DID KING DAVID ENGAGE IN VULGAR DANCING?
by Shawn Brasseaux
While recently dealing with a dear Christian lady entangled in the Charismatic Movement, I heard her say something quite strange, totally unexpected actually. No one had ever told me this before. In an attempt to defend “praise and worship” time in her church building, she told me that dancing was Biblical. After all, she claimed that King David danced so intensely that (her words) “his clothes almost fell off!” Did she interpret the Scriptures correctly? Or did her intense religious fervor cause her to be sincerely wrong?
Second Samuel 6:12-23 relays the account of King David, recently anointed as Israel’s monarch, bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Notice:
“ And it was told king David, saying, The LORD hath blessed the house of Obededom, and all that pertaineth unto him, because of the ark of God. So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obededom into the city of David with gladness.  And it was so, that when they that bare the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed oxen and fatlings.  And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with 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 trumpet.  And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a 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 his place, in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it: and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
“ And as soon as David had made an end of offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts.  And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to every one a cake of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. So all the people departed every one to his house.  Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!
“ And David said unto Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD.  And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.  Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.”
I. PROBLEM VERSES
Second Samuel 6:14 tells us: “And David danced before the LORD with all his might….” Verse 16 says Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife, saw David “leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.” Everything appears fine, until we come to verse 20, Michal talking to David when he returns home: “How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!” This language is offensive, is it not? Now, read part of David’s defense in verse 22: “And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.” Was David behaving “vile” as engaging in immoral movements?
A lot of the misunderstanding stems from the words “uncovereth” and “shamelessly uncovereth.” The most problematic expressions are the word “shamelessly” and the reference to women watching David. The dear lady I dealt with, like others, interpreted David’s activity to mean nearly nude or completely nude dancing. Did David remove all of his clothes and act vulgarly? No, that is not the case, friends. The Bible language would be “naked,” as in Israel dancing without clothes around the golden calf idol at the foot of Mount Sinai. David’s joy in the Lord is certainly not to be equated with Israel’s lewd dancing around an idol five centuries earlier!
Exodus 32:18-26 says: “ And he [Moses] said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.  And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount….  And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.  For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.  And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.  And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies: )….” Again, this dancing was certainly not the same as David’s.
Returning to 2 Samuel 6:20, Michal’s words to David: “How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!” This is not divine commentary on David’s actions (whereas Exodus 32:25 is God’s observations of Israel’s lewd behavior). Second Samuel 2:60 is Michal’s comments. She is mocking David, employing sarcasm, as the Bible says “she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16; 1 Chronicles 15:29). Had David’s actions been as “glorious” as she claimed, she would have loved him, appreciating him for worshipping God in song and dance. However, out of hatred, she teased him. Exactly why she ridiculed him will be revealed later.
II. COMPANION VERSES
First Chronicles contains the companion passage to our main text, and it reveals something that the Book of 2 Samuel omitted. Turning to 1 Chronicles 15:27-29, we read: “ And David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, and all the Levites that bare the ark, and the singers, and Chenaniah the master of the song with the singers: David also had upon him an ephod of linen.  Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, and with sound of the cornet, and with trumpets, and with cymbals, making a noise with psalteries and harps.  And it came to pass, as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came to the city of David, that Michal, the daughter of Saul looking out at a window saw king David dancing and playing: and she despised him in her heart.”
According to this passage, David was wearing two special garments (perhaps more). Firstly, he had a “robe of fine linen.” Secondly, he wore an “ephod of linen.” These were expensive, royal clothes (the ephod was originally a priestly garment; Exodus 28:4). Such extra garments were evidently cumbersome and hot to wear while leaping and dancing. If we use Michal’s description, David evidently removed outer garments; he surely had other layers of clothing on his body! His clothes did not “almost fall off” as the Christian lady claimed, either. That was in her imagination. He purposely took off extra layers of clothing so he could be more agile and cool.
However, David’s plainclothesman/civilian/humble/vile/lowly appearance offended Michal his wife. His royalty was no longer apparent. He looked like just another Jew. Aristocratic Michal, daughter to King Saul (now dead), considered it humiliating for David the king to lay aside his royal garments and pretend to be an ordinary citizen. It was “improper,” “un-kingly,” for he resembled a commoner… or perhaps a peasant! Furthermore, a king should behave more seriously than singing, leaping, and dancing in public! Read 2 Samuel 6:20 again, paying close attention to “the king of Israel” part: “Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!” That is, “David, you did not behave majestically and seriously today!”
We must not overlook the most important—that is, spiritual—issue underlying this matter. The whole celebration of bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem was meaningful only to believers in JEHOVAH God. David was so excited to have God’s presence return to Jerusalem (Saul had not used the Ark of the Covenant during his 40-year reign, according to 1 Chronicles 13:3!). Thus, the Bible says he sang, danced, and leapt as musical instruments were played. Michal, being the daughter of evil Saul, was an unbeliever. In fact, she was not even present in the celebration of the Ark’s entrance into Jerusalem. She watched it from afar, from a window (2 Samuel 6:16; 1 Chronicles 15:29). We read about her having an “image” (idol) in 1 Samuel 19:12-17. David celebrating the return of the Ark of the Covenant of the God of Israel seemed like foolishness to Michal. (Just like the lost world sees us going to church or Bible study as “foolishness.”) If there is no Spirit of God giving light, the lost soul wallows in spiritual darkness.
This issue is yet another example of people grabbing anything in the Bible if it even remotely supports their denominational system. It is also important to note that the woman with whom I dealt was quoting the verse from memory, giving me a very loose paraphrase of it. She did not actually have a Bible in hand, and neither did I. Had she actually read the verse, its context, and its companion passage, she would not have overlooked such important details. David did not strip down to nothing and dance. His clothes did not “almost fall off” either! He had merely removed his outer royal garments, weighty and hot clothes. In doing so, his “normal” attire underneath offended Michal his “upper-class,” unbelieving wife. He looked like just another Jewish citizen. To unbelieving Michal, David was “foolish” for worshipping the LORD God. She mocked him, exaggerating or overstating what he did.
SUPPLEMENTAL: ANOTHER LOOK AT ROYAL CLOTHES
We can better appreciate such royal garments by appealing to 1 Kings chapter 22. Centuries after David, wicked Ahab (king of Israel) and righteous Jehoshaphat (king of Judah) are fighting the Syrians. In order to spare his life, Ahab removes his royal garments so as to conceal his identity. Notice how Ahab told Jehoshaphat to wear his own robes (these were the royal garments). When the Syrians wanted to fight Ahab, they mistook Jehoshaphat to be him. Jehoshaphat was wearing his royal clothes but Ahab was not. There was no nudity here either. It was merely the removal of outward royal garments!
“ And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and enter into the battle; but put thou on thy robes. And the king of Israel disguised himself, and went into the battle.  But the king of Syria commanded his thirty and two captains that had rule over his chariots, saying, Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel.  And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, Surely it is the king of Israel. And they turned aside to fight against him: and Jehoshaphat cried out.  And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots perceived that it was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him.”