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Praise in Dance
Fall Quarter: Celebrating God
Unit 1: God’s People Offer Praise
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 12, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: 2 Samuel 6
David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums, and cymbals. (2 Sam. 6:5 NIV)
- To explore the power of renewal.
- To explore the importance of the sacred in life.
- To explore the beauty of an expressive heart, especially through dance
The first king of Israel, Saul, has died. David has assumed the throne. The period of the Judges represented Israel’s gradual move away from the Covenant. Genesis reveals a repeated pattern of God blessing humankind, only to have them sin and fall away. Thus, the Hebrews arrived at the conclusion they were helpless in attempting to live justly and lovingly before God. Consequently, God introduces the eternal covenant with Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants. I refer to this covenant as the Covenant. The book of Judges records Israel’s disregard for the Covenant. It is a book of Israel’s failures, followed by God’s salvation and restoration through a judge. A judge was military leader who often served as a spiritual guide. The people of Israel desired a king like the surrounding nations and eventually crowned Saul. Saul suffered horribly from what seems to be a bipolar illness. His mood swings from rage to joy, often in an instant. After his death David is formally crowned king. II Samuel documents David’s reign. Our text occurs within this context.
Few O.T. characters are more beloved and known than David. David was born in Bethlehem and worked as a shepherd. David proves to be a great musician/poet and will later pen many of our favorite psalms. As a young teen he proves himself to be a courageous warrior by confronting Goliath the Philistine. It was during this confrontation that David bonds with Jonathan, Saul’s son. God will choose David from the house of Jesse to follow Saul as king. David is one of most “personal” people in the O.T. We relate easily to his triumphs and failures. He is unafraid to bare his heart. David is known as the “man after God’s own heart.” Though he is a mighty warrior and great king, he has feet of clay. His ability to fail is most evident in his encounter with Bathsheba. David has an affair with Bathsheba which leads to the indirect murder of her husband Uriah. David and Bathsheba lose their child to death. He believes it because of his sin. David pours out his heart in confession in the 51st
Psalm. David’s psalms have moved us and touched most of our life.
Do you have a favorite psalm of David? Which one and why? On what occasion or occasions do you most read the psalms of David?
The Ark of the Covenant
Our text represents David’s joy in capturing and relocating the Ark of the Covenant. However, his joy also emerges from his personal restoration
with God. David and the young men of Israel went to Baalah in Judah in order to relocate the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Baalah stood about 8 miles west from Jerusalem. The ark had been there for 20 years. The ark was located in the house of Abinadab. Placing the ark upon a cart, they began the transport. The ark began to slide when one of the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah, son of Abinadab, placed his hand upon the ark in order to steady it. Touching the ark was forbidden and Uzzah immediately died. Whether God took Uzzah to serve as an example for the community or Uzzah died of a heart attack from fear is debated. We cannot fully understand how afraid a person was in David’s day of violating the holy. The first expression of those who believed they saw God or stepped in the realm of the divine was “Woe is me!” Anger arose within David, for he considered Uzzah’s death to be unfair. Naturally, David directed his anger toward God. David also became very afraid of God. “If God kills Uzzah, what keeps the Lord from killing any of us, even me?” He feared being responsible for transporting the ark. The ark was left in the house of Obed-Edom. Three months would transpire before David returned to bring the ark to Jerusalem. The transportation proved successful and David was filled with joy. The successful relocation of the ark also represented David’s belief that his relationship with God had been restored. Thus, he began to dance in ecstatic joy.
The Ark of the Covenant was a gold-plated chest containing the historical artifacts involved in God’s mighty acts during the Exodus and beyond. It contained Aaron’s rod, the Ten Commandments, and a jar of manna. Consequently, the ark was holy, for it represented God’s presence among the Israelites. At each end of the chest stood two golden cherubim facing each other. The tips of their wings almost touched above the ark, leaving a space. God would shine his light between the tips and touch the lid. This lid was known as the “Mercy Seat.” The high priest would sprinkle the blood of a bull atop the ark and God’s divine light would touch it, meaning the offering was received.
The ark was so holy no person could even touch it. They would surely die, as did Uzzah. The ark was so holy it was treated as one would treat God. Notice the author is afraid to call the chest the Ark of God. The ark is called “The Name, the Name of the Lord God almighty.” The ark was lifted and moved by the use of poles so no human hand would touch it. The ark was always placed in the inner sanctum of the tabernacle, known as “holy place.” A veil separated the ark from humankind. Only the high priest, after an exhausting ritual of purification, could enter. He could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. The priest would sprinkle the blood atop the mercy seat to cover and atone the people’s sins for a year. In a year the ritual was repeated. What if the high priest wasn’t totally purified when entering? The priest would tie a rope about his waist that he might be extricated from the holy place. Bells were attached to his garment. When people did not hear the bells ring they would assume him dead. They would pull him out, for they could not enter. Today Yom Kippur is observed in late September or early October.
