Over the last few years, there have been numerous questions regarding dance within the assembly. Some feel that the “sacred dance” or “Davidic dance” should be a part of our worship. Comments are made on how wonderful it is to be free to express themselves to Yahweh in a dance. Hours can be spent in teaching and learning the dances. Often there is more time spent there than in the actual worship of Yahweh; of studying His word; in dialogue discussing His Word and learning what He expects of us.
Can dance in the assembly be substantiated by Scripture? There are less than 30 verses in Scripture that have the word “dance” or “dancing” in them. Let’s take them one at a time, in order, and look at this issue. Each Scripture will be quoted, followed by questions and comments, and a brief description of the context surrounding the verse.
Exodus 15:20 And the sister of Aaron, Miriam the prophetess, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dance.
What is the context? Celebration after the Israelites witnessed their pursuers die in the Red Sea. Moses and the people sang a song of praise to Yahweh. Was anything said by Moses or Yahweh about a dance? No. Was the dance done in sync to choreographed steps? It isn’t said. Each dancer could have done her own thing. Had this previously been a custom among Yahweh’s people? The word “dance” does not appear in Scripture before this time. Was it a custom of the Egyptians where Israel had been in slavery? Yes.
Great Events of Bible Times, James Harpur, editor, page 90 –
“Dancing is not described in detail in the Bible, but in the Near East it often accompanied music in religious ceremonies and secular celebrations. In their performances, Egyptian dancers worshipped Hathor, goddess of love, music and dancing.”
Exodus 32:19 And it happened, as he came near to the camp and saw the calf and the dances, the anger of Moses glowed…
What is the context? The Israelites were celebrating and worshipping a golden calf in place of Yahweh. Was the dancing commanded by Yahweh in worship of Him? No. Had they just recently been told that making and worshipping an idol was wrong? Yes, in Exodus 20:4-6. Was Yahweh pleased? Definitely not! Except for the intervention of Moses, they would have been dead.
Judges 11:34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh to his house. And, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels, and with choruses.
What is the context? Jephthah had been to battle and his daughter came out to meet the victorious warrior. Was she following Yahweh’s command? No. Was she praising Yahweh? It doesn’t say she was – she was simply coming out to meet her dad.
Judges 21:21 And you shall watch. And, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then you shall go out from the vineyards and each of you catch his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.
What is the context? There were not enough women in Benjamin, so men devised this plan for them to find wives. Was it a command from Yahweh? No, it constituted kidnapping. Were the dances at a feast to Yahweh commanded by Him? No. The Scripture says “if”. Would there be an “if” involved if it were commanded by Yahweh?
I Samuel 18:6 And it happened as they came in, as David returned from striking the Philistine, the women came out from all the cities of Israel to sing with the dancers, to meet Saul the king with tabrets and with joy and three-stringed instruments.
What is the context? When the men returned from victorious warfare, the women went out to meet them, singing and dancing. Was there a command from Yahweh? No. Were they praising Yahweh for victory? No. They were singing the praises of men – Saul and David.
I Samuel 21:11 (Basically repeated in I Samuel 29:5) And the servants of Achish said to him, Is this not David the king of the land? Is it not of this one they sang in dances, saying, Saul killed his thousands, and David his myriads?
What is the context? It is simply a comment made by others regarding the events of I Samuel 18:6. Any command from Yahweh? No.
I Samuel 30:16 And he (David) brought him (the Egyptian) down. And, behold, they were spread out over the face of all the earth, eating and drinking and feasting, with all the great plunder which they had taken out of the land of the Philistines, and out of the land of Judah. (Some translations have “dancing” in place of “feasting”.)
What is the context? David found an Egyptian, a servant of an Amalekite, the people David and his men were warring against. The Egyptian led David and his men to the Amalekite camp. Who was dancing? The Amalekites. Were they dancing to Yahweh? No!
Notes on the Hebrew Text and the Topography of the Book of Samuel, Rev S R Driver, D.D., page 223, regarding I Samuel 30:16 –
“Whether, however, the sense of dancing is really expressed by the word is very doubtful. Modern lexicographers only defend it by means of the questionable assumption that” chagag “may have had a similar signification to” choog, “which, however, by no means itself expresses the sense of to dance, but to make a circle Job 26, 10: in Syriac (PS, col. 1217) circumivit… It is best to acquiesce in the cautious judgment of Noldeke (ZDMG. 1887, p. 719), who declares that he cannot with certainty get behind the idea of a festal gathering for the common Semitic” chag. “Here then the meaning will be ‘behaving as at a” chag “or gathering of pilgrims,’ i.e., enjoying themselves merrily.”
