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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
2 Samuel 21

 

 

Verses 1-14

2 Samuel 21:1-14

Then there was a famine in the days of David three years.

The quickening of David’s conscience by Rizpah’s example

Some years since it was found that many returned emigrants were ending their days in English workhouses. When the authorities inquired into the causes of this fact, they ascertained that in nearly every case those who were then paupers had formerly prospered in the colonies; but they had forsaken their prosperity and come back to England, because they could not bear the thought of dying and being buried in the strange lands wherein they had made their homes for a season. While they were in health and vigour, they were comparatively content to be far away from the old country; but as soon as the shadows of evening began to fall they yearned to return to the familiar haunts of life’s morning, in order that, when they fell asleep, they might be laid to rest in their fathers’ sepulchres. The desire was so strong, that they yielded to it, although they thereby doomed themselves to poverty for the remainder of their days. This is an instinct which cannot be put down by force of argument. After all that can be said about the un-wisdom of it, the voice of nature will still plead for it, and “it seems to be the appointment of heaven that the first attachments of which the heart is conscious should be its last.” If we have no such desire about out own final resting-places we have about those of our friends, and we like to have the graves of our loved ones near to us, and not far away amongst strangers. This feeling must not be denounced as mere sentimentalism, for it has been cherished as an honourable thing by men who were neither feeble nor foolish. When Barzillai pleaded against the preferment which David was urging upon him, this was his last and most forcible entreaty: “Let thy servant, I pray thee,” etc. Was it not strange that David should for so many years leave the remains, of Saul and Jonathan in the place of their hasty sepulture, far from the burial of their fathers? It might have been fairly anticipated that, on his coining into power, David would make an early effort to bring the body of Jonathan to his native place, and there inter it with all the honour befitting the burial of such a princely man and faithful friend. Instead of this, David allowed thirty years to pass away before he did what reverence and gratitude for the dead should have constrained him to regard as a sacred duty to be discharged as soon as possible. Towards the close of David’s life, the prosperity f the kingdom was interrupted by a famine. “He inquired of the Lord.” It will be remembered that, in the days of Joshua, the Gibeonites had, by means of false pretences, obtained a covenant of peace between themselves and the Israelites. They were degraded to perpetual servitude; but with all the sacredness of a solemn oath the public faith was pledged to them for the security of their lives. Under circumstances not fully disclosed to us, Saul broke the oath and forfeited the honour of the nation, by slaying many of the Gibeonites, and by attempting to destroy them all. It has been supposed by some that he was severe and cruel towards the Gibeonites, as a kind of set-off against his pretended compassion towards the Amalekites. Later commentators have thought that light is is to be obtained from the question Saul put to his courtiers when he was disclosing his suspicions against David: “Hear now, ye Benjamites,” etc. This implies that Saul either had given or would give them fields and vineyards. The sin of Saul was regarded by God as a national sin, either because the people shared in the plunder, or because they sympathised with or connived at the deed. The matter was one of double guilt, for, besides the shedding of innocent blood, there was the violation of a solemn compact. Some men have a feeling that there is an appearance of injustice ii a crime be punished many years after its perpetration. But lapse of time has no power to diminish the guilt of an action, and why should it deter or diminish punishment? If lapse of time work change in the offender, bringing him to repentance, then it is meet for mercy to interpose with pardon, and keep back punishment for ever. This is according to God’s promise. Where, on the other hand, the rolling years reveal no improvement, the guilt is increased instead of diminished. In these cases delayed judgment will be at last heavier judgment. Of course, objectors will ask the old question: “Was it just to make one generation suffer for the sins of another?” Seeing the famine did not come till more than forty years after the offence, the greater part of the offenders must have entirely escaped the punishment; and it is said, therefore, the delayed judgment must have been an unjust judgment. How is it people never think of asking this other question: “Is it just for one generation to be enriched in many ways by the skill and labour and victories of a preceding generation?” The law of God that links the generations together is constantly and powerfully working for good. We are all of us more or less better in body, mind, and estate, because of the virtues of those who have lived before us. If we were to be stripped of all the fruit Of the various excellences of bygone generations, how poor and feeble we should be! Our freedom, our art and science, our civilisation, with all its power to mitigate the sorrows and increase the pleasures of life, are not the creation of our wisdom, they are not the product of our virtues. By far the larger portion of them we owe, under God, to the work and worth of those who now sleep in their graves. “Other men laboured, and we have entered into their labours.” It was doubtless by God’s direction that David suffered the surviving Gibeonites to decide what should be done to expiate the sin. They demanded that seven of Saul’s descendants should be publicly executed, and their demand was granted. Saul and his sons had been the leaders in the unprincipled slaughter, and his descendants were most likely the largest holders of the unrighteous spoil. It was contrary to Jewish custom to leave the bodies upon the gibbets to waste away; but it was done in the case of these seven, either because the Gibeonites demanded it, or in order to make the warning more terrible. It gave rise to a most touching display of motherly affection and fidelity. Two of the seven were sons of Rizpah, who, though she had been one of Saul’s wives, was still living. She could not bear the thought of their hanging there for the vultures to tear to pieces and devour, and she determined to keep watch over them and drive off the foul birds of prey. She made her home upon the rock, and watched with a vigilance that never slept, and a devotion that never wearied. It was told David what Rizpah had done, and instantly his memory was awakened, and his conscience was quickened. He thought of the bones of Saul and Jonathan sleeping in the place of their somewhat hurried and unseemly burial. He saw the duty he ought to have discharged. He fetched the long-neglected remains from Jabesh-Gilead, and carried them to the country of Benjamin, and buried them in the sepulchre of Kish, the father of Saul. With them he buried also the bodies of the seven, and thus relieved the tender and faithful-hearted Rizpah from the burden of work and woe which her love for her own had laid upon her. Long-forgotten sin had been brought to mind, and acknowledged, and expiated; homage had been paid to justice; the evil of unfaithfulness had been exposed; the honour of the nation had been purged from foul stains; it had been shown that neither kings nor princes can do wrong with impunity; maternal fondness and fidelity had been touchingly displayed; a long-forgotten duty had been attended to; a noble example had borne fruit; and “after that God was untreated for the land.” The way in which Rizpah’s conduct moved David to his duty affords a fine instance of what has been aptly called “unconscious influence.” She had no design upon the conscience of the king, but her right doing told with great effect. Words are often feeble and in vain, but deeds are seldom fruitless. The most eloquent preachers may have to cry out complainingly--“Who hath believed our report?” The success of example is far more certain, for its fragrance has never been a sweetness wholly “wasted on the desert air.” (C. Vince.)

Conscience assertive

Conscience works after the manner so beautifully set forth in a ring that a great magician, according to an Eastern tale, presented to his prince. The gift was of inestimable value: not for the diamonds and rubies and pearls that gemmed it, but for a rare and mystic property in the metal. It sat easily enough on the finger in ordinary circumstances; but so soon as its wearer formed a bad thought, designed or committed a bad action, the ring became a monitor. Suddenly contracting, it pressed painfully on his finger, warning him of sin. Such a ring, thank God, is not the peculiar property of kings; all, the poorest of us, those who wear none other possess and wear this inestimable jewel--for the ring in the fable is just that conscience which is the voice of God within us. (T. Guthrie.)

Famine in the days of David

I. The connection between moral evil and physical suffering. Do we believe in God as the Moral Ruler of men? Then we cannot but believe that He designs and controls what is occurrent around them to the education and bettering of the moral, nature that is within them. National calamities follow upon national sins. Let no corn-seed be sown; no provision made as far as man can make it for harvest, and famine will come as a Divine retribution. But with all the husbandmen’s forecast and arduous anticipative toil, famine may still come as a punishment because of a nation’s sins--drought, mildew, destructive insect life, the ministers of God that do His chastening pleasure. Atheistic philosophy resolves the government of the world into the action of natural laws, as if there could be laws without a Law-giver, as if they could act except He continued to be and continued to make them efficient. Some may point to second causes. “These suffice; hence come war, famine, black pestilence.” But why hence? Design there cannot be without a Designer. Punishment may smite the nations through the operation of natural law; but that law is the expression of God’s will, and in its operation moves His hidden, but correcting hand. As men deal with their children, God deals with them; from moral evil comes physical suffering. The punishment may be delayed, but it is inevitable. Nations, as such, have no future beyond the bounds of time. Punishment, then, for national sins must fall upon nations now. Sometimes with startling, convicting sharpness. Sometimes “after many days”--days that have gathered into many years. It was so in the case of the famine that was the punishment for Israel’s accessory guilt in Saul’s crime against the Gideonites forty years before. A truth this not without modern confirmatory instances. France slaughtered many of the Huguenots--her best and purest sons--and chased many more into exile. Two hundred years afterwards came the full appalling punishment for that stupendous crime in the horrors of the French Revolution--in the “dire Religion stript of God.” America cherished slave-holding into a domestic institution--and, at length, long after the first slave-holders had passed, in tremendous national convulsion, and through the Red Sea of slaughter, the African bondmen made their wondering, exultant way into freedom. “God’s judgments often look a long way back.”

