Connections 07.15.2018: Containing Your Excitement

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

I grew up in the so-called Bible Belt, that strip of the South where church is king and good religious folks are expected to adhere to a certain set of standards. In many churches, dancing was (and in some places still is) forbidden. Like drinking alcohol, smoking, playing cards, or listening to rock and roll, it was viewed as a gateway to the devil. The idea seemed to be that if we let loose even a little, we’d invite all kinds of sinful behaviors to take root in our lives.

Not all of this is unfounded, of course. People have gotten into trouble while under the influence of alcohol. Cigarettes are proven killers. And sometimes card playing or betting and unbridled dancing do occur in situations that are ripe with temptation.

Even so, I thought most of the archaic attitudes had faded away in the churches I attended. That is, until my husband and his friend brought guitars into the worship service. Say what you will about contemporary Christian music, but there was a time in my early marriage when we were part of a praise band. The music minister invited us to lead a few songs in worship once a month. I will never forget the sight of an elderly lady in the congregation resolutely sticking her fingers in her ears with the sourest look on her face. It had nothing to do with the noise level and everything to do with the type of music we played. She said as much in committee meetings in which she tried to get the guitars banned.

Over my years of growing up in church, the message came across this way: “Unless you are at youth camp, please contain your excitement during worship.” I was never part of clapping, shouting, hands-raising fellowships. In fact, it was almost as if such fellowships were frightening to the people in the churches I attended.

So I sympathize with Michal in our lesson text about David. There he is, flailing about to the beat of all kinds of instruments (we’re talking strings and horns and even percussion!). He’s wearing a priestly garment but not acting priestly at all. His behavior is offensive to the point of being vulgar, and his wife Michal says as much to him later in verse 20. “Contain your excitement!” she seems to say.

But notice David’s attitude during all of this. In 2 Samuel 6, we read of him dancing and shouting several times: verses 5, 14, 15, and 16. He refuses to contain his excitement about the Lord no matter what others think of him. He dances with all his might, makes sacrifices to God, and then everybody eats. His excitement—his praise to the Almighty—will not be contained. Maybe those of us who prefer to spend our time with God in silent reverence could learn a little something from his unbridled enthusiasm.

After all, the elderly woman I mentioned eventually took the time to get to know those of us in the praise band. She was later quoted as saying how much she respected us as young parents, no matter what kind of music we played. And she never put her fingers in her ears during our music again.

Discussion

1. Do you have opinions about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior during a worship service? What do you do when people worship in ways that make you uncomfortable?
2. Have you attended churches where certain kinds of music or other elements were not welcome? If so, what was that like?
3. What might be the harm in limiting people’s expressions of worship?
4. What do you think about Michal’s reaction to her husband’s displays of worship in 2 Samuel 6?
5. How can you allow yourself to be led by the Holy Spirit as you worship—whether that means bowing your head in reverent silence or dancing and shouting with all your might?

Reference Shelf

According to 6:5, David’s first attempt to transfer the ark to Jerusalem had been accompanied by frenzied dancing, accompanied by music. There, “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might.” In the second attempt, David is the only one reported to have danced, though still “with all his might.” Perhaps as a sign of humility designed to abet safe passage of the ark, David was clothed “with a linen ephod” alone.

There is still wild dancing going on in the second attempt, but it is David who leaps and dances on behalf of the people. David’s scanty clothing is made more sedate in the Chronicler’s version, where the linen ephod becomes a fine linen robe (1 Chr 15:27). In both versions, however, the combination of David’s dress and David’s dance causes great offense to David’s wife (2 Sam 6:16; 1 Chr 15:29).

Scholars often compare the account of Michal’s parade posture to the literary motif of the “woman at the window” that appears occasionally in ancient Near Eastern literature. To suggest on this basis that she represents a hierodule or goddess, however, is far-fetched. The narrator implies that Michal watched from the window because she refused to attend the celebration in person. Michal is the daughter of Saul, whose house makes one last attempt to spoil David’s successful rise. Michal’s act of “despising David in her heart” cannot be separated from what David is doing, however. To despise David’s joyous dance is to cast disdain on the reason for his euphoria. The consequences incumbent on Michal’s attitude await the denouement of the story in vv. 20-23.

The high intensity of the narrative associated with the ark’s travels renders the actual installation story something of an anticlimax. They brought it in, set it down in the tent David had prepared for it, and offered sacrifices to God. The most remarkable thing about the story is the narrator’s insistence that King David assumed the high-priestly role of offering the sacrifices and blessing the people. David could do this because Israel’s king was ideally Yahweh’s representative (God’s adopted son, according to Ps 2:7), so sacerdotal functions naturally followed. Also, as far as the Deuteronomistic story goes, no high priest has yet been appointed. Abiathar continues to accompany David, though Zadok has not been introduced (as he has in Chronicles; see 1 Chr 15:11).

David’s supervision of the sacrifices is also a natural extension of his desire to assure that the ceremony is successful. As David took on the role of representative liturgical dancer for the worshipers (cf. 6:5, 14), he also presided over the sacrifices, leaving as little to chance as possible.

Tony W. Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001) 438, 439-440.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley attends First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (13) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Currently, she is looking for the next opportunity to be onstage in a local theater production. She also loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she will always be a writer at heart.

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