In Christianity, people rarely approach God in terror. What is the difference between the O.T. understanding of God from our N.T. understanding? How did Jesus bridge this gap? Is there a place for fearing God in the church and individually? If you answer positively or negatively, why?
Dancing occurs in the Old Testament as an expression of joy and thanksgiving unto the Lord. There are only five references to dance in the New Testament. However, the N.T. people certainly danced, and also used various means of worshipping the Lord. The important point is that truly grateful people, filled with joy, have a need to express that joy and thanksgiving before God. There are few, if any “right or wrong” expressions when it comes to earnest praise. Various traditions worship in a unique manner. I was asked to preach a camp meeting in another state. I was young and my Christian experience of praise among different churches was quite limited at the time. My wife, Gail, my daughter Heather, and I pulled into the campground about 9 p.m. We were exhausted. One of the leaders of the camp meeting informed me there would be prayer at 5 a.m. I drug myself to the tabernacle a few minutes before 5 and knelt with a group of men. Each of them prayed aloud. I did all in my power to stay awake and listen. Suddenly, an elderly man kneeling beside me let out a loud whoop! My body immediately jumped. I had never heard a whoop in worship and prayer. He was so filled with joy he could not be still. I grew to appreciate his whoops, though without becoming a whooper myself. When I worshipped with the people on Yucatan, I discovered passionate heartfelt expressions of joy. They clapped and raised their hands, shouted and rejoiced before the Lord.
In David’s day, dance was an acceptable means of worship. Later, Michal will criticize David’s dancing. However, it isn’t the act of dancing that bothers her. We will see later that her criticism emerges from unsettled feelings concerning her past.
There is great beauty in the art of dance. We refer to a ballerina as “graceful.” We are referring to their ability to move in perfect time and mood with the music. They are able to capture the mood of the music and convey it to the audience. Life has a rhythm and grace. A “grace-filled” life moves with life as God wills, not against it. Responding with anger, for example, in a moment that calls for understanding, is “out of time.” There is no rhythm or grace. There is no harmony. When someone dances in praise they express what is genuinely in the heart in response to what God is doing in life. They are responding to the rhythm and flow of God’s will in their life. Consequently, dance can be a remarkable expression of grace.
What various expressions of praise have you witnessed in your Christian journey? Have you witnessed dance as praise to God? If so, how did it touch you?
The Biblical Text
Praise in Renewal
David’s anger at God over Uzzah’s death hurt his relationship with God for three months. Remember, David was unafraid of sharing his emotions. His psalms are rich in emotional content. We get a sense of how deeply he hurt during those months from Psalm 51. In Psalm 13 we read of David’s expression of anger toward God. The psalm reads:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
David must have wondered if he could ever draw near to God again.
His anger emerged from his hurt and grief. Uzzah died for touching the ark on a journey led by David. If any of us experience deep pain we might “come out swinging.” We may speak words that later shame us. We may physically pound our fist. Few expressions say “I’m angry” more than storming out of the room. David has spiritually stormed out of the room. God isn’t turning his back on David; David is turning his back on God.
When David’s anger finally ebbs, he returns to transport the ark. He must have been terribly afraid. Will another person die? Will I die? Have my words and actions made God remove his hand of protection from me? David quickly learns of God’s steadfast love and forgiveness as the journey draws near its end in Jerusalem. Renewal flows through his being and his joy is beyond restraint.
Most, if not all, have known times in which God seemed distant, unaffected by our struggle. Such moments can last minutes or years. Yet, God’s unfailing love never moved. The Lord has continued to call, and draw us unto himself. Many of us have experienced the Lord’s renewal in a powerful manner. We understand we are his children, and God never abandoned us. Our souls are enlivened and our joy is genuine.
Have you ever thought or committed an act which you believe separated you from God? Did you experience renewal? Are you still waiting? If you have embraced renewal, can you describe for others your experience? Have you ever become angry at God? Over what? How long did your anger make you feel isolated and estranged from God? What do you believe we need to do when struggling with our relationship with God? God is conveniently blamed by everyone at some time. Why do you think that is? Why do you think we repeatedly blame God? What did we learn about blaming God after experiencing renewal?
