1David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. 3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart 4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. 5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
12b So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13 and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison,28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
2 Samuel 6:1-5; 12b-19.
Sometimes the capacity to cross cultures is for us to bridge the historical distance and cultural gap between us and the biblical text. Whenever we read the Bible we are, of course, crossing cultures both in time and in place.
Read this text from 2 Samuel and ask yourself what you need to have explained. What do you not understand?
Could it be the role of the Ark in a culture which is not ours? Is Michal’s response to seeing David unclear in its meaning? How might a culture other than your own ‘interpret’ this text? Do they see things in the text which you do not?
David has become the king of the united kingdom. Between that event and this text he has twice more defeated the Philistines. He is now bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. It is an object of fear and special powers – Uzzah had sought to steady the cart, touched the Ark and dies. David is afraid to take it to his own care, so for 3 months, it remains in the home of Obed-edom, the Gittite (verses 6-12a).
The Ark of the Covenant is said to have contained the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. For the people of Israel it carried great significance. The Ark was carried before the people when on the march or before their fighting army. While borne by the Levites during the crossing of the Jordan the river dried up while the people passed; it was paraded around the walls of Jericho seven times and the walls collapsed. On coming into the promised land it was housed at Gilgal and then at Shiloh. It was captured for a time by the Philistines. It was duly returned but it was said that Saul did not consult with the Ark prior to battle. David has it brought to Jerusalem; in due course Solomon will build the Temple in which it is to be housed in the Holy of Holies. (There is reference to the Ark in the Qur’an, Sura 2. Verse 248).
Michal was one of Saul’s daughters. She loved and became the first wife of David. (1 Samuel 18:20-27). It seems as if when Saul was later seeking to kill David, Michal sent the kings messengers away, saying David was ill in bed; she let him down through a window. (1 Samuel 19:11-17). While David was in hiding, Saul gave Michal away as a wife to Palti. David duly took several more wives. When David became King of Judah, he asked Ish-bosheth (Michal’s brother), now king of Israel, for Michal to be returned to him – and peace would be guaranteed. This Ish-bosheth did, despite Palti’s protest. Michal had loved David, but now as he enters Jerusalem dancing before the Ark of the Lord, she despises him. She subsequently says that David should not dance like this half-naked before any servant / slave girls or vulgar fellow (verse 22).
The letter to the Ephesians is unusual. It is more in the form of a circular letter (perhaps intended for a wide circulation around many churches). It is the kind of letter which is tailor-made for a cross-cultural reading. It is designed to address the coming together of two separate, distinct cultures – Jew and Gentile – in Christ.
We might say that the Jews have the ‘benefit’ of: i). the special nature of God’s relationship to the people of Israel; and ii). the church was first set up almost like a sect within Judaism and Paul himself seems to have first set about the task of establishing churches in the homes of Jews. It is very tempting then for those who are established first to lay down the rules by which others might join their gathering. The Gentiles have been exposed to a different world view – one in which there has been much mystical speculation, a sense of mystery and Gnostic views on various numbers of heavens. They were also likely to be operating within a cultural milieu which observed different moral standards.
The writer of Ephesians is seeking to effect reconciliation and salvation. Notice how he goes about it in this text for today. The traditions of “blessings” and “inheritance” is taken from Hebrew experience; there are times when the writer speaks of “us” and “you” – but for a purpose of forming a common group identity. That identity is to be found in Christ. There is a balance between the sacrifice (on the cross with its redemption through the blood of Christ) to all things, on earth and in heaven. The language of mystery and these cosmic references are, in effect, addressing a Gentile worldview. (We might also notice in this text an early trinitiarian way of thinking coming to the surface).
What other possible cross-cultural references can you detect in this reading?
Sometimes the bald telling of a story does not really convey the full picture. Our biblical readings for this week are a bit like that. There is an account of David dancing half-naked before the Ark of the Covenant as it is conveyed on a cart into his new capital, Jerusalem. The letter to the Ephesians seems innocent enough with talk of spiritual blessings and God’s way of salvation. The gospel of Mark takes leave of Jesus for a moment and tells the tale of Herod Antipas agreeing to the silencing of John the Baptist. We might hear echoes of these stories in popular culture: the Steven Spielberg film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the popular idiom, “give me his head on a platter” come to mind.
One might press even a little further. The Mark story almost has the feel of an episode of the Jerry Springer Show where one convoluted set of family relationships after another is excruciatingly exposed. There is nowhere to hide. Family social workers would be well and truly stretched making sense of this particular case. Herod Antipas has already been married. His first wife was the daughter of the King of Nabatea. He falls in love with Herodias who is his niece and also his brother’s wife. His first wife goes back to her father. Herod Antipas marries Herodias, but Herodias is not a divorced woman. Back then, in this culture, only a man can initiate such proceedings. And so, technically, Herodias is now married to two brothers who also happen to be her two uncles. Her daughter is, at one and the same time, Herod Antipas’ step-daughter, his niece, and his grand-niece.
What a mess!
No wonder John the Baptist is speaking out to reproach Herod: “it is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife”. But the plot gets worse. Now we have what would be in our day a homicide inquiry – or given the nature of John’s death, a security matter. Herod has the greatest level of power at his disposal in this reading; he is listening to John the Baptist, he fears him – and yet he agrees to the request for John’s death. The request comes from Herodias but via a child. The word used to describe Herodias’ daughter is the same one earlier used to describe a 12 year old girl. The request is almost ISIS like: there is a beheading and a public display of the head on a platter.
From the perspective of our time, our place, our cultures this act is likely to be offensive. What we see is a combination of power and cruelty. We see how they seemingly work to silence another Elijah, or a prophet, or …. In terms of the stories setting in the gospel itself, maybe we should recall how John the Baptist first appears in Mark preparing the way for another. If Jesus is the one who follows in the light of the Baptist’s ministry, then it seems as if the precedent has been set. Jesus himself will be put to death. It is rather interesting, however, that Herod is the first person in the gospel to speak of someone having been “raised”.
I wonder which parts of this story gives most “offence” or shocks. I wonder if it is the same from one culture to another.