II. God’s displeasure with national pride and violation of treaty obligations. The famine afflicted Israel because of the perfidy shown to the Gibeonites by Saul and his approving subjects. What instruction, what warning, in these records for England to-day! We are in treaty with many dependent nations and tribes. Let us be faithful to our treaties--honest, kind, not aggressive on the reserved and acknowledged rights of any. To wrong African or Indian tribe--any tribe though as weak and helpless as the ancient Gibeonites, with the national approval, is to assure in coming days for the nation storms of the Divine displeasure. Nor is national pride to go unpunished. And are we guiltless herein? Vast, inclusive of many languages and all climates, the empire that acknowledges our King. But let us not forget who has made us to differ; who has exalted us among the nations; who has lifted us up and can cast us down.

III. In Rizpah we see the unutterable, unvanquishable strength or a mother’s love. Her sons were doomed to ignominious, dishonoured end. She will honour them! An aged woman; adult sons; a king’s sons--thus to end! To her they are royal still. As her grey hair streams to the wind, as her voice and arms are raised against the prowling creatures, oh strength of resolution! oh, thronging memories in that lonely woman’s heart!

The barley harvest was nodding white

When my children died on the rocky height,

And the reapers were singing on hill and plain

When I came to my task of sorrow and pain.

But now the season of rain is nigh,

The sun is dim in the thickening sky.

I hear the howl of the wind that brings

The long, drear storm on its heavy wings;

But the howling wind and the driving rain

Will beat on my houseless head in vain.

I shall stay, from my murdered sons to scare

The beasts of the desert and fowls of air.

Unconquerable love! not rewarded--winning comely sepulture for the bodies of her dead. (G. T. Coster.)

Punished sin expiated

1. A famine in Palestine was always a consequence of deficient winter rains, such a deficiency being by no means uncommon; but in this case the famine endured three successive years, and thus became alarming, and impelled men to ask religious questions and make religious arrangements. “David inquired of the Lord”--in other words, he sought the face of the Lord. Is not the action of David imitated, to some extent at least, by the men of all time? When the east wind blows three days, or three weeks, men do but remark upon it complainingly, and it passes from criticism; but when it continues three months, and three more, and the earth is made white with dust, and every tree stands in blackness and barrenness, and every bird is silent, and the whole landscape is one scene of blank desolation--then men begin to inquire concerning causes, and even the most flippant and obdurate may be easily moved to seek the face of the Lord. Thus selfishness assumes a religious aspect, and religion is degraded by being crowned with selfishness; thus men make confusion in moral distinctions, and imagine themselves to be pious when they are only self-seeking, and suppose themselves constrained by persuasion when they are simply driven by fear.

2. David, having learned the Divine reason for the continued famine, now turned in a human direction, as he was bound to do, saying unto the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you?” The word is the term which is used throughout the law in connection with the propitiatory sacrifices. The word literally means to cover up. David inquires what he can do to cover up the sin of Saul, so as to remove it from the sight of the men against whom it had been committed. Saul himself being dead, his male descendants were considered as standing in his place, and were looked at in the solemn light of actually personating him and having responsibility for his evil deeds. The Gibeonites regarded the whole affair as involving theocracy, and not until the execution had been completed could the stains be removed which had been thrown upon the most sacred history of the race. Men’s ideas of compensation undergo great changes. It is no surprise that at first the idea of compensation should be considerably rough and formless. Jesus Christ remarking upon it, set it aside in the letter, and displaced it by a nobler spirit:--“Ye have heard it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say Unto you” . . . and then came the gospel so difficult to be apprehended by the natural reason, but yielding itself as an infinite treasure to the claim of faith and love. David took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah. He could not lawfully refuse the demand of the Gideonites, having before him the fact that the law absolutely required that bloodguiltiness should be expiated by the blood of the offender. David spared for Jonathan’s sake the only descendants of Saul in the direct line who could have advanced any claim to the throne.

3. The beginning of harvest points to the time as being immediately after the Passover (Leviticus 23:10-11), and consequently about the middle of April. The rains of autumn began in October, so that Rizpah’s tender care must have extended over about six months. She waited until water dropped upon them out of heaven--that is, until the water-famine was at an end; and thus the Divine forgiveness was assured. A most vivid and ghastly picture this: see the seven bodies fastened to a stake, either by impaling or by crucifixion, and watch them standing there day by day and week by week, until the clouds gathered and the returning rain attested that God had been satisfied because justice had been done in the earth. The Lord from heaven is watching all our oblations and sacrifices and actions, and when we have done that which His law of justice requires He will not forget to send the rain and the sunshine, and to bless the earth with an abundant harvest.

4. Then we come upon a beautiful expression--“And after that God was intreated for the land.” There is a solemn lesson here for all time. We must do justice before we can make acceptable prayer, we cannot turn dishonoured graves into altars which God will recognise. “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee: leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” “Wash you, make you clean; pub away the evil of your doings.” These are the conditions upon which God will be intreated.

5. There is a line of true melancholy in the remainder of the chapter. The Philistines had yet war again with Israel, but now when David went down and fought against the Philistines we read that “David waxed faint” (v. 15). A splendid life is now showing signs of decay. David in his old age was fighting with giants, but he was no longer the ruddy youth who smote Goliath in the forehead. There is a time when a man must cease from war. There is also a time when his character, his peaceful counsels, his benignant smile, may be of more value than the uplifting of his enfeebled arm. Patriots should take care that their leaders are not too long in the field of danger; and these leaders themselves should know that there is an appointed time for withdrawing from the battle and sitting in noble and well-earned seclusion, guiding by counsel when they can no longer lead by example. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Famine and war

This chapter is a double narrative, first of famine, and secondly of waters, in the latter end of David’s days.

1. The time when those three years of famine were, this is uncertain. Some expositors are for a transposition of those stories both of the famine and of the wars, which (they say) fell out before the rebellions both of Absalom’s and of Sheba’s, rendering probable reasons for their opinion; seeing ‘tis said here in the general only that this famine fell out in the days of David (2 Samuel 21:1), but other authors of profound judgment do see no reason for admitting any such transposition in the Scriptures, seeing it is never safe to allow it, but when it is necessary, and cannot be avoided; and therefore ‘tis best to take them in that order, wherein the Holy Spirit hath placed them; yet sometimes Scripture-story puts those passages that belongs to one matter all together, though they happened at several times.

2. The cause of this famine made known by God’s oracle. The natural cause was the drought (2 Samuel 21:10). David, though a prophet, knew not the supernatural cause, until he consulted with the Urim, and God told him it was to punish Saul’s fallen zeal, who had so perfidiously and perjuriously brought the Gibeonites into perdition (2 Samuel 21:1-2.)

3. The means made use of for removing this judgment of famine, namely, the getting both God and the Gibeonites reconciled to Israel (2 Samuel 21:3-5; 2 Samuel 6:1-23.) Those Gibeonites had complained of their grievances to God, and he had heard them, for he is gracious. (Exodus 23:27.) The reason why they had not all this long time complained to King David. That happened to them which befalls all that are deeply oppressed, they are so dispirited that they dare do nothing for their own relief, and possibly they suspected that David would be unwilling to rescind the acts of Saul.

(1.) Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, is so named to distinguish him from that other Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s concubine (2 Samuel 21:7-8). This poor cripple was saved for Jonathan’s sake, because of the Lord’s oath between them. How much more will the Father of all mercies be mindful of the children of believers for Jesu’s sake, and for the covenant made with their parents.

