Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-23 (the lectionary actually only has us read to 19)
If you grew up going to youth group in the early 2000s like I did this bible passage probably makes you think of a certain song. Remember, it was written by that tall, scrawny, furry dude named David Crowder. Check it out, if you can list to it for more than a minute I applaud you:
“I’ll become even more undignified than this, some may say it’s foolishness!” This youth group song--straight from this week’s lectionary text in 2 Samuel 6--used to blast as kids went berserk. Basically, it was an excuse to get out that pent up energy from sitting in class all day before the youth pastor forced us to sit still for another 30 minutes while he talked at us. My experience with this text as a “youth group kid” colors it every time it shows up somewhere. I cannot forget flinging myself around at a David Crowder concert in the “Christian moshpit” as this song pumped out of the speakers at 110db. Maybe that memory is helpful in understanding the reckless abandon David danced with as the ark of the covenant (the place where Yahweh’s holy presence dwelt among Yahweh’s people) moved from Baale-judah into Jerusalem, the city of David. But it is not all that helpful in understanding the motivation of David’s dancing. Is this just unfettered worship or is this motivated political calculation?
I began asking myself this question when I noticed the second half of verse 16 for the first time as I read it again this week. The verse says: “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.” The whole passage abounds with joy and celebration until, out of nowhere, we get this venomous half-a-verse about Saul’s despising daughter. But this is not just Saul’s daughter as the passage labels her, this is also David’s wife! Why does the narrative label her as Saul’s daughter and not David’s wife? To answer that question we need to read on a little further to verses 20-23 where the narrative turns from a public spectacle to a private conversation between a husband and a wife.
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’ 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 honor.” And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
When we read this passage it becomes a little more clear, this is the final coronation from the reign of Saul to the reign of David, and Michal is very disappointed in the lack of kingly dignity that David carried himself with in this ceremony. There are two warring sides here, the house of David and the house of Saul. The narrator wants the reader to know that Michel is loyal to the house of Saul. She was raised a princess and expects her husband, the new king, to act with all of the royal dignity befitting of the king of Israel. But we the readers must remember that this is not a royal succession this is divine action. The removal of one king and way of ruling to a completely new way. Remember, the high have been brought low and the low brought high. David’s dancing has to be, at the same time, exuberant worship and very specific political calculation. There is a new king in town and this king does not honor the former political pomp. This king was once a lowly, undignified shepherd boy. And now, as king, David will continue to demonstrate that he will make himself the lowest in order to exalt Yahweh. This is David, the servant King. This is the king who will establish a lineage to Jesus, who himself will be despised in the eye’s of those wishing to maintain the old order of things. Who will work on the sabbath, confound the rulers and leaders with his stories, reinterpret history, and call himself the son of God. He will make himself more undignified than David ever did by dying the death of a criminal.
This passage is so much more than a goofy dance of a new king, it is the inauguration of the new kingdom that through Jesus Christ becomes the kingdom of God. It is the literal beginning of Hannah's song in 1 Samuel.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world.
Now, that seems something worth dancing about.