Rizpah Roy Blizzard @ Joppa Church, Bertram, TX 5 18 2014



II Samuel 21:1-14


Roy Blizzard III © 2012



Pressed into the compendium of one little sentence in the 21st Chapter of II Samuel is the heart of one of the most dramatic and pathetic stories ever written. Tennyson was inspired by it when he wrote his poem “Rizpah.”


You probably aren’t familiar with the story so let me briefly summarize it for you. There was a famine in the days of King David that lasted for three years, and David asked God, “Why?” The Lord told him it was because of King Saul’s treatment of the Gibeonites. You see, the Gibeonites were a remnant of the Amorites, the descendants of Ham and Canaan, that the children of Israel had promised them, in the name of Jehovah, that they would not be molested nor mistreated. Saul, in his zeal for Israel and maybe in anger, had walked roughshod over the Gibeonites. So the Lord told David to make amends and atonement and the famine would cease.


Quickly David dispatched a messenger to the Gibeonites requesting them to send emissaries empowered to make peace. Smilingly these cunning diplomats from the Gibeonites came into the city of David. David said unto them, “I want to make amends for what Saul did to you. Tell me what I can do.”


Graciously, they answered, “Well, we don’t want you to give us any silver or any gold. We don’t want you to put to anyone to death.”


David walked head first into their well-laid trap. He replied, “Then, if you don’t want any silver or any gold, if you don’t want me to put anyone to death, say what you want and you shall have it.” Their smiles disappeared and their wolves’ teeth came out. Their answer surely stunned David, for they asked for the seven sons of Saul that they might take them up to the hill of Gibeah and hang them. The original Hebrew meaning meant to crucify or to impale and was a type of capital punishment mingled with torture.


So they took the seven sons of Saul up to the hill of Gibeah, and runners went out to summon all the Gibeonites. That was a gala day for this little remnant of the Amorites. Draw on your imagination a moment and you can visualize what happened. All day long they paraded back and forth in front of the seven suffering sons of Saul, clapped their hands, hissed and ridiculed, jeered and sneered, but when the day ended, the boys were dead.


As twilight descended, a little woman, mother of two of the sons, a concubine of Saul named Rizpah climbed the hill of Gibeah. Sobs shook her frail frame and tears ran down her face and dropped to the ground. When she found the two that belonged to her I can imagine she did what any mother would have done, she kissed their bloody, lifeless feet and wept her heart-out. Now, it was evidently the custom then that anyone so put to death would not be buried, so they had to hang there until, the wind rallied their bones, and the vultures picked them clean, or until the beasts of the forest tore them down. That was their fate or what it was supposed to be to the people of Gibeah.


But, night came and Rizpah spread her sackcloth on a rock to rest. But there was no rest for her, for the wild beasts of the forest smelled the blood, and snarling they had come for their feast. What did she do?   Scream in terror and run away? No, she took the sackcloth and flashed it over her head in screaming defiance, and drove them back into the forest. Day came. Exhausted, she again spread the sackcloth to rest. A shadow, and another, and then another careened before her. Wearily, she lifted her face to see the vultures of the air that had come to their feast. Once more the sackcloth flashed her defiance.


Read what the Bible says in verse 10: “And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of the harvest until the water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest upon them by day nor the beasts of the field by night.” The barley harvest was in May, and the first rains came in September. June, July, August, September she stayed among the decaying bodies of the seven sons and drove the Beasts off by night and the birds of the air by day.


You can just imagine how when into the silken seclusion of David’s palace seeped the rumor, “Poor Rizpah, she is going mad.” David would ask, “What’s the matter with Rizpah?” They would reply, “Haven’t you heard? They fixed a little tent for her up where the seven sons of Saul are and she’s kept the beasts off at night and the birds of the air by day. She hasn’t left her post; they’ve carried her things to eat.”


David, remorseful, his whole heart bursting, ordered; “Take those laws off the statute books now. Go get those seven sons of Saul, bring them down here and bury them in the King’s burying ground. That’s where they belong, all of them.” And that’s the summation of the story of Rizpah.


Now, ask yourself one question, one question for each of the three groups of people that went up to the Hill of Gibeah on that fateful day and then this story comes right down to our time. The question is, “Why are you here on the hill of Gibeah today?”


Ask it first of the seven sons of Saul. If their swollen tongues and swollen lips, parched and cracked from their torture could answer they would say, “Our father sinned. We didn’t know anything about it. We didn’t do anything. We were just children. Our father sinned.”


Dr. Howard Kelly, a famous Baltimore physician of some years ago, once invited all of the ministers in the Baltimore area to the YMCA auditorium to see two films. Some 600 ministers were present for the meeting. The Dr. walked to the platform and said, “My brethren, the pictures that I am going to show you will break your hearts. They are tiny babies born in my hospital, all deformed and shapeless. Not one of them lived very long.” The lights went out and the pictures that flashed on the screen were horrible. At the conclusion Dr. Kelly said, “I can write across these two reels of pictures one sentence to describe the cause. Their fathers or their mothers sinned.” Whether or not the parent’s sin caused these deformities I can’t testify, but in the words of the Bible there is the statement, “The sins of the father shall be visited upon the children from generation to generation.


