David danced

My articles regarding dancing are not intended to imply that worship is a quiet, non-kinesthetic, passive experience.  We have only looked at a few of the Hebrew words that explicitly or implicitly speak of worship in terms of action.  Therefore, this article should not be seen to address worship styles (i.e. defining what “praise,” “celebration,” “joyful noise,” “clap your hands”) mean. A study of lexicography may be forthcoming, however, a word of caution for my “Comment” friends. It is untenable to remonstrate the work of men who have spent lifetimes dedicated to the study of ancient languages. If we cannot trust the work of etymologists, lexicographers or Hebraists (lexicons, concordances, etc.), we will inevitably be left with two options: 1 ) knowingly or ignorantly supporting a papalism of theologians without confirming their conclusions personally, or 2 ) unregulated pluralism. With no external controls, there would be no barrier to stop the slide into “theological existentialism” (i.e. truth based on feelings, opinions or experience). If Advent believers had not trusted the work of Cruden and others, our history would look different.

As we saw in my previous article "Shall we dance," the English word “dance” in the Old Testament, has been translated from six different Hebrew words. The nuances of meaning between these words are significant, and can be understood only by a lexicographical survey of them. In this article we will look at 2 Samuel 6:14-16 and 1 Chron. 15:29. In 2 Samuel 6:14-16 the Hebrew word most often rendered “dance” in English versions for is Karar (pronounced kah-rar) and is only used these two times. In 1 Chron. 15:29, the Hebrew word is Raqad (pronounced raw-kad) and is used nine times in the Old Testament. In order to understand what David was doing in these passages, we must understand what these Hebrew words signify. We cannot impose contemporary meanings onto ancient words which have changed definitions over the centuries. The truism is still applicable: biblical words must be understood and interpreted based on the actual meaning of the terms, and in the contexts in which they are used.

2 Sam. 6:14-16 Karar (“Dancing" KJV)

Most of the Lexicons and concordances are consistent in their definitions of Karar. The Hebrew word means:

  1. Whirling 
  2. To leap for joy,  leap,  leap about,  jumped about,  
  3. To skip about, Skipped, a lamb which skips and jumps from one place to another. A lamb from its sportiveness,  a swift beast,  a lamb,  sheep,  A lamb running around and around in wantonness and sport.

Essentially, the word Karar means to whirl, leap, jump or skip. There is no intrinsic meaning of “dancing” inherent in Karar. One lexicographer has stated that it is “rendered in our version ‘dance,’ which is improper.”  The Pulpit Commentary states that raqad means “the springing round."  Gill’s Exposition also notes that David “leaped and skipped as a lamb does, and that for joy.”  To be accurate then, what David was doing as he came into Jerusalem was leaping, skipping and jumping, not dancing.

Notice that some Bible translations recognize this: Michal “saw King David leaping and whirling [karar] before the Lord. . .” (2 Sam. 6:16; NKJV; See also Revised English Bible; and the New Jerusalem Bible. The alternate rendering of 2 Sam. 6:14, in the Holman Christian Standard Bible, is “whirling”).

1 Chron. 15:29 Raqad (“Dancing” KJV)

Hebrew linguists, etymologists have found that the word raqad has the following meanings:

1 ) Leaped,  leap,  to leap,  leap for joy,  leaping briskly,  leap as children, “leaped”- animals, persons, inanimate things,  jump,  jumped,  jumping,  hop bound,  bound as a swift chariot, to bound along: as a chariot in full speed, to bound on the top of the mountains 
2 ) Skipped, skip, run with leaps and bounds, skip about gaily, skip like calves, to skip about 


