Cue smoke machine. Worship with me. Raise your hands, sway to the music as the Spirit leads you in contemporary dance. Shout a Hallelujah. Praise the Lord. Pants off.
Wait. Pants off? David, the King of Israel, surely thought it was a good idea. Right?
Sir! Where are your pants?
The return of the ark of the covenant to Israel paints the scene (and no, this is not featuring Harrison Ford). David, the anointed King, having defeated the Philistines, gathered his men to return the ark to Jerusalem.
This is no simple matter in 2 Samuel chapter 6. The ark stumbles, a man is struck dead, and the ark is stranded for “David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David” (verse 10).
Three months pass and a second attempt is made. To avoid repeating such a fatal mistake, the party takes only six steps at a time, interrupted by a sacrificial interlude each time.
And David, “dancing before the LORD with all his might” takes off his pants in worship.
As a justification, made in jest, of personal freedom to worship God as we please, this account has been twisted to a point where it is no longer taken seriously for fear of personal worship becoming too liberal, and, in turn, the significance of David’s actions is lost.
This is not about your pants
Believe it or not, the Bible doesn’t say David took off his pants. It says he took off his “linen ephod”, a under garment used by the Israelites priests “for glory and beauty” (Exodus chapter 28, verse 2).
Yet, despite the intercessory priestly significance of David’s garment, he is scolded by his wife, Michal, who had absconded from their marriage and remarried only three chapters prior.
In verse 20, she exclaims, “How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”
Michal, acting the same manner any one of us would likely respond if someone took off their pants during church worship, scolds David for his indecency. 1 Chronicles chapter 16 says Michal “despised him in her heart.”
Yet David, the instigator in their marriage reconciliation, responds, “I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honour.”
Reflecting his own humility in service and worship to God, David lays aside any consciousness of self so that God may be glorified in the sight of all.
You are not David
Often times, we are tempted to align our lives with David. We claim we are the ones walking through the valley of the shadow of death, confronting Goliath, or the ones after God’s own heart.
And like this account, we consider David’s actions as an example of our own freedom to worship.
Yes, we are free to worship, but we are not David. We are Michal.
David, scorned by his absconding wife, is a mirror of Jesus, crucified for our sins. Michal, the scorner, is a shadow of the mockery that our sins have made of Christ, nailing Him to the cross.
This is not an account of our freedom that we should lay claim to (though we are free in Christ). Rather, this is a lesson in humility and of our disposition toward God.
Weighing this, the 17th-century theologian, Matthew Henry, comments,
“We should be afraid of censuring the devotion of others though it may not agree with our sentiments, because, for aught that we know, the heart may be upright in it, and who are we that we should despise those whom God has accepted?”
Who are we to reject that which God, in His holy, good ,and gracious character, has accepted? This acceptance goes for those raising their hands, to those uncomfortable with doing so in worship.
Worship is not about the judgement we pass on one another in how we express it, nor is it about how we may push our expressions of worship as a point of personal defiance in the name of freedom.
Rather, this concerns the pertinent, ever-present challenge of personal humility and the disposition of our hearts towards God in worship. God is far more concerned about our hearts, than our opinions of how we should be worshipping in church.
Blake Gardiner is from Auckland, sounds American, looks Swedish, but grew up in Laos. As an introvert, Blake lives life on the edge by socialising. When he isn’t putting his life at such risk, he enjoys reading theology and debating whether Interstellar is truly the greatest movie of all time.