2 Samuel 6:14, 16 14-And David was dancing with all his might, before Yahweh. And David was girded with a linen ephod. 16-And it happened, when the ark of Yahweh had come to the city of David, and Michal the daughter of Saul looked through the window and saw king David leaping and dancing before Yahweh, she despised him in her heart.
What is the context? The Ark of the Covenant is being moved to a tent that David had prepared for it in Jerusalem. Did he dance in response to a command from Yahweh? No. Was David using a set of pre-planned steps, taught today as “Davidic dancing?” No. He was dancing and leaping. Have you ever watched a very excited child? They can’t be still. They are dancing and jumping for joy. Most likely that is what David was doing. Did Yahweh command anyone else to dance with him?
Notes on the Hebrew Text and the Topography of the Book of Samuel, Rev S R Driver, D.D., page 271 –
Regarding the Hebrew words pazaz (leaping) and karar (dancing) – “leaping (lit. shewing agility) and circling about. …as Arabic shews, to be active or agile. I Ch. 15.30 substitutes more ordinary words raqad” (dancing) “and sachaq” (playing): “skipping (Psa.114.4,6; Job 21:11) and playing (v 5.)”
I Chronicles 15:29 And it happened, as the ark of the covenant of Yahweh came to the City of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out through the window and saw king David dancing and making merry….
What is the context? The same as 2 Samuel 6 above: the ark is being brought to Jerusalem. Did Yahweh command dancing? No. Did He command music? No. Are all the people dancing? It only mentions David doing so. Does it command us to follow that example of David? No.
Job 21:11 They send their little ones out as a flock, and their children dance.
What is the context? Job is talking to his friends. What is the subject at hand? A description of how the wicked live. Who is dancing? The children of the wicked. What happens if children have musical instruments? They play them and dance around. How does this verse relate to the assembly’s worship of Yahweh? It has nothing to do with it.
Psalms 30:11 You have turned my mourning into dancing for me; you have loosed my sackcloth and have clothed me with gladness.
What is the context? David is praising Yahweh and relating things Yahweh has done for him. Are there any commands here? No. He’s simply saying that he feels more like dancing than crying.
On this next one we will look at the entire chapter. Verse 3 is one of the most oft-quoted Scripture for insisting on dance in the assembly.
Psalms 149:1-9 1-Praise Yahweh! Sing to Yahweh a new song, His praise in the assembly of the saints. 2-Let Israel rejoice in Him who made him; let the sons of Zion be joyful in their King. 3-Let them praise His name in the dance; let them sing praise to Him with the timbrel and lyre. 4-For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people; He beautifies the meek with salvation. 5-Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud on their beds, 6-and the exaltation of El in their throats; and a two-edged sword in their hand, 7-to execute vengeance on the nations, punishment on the peoples; 8-to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with iron bands; 9-to execute on them the judgment written: this is an honor for all his saints. Praise Yahweh!
What is the context? It is an exhortation to the people to praise Yahweh. Is Yahweh speaking and commanding? No. Who is speaking? David. To whom is he speaking? The nation (children) of Israel – not the church assembly.
In verse 1, the word “assembly” is the Hebrew #6951, qahal, meaning an assemblage. An expanded definition states 1) an assembly gathered to plan or execute war, 2) a gathering to judge or deliberate, 3) an assembly representing a larger group, 4) all the males of Israel who were eligible to bring sacrifices to the Lord, 5) the worshiping, voting community, or 6) all the people of Israel. That is a little different than what we think of as an assembly today.
If the verses 1-4 are said to apply to today’s congregations and that we should be dancing and singing and playing tambourines, then what about the remainder of the chapter? Doesn’t it apply as well? Or is it okay for us to simply pick and choose the Scriptures we wish to apply? Do we just take what we want out of context?
Verse 6 - do those who claim we must dance have a two-edged sword in their hand? If not, why not? That is the instruction! (And this is not talking about the Bible. “Sword” is #2719 cherev, means a cutting instrument [from its destructive effect], as a knife, sword or other sharp implement).
Verse 7 – are those dancing executing vengeance and punishment on nations? Whose authority would they be using?
