In one of the most effusive displays of worship recorded in the Bible, King David danced “before the Lord with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:14). The occasion was the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It was a day of rejoicing as David “and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets” (verse 15). David had set aside his royal robes and was “wearing a linen ephod” (verse 14)—a clear indication that he was not naked.
The ephod David wore was a garment usually reserved for priests and those ministering before the Lord. As David led the procession of the ark into the city, he humbly laid aside his royal garments and worshiped the Lord, in ecstatic joy, as the representative of God’s “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6).
The ephod David wore was made of fine linen and consisted of two pieces, covering both back and front (Exodus 28:6–8, 31–32). The two pieces were fastened together over the shoulders and held at the waist by a belt of some kind. The ephod worn by the high priests would have been different, as it was embroidered with gold and bright colors and somehow bore the Urim and Thummim by which God directed the people.
David’s wife Michal was horrified at her husband’s public dance, but not because he was naked. Scripture says she “watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16). She was embarrassed at his lack of decorum and felt it was beneath his dignity as king. In a sarcastic rebuke of her husband, Michal accused him of “going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (verse 20). Other translations render Michal’s complaint as David’s being “exposed” (CSB), “undressed” (ISV), and “shamelessly uncovered” (NKJV). Some of this wording makes it sound as if David danced naked, but the context is clear that he was wearing the ephod instead of the royal attire.
It should also be noted that Michal’s contempt for David may have had nothing to do with his public performance; rather, it could have stemmed from the fact that he had taken her from her husband and reclaimed her as his wife—most likely without her consent (2 Samuel 3:14–16). Whatever the reason for her disgust, the Bible notes that Michal never had any children (2 Samuel 6:23), which may indicate a judgment from God or simply that David never sought to have marital relations with her again.
David was undeterred by Michal’s criticism. In fact, he doubled down, telling her that it was the Lord he was dancing before, and he was quite willing to abase himself in the Lord’s presence: “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes” (2 Samuel 6:21–22). David’s deep passion and exuberant worship are part of what make his psalms so relatable. He expressed his adoration of God in a variety of ways: through his music, his writings, and his public displays.