David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals…
…David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with 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.
As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal 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.
They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt-offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!’ David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honour.’ And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
The bringing of the ark of God to Jerusalem connects with the traditions that understand this as the place where God determined that God’s ‘name’ should dwell (Deut.12:5-7) and where the Temple would be built. The story links back to 1 Samuel 4:1-7:2 which tells of the ark being captured by the Philistines and then returned to an Israelite city, although a different one to that named as its location in today’s passage.
The ark symbolised God’s presence, power and protection; and the ceremony associated with its transfer portrays the polytheistic ideas of introducing a god to a new city. Great celebrations are depicted and David is central to this joyous worship of God. He is presented in a priestly role, conducting cultic sacrifices and his scant attire would do little to maintain his modesty (vv.14, 20) as he leapt about and danced.
Here we have a positive picture of David focused solely on worshipping God with his whole self, alongside the story of the ending of his relationship with Michal. It is interesting to note the emphasis on her as the daughter of Saul (vv.16, 20, 23). Her feisty reaction towards David mirrors her defiance of her father (1 Sam.19); but it is a reversal of her love (1 Sam.18:20) and loyalty towards David. She is more concerned about royal status and public reputation than the worship of God (akin to the failings of her father?) and the final statement about her remaining childless marks the ultimate ending of the house of Saul.
I confess that exuberant worship is not my style; but God preserve me from allowing concerns for my own dignity to get in the way of joyful praise and thanksgiving offered to God. However we worship God, may we do so sincerely, with our whole selves.
Eternal God we rejoice that through Christ we know that you are ever present and not confined in artefacts or particular locations.
Forgive us when we limit our worship of you to specific times and places as though these are the only occasions when we can meet with you. Help us to be more spontaneous in praise and thanksgiving. May every moment of our lives be an offering of worship to you. Amen.
The Revd Dr Janet E Tollington A retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge