The Quickening of David's Conscience by Rizpah's Example
2 Samuel 21:1-14
Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered…

Some years since it was found that many returned emigrants were ending their days in English workhouses. When the authorities inquired into the causes of this fact, they ascertained that in nearly every case those who were then paupers had formerly prospered in the colonies; but they had forsaken their prosperity and come back to England, because they could not bear the thought of dying and being buried in the strange lands wherein they had made their homes for a season. While they were in health and vigour, they were comparatively content to be far away from the old country; but as soon as the shadows of evening began to fall they yearned to return to the familiar haunts of life's morning, in order that, when they fell asleep, they might be laid to rest in their fathers' sepulchres. The desire was so strong, that they yielded to it, although they thereby doomed themselves to poverty for the remainder of their days. This is an instinct which cannot be put down by force of argument. After all that can be said about the un-wisdom of it, the voice of nature will still plead for it, and "it seems to be the appointment of heaven that the first attachments of which the heart is conscious should be its last." If we have no such desire about out own final resting-places we have about those of our friends, and we like to have the graves of our loved ones near to us, and not far away amongst strangers. This feeling must not be denounced as mere sentimentalism, for it has been cherished as an honourable thing by men who were neither feeble nor foolish. When Barzillai pleaded against the preferment which David was urging upon him, this was his last and most forcible entreaty: "Let thy servant, I pray thee," etc. Was it not strange that David should for so many years leave the remains, of Saul and Jonathan in the place of their hasty sepulture, far from the burial of their fathers? It might have been fairly anticipated that, on his coining into power, David would make an early effort to bring the body of Jonathan to his native place, and there inter it with all the honour befitting the burial of such a princely man and faithful friend. Instead of this, David allowed thirty years to pass away before he did what reverence and gratitude for the dead should have constrained him to regard as a sacred duty to be discharged as soon as possible. Towards the close of David's life, the prosperity f the kingdom was interrupted by a famine. "He inquired of the Lord." It will be remembered that, in the days of Joshua, the Gibeonites had, by means of false pretences, obtained a covenant of peace between themselves and the Israelites. They were degraded to perpetual servitude; but with all the sacredness of a solemn oath the public faith was pledged to them for the security of their lives. Under circumstances not fully disclosed to us, Saul broke the oath and forfeited the honour of the nation, by slaying many of the Gibeonites, and by attempting to destroy them all. It has been supposed by some that he was severe and cruel towards the Gibeonites, as a kind of set-off against his pretended compassion towards the Amalekites. Later commentators have thought that light is is to be obtained from the question Saul put to his courtiers when he was disclosing his suspicions against David: "Hear now, ye Benjamites," etc. This implies that Saul either had given or would give them fields and vineyards. The sin of Saul was regarded by God as a national sin, either because the people shared in the plunder, or because they sympathised with or connived at the deed. The matter was one of double guilt, for, besides the shedding of innocent blood, there was the violation of a solemn compact. Some men have a feeling that there is an appearance of injustice ii a crime be punished many years after its perpetration. But lapse of time has no power to diminish the guilt of an action, and why should it deter or diminish punishment? If lapse of time work change in the offender, bringing him to repentance, then it is meet for mercy to interpose with pardon, and keep back punishment for ever. This is according to God's promise. Where, on the other hand, the rolling years reveal no improvement, the guilt is increased instead of diminished. In these cases delayed judgment will be at last heavier judgment. Of course, objectors will ask the old question: "Was it just to make one generation suffer for the sins of another?" Seeing the famine did not come till more than forty years after the offence, the greater part of the offenders must have entirely escaped the punishment; and it is said, therefore, the delayed judgment must have been an unjust judgment. How is it people never think of asking this other question: "Is it just for one generation to be enriched in many ways by the skill and labour and victories of a preceding generation?" The law of God that links the generations together is constantly and powerfully working for good. We are all of us more or less better in body, mind, and estate, because of the virtues of those who have lived before us. If we were to be stripped of all the fruit Of the various excellences of bygone generations, how poor and feeble we should be! Our freedom, our art and science, our civilisation, with all its power to mitigate the sorrows and increase the pleasures of life, are not the creation of our wisdom, they are not the product of our virtues. By far the larger portion of them we owe, under God, to the work and worth of those who now sleep in their graves. "Other men laboured, and we have entered into their labours." It was doubtless by God's direction that David suffered the surviving Gibeonites to decide what should be done to expiate the sin. They demanded that seven of Saul's descendants should be publicly executed, and their demand was granted. Saul and his sons had been the leaders in the unprincipled slaughter, and his descendants were most likely the largest holders of the unrighteous spoil. It was contrary to Jewish custom to leave the bodies upon the gibbets to waste away; but it was done in the case of these seven, either because the Gibeonites demanded it, or in order to make the warning more terrible. It gave rise to a most touching display of motherly affection and fidelity. Two of the seven were sons of Rizpah, who, though she had been one of Saul's wives, was still living. She could not bear the thought of their hanging there for the vultures to tear to pieces and devour, and she determined to keep watch over them and drive off the foul birds of prey. She made her home upon the rock, and watched with a vigilance that never slept, and a devotion that never wearied. It was told David what Rizpah had done, and instantly his memory was awakened, and his conscience was quickened. He thought of the bones of Saul and Jonathan sleeping in the place of their somewhat hurried and unseemly burial. He saw the duty he ought to have discharged. He fetched the long-neglected remains from Jabesh-Gilead, and carried them to the country of Benjamin, and buried them in the sepulchre of Kish, the father of Saul. With them he buried also the bodies of the seven, and thus relieved the tender and faithful-hearted Rizpah from the burden of work and woe which her love for her own had laid upon her. Long-forgotten sin had been brought to mind, and acknowledged, and expiated; homage had been paid to justice; the evil of unfaithfulness had been exposed; the honour of the nation had been purged from foul stains; it had been shown that neither kings nor princes can do wrong with impunity; maternal fondness and fidelity had been touchingly displayed; a long-forgotten duty had been attended to; a noble example had borne fruit; and "after that God was untreated for the land." The way in which Rizpah's conduct moved David to his duty affords a fine instance of what has been aptly called "unconscious influence." She had no design upon the conscience of the king, but her right doing told with great effect. Words are often feeble and in vain, but deeds are seldom fruitless. The most eloquent preachers may have to cry out complainingly — "Who hath believed our report?" The success of example is far more certain, for its fragrance has never been a sweetness wholly "wasted on the desert air."

(C. Vince.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.

WEB: There was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David sought the face of Yahweh. Yahweh said, "It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he put to death the Gibeonites."

The Enquiry into Sin
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