Sitting in the church, quite possibly the only white person aside from the speaker, Bishop Rudy Bond, I felt like I stuck out like a sore alabaster thumb.
I was going through an extremely painful season with my daughter, an issue that left me feeling more dead than alive, but something told me to just go and hear this Texan’s message. So despite being an emotional train wreck, I went.
His message centred around a mostly unknown woman of the bible, this Rizpah. I had not even heard of this woman, and I discovered through a recent and rather informal poll on my Face Book page, that I was not alone.
Short bible lesson to set the context: During a three-year famine in Israel, David asked the Lord what was at its root. The Lord told him that his predecessor, King Saul had reneged on a promise to not kill the Gibeonites following a siege of this remaining Amorite nation. To lift this curse, David asked the Gibeonites what he could do to make amends for the broken covenant. They required seven of Saul’s sons to be killed. Two of those sons, Armoni and Mephibosheth, were born of one of Saul’s concubines, Rizpah. ( My paraphrasing of 2 Samuel 21)
But the story unfolding here isn’t about political strategy between Kings and nations. It’s about this woman who is revealed as one of the most devoted mothers recorded in the bible.
To satisfy the Gibeonites, seven of Saul’s sons are killed and put on display. According to scripture, you must not leave the body handing on the pole overnight…..anyone who is hung on a pole is under god’s curse…(Deuteronomy 21:23 NIV)
Perhaps because it was the beginning of the barley harvest, or because the Gibeonites chose to send a warning (we’re not told why, exactly), Armoni and Mephibosheth hung there for four to six months.
Where was the concubine during this whole time? She laid out her sack cloth and kept watch over her son’s rotting corpses, swatting away the vultures and other wild animals who might further desecrate their bodies.
Picture it. Given the time and the circumstances, this would have been a very dangerous thing to do. Not only did Rizpah have birds of the air, animals, and the changing weather to contend with, but no doubt the Gibeonites taunted, mocked, and threatened her as well. Rizpah wasn’t just any woman. She must have been elegant and beautiful for Saul to have chosen her to be one of his concubines. Wives were often political pawns, chosen to form alliances between nations, but mistresses were for enjoyment and personal pleasure. Sneers and mocking from passers-by would have been humiliating. But still she stayed. Guarding her son’s bodies.
Does Rizpah remind you of another mother who stayed by her son’s side? Jesus’ mother, Mary watched the whole gruesome scourging and crucifixion of her son, and while no great consolation at the time, she at least had things she had pondered in her heart since the time of His birth. She knew He was destined for greatness; she believed that He was the Messiah and she also believed in the promise of His resurrection. It wouldn’t appear that Rizpah had anything to hold onto, only hope and the fierce devotion of a mother to protect, even unto death. By all appearances, she was left with the memory of a disgraced lover, Saul, and two dead sons as the result of a broken covenant.
So, where am I going with this, you ask? If you are a parent, especially a mother, you have more in common with this mama than you know.
The evening I dragged myself to my friend’s church to hear a message I initially had no desire to hear, God pierced my heart with a Mother’s Mandate. I listened as the Bishop spoke of this warrior, this devoted mother, and something in my heart stirred. He went on to liken the scavengers of the air and the wild animals to the demons who torment our children; who mock and peck at them incessantly. The cross, he described, as a representation of the device that the enemy uses to hook our children-addictions, rebellion, ungodly beliefs and defeatist mind-sets including depression.
We are called to be the Rizpahs of our time. Swatting away the enemy of our children’s souls, contending for their very lives and destiny, until like David, our One True King comes to take them off the cross and restores them to dignity.
I’m tired of the enemy using my kids for target practice. Really tired. I like the idea of being a Rizpah (not a concubine!!). I think she was a lioness. No longer confined by the propriety of being the king’s mistress, but acting solely on mother’s instinct, I don’t think she gave a rat’s patootie about what others thought of her behavior. For almost half of a year, this heroine smelled her son’s rotting corpses, watched their bodies decay before her eyes. How many mothers feel like they have been doing the same thing? Smelling the rottenness of the enemy’s presence, watching the life slowly being drained from their children? If Rizpah could contend for the dignity of her dead sons, and it brought about the compassion of the king, how much more compassion will the King of Kings have for the living babies of those of us in covenant relationship with His Son?
Calling all Rizpahs (male and female alike): Get out your sack cloth. Start swinging. Don’t be nice about it. Don’t be dignified when you’re giving the enemy the what-for.
As a final admonition to the congregation that night, the Bishop roared, “Not in my house and not over my praying body!!”
Yes and amen.