“David:  Man after God’s Own Heart, Part V: David Danced”

A sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
July 15, 2012

from 2 Samuel 6 
(with background material from 1 Samuel 4:1 – 7:2)

When we last heard from David, he had just been crowned king over all of Israel, and the Philistines heard about it and decided to attack while he was still basking in the glow of his coronation. 

They came up against Israel at the Valley of Rephaim, and David heard about it and inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up against them?” 

“Yes,” said the Lord, “go up.” 

And David and his mighty men burst forth upon the Philistines like a dam breaking, defeated them so soundly that the Philistines fled for their lives and left their idols behind.  David and his men gathered them up and took them back into the land of Israel. 

But you know how those Philistines are.  They went back home, they recovered, the regrouped, they attacked again in that same valley, the Valley of Rephaim, and David said to the Lord, “Shall I go up?” 

And the Lord said, “No, don’t go up.  Go around, around to the back.  Attack them from the rear but not until you hear a sound like the sound of troops marching in the treetops.” 

David did exactly what the Lord told him to do, and because he did, he conquered the Philistines so completely that for the rest of the time he was king in Israel the Philistines did not dare to attack. 

Now the land at that time had natural boundaries, to the north, the south, the east and the west.  To the north there were the high mountains, in the south the barren deserts, to the  east the River Jordan and to the west the Mediterranean Sea. 

Running up and down the length of that country, from north to south was a range of mountain ridges that made up the rocky backbone of Israel, and right near the middle of that ridge was a city called Jerusalem.  At that time it was occupied by the Jebusites and had been for years. 

It was such a natural mountain stronghold that nobody could attack it.  The Jebusites used to say in those days before political correctness was in vogue, “This city could be defended by a blind man and a cripple.” 

And David said, “We’ll see about that.” 

He and his mighty men marched from Hebron in the south up to Jerusalem, and there under the cover of darkness David sent his troops up the water shaft and into the city where they surprised the Jebusites so that they all surrendered.  By morning the city belonged to David. 

It was called Jerusalem, the city of peace, but from that day forward many people simply knew it the City of David.  He had made it so thoroughly his own. 

He built it up so that the city became stronger and stronger and in that time David himself became stronger and stronger.  He took concubines.  He married wives.  He had children until the halls of his house were filled with their laughter. 

King Hiram of Tyre just to the north of Israel was so impressed by David’s achievements or perhaps so intimidated by his military might that he sent a boat load of cedar logs down the coast to Israel, and skilled carpenters, and stone masons who built for David in the city of Jerusalem a grand palace of cedar and stone, and when David went into that palace he hung up the rough, military garb he had warn in all those years of fighting in the wilderness and he put on the luxurious robes of royalty. 

David was at home in Jerusalem, at home in his palace and peace prevailed so that David didn’t know what to do next. 

I picture it like this.  One soft, summer evening he stepped out onto the roof of the palace just as the sun was going down over the western hills and he wondered to himself, “What now?  What’s a king to do when he has conquered his enemies all around and given his people rest?  What’s a king to do when he has established his capital city in a place like this one?  What’s a king to do when his palace is filled up with the sounds of children’s laughter and all is well in the world?  What next?” 

And that was when David remembered the Ark of the Covenant: that sacred box that held the Ten Commandments, and that jar of manna, and Aaron’s rod that had budded in the wilderness.  He was thinking about that box that had been kept for so many years at Shiloh. 

You may remember how Eli was the priest at Shiloh and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, helped him out except these two boys, Hophni and Phinehas were complete scoundrels.  They cared nothing for the priesthood.  They had no respect for it.  They would cut the choicest section of meat when it was being offered by someone as sacrifice and they would take it around to the back of the Tabernacle and they would roast it there and serve it to their friends and have big parties.  They handled holy things with unholy hands, and because of that the Lord said to Eli, “I’m going to take all of this away from and give it to someone else.  Because you have known all along what your boys were up to and yet you did nothing about it.  And this will be a sign to you.  Your sons Hophni and Phinehas will die on the same day.” 

Imagine that. 

Well it was just a few weeks later that the Philistines came up against Israel at Ebenezer.  And when the Israelites heard about it they gathered together and they went down the hill to fight.  They engaged the Philistines in battle, and the fighting was so fierce and so hard that at the end of the day four thousand Israelites had fallen.  And the people didn’t know what to do.  They consulted with the elders of Israel who said, “There was a time when God’s people used to take the Ark into battle, and when they did, the presence of God was with them and they would fight and win.  This is what you should do.  Bring the Ark down here so that when you fight tomorrow, you will win.” 

