God, via Samuel, had appointed David the successor to Saul as king over Israel, immediately after which, ‘the Spirit of Yahweh came mightily on David from that day forward’(1 Samuel 16:13). Sometime later he actually became king and established Jerusalem as the capital city. David’s dancing described here is part of the celebration and worship that took place as the ark of God was brought into the new capital. The ark contained Moses’ stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them, and was particularly associated with the presence of God for His people. This, and a parallel account in 1 Chronicles containing a psalm used that day, can teach us a number of things about celebration and worship.
First the dancing! This might seem a strange form of worship to some, but God is certainly honoured by someone dancing in celebration at His presence, expressing their heart-felt delight. The last Psalm is a great song of praise, and aside from mentioning various instruments includes ‘Praise him with tambourine and dancing!’(Psalm 150:4).
Note also ‘with all his might’, and no doubt this was derived not contrived, an all-consuming expression of his heart. Cultures and individual personalities might vary in their form of expression, but what matters in worship is that we’re dancing in our souls, flooded with delight in God, as with Mary in her worship song, ‘“My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior”’(Luke 1:46-47). An extreme introvert might be dancing internally with all his might, flooded by spiritual ecstasy filling his soul, yet with nothing visible from the outside (except perhaps the careful observer might see the tear of joy welling up in the corner of his eye); an extreme extrovert might be in danger of the opposite? ‘“man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.”’(1 Samuel 16:7).
That brings us to the audience. This might be in public, but first and foremost it’s before the Lord. Moreover, to any other less significant onlookers, it must be to the glory of God not the worshiper. So it’s of note that David was not wearing royal robes in this procession, but he had dis-robed and put on a simple linen priestly garment, humbling Himself, giving glory to the real King, Yahweh – the Lord. Nevertheless, the experience of displaying worship together, as here, can helpfully (sometimes therapeutically) stoke up our collective and individual spiritual fervour, magnifying the Lord to each other and anyone watching.
It’s important though that our heart/soul/spirit worship does not lack content. We must say with Paul, ‘I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also’(1 Corinthians 14:15). So the psalm recorded that day in the book of 1 Chronicles helpfully informs us what David’s dancing was about. Aside from the obvious fact of delighting in God’s presence with His people entering Jerusalem, it includes considering ‘all his marvelous works’(1 Chronicles 16:9), ‘his strength’(1 Chronicles 16:11), ‘his covenant’(1 Chronicles 16:15), ‘his salvation’(1 Chronicles 16:23) and ‘his loving kindness’(1 Chronicles 16:34). So we should have these things in our minds as we worship, whether it be in quiet meditation or dancing in the streets, with long theological hymns or repetitive choruses and chants. It’s about God’s creative genius, almighty strength, amazing grace, plan of salvation and tender loving care, but ultimately His all-surpassing glory and holy awesomeness – yet with us!
Finally note the wider significance of this celebration with its eternal resonances. Hints at Jerusalem’s eternal significance first emerged at the time of Abraham, long before Moses and the law, or David, when the mysterious Melchizedek, its king and ‘priest of God Most High’(Genesis 14:18), came out with bread and wine to bless Abraham. Then long after king David, in rode ‘“King”’(Matthew 21:5) ‘Jesus Christ, the son of David’(Matthew 1:1), ‘high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’(Hebrews 6:20). All this foreshadows ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’(Hebrews 12:22), where it’s been seen that ‘“God’s dwelling is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God”’(Revelation 21:3), and where there’s ‘no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. The city has no need for the sun, neither of the moon, to shine, for the very glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb’(Revelation 21:22-23). How we will celebrate the presence of God with us in Jerusalem then, joining with the angels in worship and celebration – perhaps even breaking into a dance!