Verse 8 – are they binding kings and nobles? Or at least the leaders of the lands?
Verse 9 – are they executing judgment? If not, why not?
Psalms 149, all 9 verses, is one continuing set of instructions of exhortation. Why quote only a few chosen verses? Do we just go after what sounds pleasant? Is it possible for us to do all these things today? David was not speaking to church assemblies of today. At the time David said this, the nation under King David was carrying out verses 6-9, with Yahweh as the head of the army.
Psalms 150:4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and pipes.
What is the context? An exhortation to praise Yahweh. Once again, who is speaking? David. Where is Yahweh’s command to dance before Him? It isn’t there. In fact, where does Yahweh command music in His service at the temple? He didn’t. David set up the musicians and singers (I Chronicles 6:31; 25:1).
Ecclesiastes 3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh – a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
What is the context? This is a list stating there are proper or appropriate times for various activities. Is this a command? No. But the Hebrew word here for “dance” has nothing to do with the measured steps taught today. The word here is #7540 rakad. It means to stamp, i.e., to spring about (wildly or for joy).
Isaiah 13:21 But the desert creatures shall lie there (Babylon); and their houses shall be full of howling creatures; and daughters of ostriches shall dwell there; and he-goats shall skip there.
What is the context? The prophecy of destruction and desolation of Babylon. Who is skipping – or dancing as some translations say? Goats! It has nothing to do with people or the assembly.
Jeremiah 31:4, 13 4-Again I will build you, and you shall be built again, O virgin of Israel. You will again adorn your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of merry ones. 13-Then the virgin shall rejoice in the dance, both young men and elders together. For I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them and make them rejoice from their affliction.
What is the context? The rebuilding of Israel. Who says this? Yahweh. Is it a command to us? No. Is it a command to the assembly? No. It is a statement of what Israel will be doing in the future. This is a yet-unfulfilled prophecy.
Lamentations 5:15 The joy of our heart has ceased; our dance has turned into mourning.
What is the context? The captivity of Judah. Who is speaking? Jeremiah. Is it a command to dance? No, it is a lament.
Matthew 11:17 Saying, We piped to you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not wail. (Similar words also appear in Luke 7:32.)
What is the context? Yahshua was admonishing that generation and comparing them to children. Is there any command from Him for us to dance? No. Is there any example in Scripture of Him dancing? No.
Matthew 14:6 But a birthday feast for Herod being held, the daughter of Herodias danced in the midst, and pleased Herod. (Similar words also appear in Mark 6:22)
What is the context? The activities of Herod’s birthday party. Was this a religious occasion? No. Was the dance to Yahweh? No. Is it an example for the assembly? No.
Luke 15:25 And his older son was in a field. And as he drew near, coming to the house, he heard music and dances.
What is the context? Yahshua’s parable of the prodigal son. Who was dancing? The family. Why? They were happy that a family member had returned. Did it pertain to the assembly or worship service? No.
That’s it. Those are the Scriptures regarding dancing. The only references in the Law (Torah) are the one about Miriam leading the women in dancing and the one about the Children of Israel dancing around the golden calf. The Law contains no command for dance in the outlines for worshipping Yahweh. If it were as important as some believe and teach, surely the Scriptures would say so. Such a command would be there.
There is one Hebrew word on which people depend for the validation of this idea. It is the Hebrew word #2287, chagag. According to Strong’s it means to move in a circle, i.e. (spec.) to march in a sacred procession; to observe a festival; by implication, to be giddy.
Some dictionaries list the first or primary definition of chagag as “to dance.” But not all of them give “dance” the same attention.
In the Dictionary of Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi, Midrashic Literature and Targumim, by Prof. Marcus Jastrow, page 424, this root is defined as
“to celebrate an anniversary, to observe a festival, to make a periodical pilgrimage.” It can also mean, “to turn, draw a circle; to celebrate a festival; to feast.”
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, by F Brown, S Driver and C Briggs, p 290-
Chagag is a verb that means to “make a pilgrimage, keep a pilgrim-feast.” Others add further definition by saying can mean “enjoying themselves merrily” or “circling in the sacred dance” or “reel.” Chag, a noun, is defined as “festival-gathering, feast, pilgrim-feast” or a “festival sacrifice.”
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R Laird Harris, ed –
Page 261 – “(hagag) celebrate, keep (hold) a (solemn) feast (holy day).