And that’s what they did. 

They sent for the Ark, and it wasn’t long after that that Hophini and Phinehas came swaggering down that road between Shiloh and Ebenezer with the Ark in an ox cart behind them.  They were waving.  They were smiling.  They were bowing to the people as they brought with them the Ark of the Covenant. 

Well when the people saw what had come, they were so excited they let out a great shout, an enormous shout so that the ground shook and the Philistine  army said, “What was that?” 

And some of their spies said, “The Gods of the Israelites are in their camp.  The Gods of the Israelites are fighting for them.  Do you remember how it was when the Gods of the Israelites fought for them in Egypt, when they came against Pharaoh and his people and plagues broke out upon the people and so many of them died.  I tell you, those Gods are in the camp of the Hebrews and they are fighting against us now.” 

And the leaders of the Philistine army said, “Then we must fight hard tomorrow in battle, harder than we have ever fought before.  You men, you fighting men, I want you to go out there and fight like men.” 

And that’s what they did.  The next day they fought with such fury that at the end of the day thirty thousand Israelites had fallen in the battle.  Not only that Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, had been killed on the same day, and not only that.  The Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant.

They took it down to Ashdod, one of their cities on the coast of the Mediterranean.  They brought it into the temple of their god, Dagon, and they sat it down right there before that enormous idol as if it were an offering, and then they slipped out of the temple quietly and they closed the doors and all night long their God, Dagon, stood in front of the Ark of the Covenant. 

And the next morning when the priest came into the temple, they looked and one of them said, “Oh my Dagon,” because that idol had fallen flat on its face in front of the Ark.  And they gathered around and lifted it up and sat it back on its feet again. 

Can you imagine having a god you have to help to his feet?  But that’s how it was for the Philistines.  The propped him up and when they were sure that he was standing very steady and still, they slipped quietly out of the temple, very quietly closed the doors behind them, and all that night their god, Dagon, stood before the Ark of the Covenant. 

And when they came in the next morning they found that he had fallen again flat on his face and this time his head had broken off and his hands, and the people didn’t know what to do. 

The hand of the Lord was heavy upon the Philistines.  Disease broke out among the people and tumors appeared on their bodies and they began to die, so that they said, “send it away.  Send it away.” 

And they sent that sacred box up the road to another Philistine city, the city of Gath. 

At first the people were glad to get it.  Look what we have, this sacred box in which the presence of the Lord resides, but it wasn’t long before that same disease broke out among them, this plague.  And according to historians it wasn’t just any plague.  It was “The Plague”, the Bubonic Plague carried by rats and mice infested with fleas that go from house to house and spread the disease. 

It was everywhere.  Tumors were breaking out among the people. They were dropping down dead so that they said, “send it away.  Send it away.” 

And they sent it down the road to Ekron.  And when the people of Ekron saw it coming they panicked.  They said, “Not here.  Not us.  Please.  Send it anywhere else.”

And they called together all the leaders of Philistia and they all gathered in one place and began to talk about what they could do about this thing, this box, this Ark of the Covenant. 

They consulted their mediums, their soothsayers, their priests and this is what they said.  “You need to send it back, but you can’t send it back without an apology.  Make five golden mice and five golden replicas of these tumors.  Put them into a wooden box and put it beside that other box.  Put it on a new cart that’s never been used and hitch it up two milk cows who have never been yoked.  Pen up their calves in the barn and send them up the road toward Israel, and if those cows, who have just had calves, if they go straight ahead into the land of Israel without turning to the left or the right we will know that this thing is from the Lord.  And if not, then we will know it was just a coincidence.” 

And that’s what they did.  They built a new cart.  They put the Ark on it.  They put that box containing the five golden mice, the five golden tumors.  They hitched it up to two cows who had never been yoked.  They penned up their calves in the barn and then they turned the cows loose on that road that leads up to Beth Shemesh in Israel.  And do you know?  Those cows walked straight ahead, lowing as they went but looking neither to the left or the right so that all the Philistine elders had to agree. 

This thing was from the Lord. 

Well that cart kept going right on up into the land of Israel and into Beth Shemesh.  The people of Beth Shemesh were out harvesting wheat in the field of Joshua when they saw this cart coming toward them with two milk cows pulling it and nobody else around.  They came over to have a closer look and when they saw the Ark of the Covenant, they rejoiced and gave out a great shout. 

