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Saturday, 10 March 2012

Rizpah - A story of pain and heartache, loss and redemption.

I love seeking out and studying the lives of minor characters in the bible; and Rizpah is seemingly a minor footnote in there. Her entire story spans less than 15 verses but what a story!  A King’s concubine, mother to two illegitmate princes, a powerful General’s love interest, a beautiful pampered woman who slowly loses everything. But when Rizpah was stripped of everything she had ever had, she finally found God. Her story is a beautiful one of loss and redemption.

Rizpah sounds like a survivor, a woman who depended upon her beauty and wits to survive. A concubine to King Saul, she should be a forgotten 'dot' in history, known as nothing but the ‘plaything’ of a mad King. Was she sold to Saul by an uncaring father? We do not know but we do know that in an age where ‘wife’ was usually the only respectable option for a good woman, Rizpah was just a concubine. However, despite this slightly tarnished start, Rizpah seemed to make a go of things. It must have taken great diplomatic skill to handle the paranoid crazy Saul, bear him two sons and keep those sons safe from his murderous rages.

But over a period of time, the fa├žade of her life was slowly stripped away. First Saul died in battle and Israel was plunged into civil war. Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, was a weak king and Abner the General of his army, (contrary to accepted tradition) made a move on Rizpah. Did Abner consider her valuable because of her two sons? Illegitimate they might have been (according to the law), but they were still illegitmate princes.

Whatever the reason, Abner turned traitor and died. Ishbosheth died. David became King and Rizpah faded into the background. Her story was seemingly over. She had lost a lot but still had her sons.

Then there was a three year famine in Israel – God said it was because while Saul was still alive,he had murdered the Gibeonites. When appealed to, the Gibeonites demanded not money but the death of seven male descendants of Saul.

So, Rizpah’s two sons were violently killed, not in battle but for revenge. Her princes were executed for no fault of their own. For the mother who had birthed them, nurtured them, encouraged them, breathed a sigh of relief whenever they got back from battle, saved them from Saul's mad tantrums, kept them safe in the years of Ishbosheth's weak reign and the civil war, the loss of her children must have been the final cruel devastating blow.

Yet Rizpah did not succumb to grief, despair or madness. She had a new mission - her sons were not carrion, they would get a proper burial. So for 6 months, she spread sackcloth on a rock and mourning, grieving & keening, watched over their bodies, day and night. She chased away the vultures during the day and stared down the wild animals at night.

For 6 long months, this woman, a former king's concubine, used to dwelling in luxurious palaces and having access to all the finer things in life, slept on the hard ground out in the open. Her bed was a hard rock, her bedding was rough sack-cloth, her night music was the howling of hungry prowling Hyenas. Exposed to the harsh elements, burnt by the sun, battered by the winds, shivering in the cold nights, with no shade, no human company, Rizpah began her journey to God’s heart.

Did Rizpah scream at God? Beg Him? Curse Him? Cry before Him? Rue her life? Relieve her past? Offer vows of repentance & renewal? Whatever she said or did, her God hearkened to her cry. Six months later, David heard of Rizpah’s actions, and her sons bodies were rescued alongside their Father (Saul), Jonathan (half-brother) and five nephews, and finally all these men were buried in the family tomb. Because of a lowly forgotten concubine, King Saul also got a decent burial!

Rizpah did NOT give up. Despite the bleakness of her situation, the likelihood her condition would never change, nothing would ever happen, her discomfort & suffering, the hot relentless sun beating down upon her, the danger of the wild animals & biting cold & loneliness of the long nights, she did not leave. Her sackcloth displayed humility and mourning & her obedience was signified by not taking the law into her own hands and burying the boys herself.

God rewarded her. God mourned with her. God kept her safe and sane. God sat with her. God heard her. God wiped away her tears. God kept the heavens dry and free of rain because of the pain of a concubine - a woman valuable only for her beauty but not important enough to become a wife. A plaything for a king & conquest for a general (Abner) - never a wife but undoubtedly a proud loving mother until even that was ripped from her by the killing of her sons.

God heard her. God vindicated her. When her sons were buried, then the famine in Israel ceased. This is the second time that I know of that the Bible records that God kept a famine in Israel because of one individual.  Most know of Elijah (he prayed and the heavens were shut for 3.5yrs). This time God had brought the famine upon Israel for 3 year because of the injustice done to the Gibeonites, but even after the Gibeonites were handed the ‘compensation’ they demanded, the famine but continued for an additional 6 months until Rizpah’s sons were buried. One ordinary woman, possibly not considered totally respectable in the eyes of society, a failure in the eyes of others, became a woman who moved the hand of God to continue the famine on a a whole nation until she received justice.

All of us are extremely important to God. Our lives count to HIM. At this time when the hearts of many turn to death and resurrection, loss and redemption, let’s know that God sees our tears and hears our painful sobs. He is forever faithful and will come to our aid. Put your trust in God even if it seems like you have been abandoned and everything in your life is going wrong. TRUST GOD ALWAYS.

* Biblical references: 2nd Sam 21:10 – 14. 2nd Sam 3: 6 – 10.

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