Why King David Danced – And We Should, Too
Updated: May 4
2 Samuel 6:14 David was wearing a sacred linen apron. He danced in the sight of the LORD with all his might. (New International Reader's Version)
Get the picture? David was twirling and jumping and letting his body praise the Lord. This unusual performance was due to the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The Complete Jewish Bible describes the scene this way: "Then David danced and spun around with abandon..." The Good News Translation adds another interesting detail: "David...danced with all his might to honor the Lord."
David let it all hang out as he rejoiced in God's presence and favor to His people. While King David is known for his skill at harp playing, singing, and even song writing, this is the only instance where we see him dancing.
Today dancing as a form of worship is often frowned upon, and even condemned, in some church circles, so it seems David’s story might contain some good lessons for us. Let’s consider his actions and what they can teach us.
Why David Danced
The Bible tells us that, at this point in history, David had finally been crowned king of Israel. He immediately chose his capital city, Jerusalem, calling it David’s City. Now this godly man wanted to return the symbol of God’s presence, the Ark of the Covenant, to his city.
It had been out of Israel’s borders a long time. First it was stolen by the Philistines, who had kept it in their possession for 7 months. During that time the Ark brought so much humiliation to the Philistine people and their gods that they finally decided to get the Ark out of their land and back to Israel.
As the Philistines carried the Ark along, Israelites out in their fields saw it and rejoiced. Some wanted to see what was in the Ark, so they opened it and were destroyed. (The Ark represents God’s Presence, and no one can come into His presence without proper preparation. So no one could touch the Ark and live.) Finally, the Ark was left just over the border on Abinadab’s land. Here it remained for nearly fifty years.
David and a large band of men, as well as many common people who longed to see the Ark, set out for that location. They placed the Ark on a cart to carry it home, but, again, this was a violation of God’s instructions. As they neared Jerusalem, one of the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, and the Ark teetered. Without thinking, the priest, Uzzah, reached up to steady it, and was struck down and died for this transgression.
This seems like harsh punishment to us, but Uzzah, a Levite, knew this was a breach of the law. God had established severe punishments when His chosen priests did not respect His directions, His law and His worship.
Though his intentions were good, David had acted without consulting God first and he now feared God would punish him, too. So the Ark was left where it was for 3 months as David considered what to do. During that time David had the priests study scripture and prepare to move the Ark properly.
It was finally carried into the city of Jerusalem with great fanfare. God’s people were rejoicing greatly at its return, and David got caught up in the celebration.
How David Danced
Scripture states: "Wearing a linen ephod, David danced..." The ephod was a garment usually worn by priests, and it symbolized submission to God and true worship. David had apparently removed his royal robes and king’s clothing to symbolize his humility before God.
My favorite version of this event is from The Message, which states that David "danced with great abandon before God." As the Ark entered his city, David was overcome with praise and danced "with all his might." I get the idea that David was just leaping and shouting and jumping for joy, not worrying about what others thought of him. He wasn’t worried about looking like a king, he was acting like a worshiper.
The Reaction to David’s Dance
While most of the crowd surrounding David was also singing, dancing and praising God, others disapproved of his actions. "And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Sauls daughter [and David’s wife] looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart." (2 Samuel 6:16)
As the daughter of a king, Michal had certain ideas about how royalty should act. David did not fit that mold when he danced in public. After all, David had only recently been able to take his rightful place as king, and she probably enjoyed being the queen. Surely Michal’s pride was wounded by her husband’s actions.
While Michal seems to be over-reacting to the situation, I think her words reveal a bigger issue than David’s dancing before commoners. Michal was obviously not a believer. She showed no signs of rejoicing at the symbolic return of God’s presence to the City of David. Perhaps she was angry because this act of worship showed David loved God more than he loved her.
How David Explained Himself
In 2 Samuel 6:21 (GOD'S WORD Translation) David answers his wife’s accusation: "[I didn't dance in front of the slave girls but] in front of the LORD. He chose me rather than your father or anyone in your father's house, and he appointed me leader of Israel, the LORD's people. I will celebrate in the LORD's presence"
"I did it to honor the Lord," David explains, though he is speaking to his wife and really has no need to defend himself. There was no thought of maintaining royal dignity, or worry about seeming silly in front of others at the time, it was simply a form of worship. David also reminded her that her royal family was replaced on the throne by God’s own choice.
In verse 23 we are told how Michal was rewarded for scorning her husband: she never bore a child. For a woman of her day this was a major shame – one which she took to her grave.
What We Learn From David’s Dancing
Creative people want to – and should – express their worship and devotion by using their God-given talents.
Your outward gestures are often the way of expressing your inward joy.
Your worship is for the Lord. You don’t worship so people are impressed.
Non-Christians generally can’t understand the feelings which move God’s children to praise Him.
David worshiped with all his might, and so should we!
So go ahead and dance if you like – or sing, or paint or make stained glass. Whatever expression of devotion you prefer, do it to praise God. He will surely smile!