In Jewish Messianic congregations, it is customary to praise God through dance. It is joyful and can be fast or other times, more quiet and flowing; sometimes in round dances with a group, or as part of personal worship, with flags and shofars. It is quite normal for the Messianic believer to praise the Lord, rejoice, sing and dance before Him. But what is the essence and meaning of dancing for God? Is it just Jewish tradition or is this a way of praising God that is common for believers of all denominations and confessions?
We invite you to investigate this question and find out more about the praise through dance! To illustrate further, we will share excerpts of a seminar which was held by Alexander Baz, leader of Lechaim Dance Group the at KJMC summer 2016 retreat.
DANCE IN THE BIBLE
What do we know about dancing from the Bible? There are several well-known episodes that are referred to first and foremost. The dance of Miriam, of course, is the first clear mention (Exodus 15:20), and then we recall another episode with David when the ark was brought back to Jerusalem (2 Kings 6: 14-16 and 1 Chronicles 15:29). But are the dances in the Bible described only by these great servants of God? Of course not! There are many more examples in the Scripture which reveal to us this element of the relationship between God and Israel.
Let's start from the beginning and in right order. God put dance inside of us as a form of expression of our feelings and people, of course, danced from the first days of creation. Animals also dance manifesting their emotions and inherent physiological patterns. But only man, who was chosen in God's creation to be made in His image and likeness, is able to completely express feelings and soul, and even more importantly, the spirit (as it relates the believers). That is why many scientists consider dance as a first language and the method of transmitting information since the dawn of humanity.
Dance is inseparable from music and rhythm. In Genesis 4:21, Jubal is called the father of all those who play, as one among many other "fathers" of different talents and even professions. We see that each of us has different talents and capabilities that God put inside of us, and we can develop them for the glory of God or for the opposite (which is sad).
So, dancing (specifically dancing that was independent of the concept of culture and art, and had no elements of competition or comparison to others) together with music and singing, is an ancient form of expression of feelings, emotions and information.
Scientists have noticed that starting around 5,000 years ago, dance motifs had almost completely disappeared from stone monuments and ceramic tableware. This fact is explained in that at the time of the first monarchies and states it was kings and their officials who organized and directed the collective actions of people, not the dance.
As we see, dancing has gone through various changes through the course of time and history. And it is fair to consider that our understanding of dance, its nature and its usage could be incorrect or tainted. That is why we need to address the Scripture in order to return dance to its original purpose and revelation that God put in us.
DANCE IN THE LIFE OF THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL
In modern dance educational institutions, it is taught that the dances of any nation can be divided into two categories: religious (ritual) and social (domestic). But as we know, things that can be applicable for most do not always apply to Israel.
The main difference that we need to remember is that the social and domestic life of Israel was always inseparably connected with the God of Israel. Daily life of the nation with the special highlighting of its feasts has been closely bound with religious life without any framework and borders. The God of Israel wants the full attention of His people.
Through 19 centuries, the Jewish people did not have their own country and in the countries where they had to live, they also were practically unable to cultivate the land. Therefore, the "dances of farmers” related to the daily work in the fields. It was also connected to the lack of family time in the evenings absent during that period which has since been restored with the establishment of the State of Israel. The name of this dance is the“hora” dance (originally taken from the Romanian dance).
Many of us are familiar with Jewish greeting, "Chag Sameach", which is translated as "joyful (cheerful) holiday". Now, scientists say that the Hebrew word "Chag", which is often translated as "feast, festival, celebration", has an original meaning of "sacred circle dance performed around the altar in the sanctuary." This shows that the essence and nature of celebration and dancing were so bound together, that when the Jewish people talked about feasts, their first thought was about dancing in joyful celebration.
WHAT THE DEFINITION “DANCE” MEAN?
The definition of "dance" in Hebrew is closely connected with and is practically a synonym with, the word "joy”. Dancing is described as the very picture of joy and antonym to sorrow, "... a time to mourn and a time to dance" (Ecclesiastes 3:4); "Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning" (Lamentations 5:15).
Using this same definition, images of dancing are spoken of in the prophecy of Jeremiah about the restoration of Israel, "I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt. Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful. “(Jeremiah 31: 4), "Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well..." (Jeremiah 31:13).
The Hebrew language has 13 words that describe dance, each highlighting one or another type and manifestation of it. Most refer to dance as an act or form of joy.
Deuteronomy 16: 11,14: "... and you shall rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the LORD thy God, to put his name there ..." Here in particular, God calls for everyone to be involved in the festive joy, with nobody left indifferent.
JOY IN THE LORD AND WITHOUT HIM
Joy in the Lord is about the One by Whom we live and have reason to rejoice for. The Lord is zealous for ways for His people to rejoice and serve Him. He does not need or ask for "boring religious things". Instead, He asks for the sincere feelings of his people. "When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations — I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being." (Isaiah 1:12-14).
Joy before the Lord has nothing to do with the joy and pleasures of this world and origin of this joy. In Isaiah 5:11-12 it says, "Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands." The Lord says through the prophet that joy caused by alcohol is disgusting to God (perhaps this is what happened when the Israelites worshiped the golden calf in Exodus 32 and three thousand died violently).
It’s not only alcohol that can cause unrighteous joy that is not directed to God, but also pride, envy, self-expression and self-realization as a goal in and of itself. These and many other things can lead us away from true praise and worship of God.
We just need to remind Satan was worship leader (Ezekiel 28). Satan knows the value, power and influence music and dancing has on person. He is the father of lies. He is good at corruption; changing and turning good things to evil. In the modern world, we are surrounded by culture, music, dance which were changed and corrupted by Satan. We cannot blindly and carelessly take things from this world and serve God with them.
Today some churches make big mistakes using these things. This happens when church services use a variety of formats of this world for fun that were originally focused on goals in opposition of things God wants us to do.
Most of us did not grow up in families of believers (which doesn’t necessarily guarantee proper upbringing either). Most of us came to God at a mature age with certain ways of thinking and established life foundations. For this reason, we have corrupted concept of the feast, joy and gladness; the true values and intention were eroded or replaced. And because we do not have the proper understanding, we can find ourselves expressing our joy in the wrong way. Or, conversely, we can put our limits on it.
Here, more than ever, Israel’s experience is useful to examine; the approaches and actions that have been carried and kept through the ages; not including religious and ritual aspects that were accumulated over the centuries and maintained after the death and resurrection of Yeshua. Other than Israel, there is no other nation in the world that has such a practice of life with God! There is no other nation whose culture, lifestyle, and very meaning of life is so connected to God.
Believers from any other nation without this knowledge and practice can lose certain blessings or risk making mistakes along the way.
There are dances of different origin and destination in the dance culture of different countries including martial arts dances, competitive dances and ritual dances. For example, the national dance of Myanmar involves 12 year old girls dancing on the shoulders of a man after having inhaled opium fumes. In Myanmar tradition this is a form of communication with spirits and ancestors. How should a believer in this country dance without specific knowledge of the Jewish (biblical) approach? He is compelled either to mix worship together with the old practice or follow the example of different versions of the world (including Christian practices), or refuse any practices in this area.
This large gap exists not only between Jewish dance and dance practices of this world. The gap is huge; even the opposite sometimes, but there is also a gap between Christian and Jewish practices. The gap is caused by various things, including history which we will also investigate.