2 Samuel 21:10-14
And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her on the rock…
One of the most affecting narratives in Holy Writ — a story, full of beauty and pathos, is the solitary vigil of Rizpah as she watched with a mother's love over the dead bodies of her two sons. In years gone by she had been a favourite with Saul. Her home was in the king's palace; in his love she found both home and happiness. She had no wishes ungratified; whatever could add to her wondrous beauty or minister to her woman's vanity was freely at her command. The hues of health and youth mantled in her checks, the rose and the lily lent to her their charms, the light, of hope sat upon her calm brow and brightly beamed in her dark eve; her light, elastic step told of the joy that filled her heart. The stream of life flowed gently on, as a river of peace; the present hour was without a cloud of care; the visions of the future were as bright and rose-coloured as her own playful fancy could paint them. All men paid their court to her, they lived upon her smiles; she was the beneficent fairy who administered happiness and favour to the admiring throng. Far above all these and more than all these was the king's love, the love of Saul, not more distinguished for his manly honours than for the grace of his manly beauty, for his heroic courage and valour, for his warlike triumphs — those qualities which might well commend him to her woman's heart. He was the lover of her youth, the father of her children, the two beautiful boys, who were not only the source of the young mother's pride and joy, but the pledge and assurance of her continued reign in the royal heart. Well might she move on in her peerless beauty and pride, careless of the whispering envy that followed her steps, and mindful only of the great prize she had won and so gracefully bore. The scene changes; we stand upon the mountains of Gilboa. Over them like a sirocco has swept the rude blast of war; they are covered with the dying and the dead. Woe, woe to the land, for the Philistines have triumphed; the beauty of Israel is slain upon the high places, the mighty are fallen. Weep, O ye daughters of Israeli weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Such might have been the exclamations of Rizpah over the dead body of Saul. Her bosom was rent with anguish, her heart broken with sorrow. At one fell blow all her hopes were crushed; vain now were her beauty and her pride. The palace was no longer a fitting home for one so forlorn and distressed; its stores of wealth, its jewelry and costly array, had departed from her for ever; another king had come to the throne who knew not Rizpah. But what cared she? Why, when Saul was himself lost, tell her of past splendour and past joys? Had she not already suffered the worst that could befall her, since the king's death, from one of the new king's captains — insult, ignominy, and shame? A consuming sorrow preyed upon her life; grief had done the work of years, and, if she lived on. it was but for the sake of her two sons. They were all that was left her of her former wealth, and while the mother love survives the human heart still preserves its capacity to suffer and endure. So she went forth — she, so delicately nurtured and cared for; her summer friends had all forsaken her; she went forth into a world of poverty and loneliness with her two sons. She sought some retired hamlet, that she might devote her life to her sorrow and to them. They had now come to the years of youth, or, it may be, of manhood, and were able to do something to repair the mother's toss and to repay her love. Their united toil provided the scanty fare and supplied their simple wants. With untiring patience and love they devoted themselves to her comfort, living not for themselves, but for her. Rizpah could not but be touched with the spectacle; she could but see with maternal pride their beauty and virtues. Despite herself, hope would re-kindle in her heart, not for her own future, that was dead for ever, but for theirs; she could but think and believe they so honoured her that their days would be long in the land. They might, they ought, to regain their ancestral name and wealth; they would be the comfort and the solace of her declining years, and would pay her the last sad offices of love. God, had come very near to her, but He had not left her altogether without comfort; while her two sons survived, such sons as mother never had before, she need not wholly despair. It was perchance while Rizpah thus communed with her own heart in her chamber and was still, while she was thus recovering from the staggering blow which Providence had dealt upon her, that she heard the tramp of horses' feet approaching her lowly cottage; she looks up, and the king's messenger is at the door. Her heart beats with agitation, but not with fear. Already God has heard her prayers; her two sons are to be restored to the king's court; even on earth they will reap in part their reward. The royal David has heard the touching story of their love; her visions and her hopes are to be realized. Her neighbours and her friends know, alas l how vain such an imagination is. They have suffered from the famine; the only remedy and relief has been bruited abroad — the sacrifice of the seven sons of Saul on the hill before the Lord; it has reached all ears but the ears of Rizpah. Who should break such a tale to that lone and sorrowing woman? Who should bear to her what might be her own as well as the death-warrant of her two sons? What manly courage would not shrink from her wail of woe? Without any fault or crime of theirs, having violated no law human or divine, they, the good sons, were to die a death of shame; like malefactors, they were to be hanged upon a tree. It is one of the strange workings of Providence we can neither fathom nor explain, the visiting upon the innocent children the father's sins, though it is every day exemplified before our eyes. The sacrifice was ordained; it was accepted of God. The king's messenger had come; he tells his sorrowful errand, and Rizpah makes no resistance and no reply. Her heart is paralyzed, she is dead to the world; naught survives in her but that maternal love which, like the instinct of modesty, may remain long after all outward consciousness is gone. The signal is at length given, the fatal drop falls, and the sacrifice is complete; the seven sons of Saul have ceased to live; the multitude depart, and Rizpah is left alone with her misery and her dead. Now commences her sad, solitary vigil. Her two sons have died like criminals; no sacred burial rites await them. The gibbet on which they perished is to be their only tomb; they are left to be a prey to the unclean birds of heaven and to the wild beasts of the field. From this last indignity the love of Rizpah shields them. What a picture for the pencil of the painter or for the pen of the poet! What a proof of the strength and devotion of maternal level It survives death and the grave; it lives through good and through evil report; in the discharge of its office it fears no danger and shuns no toil. Who can tell but she may yet win them that last favour man can bestow upon the sons of Saul — the rite of burial? So she watches in darkness and in light; the very stillness of her sorrow spreads over her a halo of sanctity that scares away all that would molest or make afraid. A vigil so remarkable soon attracts the notice of the passers-by, the piteous tale is told from one to another, until at length it reaches King David's ears. His royal heart, is moved with compassion for her sorrows. He collects the bodies of Saul and Jonathan and of their dead sons, and gives them such royal burial as it became a king to bestow. Thus the work of Rizpah was done, her painful vigil ended; and she lays down to die, perhaps to share the grave of Saul and of her two sons, and God was entreated for the land, and instead of famine plenty reigns. Oh! wondrous power of maternal love, hallowing by its sacred influences even the gibbet of infamy, and lending a halo to the noisomeness of death and the grave. Oh only love of earth which finds its prototype in the love of God!
(G. F. Cushman, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water was poured on them from the sky. She allowed neither the birds of the sky to rest on them by day, nor the animals of the field by night.