|November 20 - 26
|Rizpah: The Influence of Faithfulness
Read for This Week's Study:
|Deut. 30:19, 2 Sam. 3:6–11, 21:1–9, Mark 13:13.
|“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4, NIV).
|The story of Rizpah is the story
of an outsider playing an insider’s role. Only two biblical
passages mention her explicitly, and both are connected to the early
time of David’s reign, probably before the affair with Bathsheba
Samuel 11). Most Bible commentators agree that 2
Samuel 21–24 do not unfold sequentially after 2
Samuel 20 but rather they provide further information that does not
fit into the general storyline of David’s life.
Rizpah exists on the edge of King David’s story. As a woman and a concubine of an earlier king, she had few options. As a matter of fact, her prospects looked bleak and dreary. Her two sons dead, the larger family of her deceased “husband” at the brink of annihilation, she nevertheless acted nobly, instead of sitting in a corner and lamenting her bad fortune. Her presence in two crucial moments of David’s history makes her a king-maker and a nation-builder. We can all learn something incredibly important from Rizpah: faithfulness is not conditioned by circumstances or good (or bad) fortunes. Faithfulness is an unconditional commitment to do what’s right regardless of the cost.
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 27.
The King’s Concubine
There are many references to concubines in the Old Testament (Gen. 25:5, 6; Judg. 8:30, 31; 2 Sam. 5:13–16; 1 Kings 11:2, 3). What can we learn about them from these and other references?
Concubines were often taken from the ranks of female slaves or maids of a family. Their express purpose was to produce heirs, and once they had produced male offspring, their status and social standing were similar to those of regular wives. A man was regarded as his concubine’s husband (Judg. 20:4), and their children appeared in genealogies (Gen. 22:24) and would receive a part of the inheritance (Gen. 25:5, 6). It is interesting to note that concubines appear mostly in the patriarchal period; during the early monarchy, concubines were connected to royal households.
Read 2 Samuel 3:6–11. What can we learn about Rizpah and about her circumstances in that particular time?
Rizpah, whose name means “live coal” (see Isa. 6:6, which uses the same word), is part of the royal household of Ishbosheth (“man of shame”), the only remaining son of Saul, who, through the help of Abner, has been made king over Israel and has moved across the Jordan to Mahanaim (2 Sam. 2:8–10). The mere fact that the biblical author included information about Rizpah’s father (“daughter of Aiah”) suggests that her family must have been important and that she was not a slave. Ironically, the name of the son of Saul appears in another form in the genealogy of Saul, as Eshbaal, “the man of Baal” (1 Chron. 8:33). The form used in 2 Samuel 2:8–10 seems to be a subtle insult by the biblical author: the man of Baal is an embarrassment to the house of Saul and thus a “man of shame.”
Rizpah’s personal circumstances are far from ideal. She belongs to the household of Saul, and even though the able general Abner is propping up Ishbosheth, the weak descendent of Saul, as Saul’s concubine, Rizpah has no security. Her fate seems totally out of her hands, controlled by forces and circumstances way beyond her authority or control.
|Jesus tells us that if a man lusts after a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28). However, many men of God had concubines in the Old Testament. How do we reconcile this fact with what Jesus said? (As you think of an answer, remember that just because something is mentioned in the Bible as being practiced doesn’t mean God approves of it or that it is the best way to live.)
The Mention of Her Name
Things are not going well for Ishbosheth in the war between the house of Saul and the house of David (2 Sam. 3:1). In contrast to the deteriorating situation at Ishbosheth’s court, the biblical text inserts at this point in the story a list of the sons of David that are born during this time in Hebron (2 Sam. 3:2–5). The list reflects David’s increasing strength, since sons mean a future and security.
As we have seen (2 Sam. 3:7–10), Ishbosheth, the “man of shame,” accuses his general, Abner, of having slept with the concubine of his father, Saul. Judging from Abner’s strong reaction, this was a very serious offense.
Read the following verses and explain what sleeping with a wife or concubine of a powerful man meant in the time of the Old Testament. 2 Sam. 16:21, 22; 20:3; 1 Kings 2:21, 22.
Rizpah is not very active in the story, which focuses on Abner and Ishbosheth. After all, she is just the concubine. She seems to be another pawn in the power play between two men. The biblical text is not clear about whether Abner really slept with Rizpah in order to try to usurp the throne. The fact that he so quickly changes sides suggests that it was just a bad rumor that had made the rounds at the improvised royal court in Mahanaim. If he really wanted to be king of Israel, would he have been so ready to join forces with David, the “anointed of the Lord”?
Abner makes good on his threat of defecting to David (2 Sam. 3:9, 10, 12). Ishbosheth’s accusation moves the major power-broker of the house of Saul to swear loyalty to the house of David, which all but ensures the demise of the house of Saul. This in fact came shortly after (see 2 Samuel 4). It is really the mention of Rizpah’s name that has effected this change. Although Rizpah is not active in the narrative, she is highly significant.
