It shouldn’t be surprising that preachers tend to sensationalize certain Bible verses. But sometimes they go just a bit too far. The perfect example is that millions of people still believe that King David danced naked or in his under-roos before God, when they brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.
I’ve ran into many people both online and in real life that are so sure about David dancing naked that they are willing to argue over the issue. I have heard preachers talk many times about how undignified David was by dancing either naked or in his skivvies……usually after an arousing rendition of the song “Undignified”. However, according the scriptures, King David most certainly did not dance naked.
The fact of the matter is that the author of 2 Samuel says that he was clothed in an ephod.
Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. (2 Samuel 6:14-15)
In addition to the verse in 2 Samuel, the writer of 1 Chronicles also points out that David was wearing the standard Levite linen as well as an ephod, just like the ones described in Leviticus.
Now David was clothed in a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and as were the musicians, and Kenaniah, who was in charge of the singing of the choirs. David also wore a linen ephod. (1 Chronicles 15:27)
So, why do people think he danced naked or mostly unclothed? The reason is because just a few verses later in 2 Samuel (verse not included in Chronicles) it shows David’s wife criticizing his behavior. The NIV and other modern translations seem to struggle on an agreed meaning of the text. Here are a few different translations.
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (2 Samuel 6:20 NIV)
But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!”(2 Samuel 6:20 NAS/B)
When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”(2 Samuel 6:20 NLT)
From this passage we seem to get a different understanding of how David was clothed. The story in both Samuel and Chronicles state that he wore a linen ephod. So, how was David exposing himself if he was wearing a linen ephod?
First, a linen ephod is different than a standard ephod of his day. It was probably a bit more ornate than most ephods since he was the King. Exodus 28 describes how the ephod should be created.
You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. 3 You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me. 4 These are the garments which they shall make: a breast piece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me. (Exodus 28:2-4)
“They shall also make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen, the work of the skillful workman. 7 It shall have two shoulder pieces joined to its two ends, that it may be joined. 8 The skillfully woven band, which is on it, shall be like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen. 9 You shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, 10 six of their names on the one stone and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, according to their birth. 11 As a jeweler engraves a signet, you shall engrave the two stones according to the names of the sons of Israel; you shall set them in filigree settings of gold. 12 You shall put the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of memorial for the sons of Israel, and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial. 13 You shall make filigree settings of gold, 14 and two chains of pure gold; you shall make them of twisted cordage work, and you shall put the corded chains on the filigree settings. (Exodus 28:6-14)
It is here that one must ask, was he wearing anything under his ephod? Chronicles clearly states that he was wearing both a linen garment and an ephod on top of that. Thus he was dressed in the levitical attire. I would also suggest that there would be absolutely no reason ever why anyone would wear an ephod without linen underneath of it. Do you think David came back from battling for the ark wearing nothing but an ephod? That is a silly thought. The Levites would have been mortified.
Rather, I think he was wearing the standard linen with the ephod as all the Levites were. They were doing so because they were making sacrifices to God along the way back to Jerusalem.
And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. (2 Samuel 6:13)
Samuel states that he was wearing a linen ephod, without mention of the other garments that go under it. In addition, Samuel also records that Michal was very upset at David for being “uncovered.” The most basic sense of the accusation (נִגְלָה, root = GLH) is being uncovered.
This word is used in various ways throughout the Old Testament to mean different things. About 30% of the time it is translated as it’s most basic root meaning of a state of being uncovered (noun format). The next most common usage is to “exile” or “remove” which is what happened to the Israelites multiple times. The third most common form takes on the meaning of something “revealed” or being “revealing.” These three translations make up the bulk of the biblical usage for this word. Since the word was used by Michal in it’s verbal form and in a simple stem (Nifal), it should be translated without any emphasis like a piel stem would require. I believe the translation of “How he was glorious, the King of Israel he was uncovered today in front of the servant girls…… ” is the best translation. However, I think perhaps there was some sarcasm in her tone, which is why the writer of Samuel ended her story a few verses later by stating that she bore no children.
To be sure, though, being in a state that is uncovered or revealing is not the same as being naked. It’s not even the same as being in your underwear.
Conclusion & Reasoning
I think this is a difficult issue mostly because Samuel gives scant information about what he was wearing while Chronicles paints a different story. Though, it is not uncommon for Chronicles to re-write things in a light that makes David look better. This is a common theme in Chronicles. But what to make of it all?
I think we can know for sure that David had on an ephod at the minimum. I also believe the Chronicler was correct in addressing the passage by stating that he also had on his white linen underneath the ephod, just like all the other Levites. The author of Samuel did not mention the linen because it’s assumed. Ephods were always worn with a linen. But if David was wearing both a linen and an ephod, why the outrage by Michal?
Rather than reinventing the wheel I am going to quote the public speaker John Clayton.
To understand the situation, one needs to go back and learn about Michal. This woman was Saul’s youngest daughter (1 Samuel 14:49) and was given to David by Saul for David’s defeat of the Philistines. When David was in exile, she was given to Phaltiel (1 Samuel 25:44), and then bargained back to David from Abner as part of a political move to strengthen his claim to the throne. This woman was part of the political establishment, and had always lived in a politically correct environment. When she sees her husband take off his kingly garments and crown, and become like everyone else, and especially when she sees David participate in an undignified celebration she is incensed. David’s lack of political correctness is so bad that the Bible says Michal “despised David in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16). In verse 22 of this chapter, David responds to Michal by saying to her that the servants would hold him in special honor because of his conduct. (“Dancing Naked or Understanding Badly”, by John Clayton)
I believe John got it right on this one. I think the real issue was that David degraded himself by not wearing the proper Kingly vestments. Why else would she sarcastically make fun of David’s lack of “glory” (כָּבוֹד) when accusing him. This was a word that would have only been appropriate when speaking of David as a king. Thus, his lack of kingly honor was what bothered her. What a fool he was for setting himself among the servants, rather than acting like the king he was. What a horror to do so on one of the most important days of his life, when the Ark of the Covenant is returned to Jerusalem.