II Samuel 6
What we’re looking at this morning is a grand celebration gone sour. The ark of the covenant, which had long been forgotten and neglected, is finally coming home to gain a place of prominence among God’s people.
And so a big parade is planned to bring the ark home, with the ark at the head of the parade. And there’s lots of music and dancing to accompany it. But it isn’t just a parade with a lot of music and dancing, like we might have around here on the fourth of July. This is a sacred and holy and a spiritual event. The ark of the covenant represented, and was a visible symbol of the living and active presence of God among the people of God. It was a sacred object filled with meaning and significance for God’s people. Since the coming of Jesus Christ into this world and into our lives, we don’t really have any sacred objects anymore, because the dwelling place of God is in our hearts. But we do have some stuff around here in our building to help remind us of the wonderful things that God has done for us; we’ve got the cross up over the baptismal tank which reminds us of our Lord’s death, we’ve got the communion table which helps us to understand that we are drawn into fellowship with Jesus Christ and with one another in a most sacred and holy way, and we’ve got offering plates that teach us that God requires a commitment from us that involves our whole lives, including any treasure that we may be able to amass.
But for the ancient people of God, the ark of the covenant is the consummate symbol of the presence of a holy and Almighty God. The ark was so sacred and so holy, in fact, that human beings were forbidden to touch it. It so completely represented the sacred presence of the holy and living God that it could not, under any circumstances, be sullied by the touch of a human hand. It stands in complete contrast to the absolutely new thing that God did in Jesus Christ. When Jesus walked this earth in human flesh, he was not only touchable, but he more often than not initiated that touch. He held hands, he embraced, and he healed broken and damaged bodies and souls both through the touch of his hands and by the spoken word. Among God’s people today, in the loving touch, and in the sacred embrace, the holy work of Jesus is ongoing. We ought to think about that. Our culture has so sexualized touching that we Christians have learned to avoid it. That which was once sacred has become profaned.
Actually, there are two grand celebrations in our Scripture passage this morning, and sadly, both of them end tragically. The first parade is three months prior to the second, and it was probably initially intended to be the only celebration.
The ark of the covenant had been in storage at the home of Abinadab, and David had gone there to fetch it, along with a contingency of at least 30,000 people. That’s a huge parade, a massive celebration! And as the procession with the ark made its way toward its rightful home in the city of David, the people celebrated with wild abandon. They sang songs, they played music with lyres and tambourines, and harps and cymbals and castanets, and they danced before the Lord with all of their hearts. What a worship service! It was wild! But it was also sacred and holy. It was worship inspired by the Spirit of God. The people were responding to God, and celebrating God with all of their heart, soul, mind and body. They were giving themselves fully to the Lord.
But suddenly, and unexpectedly, tragedy struck. In the midst of the celebration, in the midst of all of the joyous singing and dancing and music, the ark of the covenant began to look like it might be unsteadily perched on it’s cart. The writer of Second Samuel says this happened because the oxen hauling the cart shook it. And Uzzah, with nothing but good intentions in his heart, reached out to steady it, and he touched the ark, and he died on the spot. And suddenly, the music stopped, the songs went silent, and dancing bodies went still.
At first, David was angry at God, and then he was afraid. And he could no longer celebrate. And so everybody went home, and the ark of the covenant went into storage for another three months, not yet making it to its rightful home. Was that the right decision? I don’t know. Tragedy can certainly put a damper on anyone’s celebration of God. Tragedy can certainly make us angry at God, and it can certainly make us afraid of God. And I know this because every one of us here this morning has been angry at God, and afraid of God. The one almost always leads to the other. And this I also know: anger and fear cannot remain. It must be temporary. If it remains, we die. If we lose the ability to celebrate God, we die. We die emotionally, physically, and ultimately spiritually.
Thankfully, in David’s case, he did not die, he did not hold on to his anger and his fear. And three months later, the celebration resumed. And there was another parade, and there was more music and more dancing, and more shouting.
But this parade ended in tragedy, too. As the celebration made its way into the city of David, Michal, one of David’s wives, looked out of her window, and immediately became disgusted. She saw her husband leaping and dancing, and shouting and singing, and the text says that she despised him in her heart. To say the least, she was shocked by what she saw. And maybe, in truth, it was a little shocking to see the King of Israel, the leader of God’s people behaving in such a manner. As David was dancing before the Lord, he was wearing a linen ephod. Now no one really knows what a linen ephod is, other than that it was made out of linen. That’s why, in our Bibles, the Hebrew word is simply transliterated, rather than any attempt at translating it being made. In other words, if you can say “Ephod”, you can speak at least one word of Hebrew.
But whatever the linen ephod was, in Michal’s mind, it wasn’t enough. And maybe it wasn’t, and maybe, as David leaped, and danced, and sang and shouted in celebration before the Lord, he did expose himself before some of the young ladies who were also a part of this joyful celebration.
But what is absolutely clear, is that Michal was not part of the celebration. And the question is why not? Why did she exclude herself from this glorious event? Why did she stay home, why did she avoid celebrating God? Is she bitter, is she angry, is she afraid of God? Is it part of her personality to shun a relationship with God and with God’s people? I can’t even begin to imagine why she stayed home that day, other than that she intentionally planned to have no part of the celebration. Half of the city was out for the celebration, and yet she stayed home.
Had she participated, she might have understood what the celebration was all about. She might have been caught up in the Spirit herself, she might have been drawn into the loving embrace of God, she might have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to do some leaping and dancing and singing of her own. Had she done this, she would have known that all that happened that day was of God, and that it was all sacred and holy. Instead, she renamed what was sacred and holy, and she called it vulgar and shameful. And ironically, she does this, just as David is coming home, full of the Holy Spirit and joy, to bring, blessings to his household.
Michael misunderstood misinterpreted, and missed out on a glorious celebration that day. But more importantly, she missed an opportunity to dance before the Lord with all of her might. She killed her relationship with God, and she lost her relationship with David. She stayed bitter, afraid, and angry. And she died.
The writer tells us that “Michal the daughter of Saul had no child until the day of her death.” In the Hebrew culture, a woman believed that her ultimate purpose was fulfilled in the bearing of children. I suppose in some respects, we could view this as punishment from the Lord, for her unseemly behavior, for her inability to celebrate. But I see it more as a consequence than as a punishment. In her determination to remain bitter and angry, Michal, in all likelihood did not come to David’s bed, and David, apparently, made no attempt to come to hers. And consequently, she lost the opportunity to celebrate even the marriage bed. She couldn’t dance, she wouldn’t dance, and so she destroyed not only her relationship with God, but also her relationship with her husband. A tragic, tragic end to something that had the godly potential to be beautiful.
I think, sometimes, that we are afraid to dance. We are afraid to allow ourselves to be carried away by the Holy Spirit, and too often we find ourselves in complete agreement with Michal. We are on her side, cheering her on. But when we do that, we miss out on many of the blessings of our faith. Literal dancing before the Lord involves all of our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. It is a legitimate form of worship, and we may or may not ever be comfortable with letting ourselves go like that. But can we at least dance in our hearts? Can we celebrate with great joy the power and the wonder and the Glory of our Lord Jesus Christ? Or are we afraid?