Some Bible stories have been told, and even mis-told, so that it is hard to learn from them what is true or what the biblical point is. One such story is the account of David dancing before the Lord. I have heard false facts and false applications from this passage, and we want to do better. God has something for us to learn, and we will not get it if we are focused on something God is not trying to tell us.
If you recall, the ark of the covenant was being moved into the city of Jerusalem. David had experienced a tragedy when Uzzah died during the move because of the people’s failure to obey the commands of God about how to move the ark. That disobedience put Uzzah in a dangerous place, he touched the ark, and he died.
Once the people began again to move the ark, this time in the way God told them to, there was a tremendous celebration. David and the people were overjoyed that God was finally allowing the ark to return to Jerusalem, as they knew this pointed to the favor of God.
2 Samuel 6:14 – And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod.
1 Chronicles 15:27 David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers. And David wore a linen ephod.
Now, think of what you have heard about the scene as the ark was moved. David danced before the Lord with all his might. And how was he dressed? If you have heard the story told before, you have probably heard it at least hinted at that David was undressed, naked as he danced. But such is not at all what the Scripture says.
Where did people get this false idea?
2 Samuel 16:20-22 – 20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21 And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will make merry before the Lord. 22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.”
David’s wife was ashamed of how David was acting and how he was dressed. David dressed down, like a commoner, so as to celebrate and dance for joy. David’s wife, King Saul’s daughter, did not think David was being kingly enough. She thought that a king should not lower himself to celebrate like the common people, even in celebration of the kindness of God.
So, let’s fix a couple of wrong statements. First, David was not naked. He did not dance unclothed. He danced in linen. He danced looking like a commoner and not a king. But he was not at all inappropriately garbed. He was not immodest.
Second, the dancing David did was as part of a joy-filled celebration. It was like a national holiday. David danced over the return of the ark in a way that might remind us of a city having a parade when their football team wins the Super Bowl. The people shout, dance, and basically go nuts with happiness. But, what David did was not a part of a formal and orderly worship service. Neither is dancing like David part of the biblical command for regular, weekly, New testament worship.
When David said to his wife that he was willing to be even more contemptable or undignified, he was not suggesting that being undignified , silly, or chaotic should mark Christian worship. He was telling his wife that he was willing to celebrate the victory of the Lord just like the common people no matter how much it bugged her to see him go nuts with happiness.
It is wise for us not to let ourselves go too far with a passage like David’s dancing. We need to see that he was dressed and he was celebrating a great happening with all his heart. But he was not giving us a model for New Testament worship that calls us to lack reverence or dignity when we serve the Lord. May we think clearly and interpret faithfully when we are inspired by biblical stories. And may we not allow ourselves to believe false things from the Scriptures just because they sound fascinating.