Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Rizpah, the power of one, part II

Picture if you will, the dark, tearful eyes of the once-beautiful concubine of a king. Seated on a rough piece of sackcloth, she keeps vigil over the bodies of her two sons. The Law said they should have been buried before sunset on the day they died; yet there they are, and here she is.

It's been months now; her skin is no longer smooth and supple, but brown and burnt from the searing heat of the days. Her hair that used to be a shining mass perhaps twisted into elaborate hairstyles is now matted with sweat and dirt. Her clothing used to be the sumptuous silks and brocades of the ladies of the court, but now it is showing the ravages of wind and weather.

The Bible says that she stayed all day and all night, from barley harvest (sometime late in April) to the early rains (scholars tell us that is in October). She is keeping the scavenger beasts and the predatory birds away from the bodies of her boys. By day, she can flap her arms and shout, and by night, she keeps a fire going - if they come too close she can grab a branch from the fire and brandish it at the animals. Ever sat by a campfire and see the glowing eyes of "something" back in the brush, away from the flames? Not a comfortable feeling, but it's her world for over five long months. A world that used to include living sons; but now she will never hear those voices or hug them again. In fact, they are exposed to shame as well as the elements and beasts. All of these things must have pierced her mothering heart. Many of us can understand at least some of what Rizpah dealt with; many of us have suffered the loss of a child, or another tragedy that simply takes one's breath away and then weighs on the chest.

How difficult it is sometimes for our mortal minds to wrap around the fact that sins have consequences. These consequences may be revisited on the sinner, or they may "come home to roost" with the family or a family member. "But that's not fair," we bluster. "That's not right." But all through the scriptures we see that sins affect other people, not just the sinner. Maybe it's not really fair that these two sons of Saul and the five grandsons should suffer for their father and grandfather's sins. Or that Rizpah suffered. But it's a fact; it's part of the fall from grace; we suffer sometimes because of what we do, and we sometimes suffer because of what others do. You may remember, though, if you've studied in Deuteronomy, that in chapter 24 the law prohibits punishment of a son for his father's sins. Well now..... we don't see that God rebukes David for taking this action. What gives? It just may be that the Gibeonites (and David) were being just; it could be that Saul was not the only one involved in this. It's possible that the two sons of Rizpah and the five grandsons of Saul were also involved in this murder of protected people.

And so Rizpah is still here; she is still grieving, still loving and praying. What a lesson she is for those of us who are parents and grandparents. Or for those of us who are responsible for some of the flock at our church. Our children are most certainly going to go astray; they will sin; but we should never, ever cut them off from our love. Rizpah knew that. But how in the world did she get through these months of effort, ordeal, sadness? There is only one thing powerful enough to get her though, and that is love.

This is not pink and red, frothy lace, sweet satin, delicate scents, and not even chocolate -- this is steely determination wrapped in love. This is strong legs and a stout heart because of love. This is wipe-away-the-tears-and-work kind of love. Rizpah is one of the best examples of perseverance in the Bible! And if we recall what Paul said in Romans:

                       And not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know
                       that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character,
                       hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

Her perseverance did produce hope, and she got through this. Did she accomplish anything? Did any good come from this?  Oh, yes!
Verse 11 told us that someone told David what Rizpah had done. When he heard of her powerful love, her sacrifice, it touched his heart and it got him thinking. He not only took steps to give a decent burial to her two sons, he also took care of the other five men. And that's not all! His conscience was also pricked as he recalled that when King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed, they had not received a proper burial, either!

The verse tells us that he went and took the bones of Saul and of Jonathan, Saul's son, from the men of Jabeshgilead (who had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, when the Philistines hanged them) and he buried them in the land that belonged to the Benjamites. Did any good come from Rizpah's situation, and from her perseverance? Ah, yes, it's the power of one!

The power of one woman to remind a king of how things should be done. The power of one woman to spur him to action.  The power of one woman to make the nation take a look at the evil that had happened. The power of one woman to set a nation on its heels as they watch the long-overdue and proper burials. The power of one woman as that nation is reminded of the one true God during those burials.

Yes, Rizpah can inspire us with the lesson of how powerful one person can be. But there are other lessons she has for us. We'll explore some of them tomorrow.


Katie Isabella said...

Thank you so much for this. I read every word with deep interest as I had not looked at it that way.

Cathy said...

This is great stuff. I’ve read this account before, but it never went any further than my eyes. It certainly never sank in the way you have explained it. I’m curious...... how are you choosing which women to study?