5. David’s high commendation of Rizpah’s doing, insomuch as he made her his pattern in declaring due respect to the dead. (2 Samuel 21:11-14.)

6. The effect of all this. (2 Samuel 21:14.)

7. The wars David had with the Philistines, wherein were four famous battles fought, from verse 15 to the end.

God’s Delays in Punishing.

Saul had been some time dead, when this famine, year by year, for three years, visited the people of Israel. You must look back to the book of Joshua, to see what the sin was. There we find that Israel had made a league with the Gibeonites. “Joshua,” it is written, “made peace with them, to let them live; and the princes of the congregation aware unto them And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel.” But in after times they forgot this oath, by suffering Saul to slay the Gibeonites, and did not see the guilt of letting him take their lives. But the sin, though at first it brought no chastisement, began to put forth thorns and to prick in David’s day. Now we often act like Israel; we brush away from our minds what we have done. We are too busy with to-day; we are interested in what is going on just now. Who likes to look an old folly in the face? Who likes to unrol the book of life, to read the pages that are stained and blackened with old sins? We do not like to rake up all our sins. There is enough of sin in every man’s life to put him to the blush. But is it wise thus to treat ourselves and our sins? Is all well because we are at ease, and have got rid of the sting of our old misdeeds? Is all really safe? Is there no cause for a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation.? Are sins to be thrown aside, and got rid of this way? Nay, we may be very easy and composed; but this is not safety; it is only a treacherous peace; true peace must be sought for by the very opposite course. The true way of peace is not to turn away from the past, but to turn towards it, that we may search and see what we have been about; the true way of peace is not to try to forget our sinful or frivolous deeds of old, but to be at pains to recollect and recall them; for the true way of peace lies through the gate of repentance, through a deep, sincere, careful repentance. It is the penitent who can lay hold of the Cross and live. We must not mistake the ways of God in this matter. The famine that fell on Israel for offences long since past shews us that the edge of God’s sword is not blunted, because for a time it is withheld; for every sin there is punishment in store. No man resists the Spirit, and goes unpunished, if he remains impenitent. The Lord often withholds His arm, not because He disregards the sin, bug because He knows the terror of His vengeance, and would fain see the conversion of the sinner. If we are at all moved by the long-suffering and forbearance with which we have been treated, what wiser thing can we do than solemnly and carefully to retrace our steps, and, by a close accurate study of our past lives, to see whether we have much to repent and to confess before the Lord? (J. Armstrong, D. D.)

The enquiry into sin

Here we have an example of the dealings of God with sinners; we see the sin of one man, Saul, coming upon his family, according to that rule which God hath specially laid down among the strictest of his commandments. “I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” The first thing to be learned from such a manifestation of the ways of God’s dealing with sin, is the very dreadful extent to which it goes: nearly 200 generations have past since the days of Adam, and yet the effects of his sin have not run out their course. All this world is of a piece; one part is joined on to another, so that no man, however selfish, can do any thing for himself only; some one else must in some way or another come in for his share in it. Can the Christian then take too great heed to himself? The sin of Saul, we seed brought a judgment on the whole land; and it is most instructive to observe how it had been so completely forgotten by men, so that David was obliged to enquire the reason of the judgment. So little do men think of sin until they begin to smart for it. Is not this also a matter of daily experience? But the child of God, and joint-heir with Jesus Christ, has no need of being compelled to enquire of God. He does enquire daily; daily there is presented to his eyes the miserable spectacle of this world, full of sorrow and death, and daily and hourly he feels in his body the tokens of mortality; and daily God gives him an answer with greater clearness, “It is for sin.” And daily also he sees his Saviour on the cross, in his agony and sufferings; and daily he enquires of the Lord in his heart, “Why is this?” and daily the answer comes to him with a deeper experience of his own need and God’s abundance, “It is for sin.” Sin, therefore, is his abhorrence; he sees God’s judgment ever upon it. We see from this chapter that after David had enquired of the Lord, and found the reason of the judgment which was upon the land, he immediately set to work to remove it. But how few will follow the example of David in their own case I God having spoken to their enquiring conscience in a manner not to be mistaken, how slow are they to give up the darling sin to be crucified! Such never can have made serious and earnest enquiry of the Lord. Let all enquire with David’s sincerity, and then they will perform with David’s faithfulness. But the business of the Christian is to enquire with all sincerity, and with daily diligence; ford if he be not less watchful than becomes his profession, he must see both within him and without him continual occasion for such inquiry. And thus they daily grow in the knowledge of themselves, and in the resignation of their wills unto God; thus they become more conformed to the image of the Son of God, who Himself, when in the flesh, though He were a Son, yet “learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Thus, as persons find pearls of inestimable price by diving to the bottom of the sea, and groping there amid fear and darkness, so they, searching into the dark depths of their heart with godly fear, bring always up to sight the precious pearl of their redemption in Jesus Christ. (R. W. Evans, B. D.)


Verses 1-14

2 Samuel 21:1-14

Then there was a famine in the days of David three years.

