As they carried the ark of the Lord back to where it belonged, with King David leading, the people of Israel stopped every six steps and worshipped. A sacrifice was made of oxen and fatted sheep. David was making sure that God was honored in this procession, and that the hearts of the people were turned towards the Lord. They had tried to bring the ark of the Lord back once before, on a cart rather than on the shoulders of priests, as God had prescribed. It did not go well. This time, David followed God’s instructions and the procession slowly winded toward Jerusalem. The sacrifices were made every six steps, but something else marked the joyful procession as well. David danced. The literal translation in 2 Samuel 6 is that David “twirled around.” It wasn’t a choreographed exhibition that David had worked on in the privacy of his chambers, with an ancestor of Martha Graham or Rudolf Nureyev. No, this was a spontaneous outburst of unabashed joy, expressed through David’s feet and his entire body. Before the Lord. That’s a key phrase in the passage. David danced before the Lord. For an audience of one. His was not a carefully planned scheme to show off his versatility for the Israeli people. “Look at me, I can dance!” He was not auditioning for the Hebrew’s new season of Dancing with the Stars. He was not trying to overcome a boyish fear of the spotlight by doing the most absurdly brash thing he could think of at the time. No. In fact, David was not thinking of David at all. He danced before the Lord. Not only that, David danced before the Lord “with all his might.” He threw away man’s predilection to do just enough to get by. David danced before the Lord with abandon. Why? It was worship. Dancing is so often not worship, but here it was. David worshiped the Lord in the dance, just as Psalm 149 says.
I would make two observations about this story and the encouragement in Psalms. First, I realize that dancing in the worship service is most likely not a part of your tradition. Indeed, it is not what I am used to seeing, at least not in this culture. Go with me to Kenya or Zimbabwe, though, and your understanding of what is “normal” in worship will be challenged. The point is, worship is not defined by particular actions but is defined by the heart attitude. David danced before the Lord with all his might. He could have sung with all his might and that would make many of you feel a little better about this whole episode. But he danced. He could have yodeled, and that would make us even more uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? I cannot picture the Kenyans breaking out into a group yodel at the top of their lungs.
Second, David’s wife, Michal, didn’t think much of his dancing. In fact, the Bible says she looked out a window at David and saw him twirling with abandon, and “she despised him in her heart.” Sadly, there are many Michals in the church today who stand back sneering at those who worship the Lord with more emotion or movement or even joy than they. Like Michal, they miss the celebration of God in worship themselves because of their own judgmental spirit.
The truth is, worship invites warfare. When you worship the living God, you draw a line in the sand and declare your allegiance. That will provoke the believers to exultation and the faithless to condemnation.
Whether you are sitting in a pew in the sanctuary or in a lawn chair in the church parking lot, worship on.