Who is Rizpah? Have you heard of her, and her tragic story? I believe that we can learn a lot from Rizpah, and there's so much that we will study her for two weeks! Her story is found in II Samuel, chapter 21:
Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites. And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.) Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LORD? And the Gibeonites said unto him, We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, nor of his house; neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel. And he said, What ye shall say, that will I do for you. And they answered the king, The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel, Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD did choose. And the king said, I will give them. But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the LORD's oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul. But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite: And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest. And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night. And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done. And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa: And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged. And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was intreated for the land".
Rizpah is first mentioned to us as the concubine of King Saul. Way back in the third chapter of II Samuel, she is a victim of abuse, or at least a victim of slander. After the death of the king, the general of Saul's army, Abner, is accused of having sexual relations with Rizpah, Saul's concubine. At that time, having sex (whether it was rape, or consensual sex) with one of the king's women meant that you were setting yourself up in authority -- that you were taking over the kingdom. One of Saul's sons, Ishbosheth, suspects that the general has been paying way more attention to Rizpah than to the armies . . . now, Abner denies it vehemently, but the damage is done: Rizpah's reputation and her standing at the court are both gone! She is the victim; it's all at her expense. (By the way, Abner transferred his loyalties to David, who would become the king.)
The second time we hear of Rizpah, is the tragic story we just read. To truly understand, I think we need a little background, don't you? Let's dive in!
Many, many years ago (400 years before, to be exact) there was an incident where some of the inhabitants of the Promised Land tricked Joshua, the leader of the children of Israel. Some of the Canaanites, called the Gibeonites, deceived him into making a treaty with them. If you'd like to go back and check it out, just flip over to Joshua 9:3-27 for a refresher. God had said that He would go with the Israelites and make it possible for them to possess the land - the Gibeonites heard they were coming and wanted to keep on living . . . so they threw some road dust on each other, and made out like they had traveled a long, long way. They told Joshua that they were foreigners who wanted to serve the living God, when actually they were from settlements very close by. Joshua gave his word that they would not be killed; he covenanted with them and guaranteed their security. Oy. See what happens when you don't do what God tells you? (Grin) Well, Joshua was tricked, and the Israelites had to honor his pledge.
Now, back to our story in II Samuel. King David and his people are experiencing a drought. Not just a gee-I-wish-it-would-rain-and-fill-up-the-lake kind of drought, but a Three. Year. Drought. In Deuteronomy, we see that famine was often a whap on the head for the people -- a way of getting their attention and chastising them. God would sometimes make the heaven brass and the ground fruitless in order to bring them to repentance, and bring them back to Himself.
So, David inquires, Lord, why the drought?
God tells him why. Several years ago, King Saul brought a 400 year old treaty and tried to exterminate the Gibeonites. I can just imagine David thinking, "Oh, snap, I remember that now!" Or some such thoughts . . . so in spite of the fact that Joshua made the treaty hundreds of years earlier, and in spite of the fact that it was King Saul's fault, not his own, David and his people are suffering.
But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the ; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. (Numbers 32:23)
God takes keeping our word very seriously! So David approaches the Gibeonites and asks them what they would accept as an atonement - some sacrifice for Saul's offence. One would suppose that he expected them to come back with a request for gold, or for silver and jewels, or for the watering rights for their flocks, or something similar. But no! There was no material compensation that would make things right. What they wanted was life for life -- and they requested seven male offspring of Saul. Two were Rizpah's sons Armoni and Mephibosheth (not the same one who was Jonathan's son, and beloved by King David), and the other five were Saul's grandsons.
David reluctantly gave his permission for these seven to be turned over to the Gibeonites; they were executed and then hanged. To add insult to injury, even if the gruesome death is not enough, they aren't going to be granted a proper burial. They will be left to hand in the open air, exposed to the elements and to scavenging beasts.
And that is where our heroine, Rizpah, comes in. She is only one. But we'll see she is powerful, when we study again next time.