The quickening of David’s conscience by Rizpah’s example

Some years since it was found that many returned emigrants were ending their days in English workhouses. When the authorities inquired into the causes of this fact, they ascertained that in nearly every case those who were then paupers had formerly prospered in the colonies; but they had forsaken their prosperity and come back to England, because they could not bear the thought of dying and being buried in the strange lands wherein they had made their homes for a season. While they were in health and vigour, they were comparatively content to be far away from the old country; but as soon as the shadows of evening began to fall they yearned to return to the familiar haunts of life’s morning, in order that, when they fell asleep, they might be laid to rest in their fathers’ sepulchres. The desire was so strong, that they yielded to it, although they thereby doomed themselves to poverty for the remainder of their days. This is an instinct which cannot be put down by force of argument. After all that can be said about the un-wisdom of it, the voice of nature will still plead for it, and “it seems to be the appointment of heaven that the first attachments of which the heart is conscious should be its last.” If we have no such desire about out own final resting-places we have about those of our friends, and we like to have the graves of our loved ones near to us, and not far away amongst strangers. This feeling must not be denounced as mere sentimentalism, for it has been cherished as an honourable thing by men who were neither feeble nor foolish. When Barzillai pleaded against the preferment which David was urging upon him, this was his last and most forcible entreaty: “Let thy servant, I pray thee,” etc. Was it not strange that David should for so many years leave the remains, of Saul and Jonathan in the place of their hasty sepulture, far from the burial of their fathers? It might have been fairly anticipated that, on his coining into power, David would make an early effort to bring the body of Jonathan to his native place, and there inter it with all the honour befitting the burial of such a princely man and faithful friend. Instead of this, David allowed thirty years to pass away before he did what reverence and gratitude for the dead should have constrained him to regard as a sacred duty to be discharged as soon as possible. Towards the close of David’s life, the prosperity f the kingdom was interrupted by a famine. “He inquired of the Lord.” It will be remembered that, in the days of Joshua, the Gibeonites had, by means of false pretences, obtained a covenant of peace between themselves and the Israelites. They were degraded to perpetual servitude; but with all the sacredness of a solemn oath the public faith was pledged to them for the security of their lives. Under circumstances not fully disclosed to us, Saul broke the oath and forfeited the honour of the nation, by slaying many of the Gibeonites, and by attempting to destroy them all. It has been supposed by some that he was severe and cruel towards the Gibeonites, as a kind of set-off against his pretended compassion towards the Amalekites. Later commentators have thought that light is is to be obtained from the question Saul put to his courtiers when he was disclosing his suspicions against David: “Hear now, ye Benjamites,” etc. This implies that Saul either had given or would give them fields and vineyards. The sin of Saul was regarded by God as a national sin, either because the people shared in the plunder, or because they sympathised with or connived at the deed. The matter was one of double guilt, for, besides the shedding of innocent blood, there was the violation of a solemn compact. Some men have a feeling that there is an appearance of injustice ii a crime be punished many years after its perpetration. But lapse of time has no power to diminish the guilt of an action, and why should it deter or diminish punishment? If lapse of time work change in the offender, bringing him to repentance, then it is meet for mercy to interpose with pardon, and keep back punishment for ever. This is according to God’s promise. Where, on the other hand, the rolling years reveal no improvement, the guilt is increased instead of diminished. In these cases delayed judgment will be at last heavier judgment. Of course, objectors will ask the old question: “Was it just to make one generation suffer for the sins of another?” Seeing the famine did not come till more than forty years after the offence, the greater part of the offenders must have entirely escaped the punishment; and it is said, therefore, the delayed judgment must have been an unjust judgment. How is it people never think of asking this other question: “Is it just for one generation to be enriched in many ways by the skill and labour and victories of a preceding generation?” The law of God that links the generations together is constantly and powerfully working for good. We are all of us more or less better in body, mind, and estate, because of the virtues of those who have lived before us. If we were to be stripped of all the fruit Of the various excellences of bygone generations, how poor and feeble we should be! Our freedom, our art and science, our civilisation, with all its power to mitigate the sorrows and increase the pleasures of life, are not the creation of our wisdom, they are not the product of our virtues. By far the larger portion of them we owe, under God, to the work and worth of those who now sleep in their graves. “Other men laboured, and we have entered into their labours.” It was doubtless by God’s direction that David suffered the surviving Gibeonites to decide what should be done to expiate the sin. They demanded that seven of Saul’s descendants should be publicly executed, and their demand was granted. Saul and his sons had been the leaders in the unprincipled slaughter, and his descendants were most likely the largest holders of the unrighteous spoil. It was contrary to Jewish custom to leave the bodies upon the gibbets to waste away; but it was done in the case of these seven, either because the Gibeonites demanded it, or in order to make the warning more terrible. It gave rise to a most touching display of motherly affection and fidelity. Two of the seven were sons of Rizpah, who, though she had been one of Saul’s wives, was still living. She could not bear the thought of their hanging there for the vultures to tear to pieces and devour, and she determined to keep watch over them and drive off the foul birds of prey. She made her home upon the rock, and watched with a vigilance that never slept, and a devotion that never wearied. It was told David what Rizpah had done, and instantly his memory was awakened, and his conscience was quickened. He thought of the bones of Saul and Jonathan sleeping in the place of their somewhat hurried and unseemly burial. He saw the duty he ought to have discharged. He fetched the long-neglected remains from Jabesh-Gilead, and carried them to the country of Benjamin, and buried them in the sepulchre of Kish, the father of Saul. With them he buried also the bodies of the seven, and thus relieved the tender and faithful-hearted Rizpah from the burden of work and woe which her love for her own had laid upon her. Long-forgotten sin had been brought to mind, and acknowledged, and expiated; homage had been paid to justice; the evil of unfaithfulness had been exposed; the honour of the nation had been purged from foul stains; it had been shown that neither kings nor princes can do wrong with impunity; maternal fondness and fidelity had been touchingly displayed; a long-forgotten duty had been attended to; a noble example had borne fruit; and “after that God was untreated for the land.” The way in which Rizpah’s conduct moved David to his duty affords a fine instance of what has been aptly called “unconscious influence.” She had no design upon the conscience of the king, but her right doing told with great effect. Words are often feeble and in vain, but deeds are seldom fruitless. The most eloquent preachers may have to cry out complainingly--“Who hath believed our report?” The success of example is far more certain, for its fragrance has never been a sweetness wholly “wasted on the desert air.” (C. Vince.)

Conscience assertive

Conscience works after the manner so beautifully set forth in a ring that a great magician, according to an Eastern tale, presented to his prince. The gift was of inestimable value: not for the diamonds and rubies and pearls that gemmed it, but for a rare and mystic property in the metal. It sat easily enough on the finger in ordinary circumstances; but so soon as its wearer formed a bad thought, designed or committed a bad action, the ring became a monitor. Suddenly contracting, it pressed painfully on his finger, warning him of sin. Such a ring, thank God, is not the peculiar property of kings; all, the poorest of us, those who wear none other possess and wear this inestimable jewel--for the ring in the fable is just that conscience which is the voice of God within us. (T. Guthrie.)

Famine in the days of David

I. The connection between moral evil and physical suffering. Do we believe in God as the Moral Ruler of men? Then we cannot but believe that He designs and controls what is occurrent around them to the education and bettering of the moral, nature that is within them. National calamities follow upon national sins. Let no corn-seed be sown; no provision made as far as man can make it for harvest, and famine will come as a Divine retribution. But with all the husbandmen’s forecast and arduous anticipative toil, famine may still come as a punishment because of a nation’s sins--drought, mildew, destructive insect life, the ministers of God that do His chastening pleasure. Atheistic philosophy resolves the government of the world into the action of natural laws, as if there could be laws without a Law-giver, as if they could act except He continued to be and continued to make them efficient. Some may point to second causes. “These suffice; hence come war, famine, black pestilence.” But why hence? Design there cannot be without a Designer. Punishment may smite the nations through the operation of natural law; but that law is the expression of God’s will, and in its operation moves His hidden, but correcting hand. As men deal with their children, God deals with them; from moral evil comes physical suffering. The punishment may be delayed, but it is inevitable. Nations, as such, have no future beyond the bounds of time. Punishment, then, for national sins must fall upon nations now. Sometimes with startling, convicting sharpness. Sometimes “after many days”--days that have gathered into many years. It was so in the case of the famine that was the punishment for Israel’s accessory guilt in Saul’s crime against the Gideonites forty years before. A truth this not without modern confirmatory instances. France slaughtered many of the Huguenots--her best and purest sons--and chased many more into exile. Two hundred years afterwards came the full appalling punishment for that stupendous crime in the horrors of the French Revolution--in the “dire Religion stript of God.” America cherished slave-holding into a domestic institution--and, at length, long after the first slave-holders had passed, in tremendous national convulsion, and through the Red Sea of slaughter, the African bondmen made their wondering, exultant way into freedom. “God’s judgments often look a long way back.”

II. God’s displeasure with national pride and violation of treaty obligations. The famine afflicted Israel because of the perfidy shown to the Gibeonites by Saul and his approving subjects. What instruction, what warning, in these records for England to-day! We are in treaty with many dependent nations and tribes. Let us be faithful to our treaties--honest, kind, not aggressive on the reserved and acknowledged rights of any. To wrong African or Indian tribe--any tribe though as weak and helpless as the ancient Gibeonites, with the national approval, is to assure in coming days for the nation storms of the Divine displeasure. Nor is national pride to go unpunished. And are we guiltless herein? Vast, inclusive of many languages and all climates, the empire that acknowledges our King. But let us not forget who has made us to differ; who has exalted us among the nations; who has lifted us up and can cast us down.

III. In Rizpah we see the unutterable, unvanquishable strength or a mother’s love. Her sons were doomed to ignominious, dishonoured end. She will honour them! An aged woman; adult sons; a king’s sons--thus to end! To her they are royal still. As her grey hair streams to the wind, as her voice and arms are raised against the prowling creatures, oh strength of resolution! oh, thronging memories in that lonely woman’s heart!

The barley harvest was nodding white

When my children died on the rocky height,

And the reapers were singing on hill and plain

When I came to my task of sorrow and pain.

But now the season of rain is nigh,

The sun is dim in the thickening sky.

I hear the howl of the wind that brings

The long, drear storm on its heavy wings;

But the howling wind and the driving rain

Will beat on my houseless head in vain.

I shall stay, from my murdered sons to scare

The beasts of the desert and fowls of air.

Unconquerable love! not rewarded--winning comely sepulture for the bodies of her dead. (G. T. Coster.)

Punished sin expiated

1. A famine in Palestine was always a consequence of deficient winter rains, such a deficiency being by no means uncommon; but in this case the famine endured three successive years, and thus became alarming, and impelled men to ask religious questions and make religious arrangements. “David inquired of the Lord”--in other words, he sought the face of the Lord. Is not the action of David imitated, to some extent at least, by the men of all time? When the east wind blows three days, or three weeks, men do but remark upon it complainingly, and it passes from criticism; but when it continues three months, and three more, and the earth is made white with dust, and every tree stands in blackness and barrenness, and every bird is silent, and the whole landscape is one scene of blank desolation--then men begin to inquire concerning causes, and even the most flippant and obdurate may be easily moved to seek the face of the Lord. Thus selfishness assumes a religious aspect, and religion is degraded by being crowned with selfishness; thus men make confusion in moral distinctions, and imagine themselves to be pious when they are only self-seeking, and suppose themselves constrained by persuasion when they are simply driven by fear.