Without Abner’s reaction to Ishbosheth’s accusation, the war between the two parties most likely would have lasted much longer. We don’t know what happened to Rizpah next. She reappears only in David’s memoirs in 2 Samuel 21:1–14, where she plays a subtle but incredibly important role in the bringing together of tribes and factions.
So often we find ourselves caught up in circumstances that we cannot control. What, though, can we always control, and why, in the end, is that the most important thing? See Deut. 30:19, Mark 13:13.
An Eye for an Eye or a Convenient Solution?
There is a bad famine in Israel. The Hebrew text emphasizes the long period without any rain (“for three years, year after year.”) This was not normal. People considered God directly responsible for giving rain and withholding rain. David sought “the face of the Lord.” We are not told by what means he receives God’s answer, but its content is very clear: “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house” (2 Sam. 21:1, ESV).
Read 2 Samuel 21:1–6. Why should Saul’s descendants suffer for their forefather’s guilt? Does this not contradict Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:29, 30; and Ezekiel 18:1–4?
This is a hot issue and causes debates among scholars. Where is God’s justice here? Is justice something collective or something individual? Some commentators suggest that David used the famine as a convenient excuse to get rid of possible rivals for the throne and that the “[speaking] of the Lord” in 2 Samuel 21:1 was a clever manipulation of divine messages for David’s own purpose; yet, there is no indication in the biblical text that this was David’s motivation. What the text clearly states is that Saul sought to annihilate the Gibeonites, who are connected with the “Amorites,” the original inhabitants of Canaan before Israel took control of Palestine.
The text highlights a very important principle of Scripture: although salvation may depend on our decisions, our actions and choices affect those around us and never take place in isolation. When faithful kings reigned in Jerusalem, Judah followed God’s law and sought to live accordingly; on the other hand, unfaithful kings brought down many in Israel.
In the historical texts of the Old Testament, there are no references to Saul’s attempt to destroy the Gibeonites. However, the example of Saul’s revenge on the priestly town of Nob (1 Samuel 21) suggests that Saul was capable of this. Saul’s zeal looks good from the outside (after all, the Gibeonites were foreigners), but the divine evaluation of this act underlines God’s high regard for faithfulness (Josh. 9:15–21). God expects us to honor our promises. As we will see, Rizpah gives us (and King David!) an object lesson in faithfulness.
|Though we don’t fully understand why there should be a famine because of Saul’s sins, we must always remember that our actions come with consequences—always. Yet, as Christians, shouldn’t we avoid doing wrong, not because of the potential consequences of the act but because of the wrongness of the act itself? What keeps you in line more: fear of the consequences of your wrong actions, or your desire not to do wrong, period?
Faithfulness Is a Way of Life
David consents to the request of the Gibeonites, and seven descendants of Saul are found. It is here that we meet Rizpah again. Her two sons by King Saul are among the ones selected to be executed so that “atonement” can be achieved. Second Samuel 21:3 uses the Hebrew word atonement, which functions as a technical term to mark atonement and also appears in contexts such as the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16.
Samuel 21:1–9. How are we to understand this passage? Or can we
understand it? In what ways is this an example of something in Scripture that
we can’t fully explain but that we simply need to trust the Lord on? What
other examples like this (of things that we don’t fully understand) can
you find in the Bible instances in which, despite our lack of understanding, we
need to trust in God’s goodness and mercy anyway?
David remembers his promise to his friend Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:12–17, 42), and, consequently, he does not surrender Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth to the Gibeonites. This emphasizes an important point in the biblical text: even though Saul broke Israel’s vow to the Gibeonites, David honors his vow to Jonathan, even after his death.
does Rizpah do when her sons are killed? 2
Sam. 21:9, 10. What does this tell us about her?
The author emphasizes his high regard for Rizpah’s actions by again mentioning her father’s name (cf. 2 Sam. 3:7), in contrast to David, who is not referred to as king or by his lineage. We only can imagine Rizpah’s pain and grief as she watches over the seven bodies of the executed. She builds a makeshift hut from sackcloth, and there, under the open sky, she camps close to the decomposing bodies and protects them from desecration by birds and animals. Rizpah does not do this for one day or seven days, but it appears that she watches over the bodies for many weeks, until the autumn rains begin. Not only is Rizpah a devoted mother, but she stands out as an example of faithfulness in the midst of a story dominated by men who are not always faithful.
Building a Nation
Rizpah’s example of faithfulness comes to David’s attention. The biblical author again includes the complete pedigree of Rizpah when David is told about her action. She is not just any mother, she is the daughter of Aiah and the concubine of Saul. Her being on the mountain “before the Lord,” close to the seven bodies, seems to motivate David to consider a very important act: he orders the proper reburial of Saul, Jonathan, and the descendants of Saul.
Read 2 Samuel 21:11–14. How was David affected by Rizpah’s actions?