Praise for the sacred
As stated earlier, the Ark of the Covenant was sacred to Israel. The ark was built according to God’s specifications. They had transported the ark with them through the wilderness and into Canaan. The ark went before them into battle. Israel believed if the ark was not present they would almost certainly lose. It is not difficult to understand why they were afraid to even touch the ark. The ark represented God’s presence. Again, no human could touch the realm of the divine unless invited. We hear their fear in Isaiah’s response to the vision of God in the temple in chapter 6 of Isaiah. His first words were, “Woe is me!” Uzzah had died simply for attempting to steady the ark. His death didn’t seem fair to David, nor does it sit well with us. However, we must remember Israel is not a fully mature, spiritual community. They are toddlers, depending on law for order and discipline. If an allowance was made for a man to touch the ark, even out of pure motivation, some might apply that allowance to other occasions.
We must always realize we read with Western eyes. The Bible is a Near Eastern book. In Israelite life the community was more important than the individual. In the west we more highly value the individual. Israel believed if the community was fine, so was the individual. In contrast, we, in the West, believe we if care for the individual, the community will be fine. Consequently, when someone like Uzzah dies we cry “It isn’t fair!” In the O.T. era it was viewed as a death that kept the community in line. One of the great examples of this difference in perception lies in the story of Achan. God did not want Israel to bring idols and offerings unto idols into the Israelite camp. He did not want Israel to become looters. After the taking of Jericho, Achan stole. Achan and his entire family were killed. They were afraid if Achan brought sin into the camp it would spread. They took no chances! Better for Achan and his family to die and the whole community be saved. This is very difficult for us to understand in today’s culture. However, we can’t see the big picture and must leave events like this to mystery and faith.
The ark was sacred to Israelite life and faith. Without the ark they would quickly forget their history, especially the Exodus. The ark centered and anchored their faith in God. We sadly confess to living in a culture where few things are sacred. We ask, “What anchors us as a people?” and we struggle to find an answer. The Church is all-important, for it is the embodiment of Christ in the world through the Holy Spirit. The Church represents the sacred in life. We call people to look higher toward an alternate reality, The Kingdom of God
. Though churches are places of wood and stone, they still represent the sacred. I was traveling with a group. We wanted to attend church, for it was the Sabbath. Having no address, we quickly spied a steeple. People who wander still look for steeples. Imagine our churches removed from the landscape. We would feel a deep sense of loss. Read the history of Henry VIII’s removal of worship places in England. It led to the biggest revolt in his lifetime. People need places to worship, and need to know the sacred in fleeting life.
The ark was successfully transported to Jerusalem. It sat in its rightful place, the holy place in the tabernacle. Israel instantly is renewed by its appearance, and David is so moved and overjoyed he dances.
What represents the sacred in our public life? Our Christian life? Our personal life? Have we ever felt separated from the sacred in life? When? How did we feel? If illness or some other situation cause you to miss church, how did you feel being able to return? What are the positives and negatives of caring for the community above the individual, and vice versa?
Praise in unrestrained thanksgiving
Michal criticized David for dancing. She believed David was not properly covered and was embarrassing himself. However, Michal’s criticism arose for her personal animosity toward David. Michal, daughter of Saul, was married to David. She protected David from at least two attempts on his life. While David was in hiding from those Saul commissioned to kill him, Saul gave Michal to another in marriage. David, after becoming king, demanded the return of Michal. David has already married other wives. Michal grew distant from David and later grew to despise him. Thus, her criticism was connected to this anger.
There are some who seek to restrain the expression of praise for another. For the purposes of this particular lesson we will not explore whether or not Michal was justified in her anger and criticism. Instead we use this story to address the question, “Do we allow what others think or say to restrain our expression of joy before the Lord?” Many refuse to use the altar in the church even though they long to kneel in prayer because they are worried about what others might think. Some to do not want to come forward to unite with a community for the same reason.
Naturally, order is important in worship. Paul addresses the need for order in I Cor. 13-14. Therefore, there is a delicate balance between unrestrained joy and worshiping in order. Each congregation prayerfully deals with this issue as best as they can.
Are there expressions of worship that make you personally uncomfortable? Can you express why you experience discomfort? Do we, even if personally uncomfortable, allow others to worship the Lord because we respect them and honor their expression? Do you allow others to restrain your expression of worship because you care too much about their perception? What is the best way to deal with this issue as an individual and as a church?
Almighty God, your grace is abounding and your love is indescribable. You know and hear every expression of our heart. Empower us to be genuine before you, laying aside every mask and pretense. Look into our bared hearts and see our motivations. Open your ear to our praise. Touch us with your renewing power in Christ. We pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.