The Hebrew word raqad is found nine times in the Old Testament. It has a similar meaning to karar, but is slightly different. Raqad carries a bit more of a speed or brisk element with it than does karar. For example, “the mountains skipped (raqad) like rams” (Ps. 114:4), “the top of the mountains shall leap (raqad)” (Joel 2:5), “the noise of jumping (raqad) chariots” (Nah. 3:2). As with karar, most translators unfortunately chose to use the generic word “dance” in their versions.  Bible commentators Jamieson-Fausset and Brown have noted that David was “jumping and skipping . . . but not like a hyper little boy.”  Etymologists have asserted that raqad “cannot correctly be rendered dance [in Scripture]." Several Bible versions also pick up on this: “Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping” (New American Standard Bible), “Michal . . . saw King David jumping” (NET Bible). Raqad further affirms the idea that David was skipping, leaping and jumping as the ark came into Jerusalem. These conclusions negate the popular interpretation that David could have been: swaying, shaking, rocking, swinging, moving back and forth, etc. “Dance” is too inclusive and arbitrary a translation for the activity David was engaged in. Those who wish to find support for various and sundry motions that so often seem to accompany Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and Contemporary Worship Music (CWM), will not find support for “dancing” in the example of David, as noted in these texts. Also, if people wish to do what David did, then, they must whirl, jump, leap, and skip from place to place with all their might (2 Sam. 6:14). Anecdotally, many of us have never seen these motions during worship or praise service, and it is unlikely that the music would encourage or foster these aerobic actions. As we shall soon see, the context of the passages will further delineate the situational imperative in which the activities of David took place.

2 Samuel 6:16 Pazaz (“leaping” KJV)

David’s actions are further elaborated on by the Hebrew word pazaz (pronounced paw-zaz). It is defined as:

  1. Strengthened, to be strong, to exert one's strength very much,  
  2. Leaped, jumped, leap nimbly, exert strength in leaping, to be active or supple, leap or jump about,  strong and active

Pazaz further clarifies what David was doing- - and shows that he was exerting much energy and strength. The “leaping” (pazaz) combined with the skipping and jumping indicate David was very animated while leading the ark into Jerusalem.

1 Chron. 15:29 Sachaq (“Playing” KJV)

This verse says that David was “playing” (KJV) as he led the ark into Jerusalem. This word basically means: to be merry,  rejoice, pleasure, joyful, etc. The English translation “playing” carries connotations that David was playing around, partying, letting loose, having a good time, etc., when in fact these are not inherent meanings. He was so happy the ark of God was returning to the temple that he was “rejoicing and joyful." Ellen White confirms this when she writes that David was animated with “reverent joy” before the ark of God.


After a stay in the house of Obededom for three months, David heard that the ark of God had blessed his household. He went up “with the elders and captains over thousands,” the “Levites” (1 Chron. 15:25) and “all Israel” (2 Sam. 6:15) and prepared to bring the ark of God into Jerusalem. After proceeding six paces (2 Sam. 6:13)- David (through the ministration of the Levites) sacrificed seven bullocks, seven rams and oxen (2 Sam. 6:13; 1 Chron. 15:26) before proceeding. When the procession began to move, the Levites carried the ark (1 Chron. 15:27), and David, who was clothed with a linen ephod (2 Sam. 6:14), led the procession into Jerusalem. In his joy, leading the way, David “leaped and skipped” (karar) and “jumped in leaps and bounds” (raqad) as the ark made its way to the city. Accompanying the procession were musicians playing on the “cornet, trumpet, cymbals, psalteries and harps” (2 Sam. 6:15; 1 Chron. 15:28). The joy and happiness was so great, the Bible says that there was “shouting” (1 Chron. 15:28) and “rejoicing” (sachaq- 1 Chron. 15:29). EG White comments on this- “the long train was in motion, and the music of the harp and cornet, trumpet and cymbal floated heavenward, blended with the melody of many voices.”  This amazing and triumphant scene passed through the gates of the city, where Michal (David’s wife) saw him “leaping, skipping and jumping about”- and despised him (2 Sam. 6:16; 1 Chron. 15:29). As soon as the ark reached the precincts of the temple, David’s activity (his raqad, karar, pazaz and sachaq) ceased. The Bible says that he offered burnt offerings and peace offerings (1 Chron. 16:1,2; 2 Sam. 6:17), and the ark was reverently “set in its place. (2 Sam. 6:17).

This was a “Procession” not a worship or praise service

A study of “worship” is beyond the scope of this short article, briefly however, “worship” (shachach- pronounced shaw-khakh) means: bow/bow down,  stooped,  prostrate- as testimony of respect/reverence ,  depressed- made low,  incline/bend down,  brought low/humbled,  sink down/obeisance.  The meaning of this word is obvious- it is a physical or spiritual bowing, depressing, humbling of someone to someone else- in most cases, God. 