Many of Israel’s neighbors considered a proper burial to be essential to the deceased’s ability to reach a place where the gods would mete out judgment. The pyramids in Egypt were huge tombs, testifying to the importance of burial in Egyptian culture. In contrast, Israel’s burial practices were not elaborate, because the biblical authors considered death to be a state of no consciousness (Eccles. 9:5, 6). This funeral, however, is very significant, as it marks the end of intertribal fighting and lays the foundation for a united Israel.
Read again 2 Samuel 21:1–14. What caused the end of the famine?
The famine does not end after the seven descendants of Saul are executed. God responds to the plea for the land only after David has provided a respectable resting place for the remains of Saul and his descendants. In other words, although justice and righteousness are important elements of our interaction with one another, reconciliation is required, as well. Rizpah’s example of faithfulness, even under hopeless and desperate conditions, appears to have brought about faithfulness and reconciliation on a much larger scale, resulting in an Israel that can begin to heal the wounds of intertribal warfare. Rizpah’s role in this crucial part of David’s reign teaches an important lesson that echoes through the centuries: circumstances alone do not make or break a child of God; rather, we determine by our choices, for good or bad, whether we will be pawns or whether our quiet faithfulness powerfully will influence the lives around us. By living faithfully, Rizpah subtly influenced the outcome of a nation.
Look at the power of example: through Rizpah’s actions, the concubine of David’s enemy greatly influences David. What should this tell us, regardless of who we are, about the power of our influence? Think about those whom you are influencing. How might you be a better influence than you are right now?
“The gospel is a message of peace. Christianity is a system which, received and obeyed, would spread peace, harmony, and happiness throughout the earth. The religion of Christ will unite in close brotherhood all who accept its teachings. It was the mission of Jesus to reconcile men to God, and thus to one another.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 47.
“It is one thing to read and teach the Bible, and another thing to have, by practise, its life-giving, sanctifying principles engrafted on the soul. God is in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. If those who claim to be his followers draw apart, showing no affectionate or compassionate interest in one another, they are not sanctified to God. They have not his love in their hearts.”—Ellen G. White, The Review and Herald, March 17, 1910.
Men of God with concubines? Descendants suffering for the sins of their fathers? This story leaves the modern reader with a lot of unanswered questions. Of course, as with everything in life, there are always unanswered questions. Part of what it means to live by faith is to live with unanswered questions (After all, if all things were answered, where would the need for faith come in?). How have you learned to live with the unanswered questions in your own existence? What have you learned from not having answers that could help someone else who struggles with questions that beg for answers that, for now, aren’t coming?
Dwell more on the power of example. Who are the powerful examples in your culture and society? Are they good or bad examples? What about your own example? What kind of influence do you think you have on those who watch your behavior? How different is your example at home from your example in public or in church? Would those who might admire your example in public be shocked if they saw your example at home?
|I N S I D E Story
|God on the Battlefield
by BENJAMIN SCHOUN
Haben grew up in an orphanage in Ethiopia. When he was 15, he left to make his own way in life.
War broke out, and Haben was drafted into the military. He trained as a soldier and spent three years on the battlefield. War terrified the teenager, and during his free time he listened to the radio. He discovered Adventist World Radio and the Voice of Hope. The programs comforted him and turned his thoughts to God. He began praying to the God he didn't yet know.
Several times Haben faced death on the battlefield. Once his unit fought for three days without food or water. Most of his fellow soldiers were killed or seriously wounded, and Haben found himself and one other soldier facing a well-equipped advancing enemy force. The two men crowded behind a small boulder, partially exposed to enemy fire. It was a matter of time before he'd be injured or killed. He prayed, "God, if You want me to die, I'll see You in the resurrection. But if You save me, I will serve You the rest of my life."
Hours later fellow soldiers rescued the two men. "I have no doubt that God saved me," Haben says. "In the thick of battle I saw for myself the love of God."
On another occasion, as Haben and his fellow soldiers moved toward battle, he felt a hand pressing him to the ground. Suddenly a bomb exploded where he had been standing. His men were amazed to find him alive. "We saw that bomb fall on top of you!" they said. But Haben didn't have a scratch. He pulled his small Bible from his pocket and shared God's love with his men.
The war ended, and Haben settled in Addis Ababa, where he took a job with the government. But he remembered his promise and prayed that God would lead him to His true church and show him how he could serve Christ for the rest of his life.
A fellow soldier directed Haben to the Adventist church in Addis Ababa, where Haben received Bible studies and was baptized. He studied theology and worked as a Global Mission pioneer church planter. Today he helps produce programs for Adventist World Radio, the station that led him to God on the battlefield. He has given his testimony over the airwaves and has received many letters from soldiers who want to know more about the God he serves.
Your mission offerings help support Adventist World Radio and many other outreach programs of the Adventist Church. Thank you for your faithful gifts.
BENJAMIN SCHOUN is president of Adventist World Radio.
|Produced by the General Conference Office
of Adventist Mission.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.adventistmission.org
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