2. David, having learned the Divine reason for the continued famine, now turned in a human direction, as he was bound to do, saying unto the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you?” The word is the term which is used throughout the law in connection with the propitiatory sacrifices. The word literally means to cover up. David inquires what he can do to cover up the sin of Saul, so as to remove it from the sight of the men against whom it had been committed. Saul himself being dead, his male descendants were considered as standing in his place, and were looked at in the solemn light of actually personating him and having responsibility for his evil deeds. The Gibeonites regarded the whole affair as involving theocracy, and not until the execution had been completed could the stains be removed which had been thrown upon the most sacred history of the race. Men’s ideas of compensation undergo great changes. It is no surprise that at first the idea of compensation should be considerably rough and formless. Jesus Christ remarking upon it, set it aside in the letter, and displaced it by a nobler spirit:--“Ye have heard it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say Unto you” . . . and then came the gospel so difficult to be apprehended by the natural reason, but yielding itself as an infinite treasure to the claim of faith and love. David took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah. He could not lawfully refuse the demand of the Gideonites, having before him the fact that the law absolutely required that bloodguiltiness should be expiated by the blood of the offender. David spared for Jonathan’s sake the only descendants of Saul in the direct line who could have advanced any claim to the throne.

3. The beginning of harvest points to the time as being immediately after the Passover (Leviticus 23:10-11), and consequently about the middle of April. The rains of autumn began in October, so that Rizpah’s tender care must have extended over about six months. She waited until water dropped upon them out of heaven--that is, until the water-famine was at an end; and thus the Divine forgiveness was assured. A most vivid and ghastly picture this: see the seven bodies fastened to a stake, either by impaling or by crucifixion, and watch them standing there day by day and week by week, until the clouds gathered and the returning rain attested that God had been satisfied because justice had been done in the earth. The Lord from heaven is watching all our oblations and sacrifices and actions, and when we have done that which His law of justice requires He will not forget to send the rain and the sunshine, and to bless the earth with an abundant harvest.

4. Then we come upon a beautiful expression--“And after that God was intreated for the land.” There is a solemn lesson here for all time. We must do justice before we can make acceptable prayer, we cannot turn dishonoured graves into altars which God will recognise. “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee: leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” “Wash you, make you clean; pub away the evil of your doings.” These are the conditions upon which God will be intreated.

5. There is a line of true melancholy in the remainder of the chapter. The Philistines had yet war again with Israel, but now when David went down and fought against the Philistines we read that “David waxed faint” (v. 15). A splendid life is now showing signs of decay. David in his old age was fighting with giants, but he was no longer the ruddy youth who smote Goliath in the forehead. There is a time when a man must cease from war. There is also a time when his character, his peaceful counsels, his benignant smile, may be of more value than the uplifting of his enfeebled arm. Patriots should take care that their leaders are not too long in the field of danger; and these leaders themselves should know that there is an appointed time for withdrawing from the battle and sitting in noble and well-earned seclusion, guiding by counsel when they can no longer lead by example. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Famine and war

This chapter is a double narrative, first of famine, and secondly of waters, in the latter end of David’s days.

1. The time when those three years of famine were, this is uncertain. Some expositors are for a transposition of those stories both of the famine and of the wars, which (they say) fell out before the rebellions both of Absalom’s and of Sheba’s, rendering probable reasons for their opinion; seeing ‘tis said here in the general only that this famine fell out in the days of David (2 Samuel 21:1), but other authors of profound judgment do see no reason for admitting any such transposition in the Scriptures, seeing it is never safe to allow it, but when it is necessary, and cannot be avoided; and therefore ‘tis best to take them in that order, wherein the Holy Spirit hath placed them; yet sometimes Scripture-story puts those passages that belongs to one matter all together, though they happened at several times.

2. The cause of this famine made known by God’s oracle. The natural cause was the drought (2 Samuel 21:10). David, though a prophet, knew not the supernatural cause, until he consulted with the Urim, and God told him it was to punish Saul’s fallen zeal, who had so perfidiously and perjuriously brought the Gibeonites into perdition (2 Samuel 21:1-2.)

3. The means made use of for removing this judgment of famine, namely, the getting both God and the Gibeonites reconciled to Israel (2 Samuel 21:3-5; 2 Samuel 6:1-23.) Those Gibeonites had complained of their grievances to God, and he had heard them, for he is gracious. (Exodus 23:27.) The reason why they had not all this long time complained to King David. That happened to them which befalls all that are deeply oppressed, they are so dispirited that they dare do nothing for their own relief, and possibly they suspected that David would be unwilling to rescind the acts of Saul.

(1.) Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, is so named to distinguish him from that other Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s concubine (2 Samuel 21:7-8). This poor cripple was saved for Jonathan’s sake, because of the Lord’s oath between them. How much more will the Father of all mercies be mindful of the children of believers for Jesu’s sake, and for the covenant made with their parents.

5. David’s high commendation of Rizpah’s doing, insomuch as he made her his pattern in declaring due respect to the dead. (2 Samuel 21:11-14.)

6. The effect of all this. (2 Samuel 21:14.)

7. The wars David had with the Philistines, wherein were four famous battles fought, from verse 15 to the end.

God’s Delays in Punishing.

Saul had been some time dead, when this famine, year by year, for three years, visited the people of Israel. You must look back to the book of Joshua, to see what the sin was. There we find that Israel had made a league with the Gibeonites. “Joshua,” it is written, “made peace with them, to let them live; and the princes of the congregation aware unto them And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel.” But in after times they forgot this oath, by suffering Saul to slay the Gibeonites, and did not see the guilt of letting him take their lives. But the sin, though at first it brought no chastisement, began to put forth thorns and to prick in David’s day. Now we often act like Israel; we brush away from our minds what we have done. We are too busy with to-day; we are interested in what is going on just now. Who likes to look an old folly in the face? Who likes to unrol the book of life, to read the pages that are stained and blackened with old sins? We do not like to rake up all our sins. There is enough of sin in every man’s life to put him to the blush. But is it wise thus to treat ourselves and our sins? Is all well because we are at ease, and have got rid of the sting of our old misdeeds? Is all really safe? Is there no cause for a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation.? Are sins to be thrown aside, and got rid of this way? Nay, we may be very easy and composed; but this is not safety; it is only a treacherous peace; true peace must be sought for by the very opposite course. The true way of peace is not to turn away from the past, but to turn towards it, that we may search and see what we have been about; the true way of peace is not to try to forget our sinful or frivolous deeds of old, but to be at pains to recollect and recall them; for the true way of peace lies through the gate of repentance, through a deep, sincere, careful repentance. It is the penitent who can lay hold of the Cross and live. We must not mistake the ways of God in this matter. The famine that fell on Israel for offences long since past shews us that the edge of God’s sword is not blunted, because for a time it is withheld; for every sin there is punishment in store. No man resists the Spirit, and goes unpunished, if he remains impenitent. The Lord often withholds His arm, not because He disregards the sin, bug because He knows the terror of His vengeance, and would fain see the conversion of the sinner. If we are at all moved by the long-suffering and forbearance with which we have been treated, what wiser thing can we do than solemnly and carefully to retrace our steps, and, by a close accurate study of our past lives, to see whether we have much to repent and to confess before the Lord? (J. Armstrong, D. D.)