The Lord in heaven knows that the physical sins of parents can wreck the lives of children and are bad enough, but there are many sins that do not belong to the physical realm that are far more poisonous and insidious than the ones that Dr. Kelly or any film ever portray. The sins of disposition are as deadly as any rattler. Psychiatrists are writing, speaking, and teaching continually that the “sense of “security” is vital to the normal development and growth of the child. There is no way to measure the damage that is done to the child in the malleable stage by the wrong atmosphere in the home.


Carey Barker, one-time captain of the Washington and Lee football team related this true story. “Just before dark late one afternoon I was walking down a street in Richmond and saw a chubby little boy sitting on the edge of the sidewalk, with his feet down in the street. His elbows were resting on his knees and his face was in his hands and under one arm was a partially deflated football. He was so pathetic looking that I just walked over and sat down beside him. “Sonny, what’s the matter? Why are you sitting down here like you had lost your best friend?”


He twisted around and looked at me a moment and said, “Mister, did you ever play football?” “Sure I did, Captain of Washington and Lee and a fullback for two years,” I replied. “Then, mister, you know what it means for a player to be off sides. The whole team not just     the player gets penalized. Everybody in the grandstand that’s rootin for the team gets penalized. Everybody that’s pulling for them on the radio gets penalized.”


I said to him, “you are so right son. You are so right.” After a moment he went on. “Well mister, my daddy is off sides. “He came home drunk this evening. Mother had the nicest dinner ready. She was singing and smiling and happy as she put it on the table. I was washing up when dad came in. Mister, he turned the table over and slapped her on the face. I sneaked out the back door and came over here and thought I would kick the football around awhile, but it ain’t any fun to kick a football around by yourself. All the other boys have gone home.”


Carey Barker said, “I stayed with him a long time. I took him out and bought him supper and then went on my way thinking how the sins of a father and mother can wreck the happiness of a home and the happiness of a boy.”


It’s just a step from there to the story of the two prodigal sons, the one of them breaking his father’s heart and spending his father’s money in riotous living and the other guilty of the sins of disposition, refusing to come into the feast and likewise breaking the father’s heart. The point is this, when one person is off sides in life the whole team gets penalized.


Now ask the same questions of the Gibeonites. “Why are you here on the hill of Gibeah?”


Back comes the answer through gritted teeth. “We are here, to settle a grudge. We are here to get even with a man we hated.” Here is another deadly sin that in this generation needs to be brought into the open where the light of reason and the words of Jesus can enable us to see its danger. A little grudge, a little grievance nursed, pondered and brooded over, can become a cancer in our souls. We let our imaginations play around it. We go to sleep at night thinking about it and it grows bigger and bigger and sooner or later wrecks our health and spoils our peace of mind.


A physician friend told me several years ago of one of his patients who was in the hospital awaiting an operation. He said, “When I went in to see her the day before the operation she didn’t seem in the least perturbed or upset. She was apparently defiant and very smug. In fact her whole demeanor puzzled me. She had the appearance of having won a victory instead of having an apprehension about her operation. I said to her, “You are not uneasy about the operation are you?” She almost snapped out the answer, “I am not.” I wanted a fur coat for Christmas,” she continued with a gleam in her eye. “I tried my best to get my husband to buy it for me. It would only have cost him $600.00. He said he couldn’t afford it. This operation is going to cost the old skin flint $1,500.00 since we don’t have any insurance.”


The doctor said, “I sat there dumbfounded. For a long time I was silent. I was thinking poor soul. You don’t realize what your resentment has cost you in the last six months. Then this doctor went on to say that there are literally thousands upon thousands of people whose physical health is entirely undermined and wrecked because of grievances and grudges that they carry around in their hearts.


Dr. Charles M. Crowe has a paragraph in his book, “On Living With Yourself” that might be well read over and over again. “Emerson stated the idea this way; A man is what he thinks all day long.” Marcus Aurelius summed it up in eight words, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” These are 8 words that can change our lives. It can’t be otherwise. The experiences of the human race confirm it. If our thoughts live in the gutter, we’ll be in the gutter. If our thoughts are directed towards the fine and clean things of life we will walk the earth as children of God. Pygmy thoughts make little men; great thoughts make big men.   For out of the heart are the issues of life. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Jesus, of course, was the great exemplar of this idea. He would say that thoughts of jealously, hatred, and self-interest make men weaklings. He would say that thoughts of confidence, trust, and love make men victorious.”


And now ask the same question of Rizpah, “Why are you here on the hill of Gibeah?


The answer comes back in an old familiar refrain… “Because a mother loves”. It is a picture that stirs the human heart. A little mother, sitting among the crosses on the hill of Gibeah, because two of her boys had been crucified there for the sins of their father.


Just a few miles away and a few days away if you measure by God’s great clocks, another Son was crucified upon the Mount of Olives at Golgotha, but this son was entirely without sin. There at Calvary at sunset, three crosses were silhouetted against a darkening sky. Ask the same question to the one in the center, “Why are you here?”   Back comes the answer, “Because a Father loves.”


For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) It is just a step from Rizpah to Jesus; it’s just a step from Golgotha to where ever you are at today. We all have sinned and fallen short and we all have need in this hour of Jesus’ saving blood.


1 John 1:7

King James Version (KJV)

7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

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