Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Lauren WrightPittman, Rizpah Mourns her Sons, © 2023, Society of Biblical Literature
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.
— 2 Samuel 21:10
The stories at the end of 2 Samuel are out of chronological order, according to the first twenty chapters. The story of the three-year famine recorded in chapter 21 occurs during the early years of David's reign. The famine is discovered to have been God's punishment for Saul's misconduct, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.1 The Gibeonites require the death of seven of Saul's sons as compensation, a demand to which David duly obliges.
Rizpah, the mother of two of the hanged men, establishes a place of guardianship for herself and watches over the bodies of the dead from the start of the harvest until the rains, around five months in total. It is the least, and the most she can do. Rizpah ceases her watch only when David intervenes, taking the bodies down and burying them with the bones of Saul and Jonathan.
Rizpah humanises the whole affair, as the women of the Bible so often do. This is not just another killing, this is a real family, with names, with lives, with relationships, with love. Her vigil personifies the watchfulness that Jesus asks of his disciples, centuries later, and they are unable to give.2 What the disciples cannot do for even an hour, Rizpah does for five months: keeping watch and protecting her loved ones from the ravages of wild beasts and birds of prey. Perhaps with more female disciples Jesus's story would have had a different ending.
1 2 Samuel 21:1
2 Mark 14:32-42
i Read notes from the artist, here.