2 Samuel 6: 1-19
Year B, Pentecost 7
The stories of King David are great stories for children. There is drama, adventure and intrigue. There are winners and losers. There is music and dancing. You really can’t ask for anything better than that for children. Yet when you really delve into the stories of David, things get a little more complicated. In children’s stories, David is always the hero. He is always the good guy. But when we look at all the stories together (the big picture), we find that is not the case. David, like most people, is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some who want to raise him up as an exemplar of a servant of God. There are others who want to demonize him because of some of his more blatant sins (of which there is no shortage). Many people just take him for what we he was, a human who sinned and relied on God’s love and forgiveness.
David is most commonly known as one of the great kings of Israel. He was handpicked by God to replace King Saul. He was a great warrior and succeeded in uniting two different kingdoms. He took control of Jerusalem and brought the holy ark into Jerusalem…making Jerusalem the dwelling place of God. That is where our reading for today picks up…the ark’s entrance into Jerusalem. However, you will note if you look at our reading for today, it leaves out about 6 verses. In the first five verses, we hear of David and the chosen men of Israel moving the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing in front of the ark. There were lyres, harps, tambourines and castanets. It was quite a party. Then something strange happened. The oxen pulling the ark stumbled and Uzzah who was walking beside the ark reached out his hand to steady the ark. He was immediately struck dead because God was mad that he touched the ark. It seems like a bit of an overreaction. One can understand why the people who put together the lectionary took this section out of our reading. It’s troubling. And it’s not just troubling to us today; it was upsetting to the group of people who were carrying this ark. Here they were, trying to carry the ark of God, the presence of God and one person got killed just for reaching out his hand to steady it.
As a result of the sudden death of Uzzah, David became afraid and angry at God, which is rarely a good combination. He decided that this ark was dangerous and there was no way he was bringing this dangerous thing into his city. So he left it with someone else and returned to Jerusalem without the ark. He left it with this person for 3 months and during that time this person received many blessings… which of course made David want the ark again. He had either forgotten that it was dangerous, or perhaps it was now worth the danger because the potential blessings it could bestow.
That is where we pick back up with our reading for today. Once again we find David dancing and leaping before the ark as it was carried into Jerusalem. Before he entered Jerusalem he stopped and made a sacrifice to God just to make sure that he would stay in God’s good graces. It would seem that all was well in the world again. But then we have another piece that seems completely out of left field. Michal, who is referred to as the daughter of Saul, saw David doing his dance and she despised him in her heart. Saul was the king before David and David defeated him in battle. So one can understand why Saul’s daughter might not be super fond of David. But….Michal was also David’s wife. She had saved David from her father. She loved David. After our reading ends, Michal confronts David and tells him that he was not honoring God, he was honoring himself and he was doing it like any vulgar person might, quite scantily clad. This is the last we hear from Michal.
You might be wondering why I chose to share all this. I could have left it the way it was, a joyful dance before the presence of the Lord. And I thought about that. I was going to talk about joy and what it is to be completely joyful before the Lord. But I realized that was not really what this was about. That would not have been true to the spirit of the text. You all deserve the full story, not just the parts that are easy to digest.
The truth is that God doesn’t always act in ways that we understand. There are a lot of theories about why Uzzah was struck dead. It was a display of the power of God. Or, the wrong people were carrying the ark and that displeased God. Or they were not treating the ark with the respect that it deserved. While those are noble attempts at understanding the actions of God, they don’t make a whole lot of sense. I am not sure anything explains it. Sometimes, we have to live with the ambiguity of a God that is all powerful and completely incomprehensible. I am not saying that we need to worry about God striking us down because we upset him, but it is important that we remember that God is always in charge and if we try to wrestle God for power, we will most surely lose that match.
The other truth is that sometimes the most faithful people choose the easy road. They realize that their walk with God is about to get a little dicey and so they let go of God…just for awhile and then they pick God back up when it is more convenient, less dangerous. While David was not punished for dropping God off with a neighbor, he missed out on 3 months of blessings…3 months when he could have been in the presence of God. We all have moments when we are faced with a decision. We can either keep walking with God knowing that it might make things difficult. It might make us unpopular. Or we can let God take a back seat for awhile because really….we already have too much on our plate. Things are already difficult enough without having to please God. We have to please enough people…we just need a break. That might very well happen, because none of us are perfect and neither was David. The important thing is that instead of waiting an even longer time (we already took 3 months off, what’s 3 more?) instead, we return to God…will all our heart, all our energy.
The story says that David was dancing with all his might. Michal thought he was showing off and making a spectacle of himself, but I think he was just trying to make up for some lost time. He was trying to pack three months of praising God into one long dance. I admire that effort. It is a noble aspiration. There will be times when we have more joy than we know what to do with. The important thing is that we hold that joy in our heart so that the next time the road with Christ gets a little bumpy and the dance becomes a crawl…we remember that joyful dance, maybe even listen to the music that went along with the dance. Because the truth is that dancing with God (even on a really difficult road) is a lot easier than crawling without him. So let’s put on our dancing shoes.