The enquiry into sin

Here we have an example of the dealings of God with sinners; we see the sin of one man, Saul, coming upon his family, according to that rule which God hath specially laid down among the strictest of his commandments. “I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” The first thing to be learned from such a manifestation of the ways of God’s dealing with sin, is the very dreadful extent to which it goes: nearly 200 generations have past since the days of Adam, and yet the effects of his sin have not run out their course. All this world is of a piece; one part is joined on to another, so that no man, however selfish, can do any thing for himself only; some one else must in some way or another come in for his share in it. Can the Christian then take too great heed to himself? The sin of Saul, we seed brought a judgment on the whole land; and it is most instructive to observe how it had been so completely forgotten by men, so that David was obliged to enquire the reason of the judgment. So little do men think of sin until they begin to smart for it. Is not this also a matter of daily experience? But the child of God, and joint-heir with Jesus Christ, has no need of being compelled to enquire of God. He does enquire daily; daily there is presented to his eyes the miserable spectacle of this world, full of sorrow and death, and daily and hourly he feels in his body the tokens of mortality; and daily God gives him an answer with greater clearness, “It is for sin.” And daily also he sees his Saviour on the cross, in his agony and sufferings; and daily he enquires of the Lord in his heart, “Why is this?” and daily the answer comes to him with a deeper experience of his own need and God’s abundance, “It is for sin.” Sin, therefore, is his abhorrence; he sees God’s judgment ever upon it. We see from this chapter that after David had enquired of the Lord, and found the reason of the judgment which was upon the land, he immediately set to work to remove it. But how few will follow the example of David in their own case I God having spoken to their enquiring conscience in a manner not to be mistaken, how slow are they to give up the darling sin to be crucified! Such never can have made serious and earnest enquiry of the Lord. Let all enquire with David’s sincerity, and then they will perform with David’s faithfulness. But the business of the Christian is to enquire with all sincerity, and with daily diligence; ford if he be not less watchful than becomes his profession, he must see both within him and without him continual occasion for such inquiry. And thus they daily grow in the knowledge of themselves, and in the resignation of their wills unto God; thus they become more conformed to the image of the Son of God, who Himself, when in the flesh, though He were a Son, yet “learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Thus, as persons find pearls of inestimable price by diving to the bottom of the sea, and groping there amid fear and darkness, so they, searching into the dark depths of their heart with godly fear, bring always up to sight the precious pearl of their redemption in Jesus Christ. (R. W. Evans, B. D.)


Verses 10-14

2 Samuel 21:10-14

And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth.

Rizpah: or, relative suffering

We may generally see the cause of any suffering if we only go far enough. David began to enquire, and found out the cause. The demand of the Gibeonites was in harmony only with that crude, cruel, harsh age. They demanded that the survivors of Saul’s race should be handed over to them, that they might do that which they thought would appease outraged law. Some have supposed that David was glad of the opportunity of getting rid--after an Eastern fashion--of possible rivals to the throne; but this could not have been his motive, or he would not otherwise have spared the one who was the only direct and lineal descendant, Mephibosheth, the eldest son of the deceased heir apparent, Jonathan. If all forsake those who hang as accursed, Rizpah will not. She cannot hinder the seizure of her sons and relatives, but she can watch that no further dishonour shall be done to their bodies. She takes sackcloth, spreads it to shield her by day and to rest on at night. Stifled by the heat, and chilled by the cold night air, she remains near to those sun-scorched, haggard, weird, blackened, dishonoured bodies, watching to save them from further ignominy.

I. We may gaze with admiring wonder at a woman’s faithfulness, love, and patience. What faith I She believed that sooner or later God would be entreated for the land, and that when the rains came it would show that guilt had been appeased, and that her dear ones might at least have honourable burial. She believed that they hung there, not for their own sin, but for the sin of others, and, therefore, she does not forsake them. It is so easy to turn our back on those whom the world forsakes. Rizpah would not believe her sons were wrong. How like a woman! They are always slowest to believe wrong, and always readiest to bear the heaviest burdens for those they love. And what a burden, to watch through all those slowly passing weeks.

II. The sorrows that are silently endured. In thousands of homes every day, there are wives and sisters and daughters who are watching as assiduously, either by the bedside of loved sufferers, or mourning at their death, as Rizpah on the rock of Gibeah. How many there are out of whose lives all that is bright is gone, because one to whom they gave their heart’s best devotion is lying pulseless, in the blank stare of death.

III. The bitterest trials of life come through the wrongdoings of others. Rizpah had nothing to do with Saul’s sin, and yet, she had to bear some of the fearful consequences. Here, too, we see how Christ has suffered through the sin of others. There was no sill in Him. Yet was He treated as a sinner, because He became one with us. Love bound Him to us. How He drove back the vultures of sin and the demons of darkness! How He hung on the cross in the full blaze of a broken law that He might take away the sin of the world! How He has waited since, like Rizpah, at the door of the heart, to give life and peace, and to let the rain of His mercy drop on us out of heaven! Our sins nailed Him to the tree, but He does not love us the less. He knows that when we see how He has loved us, love will break or melt our hearts. For that sign of penitence and love He waits through the long years, as Rizpah did through dabs of furnace heat and nights of intensest cold, for the sign of coming rain from heaven. Oil, how unwearied is Jesus in His waiting for souls I His locks are wet with the dews of heaven, and His form withered as by the solar heat!

IV. The overwhelming influence of a devoted life is seen in this act of Rizpah. That silent, watching woman little thought how others were taking note of her,--how her heroic action would be recorded in the Book which would be the most widely read of all books. Example has immense power. Men submit to it more readily than to any commands. Of it speaks Hudibras--

“Example, that imperious dictator

Of all that’s good or bad to human nature;

By it the world’s corrupted or reclaimed,

Hopes to be saved or studies to be damned.”

However obscure, we cannot be sure but that our example may have a good or an evil influence. In proportion to the extent of our circle, so our power for good or evil.

V. faithful love is finally rewarded. Rizpah, at last, when the dead are buried, can rest, and Duly think with a shudder of the long and weary days when her strong arm drove off the vultures, or of the nights when the wild beasts were only kept at bay by the fire that flashed from her eye, and the force that she threw into her voice. And as we think of Him who was homeless, rejected, crucified, we ask, “Will not Christ see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied?” (F. Hastings.)

