And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. [2 Samuel 6:14 (NLT)]
My day’s reading brought me to 2 Samuel 6 when David, accompanied by the blowing of ram’s horn trumpets and shouts of joy, brought the Ark back to Jerusalem. Having stripped himself of his kingly robes, he wore a linen ephod and unabashedly spun, leapt, and danced his way into the city. After observing her husband’s uninhibited dancing, Michal chided him for his un-kingly attire and undignified behavior. David replied that he was dancing for God, not her and his goal was not to please people. He was dancing to please God.
I thought about David, wildly dancing with joy for the Lord, while viewing a streamed dance production titled “Christmas Joy.” Unlike most holiday dance programs, this one didn’t have a Nutcracker, Sugar Plum Fairy, waltzing flowers, Santa, elves, or secular music. Telling the story of Jesus, a corps de ballet of more than 50 danced to both contemporary and traditional sacred Christmas music. Rather than simply sharing the joy of the season, they shared the joy of Christ! Their movements were choreographed rather than spontaneous like David’s but, like his, theirs was a sacred dance of worship, praise, and joy!
As a way of expressing joy and thanksgiving, music and dance appear to have played a significant part in ancient Jewish worship. We find Scripture’s first mention of dance in Exodus when, after the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, Miriam led the women in song and dance. Years later, after David killed Goliath and the Israelites routed the Philistines, women from all over Israel met King Saul. Accompanied by tambourines and cymbals, they sang and danced with joy over their victory. When prophesying the time of restoration, Jeremiah spoke of a time when young women would dance for joy and the men would join in the celebration.
Like many things, however, dance was not always used in a way approved by God. Not long after Miriam’s joyful dance praising Jehovah, the Israelites danced in pagan revelry around the golden calf they’d fashioned. In an effort to get their false god to set fire to their sacrifice, the prophets of Baal danced around their altar. Ezekiel passed along God’s curse on the Ammonites because they danced to celebrate the desecration of the temple and the exile of the Jews. The New Testament tells of the seductive dance of Herodias’ daughter that so enthralled Herod she was able to demand John the Baptist’s severed head on a tray!
Other than that dance for Herod and the mention of music and dancing at the celebration for the prodigal son, there’s no reference to dance in the New Testament. Because it isn’t specifically mentioned as a method of worship, some Christians believe dance should be prohibited. Most early Christians, however, were Jewish and it’s likely they would have incorporated Jewish forms of worship, such as dance circles, into their worship of the Messiah. In the 4th century, Methodius, bishop of Olympus, had this to say about dance: “Gladly join yourself to the heavenly host, which is celebrating magnificently your salvation. As once David did before the ark, so do you, before this virginal throne, joyfully lead the dance.” St. Basil asked, “Could there be anything more blessed that to imitate on earth the ring dance of the angels…?” Of course, like everything, dance could be misused and many of the early church fathers warned of worldly sensual dancing, like that of Herodias’ daughter.
Although dance is rarely included as part of formal worship nowadays, I think of David’s unmitigated joy in the Lord—a joy that filled him so much that he whirled and leapt in praise and worship. His only aim was to please God. May our worship be as authentic, uninhibited, and joyful as his!
Let us dance as David did. Let us not be ashamed to show adoration of God. Dance uplifts the body above the earth into the heavenlies. Dance bound up with faith is a testimony to the living grace of God. He who dances as David danced, dances in grace. [St. Ambrose]