This was not a worship or praise “service," but was a celebratory procession as the Ark was moved into the temple with many people accompanying it. Gills Exposition affirms this: “Michal ... looking out at a window [saw] the procession.” This is reflected in other passages where there is a movement of great throngs of people who celebrate and rejoice in the process. For example: “David described Jehovah’s victorious procession from Sinai to the holy temple site in Jerusalem war chariots of God, captives, singers and musicians, and congregated throngs blessing the Holy One of Israel (Ps 68:17, 18, 24-26). A procession was included in the inaugural celebration at the time of completion of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls in the days of Nehemiah (Ne 12:31). And a "festival procession’ is referred to in Psalm 118:27, evidently in connection with the annual Festival of Booths.” Ellen White confirms that this was a procession when she noted “the long train [‘train’ is a synonym of procession ] was in motion, and the music of harp and cornet, trumpet and cymbal, floated heavenward, blended with the melody of many voices.” 

Ellen White

Ellen White affirms that David was “dancing in reverent joy before God.”  What did EG White mean when she wrote “dance”? The 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, by Noah Webster defines “dance” as “primarily to leap or spring; hence, to leap or move with measured stops, regulated by a tune, sung or played on a musical instrument; to leap or step. In a general sense, a leaping. Appropriately- a leaping and stepping with motions of the body adjusted to the measure of a tune. Leaping or stepping to the sound of the voice or an instrument.”

This is insightful because it shows that the primary meaning of “dance” in EG White’s day was the idea of jumping and leaping. This definition is consistent with the Biblical and lexical definition- and hence there is no contradiction between Scripture and EG White.

Was David undressed?

Where this strange idea came from is not clear. There have been some who read 2 Sam. 6:14 and feel that David had removed all or most of his clothes, so that he was “exposing” himself in a lewd manner. The following non-literal, loose translations contribute to this view:

  • Modern Language Bible- “uncovering himself. . to be ogled by female[s]. . as some worthless fellow would strip himself.”
  • Bible in Basic English- “let himself be seen uncovered by his servant girls.”
  • NIV- “disrobing in the sight of the slave girls, as any vulgar fellow would.”
  • The Holy Bible, Knox- “exposed his person to man and maid”
  • Moffatt New Translation- “exposing himself before women, as any loose fellow ... indecently.”
  • The Living Bible-"He exposed himself to the girls along the street ... like a common pervert!" 
  • The Emphasized Bible- "in disrobing himself- as one of the low people might disrobe himself" 
  • The Bible: An American Translation- "as he stripped himself in the sight of his maidservants as a common rake exposes himself"

An “ephod” was a priestly garment worn over a simple robe- “there nothing immodest about it. David just had simple clothing, not his kingly garb that would have designated him as above the others- and he was dressed as the rest of Levites bearing the ark. David was humbled before his Lord and the ark. . . This was a humble person’s attire, not sinful or shameful.”  Fausset’s Bible Dictionary notes that David took off his “royal robe in the presence of the symbol of Jehovah’s throne, the true King. . . . Though his royal robes were laid aside, he was attired like the other officials, showing a becoming humility in the immediate presence of God.”   EG White confirms this when she notes: “David laid off his kingly attire, and clothed himself with garments similar to the priests, which had never been worn before, that not the least impurity might be upon his clothing. . . clothed with the simple linen garments worn by the priest.”

There are some interesting conclusions we can draw from this story. 1 ) This was not a worship or “praise” service; it was a triumphal procession and celebration of the ark returning to the temple. 2 ) As soon as the ark reached the temple, the movements and celebrations David was engaged in ceased. 3 ) This event took place outside, in a procession of many people in movement. 4 ) David’s motions were deliberate and measured; it wasn't a dance, but an enthusiastic jumping, leaping, skipping around “in his gladness keeping time with the measure of the song”.  Ellen White noted that “David’s dancing in reverent joy . . .  had not the faintest resemblance to the dissipation of modern dancing. The one tended to the remembrance of God and exalted His holy name.”

In conclusion, the actual meaning of the crucial words examined in 2 Samuel 6:14-16 and 1 Chronicles 15:20, as well as the context, compellingly demonstrate that David was simply leaping and skipping in reverent joy during a procession on the pathway to Jerusalem. Hence we can rightly conclude that these passages provide no lexical, contextual or comparative evidence to support the use of contemporary dance worship styles often connected with CCM or CWM. 

First and last name are required when leaving a comment. Please read our comment policy before leaving a comment. Comments