2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Part 2) – Faith in the Face of Tragedy!

Posted: August 22, 2018 in 10-2 Samuel
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2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Part 2 of 3)
David Avenges the Gibeonites

In this second blog on this passage, the thing that is the play within the play here is the woman and mother, Rizpah. There is so much richness to this character from the Bible. From her, we can learn much.

Before we proceed into Rizpah’s part in today’s passage, we need to understand the background of her story line. The Old Testament is often rich in continued storylines. Rizpah is one of those. The Bible is not just a collection of disjointed passages and books that have nothing to do with each other. In this case, 2 Samuel 21:1-14 is not the first time we have heard Rizpah’s name. Remember the last time she was mentioned in 2 Samuel?

Sometimes in life we get dealt a raw deal. That is certainly the case with Rizpah. it’s important that you realize that this incident in 2 Samuel 21 was not the first time Rizpah had become an innocent victim in a bigger battle that was out of her hands. I wonder do you ever feel like that? Something is going on in your life, and you’ve no control over it, and as far as you’re concerned it’s not your fault, and you class yourself a victim. Well Rizpah was in 2 Samuel 21, but if you turn with me now to 2 Samuel chapter 3, you will see the first time (as far as we know from the biblical record) that Rizpah suffered victimization from the selfish hands of others. In 2 Samuel 3:7, Ishobesheth accuses Abner, the general of Saul’s armies of having sexual relations with Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines. There’s her name! It’s the same woman!

If anyone was to have sexual relations with one of the king’s women, whether it was the king’s wife or the king’s harem, such an act was understood in the customs of the ancient Middle Eastern cultures as an attempt to take the throne. So by taking his bride or by taking one of his concubines, you were saying that you were in authority and you wanted, or were taking the kingdom. Now what’s going on here in 2 Samuel 3 is that Saul has died, and Ishbosheth Saul’s son has now accused Abner of relations with Rizpah. He suspects that Abner’s toward the house of Saul is dissolving.

Now, Abner denies vigorously that he even laid a hand on Rizpah. If Abner’s loyalty was waning before, this incident causes pushes Abner over the edge. He immediately transfers his allegiance to David and brings the eleven tribes over with him. Now we don’t know from the Bible whether Abner was guilty of sleeping with Rizpah – but either way, it doesn’t really matter whether he did or whether he didn’t, who is the victim in this whole scenario? Rizpah. Regardless of whether the accusation was true or not, her reputation in the royal court of the house of Saul was now in tatters, and all at the expense of someone else’s squabble.

Before we even get to today’s scene in 2 Samuel 21, the biblical author gives us glimpse of Rizpah as a woman who was beset by tragedy that was out of her control. Her reputation ruined by an accusation that may or may not have been true. To make matters worse, Abner leaves her in the dust to go over to David’s side. She is left behind as a woman that is now considered a tainted woman by the royal court. Many feel like that in life. Now Rizpah suffers a second cruelty, for her two sons to King Saul are now hanging on a tree – Armoni is the name of one, and Mephibosheth the name of the other (and that is not Mephibosheth that was Jonathan’s son) – and they are both dead.

To add insult to injury, the fact of the gruesome death is not enough, they are not granted a proper burial – there they are left to hang in the open air, exposed to the elements. Did Rizpah’s deserve this? Had she done anything to warrant such treatment? She is suffering for the selfish sins of another. We see what those sins are, turn back with me to 2 Samuel 21 and verse 2 and we see that the cause of this bloodshed is because of the bloodthirsty house of Saul. The biblical author paints a portrait for us of Rizpah as one who was beset by tragedies that were not of her own making. The only other biblical character that I can think that had similar multiple tragedies that befell him or her that were out of their own control was Job.

Man, Rizpah is a hard luck woman. She has been given a raw deal in life. We probably know somebody like Rizpah in our own lives in the 21st century. If you pick up on this character in the biblical play that is 1 and 2 Samuel, she is a person that we can identify with, some can sympathize with and even some who can empathize with. We all know people like Rizpah. Maybe, we are a Rizpah. Maybe, you have gotten a raw deal in life. Many of us can blame our mistakes and bad decisions for our lot in life, but there are those who seem to be beset by tragedies (notice the plural of tragedy). Some of us seem to have tragedy befall us one after another.