Page 262 – “David found his enemies, the Amalekites, ‘spread abroad…eating and drinking and feasting’ (I Sam 30:16), that is, they were acting as if they were holding a feast. The ASV and RSV translate ‘dancing’.”
the word chag, from the root word chagag, appears in the Old Testament 60 times. It is translated as “feast” 57 times, “sacrifice” twice and “solemnity” once. Chagag, the root word, appears in the Old Testament only 16 times.
In The English Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament, George Wigram, page 401,
It is translated as “keep (a feast)” 12 times, “celebrate” twice, “reel” once and “dancing” once.
And where is the one Scripture translated as “dance”? I Samuel 30:16. And remember who was dancing? Those trying to destroy Yahweh’s people – not the assembly. In fact, this is the only one of all these verses where chagag is translated as “dance.”
It is time to question the idea of a doctrine built on a word that only bears a particular translation once. The other translations of the word are basically all in agreement – to keep a festival or holy day; to feast; to celebrate; to go on a pilgrimage.
Some make the claim that this “sacred” or “Davidic” dancing goes back through the centuries. And that these same dances they are teaching today were done by ancient Israelites throughout the ages. Especially the Hora.
The Second Jewish Catalog, Sharon Strassfeld, Michael Strassfeld, page 337 –
“In the two millennia that Jews have wandered over the face of the earth, exiles from their homeland, the dances mentioned in the Bible and Talmud were lost. Since the Jewish tradition prohibits the making of a ‘sculptured image,’ there are no pictorial records of how Jews danced. At the turn of the century, however, the seed of a new flowering of folkdance was sown by the exiles returning to Palestine. From many countries in Europe they brought with them the dances of the exile, which they adapted to their new life. The Hora, the national dance of reborn Israel, came originally from Romania, the Krakowiak from Poland, and the Tcherkessia from Russia.”
Where are most of the “sacred dances” or “Davidic dances” done today? The author of this article found it amazing that most books on the subject of Judaism do not even mention dancing at all, except that it is usually an activity at weddings. The “sacred dance” or “Davidic dance” is found in Hasidic Judaism, which arose in the eighteenth century, and among Messianic Judaism. It was also a surprise, in research on the Internet, to find that these dances are spreading rapidly in the Christian churches.
In speaking to a Hebrew linguist, it was stressed that the word chagag does not mean dancing or dancers. It means celebrating or those who celebrate. Celebration may include dancing, but it is not the definition. A procession does not mean necessarily mean dancing. It carries the meaning to move in a line, such as making or walking on a pilgrimage. From this same root, chagag comes the Arabic word haj – a pilgrimage. In Syriac the root means to celebrate. In Hebrew, in either biblical or modern, this root word chagag is not used for dancing at all. The linguist stated that the Hasidim started the dancing tradition and that it is not biblical.
There is one final comment that bears consideration here. In reading in Brown-Driver-Briggs on page 291, we find the phrase chagim yerikofu, translated as, “let feasts come round.” This phrase comes from the second half of the first verse of Isaiah 29, which says, … Add year on year; let feasts run their circle.
Wait a minute! In all the references to chagag, the majority of them was about keeping or celebrating a feast or a festival. Could it be that the definition to draw a circle, to go in sacred procession, to circle, etc., has nothing at all to do with dancing? Could this be referring to the fact that Yahweh’s festivals make a circuit or circle? They come round once a year. Could it be that this is referring to a sacred procession of festivals (feasts, holy days), year in and year out?
In the verse above from Isaiah, yeriqofu is from the primitive root #5362, naqaph, which means to strike with more or less violence (beat, fell, corrode); by implication (of attack) to knock together, i.e. surround or circulate.
Another word that comes from the same root is #8622, tequphah. It means a revolution, i.e. (of the sun) course, (of time) lapse. One of its uses is found in Exodus 34:22, which says: And you shall observe a Feast (chag) of weeks for yourself, the firstfruits of the harvest of wheat; also the Feast (chag) of Ingathering at the turn of (tequphah) the year.
This connection shows that the word chag and the root chagag do have a relationship to turning or circling. But it is in a cycle of feasts, returning annually on a regular basis, not in a dance.
The dance may “look good”, it may feel “spiritual”, and people may enjoy doing it. But it cannot be added to the assembly’s worship on the basis of “Yahweh said” or “Yahweh wants us to express our praise in the dance.” Yahweh was silent in this regard.