Rizpah

In Chapter 9, you learned that Rizpah was the daughter of Aiah and the concubine of Saul. This section focuses on fleshing out a few more details about her as Saul's concubine, and the heart-wrenching tragedy she endured. Rizpah's boys were named Armoni and Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 21:8). Her name means “coal” or “hot stone.” She was caught up in a political turmoil having to do with the legacy of her husband Saul, which resulted in her personal tragedy and grief beyond measure. Her story in the Bible is brief, but shows a woman of tenderness, gentleness, and great resolve.

In the first years of his reign as king, David saw his people suffer through a three-year famine. David asked God the reason for the famine. He was told that it was because of the murder of the Gibeonites by Saul.

Who Were the Gibeonites?

The Gibeonites lived in Gibeon (but also, perhaps, in a trio of several nearby cities). They wanted to establish an alliance with Israel. Meeting the Israelites at Gilgal, they pretended they were foreign ambassadors. The Israelites entered into an alliance with them, but once they discovered the ruse, they relegated the Gibeonites to cutting wood and carrying water. According to the Scriptures, the Gibeonites “…were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites…” (2 Samuel 21:2). Saul broke the alliance with the Gibeonites by killing some, and trying to kill the rest (2 Samuel 21:1–2, 21:5).

To which Hebrew tribe did Rizpah belong?

The Bible states that Rizpah was Aiah's daughter, and that Aiah was an Edomite. The Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites were tribes of ancient peoples, related to the children of Israel but at times antagonistic to them. The nomadic Edomites lived in the Negev Desert in what is today southern Israel, near Jordan. Some biblical sources assert that the nation of Edomites ceased to exist after the Jewish-Roman Wars.

What Did They Demand?

Instead of asking God what should be done and waiting for an answer, David went to the Gibeonites and asked them what he could do to appease them. They demanded revenge upon the men of the house of Saul.

The Bible doesn't say whether or not David had a heavy heart while he considered the Gibeonites demands. The Gibeonites would settle for nothing less, so David was forced to agree, and the deed was accomplished.

How Did Rizpah Deal with the Dead?

The men's bodies had been lying on the ground unburied where the birds and wild animals could freely desecrate them. Rizpah sat down on the sackcloth-covered rock of Gibeah and began a vigil through long days and nights, protecting the bodies. She stayed there watching over her dead for five long months. Eventually, David was informed and took pity on her. He transported the bones of Saul and Saul's son Jonathan, and “the bones of them that were hanged” to the land of Benjamin (Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of the tribes of Israel). There, he had them buried in the tomb of Kish, Saul's father (2 Samuel 21:12–14).

And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night. And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done (2 Samuel 21:10–11).

After Saul experienced a crushing defeat in the battle of Gilboa, Abner (son of Ner, and a soldier loyal to Saul) made Saul's only surviving son, Ishbaal, king of Israel at the site of Mahanaim. Meanwhile, David was ruling as king of Judah at Hebron. War between the soldiers of the two factions ended in defeat of Abner. When Ishbaal criticized Abner for marrying Rizpah, Abner switched his support to David.

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