The story of Rizpah was never one of my favorites.
But Melissa Griffin helped me see it a new way.
I went to the Nebraska Christian Women’s Conference in West Point where the Arkansas evangelist spoke in November.
During her talks, Melissa shed some light on Rizpah — a little-known woman mentioned in the Old Testament.
At this point in Bible history, David — the shepherd who’d killed the giant Goliath — is king of Israel.
Israel has been stricken with famine for three years.
When David asks why, God tells him it’s due to the bloodguilt on the late king Saul and his household, because Saul killed many people called the Gibeonites.
Centuries earlier, the Israelites had unwittingly made — but still abided by — a treaty with the deceptive Gibeonites.
In Saul’s zeal to look good with the Israelites — he not only shed innocent blood, but broke the oath — and killed many Gibeonites.
Now when David goes to make amends, the Gibeonites don’t want gold or silver.
“What do you want me to do for you?” David asks.
They want to hang seven of Saul’s sons.
So David agrees.
Melissa says the sons are innocent men who will be killed because of what their father did.
I looked in the Fire Bible,* which proposes a different thought.
It says the use of the word, “bloodguilt,” suggests Saul’s sons took part in the killings.
Either way, I agree with what Melissa writes in her book, “Pull a Rizpah.”
Melissa points out that David doesn’t argue with the Gibeonites, doesn’t try to come up with another solution — and doesn’t go back to God and ask if putting these men to death is the answer to this situation.
David just does what the Gibeonites want.
He hands over five sons of Merab, who was Saul’s daughter, and two from Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines.
A concubine was technically a slave, who functioned as a secondary wife and surrogate mother. She didn’t have the rights of a wife and could have been considered a mistress.
It was a bad practice the Israelites picked up from their pagan neighbors.
Rizpah probably had no more choice about being a concubine than she did about her sons being hauled away to their deaths.
I can’t—and don’t want to—imagine the horror and anguish Rizpah suffered at seeing the sons she’d loved, nurtured and raised being executed in such a brutal, gruesome and publicly humiliating way.
Hopefully, they’d get a quick burial, right?
After all, God told the Israelites centuries earlier (Deuteronomy 21:23) that anybody who was hanged was to be taken down and buried the same day.
Yet nobody comes to do that.
Instead, these seven sons are left to hang and decompose amid predators looking to dine on the remains.
But if Rizpah can’t stop her sons’ executions, she’s at least going to keep the predators away.
She takes sackcloth — a coarse, rough fabric associated with grief — and spreads it over a rock for herself, near where her sons are hanging.
The Bible says Rizpah stays on that rock from the start of the barley harvest until the rains fall from heaven.
How long was that?
A commentary, called Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, says she probably sat there a few days.
Melissa points to other scholars who believe Rizpah sat there from about April to October.
And during that whole time, Rizpah doesn’t let birds or beasts come near her sons’ bodies.
When King David learns what Rizpah has done, he gets the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan, which some brave men had stolen from the Israelites’ enemies.
And the bones of Saul’s executed sons are gathered as well.
Saul and Jonathan’s bones are placed in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish.
I’m not sure what happened to the other men’s bones, but at least they were taken down.
“After that,” the Scriptures record, “God answered prayer in behalf of the land.”
So what do we learn from this sad story?
There are probably many lessons, but the ones that stand out to me are some Melissa brought up in her talk and her book.
She mentions how — kind of like Rizpah — we may have found ourselves in situations we didn’t choose.
We didn’t choose that pain, accident or divorce.
And can’t you think of other situations?
You didn’t want that terrible illness or to see a family member caught in a web of addiction or to have a precious loved one die.
Melissa also paints a picture of what it might have been like for Rizpah sitting on that rock — that very hard place — for what could have been a long time.
Rizpah probably didn’t smell too good. Her hair could have become matted. Other family members might have thought she’d lost her mind.
Yet in Rizpah, Melissa sees a picture of perseverance.
And we can be persistent, too.
Maybe our children — or other loved ones — aren’t physically dead.
But they’ve fallen away from the Lord and are dead spiritually.
So do we give up?
We pull a Rizpah.
To me, this means we never stop praying for our loved ones and trusting God to restore them. We fight against those vultures of fear and despair even when, kind of like Rizpah, we’re in a very hard place.
In her book, Melissa talks about fighting against the devouring spirits that threaten our loved ones.
During the conference, she talked about praying for two years for a young woman who’d gone down the wrong path in life. The young woman came back to the Lord.
Our loved ones can come back, too.
It’s true, there are times when we can feel hopeless and like our lives are decaying around us, but we must remember that ancient day woman’s example of tenacity.
And we must remember something else:
Eventually, Rizpah got the king’s attention.
And it did rain. The famine ended.
While this doesn’t negate what Rizpah suffered, Melissa says her story shows that things don’t have to stay hopeless and unchanging forever.
God can bring us hope even in the midst of the famines in our lives.
And he can bring the rain.