Dancing and Disdain.

And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing 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 horn.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the 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. And 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 peace offerings before the Lord. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house.

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!” 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 celebrate before the Lord. 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.” And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death. – 2 Samuel 6:12-23 ESV

When David’s first attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem had ended with the untimely death of Uzzah, he had angrily ordered the ark to be left in the care of Obed-edom. But three months later, when he received word that the house of Obed-edom was being blessed because of the presence of the ark, he had second thoughts. He decided to try a second time to move the ark into his new capital. And this time he did it the right way – God’s way. The passage reads, “And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps” (2 Samuel 6:12 ESV). In other words, this time, there was no cart, no oxen, no alternative method of transport used. He moved the ark using God’s prescribed method. The book of First Chronicles gives us the details:
David built houses for himself in the city of David. And he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it. Then David said that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the Lord had chosen them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister to him forever. – 1 Chronicles 15:1-2 ESV
David told the Levites:
“You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.” So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. – 1 Chronicles 15:12-15 ESV
But the book of First Chronicles also provides us with an interesting insight into what David had been doing in the three months prior to his second attempt to move the ark. David had been busy. We get a glimpse of his activities in verse 1 of 1 Chronicles 15: “David built houses for himself in the city of David.” But it is the previous chapter that gives us the details concerning David’s building efforts.

And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also masons and carpenters to build a house for him. And David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that his kingdom was highly exalted for the sake of his people Israel.

And David took more wives in Jerusalem, and David fathered more sons and daughters. These are the names of the children born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Elpelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Beeliada and Eliphelet. – 1 Chronicles 14:1-7 ESV

David had been busy building his house – in more ways than one. His efforts included construction and conception. He was building a palace and a legacy. But the second part of his building efforts was in direct violation of God’s commands concerning the king (Deuteronomy 17:17). As we have seen before, David had an inordinate attraction to women. Their presence would prove to be a distraction and a constant source of trouble in his life.

But the other interesting insight we glean from the Chronicles passage is that, while David was building a brick and mortar house for himself, he had simply “pitched a tent” for the Ark of the Covenant. He would later regret this oversight and voice his desire to build a great house for God (2 Samuel 7). But at this point in his reign, it would appear that David is busy establishing and solidifying his rule with all the trappings of kingly success. At least, according to the worldly standards of the day.

But back to the story. David led the procession of Levites, priests and musicians into the city of Jerusalem. He was wearing a simple linen gown, not his kingly robes. And he was dancing and celebrating all along the way. This was a joyous occasion. But not for Michal, the first wife of David and the daughter of Saul. We are told that she “looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16 ESV). We are not given the reason for her disdain for David. Was it the way he was dressed? Was it his dancing before the Lord? Maybe she was angry that he was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. We know from 1 Samuel 19:11-16, that Michal kept an idol to a false god in their home. She had used it in her efforts to help David escape from her father. So, it might be that Michal resented David bringing in what she believed to be an idol to his God, the ark. But we do know that she expressed her dissatisfaction to David, focusing on his behavior and dress.

“How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!” – 2 Samuel 6:20 NLT

While David had been dancing before the Lord, she became disgusted with what was to her an embarrassing lack of decorum. I think there is far more behind her anger and resentment toward David than just his choice of attire and dancing skills. There was a pent-up anger for David. Keep in mind, he had replaced her father as king. Not only that, she had remarried and had been taken from her husband by force and returned to David – only to find out that he had been busy, having acquired many other wives. And we know from the text, that those women had born David many children. But evidently, Michal was childless – not a very attractive proposition for any woman in those days, but especially for the wife of the king. And the text tells us that Michal would remain childless, and I don’t believe this was the result of a divine decree of barrenness, the result of her anger that day. I simply believe David lost all affection for Michal at that moment and never had intimate relations with her again. Their marriage was essentially over at that point. She would remain one of his queens, but would enjoy his favor or bear him a son.

It is impossible to read this story and not see the stark contrast of celebration and disintegration. David is building his kingdom while at the same time watching his relationship with Michal fall apart. He is building a palace in which to rule and reign, and yet he is also adding wives, in direct violation of God’s commands, who will bring disorder and future destruction to his kingdom. David exhibits a strange mix of humility and pride. He is all about establishing his image as a king, but also willing to humble himself before the God who had anointed him king. In David’s response to Michal, you get a subtle sense of his pride mixed with humility.

“I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished!” – 2 Samuel 6:21-22 NLT

David knew that it had been God who had made him king. But he also enjoyed the fact that he was the king. He displays a subtle sense of superiority and pride in his statement. He had been chosen by God. He was the king. And while he was willing to humble himself before God, he was also counting on the fact that God was going to distinguish him as a king. Dancing and disdain. Pride and humility. Celebration and disintegration. Palaces and tents. Worship and wives. Blessings and barrenness. Burnt offerings and burned relationships. This is a passage of contrasts. And David’s reign would be one of contradictions and conflicts. There would be times of great blessing and significance, but there would also be times of pain, sorrow, and disobedience. David was going to continue to learn the truth found in the words of Samuel, spoken to the former king of Israel:

“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson