Sharon Wilharm Bible Storyteller

Rizpah: A Testimony of Unfailing Vigilance

Are you suffering or grieving today? Are you feeling hurt and alone perhaps thinking that no one has had to suffer quite like you have? Are you wondering if God Himself has forsaken you?

If so, please know you’re not alone. The Bible is full of women who went through unspeakable tragedies. Today we look at one of those women. Rizpah, concubine of King Saul, was the victim of national gossip and then watched helplessly as her two sons were hanged for the sins of their father. And yet, through it all, she held her head high and reacted with dignity and strength. 

I originally scheduled Rizpah back in August based on when she’s first mentioned in scripture. But as I sat down to write about her, God pressed upon my heart that it wasn’t time for her yet. So I bumped her back based on the order of when she crux of her story takes place. I’m so glad I did that.

I’ve got to admit. When I first read about Rizpah, I was baffled by her story. What did it all mean? What was the significance? And how could it possibly relate to today’s women? 

But after studying these other women and having more time to pray over Rizpah, I have a whole new understanding of her. 

The first time we meet Rizpah is in 2 Samuel 3. We’re told that Saul had a concubine named Rizpah and that after Saul’s death, Ishbosheth accused Abner, his military commander, of sleeping with Rizpah. This was a serious accusation because if true, it would mean that Abner was using her to overtake Ishbosheth. 

Abner was deeply offended by the false accusation and as a result, moved his loyalty to David, thus causing the end of Saul’s throne. 

We don’t hear of Rizpah again until the 21st chapter of 2 Samuel. At this point, David is king and there is a severe famine in the land. He prays and asks God what is the reason for the famine. God reveals to him that it’s because Saul and his bloodthirsty killing of the Gibeonites. 400 years ago, Joshua had signed a treaty with the Gibeonites, allowing them to remain in the land as slaves. But Saul in his misguided attempt to appease God, broke the treaty and attacked and killed the people.

David met with the Gibeonites and asked what he could do to make it right.

They responded that they didn’t want money or for David to kill anyone. But they wanted him to give to them seven of Saul’s descendants to be hung.

For reasons, we may never understand, David agreed to their demands. He handed over Rizpah’s two sons and five of Saul’s grandsons who Michal had raised. As if that weren’t bad enough, he then forgot all about them, not following the law that when a man was put to death that his body was to be buried that same day.

Rizpah watched helplessly as her sons were killed and then abandoned left to rot on the trees. She wasn’t able to take them down, but she refused to abandon them like everyone else. 

She spread sackcloth on a rock and spread it out for herself on a rock at the foot of the crosses.

For five months she camped out on the hill, protecting her boy’s bodies from being ravaged by wild animals. It says that by day she kept the birds from lighting on them, and by night she kept away the beasts of the fields. 

For five months she watched as their bodies slowly decayed.

For five months she remained vigilantly by their sides, though the stench was overwhelming. 

It says she remained there from the beginning of harvest season until the late rains poured forth from heaven. 

Surely others saw her there. They couldn’t help but notice the bodies still hanging on the crosses. How alone she must have felt knowing that no one else cared.

But eventually word reached David and we’re told that he gathered their bones as well as the bones of Saul and Jonathon that had been left at Jabesh-gilead. And David had the bones of all of them buried in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father. 

The story ends by saying that after they were buried, God heeded the prayer for the land of Israel. 

This is one of those stories that leaves me with so many unanswered questions. Why was this woman only a concubine and not a full fledged wife? Why was she the victim of malicious gossip? Why did she have to watch her sons die for someone else’s sins? Why didn’t anyone think to bury their bodies? 

We’ll never know the answer to those questions, but what about these? Why is Rizpah included in the Bible? What can we learn from her and her story?

I love that even though Rizpah was a victim caught up in the politics of the men in her life, and even though she was given little respect in her lifetime, God honored her by including her name in the Bible. She may have been invisible to her contemporaries, but she is forever immortalized through her inclusion in the pages of 2 Samuel.

Rizpah may not be a leading lady in the Bible. She may not make the Hall of Fame of biblical women. But we can learn much from Rizpah’s example.

Rizpah was forever in the background. She didn’t make the first cut of royal wives. Ishbosheth saw her only as property to be used for political gain. David considered her sons disposable. And no one cared enough about her to join her out on the hill with the crosses, or at the very least to check in on her and make sure she was taken care of. 

If ever a woman had reason to feel sorry for herself, Rizpah did. And yet, we see no sign of self pity. 

Unlike Abigail or the Woman of Tekoa, Rizpah was not one to take authority and plead her case before David. And why should she? It was because of him that she was in the situation she was in. 

She was all alone. Except she wasn’t. She had her faith. 

Up on that hill Rizpah spread out sackcloth. Sackcloth was used as a sign of mourning, both for personal loss and for national disasters. It was also used to show repentance and a turning back to God. 

The rest of Israel may have moved on with their lives, but Rizpah pleaded with God until the rains came down from heaven. For five months she stood on that piece of sackcloth as she guarded over those dead bodies.  Oh, the anguish she must have felt, watching her beloved deteriorate, knowing their death was a result of Israel’s spiritual failings. But she never lost faith. She never left her guard. 

Oh, that we might have that kind of faith and commitment. When lies are spread about us. When our loved ones are taken away from us. When our entire world crumbles before our eyes and it feels like we’re all alone, oh that we might stay the course, pleading our case to the Lord, never giving up until He sends down healing rain to shower upon us. 

Lord God Almighty, thank you for including Rizpah in the Bible. Thank you for allowing us to see her pain and to learn from her life. May we have that kind of persevering faith. May we mourn the wickedness around us, while keeping our eyes lifted upward to Your redeeming love. Thank you for this reminder that however bad things might be and however alone we might feel, we are never truly alone. Lord God, just as Rizpah was living in times where men had lost focus and lost sight of Your way, so, too, are we living in such times. We are in a spiritual famine caused by man’s failure to follow You.  So Lord, we ask you to send revival to our land, starting with each and every one of us. Just as Rizpah was a witness on that hill, so may we be a witness to those around us. Please send healing rain on our land. We love You. Amen.

That concludes this week’s episode of All God’s Women. Tune in next week when we talk about the two mothers who went to King Solomon for advice.

Speaking of prayer and revival, this weekend is a national day of prayer and repentance. Join together with Christians around the country as we pray for revival in our land. 

As always I appreciate when you pass along the word to your friends and family so that they, too, can learn more about these fascinating women of the Bible.

Rizpah Bible study episode of All God's Women

Bible Study

Scripture Background

2 Samuel 3:7-11
2 Samuel 21:1-14

Bible Study Review

  1. How was Rizpah the victim of gossip?
  2. Why were her sons killed?
  3. What was David’s response to the hangings?

Thoughts to Ponder

  1. Could Rizpah have prevented her sons’ death?
  2. What could David have done differently?
  3. Why didn’t anyone else seem bothered by the bodies hanging from the trees?

Personal Reflection

  1. Have you ever had to watch someone you loved suffer and/or die? How did you respond?
  2. What can we learn from Rizpah’s example?
  3. How are you like/unlike Rizpah?

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5 thoughts on “Rizpah: A Testimony of Unfailing Vigilance

  1. Thank you for explaining this story to me and pointing out her godly characteristics. I often glanced at the story but today I felt led to study it out. You pointed out many things and I want to say thank you very much for taking the tine to do so.

    1. Kathy, thank you for letting me know. It’s a story that made me very uncomfortable until I started looking at it more in depth. I’ve found that is true with so much in the Bible. At first glance, it may not make sense, but if we keep reading and studying until we understand it, then it makes such a difference.

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