The Story of Rizpah

1 Comment » Written on September 16th, 2015     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Evelmyn photoEvelmyn Ivens was born in Mexico and moved to the United States during her teenage years. Graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 2013 with a MA in Theological Studies and works at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in Chicago. Evelmyn has lived in Los Angeles, CA, Washington, DC, and Chicago, IL, enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures. She’s passionate about issues of immigration, hunger, poverty, and human trafficking.

One of the great things about working at CCDA is the access to many books, not too long ago I was working on a project and had the opportunity to read Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism. It is one of those books that you want to highlight most of it, yes, it is that good and I highly recommend it!

Almost at the beginning of the book, in chapter 2 to be more exact, Allan Aubrey Boesak introduces Rizpah (2 Samuel 21: 1-15). I honestly, didn’t remember this name from my reading of the Bible or from my Old Testament class, yet Rizpah has become one of my favorite Bible characters. The story of Rizpah it is not found in the most peaceful context, on the contrary, it is a story of violence but in the midst of all, radical reconciliation happens. In chapter 21 the kingdom of David has been facing famine for the last 3 years, and as a king and powerful as he is, David asks the Lord for an answer. The Lord says, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” When Saul was king (Josh. 9) there had been a treaty with the Gibeonites to live in the territory of Israel, amongst them. The story assumes that there was a violation to the treaty and that’s the reason of the famine. According to Boesak, there’s actually not a clear narrative of what exactly happened, however, there is a possibility that the Gibeonites were suffering political oppression on the hands of Saul. This famine is God’s punishment for the sins of Saul and as a way of ‘expiate’ the bloodguilt, David kills seven heirs of Saul. Two of them are sons of Rizpah, a concubine of Saul, and the other five are sons of Merab (Saul’s daughter).

Verses 9-15:
He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the Lord. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning. 10 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 touch them by day or the wild animals by night. 11 When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) 13 David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up. 14 They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.

2 Samuel was written with the viewpoint of king David, so it is considered the official narrative. However, Rizpah’s name is mentioned, which according to Boesak it becomes an uncomfortable distraction. Why would the name of a concubine be listed in the official narrative? Why is her story so interesting? Rizpah’s story provides an alternative narrative. From the account we know that she had so many things against her, one of them being her social status. She belonged to a marginalized group; she was not the official wife but a concubine. Yet, her compassion and solidarity made her actions visible to the eyes of David. “Her resistance is so fierce and so relentless that not a single beast and not a single bird can touch, maim, or damage those bodies on the cross. Rizpah looks up and she does not see crosses, she sees bodies on crosses” (31). What a powerful image! Rizpah knows that she has neither power nor influence, yet she is determined, and even though she is a victim, she refuses to act as a victim. By her actions the king is challenged as well as the other men in the palace, she shames those who believe that have the power to decide between life and death. Rizpah exposes the idolatry of power and the myth that by shedding blood reconciliation is found. Rizpah understands the political game because she has seen it from the sidelines, and knows that for David this is political.

As she tries to resist she gives all “her body, her energy, and her love; her dignity and courage; protecting, preserving, uplifting, redeeming’ (33). By staying at the rock Rizpah questioned the patriarchal ideologies of the palace, not only because it was clearly a protest against David’s actions. It also demonstrated her different understanding of God, where justice and reconciliation were central.

Boesak, Allan Aubrey & DeYoung, Curtis Paul. Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism. Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY, 2015. 25-39.

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One Response to “The Story of Rizpah”

Thanks Evelymn – I will add it to my already high stack of books waiting for me to to get to them and read. But this sounds like a must-read so it goes in my stack. Wonderful book summary!

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