David is perhaps one of the most conflicted characters in the biblical narrative. He was anointed as king while still a boy, a hero that struck down a giant, and a warrior that took on armies. But he was hunted like a fugitive by a maniacal and obsessive man during the prime of his life. In power, he spied on and seduced the neighbor lady, then enacted a conspiracy to have her husband murdered. He was condemned by Nathan the prophet and feuded with his son, Absalom. He knew triumph and tragedy. He could be called a liar, a fraud, a cheat, and a murderer. Yet the bible calls him a man after God’s own heart.
Reconciling why David – in light of all his follies – was so beloved by God has been the study of theological debates that I’ll make no effort to resolve. But I do believe the way David spoke to God is vital to discovering how God viewed David.
He was an artist. A poet. A singer. A musician. A dancer.
David was a man after God’s own heart. David had the heart of an artist and that artistic spirit was in reckless pursuit of the heart of God.
There are two more rules that I left out of my blueprint for the Christian artist – two policies that cannot be summed up in a concise phrase. If we hope to be artists that find God’s favor, it might be best to learn two lessons from David, from the life of God’s favorite. 1. Be inspired. 2. Be undignified.
During the years that David was hiding from the wrath of King Saul, he gathered followers – future focused people loyal to David’s cause. The killer of Goliath was amassing an army that could be viewed as nothing short of an insurrection. The 12th chapter of First Chronicles details the numbers of men who defected to join this movement. The Bible is colorful in describing these men. They were brave and battle ready soldiers. They had faces like lions and were swift like gazelles. The army commanders are named from the first in command to the eleventh – and the weakest of them was strong enough to take on one hundred men. (I Chronicles 12:8-14)
More and more warriors joined David’s ranks. Members from each of the Israelite tribes – thousands at a time – came to follow and support this new army. From Judah, Simeon, Ephraim, Zebulun, Naphtali, Asher, each tribe shared a commonality. They were experienced, famous, fearless, and heavily armed. They were all fighting men prepared for war.
Yet when we get to verse 32 we find a group of oddities: men from the tribe of Issachar. This one group stands out like the geeky kid awkwardly navigating the perils of their first junior high school dance. Their numbers seem disproportionate to the other tribes – 200 chiefs with only their relatives under their authority. Yet it’s their description that makes them unique amongst the fierce militia that surrounded David. First Chronicles 12:32 calls them “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do.”
David knew that if you go to war, you need soldiers. But he also knew the value of wise counsel. And he found that in the tribe of Issachar. These are the people that found inspiration in their culture and guidance in God’s will. The passage doesn’t state their prior profession; there isn’t any biblical evidence that these 200 sons of Issachar were artisans, but they provided the framework for all who consider themselves artists and followers of God.
We must be inspired and to be inspired we have to understand the times. The world around us is a wellspring of inspiration. The better we are aware our culture, the greater we can leverage our talents to speak to our audience. But we must also be mindful of God’s will as that is what provides us with the how, when, and what to do with our artistic pursuits.
Time passed. David got older. Saul lost his life in battle along with any biological heir to the throne. At the age of 30, David was crowned king of Israel. His army conquered the city of Jerusalem (and made it the capital city), then they defeated the Philistines. The promise given to him when he was a child had been fulfilled.
As a newly appointed king, he sought to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The entire journey with the ark was accompanied by celebration, music and dancing. Scripture tells us that “David danced with all his might before the Lord.” (2 Samuel 6:14) The prudes of David’s day thought that the dancing got a little carried away. One critic told David that he should have been ashamed of himself for disrobing in front of the servant girls and the army’s officers.
There is debate over the degree to which David was undressed. Some translations say that he was wearing a linen vest while others state it was a linen ephod. Even the definition of an ephod is a little sketchy – ranging from a robe to a belt to ancient versions of boxers to what the Amplified Bible calls “a priest’s upper garment.” Explanations of this passage have made the claim that David was dancing naked, or that that he was wearing nothing more than undergarments, while others assert that it was a priestly version of a bathrobe. I won’t pretend that I am smart enough to definitively solve these varied theories. In my mind, how close David was to being nude is unimportant. He was stripped enough to offend. And even that is inconsequential to the lesson that artists should learn.
David’s response to criticism is the most essential element of this story. His answer came in two parts. He said, “I did it in the presence of the Lord. The Lord chose me… So I will celebrate.” David understood that his art served a single purpose, to honor his Creator. Even if no one else was entertained. Even if no one else saw the value in his dance. His aim was to please God. Then he continued, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” Art isn’t about playing it safe, being proper, or fitting into a socially acceptable mold.
Artists of every variety must be willing to be undignified. They need to get down and dirty with their craft. Art requires risk. Art demands that the artist push boundaries. Employing creativity is not a practice that will ever please everyone. The artist will always face potential humiliation when their creation is presented to the public.
Every time a blogger hits the publish button. When the painter brushes the final stroke. When the photographer presents their work to a client. When an author submits a query. When an actor reads reviews. Criticism will come and often with a humbling cost. The true artist stands firm and declares, “I’ll become more undignified than this.” Such a bold stance will be held in honor by those looking to be brave in their own crafts.