The Vigil

    The burning sun beat mercilessly down on Rizpah’s bowed head. She pulled a corner of  rough gray sackcloth over her head and continued to fan a palm branch over the bodies of her two sons and the five sons of Merab.  Well past the beginning of harvest, the heat of the sun and drought-dry air had reduced their strong young bodies to shriveled shells within their shrouds; still she would not let any bird or animal desecrate their remains. She moaned and rocked as she fanned away the flies, mourning her children, pouring out her heart to the Lord God who had brought her to this barren rock.
The sun was not allowed to beat down on her milky skin when she was King Saul’s favored concubine. She lived a life of privilege in the palace, bearing the king two fine sons, Armoni and Mephibosheth. They were the light of her life and the reason she made daily thank offerings in the temple to the Lord God. Then King Saul died in battle and Rizpah’s secure world became uncertain. Abner, the commander of Saul’s army desired the throne and would go to any lengths to achieve his goal, even taking Rizpah against her will in a conspiracy to seize the kingship of Israel. She hated the man,not only for using her but for his treachery toward the house of Saul in his quest for power. When she learned of Abner’s death and King David’s anointing as ruler over Israel, she knew it was the Lord God’s doing, praising Him for peace returning to Jerusalem.
As the mother of a former king’s sons, she was given a small house and modest allowance to raise them. Wars, defections, and betrayals raged in the palace on the hilltop of Jerusalem, but Rizpah maintained a peaceful household where her faith in the Lord God grew deeper, until the day her sons were brutally sacrificed, along with their five cousins, on this desolate rock. When King David sought the Lord for a solution to his nation’s three long years of famine, the Lord told him it was on account of Saul’s wrongful slaughter of the Gibeonites, who could only be appeased by the death of Saul’s male descendants. But they were her sons too…her very life! How could their deaths be part of God’s plan? Rizpah cried before God,  prostrating herself beside the bodies of her children. At first the heavens were as brass, her prayers seemed in vain, then gradually in the stillness of many long nights, she felt His peace come upon her. She continued to mourn, but she did not question. With acceptance came resolve that her son’s bodies would not suffer desecration by bird or animal.
The day came when rain mingled with the tears on Rizpah’s face and she rose from her bed of sackcloth. She watched King David’s men gently gather her son’s remains then walked behind them to the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, where they were laid to rest along with their father. With the rain the land became green again. Even the rock of Rizpah’s vigil softened with new growth, as did her heart, held in the palm of the Lord her God.

“Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds of the air touch them by day or the wild animals by night.”  (2 Sam.21:10)

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