“Rizpah: The Influence of Faithfulness”
The story of Rizpah is told in two passages in 2 Samuel. In chapter 3 verse 1, we are told; “Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah…” In this passage she was implicated in an illicit liaison with Abner, Saul’s general. Abner vehemently denied any involvement.
We hear nothing more of Rizpah until 2 Samuel 21. Here we learn that she was the mother of two boys, Mephibosheth and Armoni, by Saul. As such, she was considered Saul’s wife. This passage gives context to the story of Rizpah, and shows us who she really was. 2 Samuel 21:1 says, “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year…”
How could there be a famine in a fruitful land under the reign of the one who was “a man after God’s own heart?” David consulted the Lord in 2 Samuel 21:1 to ask this question. God responded by saying, “It is because of Saul and his blood thirsty house because he killed the Gibeonites.”
The incident to which God referred is told In Joshua 9. The Gibeonites, hearing what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, “worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors” (Joshua 9:4 NKJV) in order to avoid being slaughtered by the Israelites. They frankly lied, telling Joshua, “From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God; for we have heard of His fame and all that He did in Egypt” (Joshua 9:9). Bringing gifts, they besought him to make a covenant with them that they would not be destroyed. In verse 16, Joshua and the whole congregation swore an oath of protection with the Gibeonites. But, 2 Samuel 21:2 says, “Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah.”
David asked the Gibeonites how he might atone for this wrong. They requested that seven descendants of the house of Saul be given to them that they might be hanged before the Lord. The seven included the two sons of Rizpah and the five sons of Michal, Saul’s daughter. The execution of her two sons leaves Rizpah mourning in a very dramatic way from the beginning of the harvest until the rains came.
Two important points come to mind in this story: The first is the meaning of an oath, and the second is the power of a witness.
An oath, according to the Scriptures, was very serious and must be carried out at all costs (see Judges 11:30-39, 1 Samuel 14:24-28,43,44). The breaking of an oath meant certain death. The story in Judges is disturbing. A very distraught Jephthah declared, “For I have given my word to the Lord and I cannot go back on it.” Jephthah’s daughter was put to death as the result of his thoughtless oath. Even Jonathan would surely have died at his father’s hand for eating a little honey had not the people intervened for him and prevented the carrying out of the king’s oath.
All of this should remind us of another oath. It is an oath of eternal significance; one to which we owe our lives. In Genesis 22:16, God said to Abraham: “By Myself I have sworn says the Lord.” What did He swear to? Verse 18 continues, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” God guaranteed with an oath that Jesus, who at that time was pre-incarnate, would come to earth as a man, lay aside His divine prerogatives and become obedient to the death of the cross.
But why would God use an oath? Hebrews 6:17 says “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of His promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath.” The oath was for our benefit.
E. J. Waggoner, in Present Truth, July 9 1896, puts it this way: “Think of it; God swore by Himself! That is, He pledged Himself and His own existence to our salvation in Jesus Christ. He put Himself in pawn, His life for ours…He has pledged His own existence to the performance of His word. If His word should be broken to the humblest soul in the world, He Himself would be disgraced, dishonored and dethroned.”
The character of God was on the line. Was He a selfish being or was He, in fact, a loving and self emptying God? Hebrews 6:16 says that an oath was seen as a way to end all dispute. Because God wanted to make the strongest possible declaration of His promise to save man at any cost to Himself, and to demonstrate His character of agape, He could not just declare it as fact. He must swear to it. He condescended to use an oath, not for His benefit, but for ours, and also for the benefit of the on-looking universe.
This brings us to our second point. Rizpah faithfully guarded the bodies of her sons. She did not allow “the birds of the air to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night” (2 Samuel 21:10). David was watching, and his heart was touched as this mother set up camp and watched over her last remaining family members for a very long time, until the beginning of the late rains. The king was moved to bring back the bodies of Saul and Jonathan, and to “gather the bones of those who had been hanged” for the purpose of giving them a dignified burial.
The Bible says “And after that God heeded the prayer for the land.” The rains “poured on them from heaven” (2 Samuel 21:10).
A witness is a powerful thing. God says in Isaiah 43:12 “…Therefore you are My witnesses, says the Lord, that I am God.” Proverbs 27:11 tells us why this is crucial. It says, “My son, be wise and make my heart glad, that I may answer him who reproaches Me.” The apostle Paul also understood this and proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 4;9 “For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.”
As with Rizpah, the world is watching us. What kind of witnesses are we?