Rizpah

One of the most affecting narratives in Holy Writ--a story, full of beauty and pathos, is the solitary vigil of Rizpah as she watched with a mother’s love over the dead bodies of her two sons. In years gone by she had been a favourite with Saul. Her home was in the king’s palace; in his love she found both home and happiness. She had no wishes ungratified; whatever could add to her wondrous beauty or minister to her woman’s vanity was freely at her command. The hues of health and youth mantled in her checks, the rose and the lily lent to her their charms, the light, of hope sat upon her calm brow and brightly beamed in her dark eve; her light, elastic step told of the joy that filled her heart. The stream of life flowed gently on, as a river of peace; the present hour was without a cloud of care; the visions of the future were as bright and rose-coloured as her own playful fancy could paint them. All men paid their court to her, they lived upon her smiles; she was the beneficent fairy who administered happiness and favour to the admiring throng. Far above all these and more than all these was the king’s love, the love of Saul, not more distinguished for his manly honours than for the grace of his manly beauty, for his heroic courage and valour, for his warlike triumphs--those qualities which might well commend him to her woman’s heart. He was the lover of her youth, the father of her children, the two beautiful boys, who were not only the source of the young mother’s pride and joy, but the pledge and assurance of her continued reign in the royal heart. Well might she move on in her peerless beauty and pride, careless of the whispering envy that followed her steps, and mindful only of the great prize she had won and so gracefully bore. The scene changes; we stand upon the mountains of Gilboa. Over them like a sirocco has swept the rude blast of war; they are covered with the dying and the dead. Woe, woe to the land, for the Philistines have triumphed; the beauty of Israel is slain upon the high places, the mighty are fallen. Weep, O ye daughters of Israeli weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Such might have been the exclamations of Rizpah over the dead body of Saul. Her bosom was rent with anguish, her heart broken with sorrow. At one fell blow all her hopes were crushed; vain now were her beauty and her pride. The palace was no longer a fitting home for one so forlorn and distressed; its stores of wealth, its jewelry and costly array, had departed from her for ever; another king had come to the throne who knew not Rizpah. But what cared she? Why, when Saul was himself lost, tell her of past splendour and past joys? Had she not already suffered the worst that could befall her, since the king’s death, from one of the new king’s captains--insult, ignominy, and shame? A consuming sorrow preyed upon her life; grief had done the work of years, and, if she lived on it was but for the sake of her two sons. They were all that was left her of her former wealth, and while the mother love survives the human heart still preserves its capacity to suffer and endure. So she went forth--she, so delicately nurtured and cared for; her summer friends had all forsaken her; she went forth into a world of poverty and loneliness with her two sons. She sought some retired hamlet, that she might devote her life to her sorrow and to them. They had now come to the years of youth, or, it may be, of manhood, and were able to do something to repair the mother’s toss and to repay her love. Their united toil provided the scanty fare and supplied their simple wants. With untiring patience and love they devoted themselves to her comfort, living not for themselves, but for her. Rizpah could not but be touched with the spectacle; she could but see with maternal pride their beauty and virtues. Despite herself, hope would re-kindle in her heart, not for her own future, that was dead for ever, but for theirs; she could but think and believe they so honoured her that their days would be long in the land. They might, they ought, to regain their ancestral name and wealth; they would be the comfort and the solace of her declining years, and would pay her the last sad offices of love. God, had come very near to her, but He had not left her altogether without comfort; while her two sons survived, such sons as mother never had before, she need not wholly despair. It was perchance while Rizpah thus communed with her own heart in her chamber and was still, while she was thus recovering from the staggering blow which Providence had dealt upon her, that she heard the tramp of horses’ feet approaching her lowly cottage; she looks up, and the king’s messenger is at the door. Her heart beats with agitation, but not with fear. Already God has heard her prayers; her two sons are to be restored to the king’s court; even on earth they will reap in part their reward. The royal David has heard the touching story of their love; her visions and her hopes are to be realized. Her neighbours and her friends know, alas l how vain such an imagination is. They have suffered from the famine; the only remedy and relief has been bruited abroad--the sacrifice of the seven sons of Saul on the hill before the Lord; it has reached all ears but the ears of Rizpah. Who should break such a tale to that lone and sorrowing woman? Who should bear to her what might be her own as well as the death-warrant of her two sons? What manly courage would not shrink from her wail of woe? Without any fault or crime of theirs, having violated no law human or divine, they, the good sons, were to die a death of shame; like malefactors, they were to be hanged upon a tree. It is one of the strange workings of Providence we can neither fathom nor explain, the visiting upon the innocent children the father’s sins, though it is every day exemplified before our eyes. The sacrifice was ordained; it was accepted of God. The king’s messenger had come; he tells his sorrowful errand, and Rizpah makes no resistance and no reply. Her heart is paralyzed, she is dead to the world; naught survives in her but that maternal love which, like the instinct of modesty, may remain long after all outward consciousness is gone. The signal is at length given, the fatal drop falls, and the sacrifice is complete; the seven sons of Saul have ceased to live; the multitude depart, and Rizpah is left alone with her misery and her dead. Now commences her sad, solitary vigil. Her two sons have died like criminals; no sacred burial rites await them. The gibbet on which they perished is to be their only tomb; they are left to be a prey to the unclean birds of heaven and to the wild beasts of the field. From this last indignity the love of Rizpah shields them. What a picture for the pencil of the painter or for the pen of the poet! What a proof of the strength and devotion of maternal level It survives death and the grave; it lives through good and through evil report; in the discharge of its office it fears no danger and shuns no toil. Who can tell but she may yet win them that last favour man can bestow upon the sons of Saul--the rite of burial? So she watches in darkness and in light; the very stillness of her sorrow spreads over her a halo of sanctity that scares away all that would molest or make afraid. A vigil so remarkable soon attracts the notice of the passers-by, the piteous tale is told from one to another, until at length it reaches King David’s ears. His royal heart, is moved with compassion for her sorrows. He collects the bodies of Saul and Jonathan and of their dead sons, and gives them such royal burial as it became a king to bestow. Thus the work of Rizpah was done, her painful vigil ended; and she lays down to die, perhaps to share the grave of Saul and of her two sons, and God was entreated for the land, and instead of famine plenty reigns. Oh! wondrous power of maternal love, hallowing by its sacred influences even the gibbet of infamy, and lending a halo to the noisomeness of death and the grave. Oh only love of earth which finds its prototype in the love of God! (G. F. Cushman, D. D.)

Rizpah.

In the days of David, King of Israel, there prevailed a famine which lasted three years. On inquiring of the Lord the cause, David received for answer that it was “because of Saul and his bloody house.” Already is one striking lesson to be derived from the history. We learn, not only that the weather is in the hands of God,--Rain and sunshine, “wind and storm, fulfilling His word”; but also, that one of the causes which influence Him in sending the weather which produces abundance, or which occasions famine, is the conduct of the people. Now the crime of Saul was this. Whereas Joshua and the men of Israel on first coming into Canaan had entered into a solemn covenant with the Gibeonites that they would do them no injury, but suffer them to dwell on unmolested, Saul had sought to slay them. That ancient oath and covenant of the people of the land,--made upwards of four hundred years before,--Saul, the unscrupulous, irreligious Captain of the Lord’s people, had broken; and three years of famine were the penalty, inflicted on all Israel for the sin of their ruler. Money they spurned. They would have the lives of seven of Saul’s sons. Accordingly, seven men were surrendered, and “hanged in the hill before the Lord.” Two mothers here come to view,--Rizpah and Michal. Of the latter, little is related: but we are guided to a very solemn warning to be derived from this seemingly casual mention of her name. Saul’s daughter had loved David when she knew him as the warlike and victorious captain; but despised him when she beheld him as the religious King, transported with holy joy at the recovery and return of the Ark of God. Michal proved childless: but she is found from this place of Scripture to have adopted five of her sister’s children and made them hers. Yet, mark you! Those five children are taken from her to complete the number required to make atonement for her father’s sin; and she remains childless until the day of her death. Very different is the character of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah,--who becomes for evermore a pattern to mankind in respect of piety towards the dead. The sackcloth which she is said to have taken and spread upon the rock, was a token of her mourning, as well as an emblem of her grief. What is of more importance, is the hint afforded us of Rizpah’s piety towards God no less than towards man, contained in those words,--“until water dropped upon them out of Heaven.” “Cursed” (says the Law,) “is every one that hangeth upon a tree”: and here were seven men appointed to sustain the curse which rested upon the land, and to make atonement for the sin of Saul and of his bloody house. So long as the famine (occasioned by the want of rain) lasted, so long was it to be thought that the wrath of God rested upon the people, and the atonement remained unaccepted by the injured majesty of Heaven. The poor mother watched, therefore, in sackcloth, upon the hard rock; “until water dropped upon them out of Heaven”: and Rizpah enjoyed the blessed assurance that the Lord was pacified, and that His wrath had indeed passed away! Only one circumstance more requires to be mentioned. “It was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul had done.” David beholds in Rizpah’s conduct a lesson to himself; and he proceeds at once to copy the example of piety which that sorrowful bereaved mother has set him. He bethinks him of the bones of Saul and of Jonathan his son which are still lying dishonoured at Jabesh-gilead; sends for them; causes the bones of the seven sons who had been hanged at Gibeah to be gathered also; and honourably buries them. So true is it that no one lives to himself; but the effect of good example spreads, and (as in the case before us) a weak woman’s example becomes a model for the imitation of the monarch on the throne! We never know, we cannot possibly tell the remote consequences of our acts for good or for evil. We cannot even pretend to describe their present influence, and the results which they may immediately occasion. (J. W. Burgon, M. A.)

Rizpah’s watch; or, the story of a mother’s love

Rizpah, the widow of Saul, was getting to be an old woman when her two sons, Armoni and Mephibosheth, were hanged in Gibeah, at the demand of the Gibeonites, who had been ravished and desolated by the cruel wickedness of Saul, their father. These men suffered not only for their own sin, but for the sins of the wicked family in which they were born, and especially for the sins of their father. Rizpah stands out as the true type of the undying loyalty of motherhood. What the world owes to good mothers, who have sacrificed themselves with all joy that they might live again in their children, no statistician will ever be able to adequately determine. John Newton, who caused his mother much sorrow while she lived, was brought back to righteousness long after she had gone to heaven by the recollection of the lessons she had taught him. God brought her back to him again in a vision, and the memory of her prayers and of her tender solicitude broke his heart and turned him away from sin. John Randolph once said: “I should have been an atheist if it had not been for one recollection--and that was the memory of the time when my departed mother used to take my little hand in hers and cause me on my knees to say, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven.’” When General Grant was at West Point, he wrote to his mother: “Your kind words of admonition are ever present with me. How well do they strengthen me in every good word and work. Should I become a soldier for my country, I look forward with hope to have you spared to share with me any advancement I might gain, and I trust that my future conduct will prove me worthy of the patriotic instruction you and father have given me.” No human being in this world has so much power over the life of man or woman, taking it all in all, as the mother. A mother gives the very emphasis and tone and colour to the speech of her child, and that is only an “outward indication of the way she moulds the plastic soul within. Of all the most important classes for the welfare of the world, mothers lead the van. No wonder Napoleon said, in his wicked day, “What France needs is good mothers.” And as there is no devotion more beautiful and splendid than that of a mother’s, so there is nothing that wins a higher meed of love and gratitude in return, The affection which the noblest and truest men and women in the world have had for their mothers brightens up the pages of history. Lord Macaulay once said that it was worth while being sick to be nursed by a mother. William Cowper said: “Every creature that bears an affinity to my mother is dear to me.” When Thomas Guthrie, the great Scotch preacher, was on his deathbed, his latest words were these: “How strange to think that within twenty-four hours I may see my mother and my Saviour!” How much it means when God says that He will comfort us, when we give our hearts to Him, as a mother comforteth her child! How can anyone fear to yield completely to the mother-like arms of Divine love? It is this mother-God to whom I call you to-night, (L. A. Banks, D. D.)