They took the Ark and put it on a big flat rock right there in the middle of Joshua’s field.  They broke up the ox cart and built a fire.  They slaughtered the cows and offered them as a sacrifice, but there were about seventy of those people from Beth Shemesh who were so curious about that Ark, about what was inside it that they gathered around that big flat rock where the Ark was resting and one of them was bold enough to pry the lid off the Ark of the Covenant, and seventy of them looked inside and when they did the seventy died and fell down right there in Joshua’s field.  So that the people of Beth Shemesh began to tremble with fear and said to their neighbors up at Kiriath Jearim, “Wouldn’t you like to have the Ark for yourself?  Come get it.  Take it. Keep it as long as you like.” 

And that’s what they did.  They came and took it to the home of Abinadab and they made his son, Eleazar, a kind of priest whose job it was to watch over the Ark while it sat out behind the house in a little storage building. 

And that’s where it was for twenty years until David upon the roof of his palace walking around in the cool of the evening remembered that it was there at Kiriath Jearim.  And he rounded up thirty thousand people and they went down to Kiriath Jearim in this grand procession.  They loaded the Ark onto a cart and they began to come back up toward Jerusalem with harps and lyres playing, they were singing songs, shaking tambourines, clicking their castanets, clanging symbols together and David and the others were dancing before the Lord as they came until one of the oxen stepped in a rut and slipped and the cart shook and the Ark slid and Uzzah, one of the sons of Abinadab reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant, and when he touched that holy box, he fell down dead. 

Now at first David was angry just as you or I might be angry.  Why would God do such a thing to Uzzah who had simply tried to steady the Ark? 

But then David’s anger was replaced by fear as well it should have been, as it should be for anyone who has learned to handle holy things with unholy hands. 

David took that whole procession back up to Jerusalem and for three months he thought about what had happened. 

You see, when David had gone to get the Ark he may have thinking that it would be a good thing to have the Ark in Jerusalem, that it would lend some legitimacy to his reign, and to have that sacred box in his holy city would please the old guard who would say, “Now at last, the political capital and the capital of worship are in the same place.” 

It was, in some ways, a brilliant political move to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. It may have been what David was thinking.  That may have been why what happened happened, but David spent three months thinking about it, three months praying about it getting his heart right with God, and when he went back three months later it was a different David who went to Kiriath Jearim. 

They loaded that Ark up on an ox cart, and when the oxen had taken six steps David stopped the whole parade and offered up a sacrifice to God.  He wanted the people to know that God was God and he was not. 

And here’s what he learned: that with less of him there was more of God.

And as he continued on his way to Jerusalem there was more and more and more of God.  People were playing tambourines and clicking castanets.  They were clanging symbols together, playing harps and lyres.  They were singing songs and David was dancing before the Ark with all his might.  He leaped.  He whirled.  He broke a sweat and when he did, he stripped off his linen robe until he was left in his linen ephod.

Now a linen ephod is kind of like a carpenter’s apron.  There’s a little flap that hangs down in front and a little string that ties in the back, not much there really, kind of cool on breezy days. 

But David had forgotten himself.  He was lost in wonder, love and praise.  It was like those times you have experienced in worship when you, you stand outside yourself, when you have lost yourself in love with God, when all you can do is worship the Lord. 

David danced before the Lord, he whirled, he leaped and his wife Michal, the daughter of Saul, she looked out the window of the palace and saw him coming.  And she despised him in her heart. 

But David danced before the Lord.  He brought the Ark into the city of Jerusalem.  He installed it in that tent he had pitched for it and he and all the people had a glorious service of worship that went on and on and at the end they had dinner on the grounds.  Everybody got a cake of rice and a portion of meat and a cake of raisins.  They ate.  They talked.  They laughed, and when they went home their bellies were full and they were full of the spirit of God. 

David went home that day having had the best day of his life, and he came in through the front door to greet his wife, Michal, “Honey, I’m home.” 

And there she stood with her arms folded across her chest, tapping her foot. 

She said, “Didn’t the king of Israel make a fine spectacle of himself today, leaping around half naked in front of every servant girl in the city.” 

And David said, “It was before the Lord that I danced, before the Lord who made me king over Israel and not your father.  It was before the Lord himself that I danced, and he may make me more contemptible yet in your eyes, but in the eyes of these servant girls you mentioned I will be honored.” 

I have to tell you.  Things were never quite the same between David and Michal from that day forward. 

And the teller of this story says at the end of it, almost sadly, “Michal never had children.  From that day until the end of her life she was barren.”

—Jim Somerville © 2012

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