Friday, 9 July 2021

Dance as David Danced

"David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.  As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart." (2 Sam 6:14,16)
First up - asking the big questions. What is an ephod? 

Looking at Wiki, as you do, it seems like the answer is - something shaped a bit like a kind of liturgical pinny - a kind of sleeveless apron, down to below your waste. So quite a handy item to dance in, though the important thing isn't what it looks like, so much as what it's for. It's a priest's garment, in the Old Testament, and it seems David could wear it because he was king and taking part in this ritual.
Howard from last of the summer wine cleaning windows with a pullover over his pinny, while Normal Clegg leans on his bike to talk to him
Man in a non-liturgical pinny

And what a ritual. Our Restricted Common Lectionary compilers have, needless to say, removed the bit where Uzzah catches the Ark and drops down dead. Bit too Indiana Jones, I expect. But David wants the big show to really make the point - he's the King, this is the Ark. And the Ark is coming home.
It's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming
The Ark is coming home etc

But Queen Michal is not happy.

The reason for her unhappiness, she tells David later, is that as a result of all that dancing and leaping about, more people have discovered what David keeps under his ephod than should have been the case. She thinks that David should have behaved in a more kingly way than pogo-ing around in a pinny. And it sheds a whole new and disturbing light who people who like the song "Undignified". And it was disturbing enough as it was, to be honest, that song. Or the song, "When the Spirit of the Lord is within my heart I will dance as David danced" - what in a liturgical pinny with an insubstantial undergarment?

But maybe as with many people that get grumpy there's more to it than just the thing she says. Michal is, after all, Saul's daughter and Jonathan's sister. Maybe she's figuring that the person that should be bringing the Ark triumphantly into Jerusalem is her dad. Maybe she's angry that God didn't bless Saul, but did bless David. It's common enough, I think, to begrudge other people their blessings. Why did they get that talent, that job, that house, that car, and I didn't? But sulking and hating only grow more sulkiness and hate. They consume your energy and blight your joy. 

But - maybe it's because, while Michal was David's first wife, David basically abandoned her when he escaped from Saul - and married two more wives while he was a fugitive. Michal ended up married to another man, who was very upset when David demanded her back. Maybe Michal thought, I'd rather have a quiet life with the other bloke than this twerp cavorting around. Maybe if that's what it is, you can't blame her.

It's like trying to follow a plot in Coronation Street, isn't it? Next time someone demands Biblical standards of morality, I suggest you ask if they mean like David.

Michal is thinking of her dignity, maybe of her dead family and her other husband and past hurts. David has forgotten everything in the joy of the moment. He has done God's will, he has united the kingdom of Israel, he has given it a capital - and now the most precious possession of Israel, the Ark - has been brought to the place God destined for it. The Ark that went through the desert with the Hebrews, that led them across the Jordan, and led them round Jericho. The Ark that represented the presence of the Lord with God's people. How can you not be glad when the Lord is with God's people? When God's purposes are being worked out? 

Michal's relationship with David has been broken - she loved him once, but he's let her down repeatedly. Whatever grace God has shown David, has not been down to the way he's looked after Michal. How often does a political career destroy a couple's relationship? A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Vine (and who would think I would quote her?) told us in the Mail that the problem with a male politician marriage is - the wife who's left at home knows her husband is not the Master of the Universe he puports to be.
Michal certainly knows that.

David didn't have to abandon Michal. Didn't have to marry increasing numbers of wives. Didn't have to indulge Absalom. Didn't have to be such a weak dad that he ended up dead sons. Didn't have to nip down to see Bathsheba. As an upholder of family values he was - at best - in need of improvement. 

David is not a deep thinker. He's not the sort of bloke you'd meet on a silent retreat. He's impetuous, hormonal, sometimes dangerous - a man who has killed many times, and treats women badly repeatedly. If you like, David is a stereotype of the male virtues and vices - brave to the point of recklessness, yet a disaster for all around him. Yet God has made him king.  And he gives glory to God and serves God's purposes.

God's is gracious enough even to work through someone as flawed as David. In the days when the universe was first woven into place, the thread of the story of salvation went right through men with their good and bad aspects - Abraham, Jacob, Judah, Boaz, David... through that litany of badly treated, long-suffering or non-stereotypical and yet exceptional women - Sarah, Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba.  And through all these, God will bring forward through that most exceptional woman, Mary, the Son of David who excels David. The promise from before time began, in flesh, brought forward from this brilliant, reckless, flawed line.

If God's grace can work like that through David, then it can through us. We can praise God for all he's done for us. For the promises yet to come. Knowing the one who was faithful to David is faithful to us. David's no perfect hero. But the one he followed - and the one who followed him - is.

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