What can we learn from Rizpah that we can use in our 21st century lives then? Let’s read the passage, 2 Samuel 21:1-14, now, and see how Rizpah handles this situation:

Chapter 21
1 There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”

2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?”

4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.”

“What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”

5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.[a]”

“All right,” the king said, “I will do it.” 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth,[b] who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[c] the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.

14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.

In this passage, we see Rizpah’s deep love for her sons caused her to take sackcloth (symbol of sorrow), spread it on a rock and she kept a vigil day and night over the bodies of her sons, keeping the birds and animals from devouring their bodies. This watch could have lasted anywhere from three to six months. Could you imagine how she felt? Not only had her life been in tatters since the Abner incident but now she was forced to live with the sacrificial deaths of her sons because of the sinful actions of Saul. Their deaths though sacrificial were still the deaths of her sons. Her actions show us true devotion to God even in the face of a world that has come crashing down on her. Her love for her sons was unaffected by the tragedy. Her belief in their honor led to a proper burial. Her perseverance brought David to reconcile himself to the legacy of Saul. Her endurance shows that we sometimes cannot see what our faith in God will produce – we just trust Him regardless of circumstance. Even in this situation where there is no sense to her as to why this happened to her sons, she continues to have faith as demonstrated by her endurance in this effort.

Sure, you know this woman is heartbroken (if you have ever lost a child to premature death you can identify with her). Her two sons were dead way too soon. Our sons and daughters are supposed to bury us not the other way around. Others may think her way of dealing with her obvious grief was pretty wacko even for the time period involved here (the wackiness of her act by human standards is why the author of 2 Samuel chose to include this information). Sometimes, in grief, we must put one foot in front of the other day by day. Nothing else and nothing more. We deal with a sudden death in different ways. However, Rizpah in doing what she was doing was defending the honor of her sons. So, she was actually productively handling her grief.

She was there as an act of love and devotion. She was not permitted to move the bodies of her dead sons, but she could keep the buzzards and coyotes away! What a testimony to abiding love! It reaches past the boundaries of this life and extends beyond the grave. Death could not diminish her love. Though her boys were grown and dead, though their bodies were left hanging as a sign of contempt and condemnation, she still loved them.

The news of this reached David and he was so moved by Rizpah’s actions that he went personally and retrieved the bones of Saul and Jonathon and buried them, along with these seven men in the tomb of Saul’s father. Because of Rizpah, the saga of King Saul ends with an honorable burial, an act that perhaps symbolized David’s own reconciliation with the man who had persecuted him. Not only this, her actions also won, for her sons, an honorable burial, instead of their bodies hanging in disgrace and being devoured by wild animals. Here is a woman who was grieving deeply, yet she allowed her grief and love to motivate her to action, and her actions brought peace and reconciliation. After this, God is entreated for the land of Israel and the drought was lifted. Her actions were a catalyst for closure. They brought closure to the famine, closure to the feud between the house of Saul and the house of David and closure in her own life and loss. Rizpah was a healer, a reconciler. This is a mark of true love. Love always seeks peace, healing, and reconciliation.

I could go on and on about this woman in this passage. Her act here in this passage teaches us much. She is a woman dealing with something that we often have to deal with in life – a tragedy befalling us that is not of our own making and we are left to figure out how to deal with it. She shows us a productive handling of her grief. She shows us love and devotion. She shows us enduring faith that we sometimes have to have when dealing with loss. We just simply trust God that there is some purpose in our suffering – it may take a long time or a lifetime to figure it out, but we still trust. We keep going. We don’t give up. We keep moving. We keep trusting in the Lord as a conscience decision.

Just read and re-read this passage and soak in what Rizpah does and means here. Tomorrow we will look at the symbolic nature of what she is doing in this passage. For now, we close with…

Amen and Amen.

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