The Morgan Bible’s concentration on kingly stories—especially of King David—seems to be designed to appeal to a royal patron. The Bible was probably created in Paris for Louis IX of France around the years 1244–54. This illumination asks us to consider what royal dignity and royal duty demand.
In the upper register, David, crowned and wearing an ermine-lined cloak, leads the procession carrying the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. This was a moment of huge significance in the biblical story, because, with the Ark, God’s glory came to Jerusalem. It was an occasion for celebration. The king leaps and dances.
The artist has assumed that David, as he danced, was one of the many who were playing musical instruments (2 Samuel 6:5). Presumably David is given a harp here (the texts do not mention the instrument) because he is commonly shown with his harp in other depictions, such as at the start of Psalm 1, and because he had played the harp for Saul (1 Samuel 16:14–23).
The Ark was God’s throne; it was holy. Once it had arrived in Jerusalem, it established that city as the centre of Israel’s worship, as well as the political capital of David’s kingdom. The altar and the candles and the sacrifice of animals in the lower register reflect the worship that David later commanded (2 Samuel 6:17–18).
This grand entry notwithstanding, David’s legitimacy was challenged. We can see this at the very top right of the illumination in the figure of Michal, David’s wife (the daughter of his predecessor, Saul) who leans out of a window and appears to reprimand him. 2 Samuel 6:16–20 tells of Michal despising David for his dancing, because it did not seem to her to fit with the royal dignity. David reproves her (vv.20–21) and sets out his understanding of kingly rule under God.
Medieval commentators, including Gregory the Great, noted that by dancing before the Lord David overcame himself, and made himself noble through humility (Gregory Moralia in Job, 27.46). His dancing is both exultation, and an act of personal abasement. David is thus shown to be noble in a truer sense—an appropriate message for a royal book.
6 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baʹale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. 3And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinʹadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahiʹo, the sons of Abinʹadab, were driving the new cart 4with the ark of God; and Ahiʹo went before the ark. 5And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. 8And David was angry because the Lord had broken forth upon Uzzah; and that place is called Peʹrez-uzʹzah, to this day. 9And David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” 10So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David; but David took it aside to the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom the Gittite. 11And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom the Gittite three months; and the Lord blessed Oʹbed-eʹdom and all his household.
12 And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Oʹbed-eʹdom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the horn.
16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the 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. 17And they brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 18And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19and distributed 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 departed, each to his house.
20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will make merry before the Lord. 22I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
13 David consulted with the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with every leader. 2And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you, and if it is the will of the Lord our God, let us send abroad to our brethren who remain in all the land of Israel, and with them to the priests and Levites in the cities that have pasture lands, that they may come together to us. 3Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us; for we neglected it in the days of Saul.” 4All the assembly agreed to do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.
5 So David assembled all Israel from the Shihor of Egypt to the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kirʹiath-jeʹarim. 6And David and all Israel went up to Baʹalah, that is, to Kirʹiath-jeʹarim which belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord who sits enthroned above the cherubim. 7And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, from the house of Abinʹadab, and Uzzah and Ahiʹo were driving the cart. 8And David and all Israel were making merry before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.
9 And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. 10And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and he smote him because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. 11And David was angry because the Lord had broken forth upon Uzzah; and that place is called Peʹrez-uzʹza to this day. 12And David was afraid of God that day; and he said, “How can I bring the ark of God home to me?” 13So David did not take the ark home into the city of David, but took it aside to the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom the Gittite. 14And the ark of God remained with the household of Oʹbed-eʹdom in his house three months; and the Lord blessed the household of Oʹbed-eʹdom and all that he had.
15 David built houses for himself in the city of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it. 2Then David said, “No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the Lord chose them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister to him for ever.” 3And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place, which he had prepared for it. 4And David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites: 5of the sons of Kohath, Uriʹel the chief, with a hundred and twenty of his brethren; 6of the sons of Merarʹi, Asaiʹah the chief, with two hundred and twenty of his brethren; 7of the sons of Gershom, Joʹel the chief, with a hundred and thirty of his brethren; 8of the sons of Eli-zaʹphan, Shemaiʹah the chief, with two hundred of his brethren; 9of the sons of Hebron, Eliʹel the chief, with eighty of his brethren; 10of the sons of Uzʹziel, Amminʹadab the chief, with a hundred and twelve of his brethren. 11Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiʹathar, and the Levites Uriʹel, Asaiʹah, Joʹel, Shemaiʹah, Eliʹel, and Amminʹadab, 12and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites; sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. 13Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke forth upon us, because we did not care for it in the way that is ordained.” 14So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel. 15And the Levites carried the ark of God upon their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord.
16 David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brethren as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. 17So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joʹel; and of his brethren Asaph the son of Berechiʹah; and of the sons of Merarʹi, their brethren, Ethan the son of Kushaʹiah; 18and with them their brethren of the second order, Zechariʹah, Ja-aʹziel, Shemiʹramoth, Jehiʹel, Unni, Eliʹab, Benaiʹah, Ma-aseiʹah, Mattithiʹah, Eliphʹelehu, and Mikneʹiah, and the gatekeepers Oʹbed-eʹdom and Je-iʹel. 19The singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound bronze cymbals; 20Zechariʹah, Aʹzi-el, Shemiʹramoth, Jehiʹel, Unni, Eliʹab, Ma-aseiʹah, and Benaiʹah were to play harps according to Alʹamoth; 21but Mattithiʹah, Eliphʹelehu, Mikneʹiah, Oʹbed-eʹdom, Je-iʹel, and Azaziʹah were to lead with lyres according to the Shemʹinith. 22Chenaniʹah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it. 23Berechiʹah and Elkaʹnah were to be gatekeepers for the ark. 24Shebaniʹah, Joshʹaphat, Nethanʹel, Amaʹsai, Zechariʹah, Benaiʹah, and Elieʹzer, the priests, should blow the trumpets before the ark of God. Oʹbed-eʹdom and Jehiʹah also were to be gatekeepers for the ark.
25 So David and the elders of Israel, and the commanders of thousands, went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom with rejoicing. 26And because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. 27David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers, and Chenaniʹah the leader of the music of the singers; and David wore a linen ephod. 28So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.
29 And as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David dancing and making merry; and she despised him in her heart.