Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.” So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; the children of Israel had sworn protection to them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah. Therefore David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And with what shall I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?” And the Gibeonites said to him, “We will have no silver or gold from Saul or from his house, nor shall you kill any man in Israel for us.” So he said, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” Then they answered the king, “As for the man who consumed us and plotted against us, that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the territories of Israel, let seven men of his descendants be delivered to us, and we will hang them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord chose.” And the king said, “I will give them.” But the king spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the Lord’s oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul. So the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; and he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the hill before the Lord. So they fell, all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest. Now Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until the late rains poured on them from heaven. And she did not allow the birds of the air to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night. (2 Samuel 21:1-10)
There is no doubt that a mother’s love is beyond the thought of human understanding. The maternal instincts infused by God into the woman are an incredible testimony to courage, love and devotion. Carrying a life within her body bonds forever the nature of the child’s spirit to that of the mother. Great stories are told of a mother’s love and the Bible is filled with noble women of character who stand as giants of faith in the role as matriarchs to the family. Many names are familiar like Sarah, Hannah, Naomi, Mary, Lois and Eunice. One name not as familiarly remembered is a woman named Rizpah who was concubine of King Saul.
When Joshua began the conquest of Canaan, the people of Gibeon deceived the great leader in not attaching their city. They had heard what happened to Jericho and Ai and the people of Gibeon feared the Israelites would destroy them also. In a deceptive play on Joshua and the people, the Gibeonites were able to establish a covenant of not being destroyed by Israel. Sometime in the reign of Saul, the king attacked and killed the Gibeonites against the covenant established with Joshua. The scriptures do not describe the event and some think it may be connected with Saul’s massacre of the priest in Nob but there is no certainty. After David becomes king, a great famine takes over the land for three years. Inquiring of the Lord for the reason of the famine, God tells David He is punishing the nation because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house killing the Gibeonites. David calls the Gibeonites and asked what they would take as a peace offering for the unauthorized act of King Saul. Money would not satisfy the desires of the people but they did ask for seven descendants of King Saul to be given over to them so they may be killed as atonement for Saul’s act. David agreed and took two sons of Rizpah (concubine of Saul) and five sons of Michal (Merab), daughter of Saul and gave them over to the Gibeonites.
The seven descendants of Saul were hanged or impaled on the hill before the Lord. This was done in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of the barley feast. Obeying the king’s command to deliver her two sons, Rizpah goes to the hill where they were killed and sets up a vigil before them. She kept the animals away from the bodies keeping up her watch for three to six months (commentators disagree the length of time). Her devotion to her sons is an incredible story of love. Her act so moved David that he retrieved the bones of Saul and Jonathan and buried all the bones (including the seven descendants) in the tomb of Kish father of Saul. Rizpah remains as a stronghold of mother’s love grieving over the sacrificial death of her sons. Her devotion and love for them has made her story one of the great lessons of scripture. She endured hardships for her sons. Obeying the king would not have been an easy thing to do but she submitted to his rule. Sadly her sons paid the price for what Saul had done and Rizpah suffered also. The scriptures are silent to what became of Rizpah. Her legacy of an incredible mother’s love remains as a silent witness to the power of devotion.