ephod? Well, the CEB that we read out of translates it as a vest but really, it’s more like a ceremonial loincloth. Yeah. That’s what all of Israel was looking at during this religious parade: their king, dancing his patoot off, wearing a loincloth.
The perspective shifts for a second to David’s wife, Michal, daughter of Saul. He looks at her husband, supposed king of Israel, Dancing in front of God and everyone in a LOINCLOTH. No wonder the text says she “lost all respect for him.”
Later, she would confront him about this, saying he embarrassed himself in front of all of his servants and all of his people, but David would have none of it. He basically said he did it, and he would do it again! He may have embarrassed himself, but in God’s eyes, he would be honored, and for David, that’s what mattered most.
Finally, after all of the parading and dancing, the Ark finally found its final resting place. Also, all those animals David killed in sacrifice? He cooked, and fed the entire city with it, distributing food to every single family. How’s that for political gratitude!
David may have been dancing like a crazy person, but perhaps we might take notice at the extravagant show of worship that he performed in this parade.
When you worship, are you truly giving your highest respect for God? Are you fully present in heart in mind when you worship with God’s people in God’s house? True, we may not have an Ark or anything like that, but we do have holy objects here. And holiest of all, we celebrate the communion every month. Do you honor God enough in your worship? Are you mindful?
It’s easy to just simply go through the motions in worship, and not really pay attention to what we’re doing here, but everything we do here is intentional. In the coming months, we’ll be tweaking worship some more, little by little, to make it so that we are truly mindful of God. But this is not just a leadership issue. This is something everyone needs to be working towards.
We worship for a reason: we do it to honor, praise, and encounter God. We do this with the whole church present because it is done best when other people are around. We honor God through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. But most of all, we honor God because we don’t want to take God for granted in our lives.
So go forth, and be mindful of God, even if it’s strange, even if it’s somewhat embarrassing. Do it because God is God, and is worthy of our praise. Do it because God loves us extravagantly. Go and do likewise. Amen.