Changes of fortune

Some of the worst distresses have come to scenes of royalty and wealth. What porter at the mansion’s gate has not let in champing and lathered steed bringing evil despatch? On what tesselated hall has there not stood the solemn bier? Under what exquisite fresco has there not been enacted a tragedy of disaster? What curtained couch hath heard no err of pain? What harp hath never trilled with sorrow? What lordly nature hath never leaned against carved pillar and made utterance of woe. Gall is not less bitter when quaffed from a golden chalice than when taken from a pewter mug. Sorrow is often attended by running footmen, and laced lackeys mounted behind. Queen Anne Boleyn is desolate in the palace of Henry VIII. Adolphus wept in German castles over the hypocrisy of friends. Pedro I. among Brazilian diamonds shivered with fear of massacre. Stephen of England sat on a rocking throne. And every mast of pride has bent in the storm, and the highest mountains of honour and fame are covered with perpetual snow. Sickness will frost the rosiest cheek, wrinkle the smoothest brow, and stiffen the sprightliest step. Rizpah quits the courtly circle and sits on the rock. Perhaps you look back upon scenes different from those in which now from day to day you mingle. You have exchanged the plenty and luxuriance of your father’s house for privation and trials known to God and your own heart. The morning of life was flushed with promise. Troops of calamities since then have made desperate charge upon you. Darkness has come. Sorrows have swooped like carrion birds from the sky and barked like jackals from the thicket. You stand amid your slain, anguished and woestruck. So it has been in all ages. Vashti must doff the spangled robes of the Persian Court, and go forth blasted from the palace gate. Hagar exchanges Oriental comfort for the wilderness of Beersheba. Mary Queen of Scots must pass out from flattery and pomp to suffer ignominious death in the Castle of Fotheringay. The wheel of fortune keeps turning, and mansions and huts exchange, and he who rode in the chariot pushes the barrow, and instead of the glare of festal lights is the simmering of the peat-fire, and in place of Saul’s palace is the rock, the cold rock, the desolate rock. But that is the place to which God comes. Jacob with his head on a stone saw the shining ladder. Israel in the desert beheld the marshalling of the fiery baton. John on barren Patmos heard trumpeting, and the clapping of wings, and the stroke of seraphic fingers on golden harps, and nothing but heavenly strength nerved Rizpah for her appalling mission amid the scream of wild birds and the steady tread of hungry monsters. (T. De Wilt Talmage.)

Sins of lathers visited upon children

But it hardly ends before you cry out: What a hard thing that those seven boys should suffer for the crimes of a father and grandfather! Yes. But it is always so. Let everyone who does wrong know that he was not only, as in this case, against two generations, children and grandchildren, but against all the generations of coming time. That is what makes dissipation and uncleanness so awful. It reverberates in other times. It may skip one generation, as is suggested in the Ten Commandments: which say: “Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” Mind you, it says nothing about the second generation, but mentions the third and the fourth. That accounts for what you sometimes see, very good parents with very bad children. Go far enough back in the ancestral line and you find the source of all the turpitude. “Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation.” If, when Saul died, the consequences of his iniquity could have died with him, it would not have been so sad. Alas, no! Look on that hill a few miles out from Jerusalem and see the ghastly burdens of those seven gibbets, and the wan and wasted Rizpah watching them. Go to-day through the wards and alms-houses, and the reformatory institutions where unfortunate children are kept, and you will find that nine out of ten had drunken or vicious parents. Yea, day by day, in the streets of our cities you find men and women wrecked of evil parentage. They are moral corpses. Like the seven sons of Saul--though dead--unburied. Alas! for Rizpah, who, not for six months, but for years and years has watched them. She cannot keep the vultures and the jackals off. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

The courage of woman amid great emergencies

What mother, or sister, or daughter would dare to go out to fight the cormorant and jackal? Rizpah did it. And so would you if an emergency demanded. Woman is naturally timid and shrinks from exposure, and depends on stronger arms for the achievement of great enterprises. And she is often troubled lest there might be occasions demanding fortitude when she would fail. Not so. Some of those who are afraid to look out of door after nightfall, and who quake in the darkness at the least uncertain sound, and who start at the slam of the door, and turn pale in a thunderstorm, if the day of trial came would be heroic and invulnerable. God has arranged it so that woman needs the trumpet of some great contest of principle or affection to rouse up her slumbering courage. Then she will stand under the cross fire of opposing hosts at Chalons to give wine to the wounded. Then she will carry into prison and dark lane the message of salvation. Then she will brave the pestilence. Deborah goes out to sound terror into the heart of God’s enemies. Abigail throws herself between a raiding party of infuriated men and her husband’s vineyards. Rizpah fights back the vultures from the Rook. Among the Orkney Islands an eagle swooped and lifted a child to its eyrie far up on the mountains. With the spring of a panther the mother mounts hill above hill, crag above crag, height above height, the fire of her own eye outflashing the glare of the eagle’s; and with unmailed hand stronger than the iron beak and the terrible claw she hurled the wild bird down the rocks. In the French Revolution, Cazotte was brought to be executed when his daughter threw herself on the body of her father and said, “Strike! barbarians! You cannot reach my father but through my heart!” The crowd parted, and linking arms father and daughter walked out free. During the siege of Saragossa, Augustina carried refreshments to the gates. Arriving at the battery of Portillo she found that all the garrison had been killed. She snatched a match from the hand of a dead artilleryman and fired off a twenty-six pounder, then leaped on it and vowed she would not leave it alive. The soldiers looked in and saw her daring, and rushed up and opened another tremendous fire on the enemy. The life of James I. of Scotland was threatened. Poets have sung those times, and able pens have lingered upon the story of manly endurance, but how few tell the story of Catherine Douglas, one of the Queen’s maids, who ran to bolt the door, but found the bar had been taken away so as to facilitate the entrance of the assassins. She thrust her arm into the staple. The murderers rushing, against it, her arm was shattered. Yet how many have since lived and died who never heard the touching, self-sacrificing, heroic story of Catherine Douglas and her poor shattered arm. You know how calmly Madame Roland went to execution and how cheerfully Joanna of Naples walked to the castle of Mute, and how fearlessly Madame Grimaldi listened to her condemnation, and how Charlotte Corday smiled upon the frantic mob that pursued her to the guillotine. And there would be no end to the recital if I attempted to present all the historical incidents which show that women’s courage will rouse itself for great emergencies. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

A mother buries remains of her executed sons,

In the time of George IV., two men were convicted of robbing the Brighton mail-coach, and were hung on gibbets on the spot where the crime had been committed. When the clothes and the flesh had at length fallen away, an aged woman was observed to go night after night, in all weather, to the lonely spot, and bring away something in her apron. These were the bones of her son, which she interred with her own hands in the parish churchyard. (Memoir of Lord Tennyson.)


Verses 15-22

Verses 18-22

2 Samuel 21:18-22

Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Saph, which was of the sons of the giant.

On doing valiantly

If his master bids him perform exploits too hard for him, he draws upon the resources of omnipotence, and achieves impossibilities. Wellington sent word to his troops one night: “Cindad Rodrigo must be taken to-night.” And what do you think was the commentary of the British soldiers appointed for attack? “Then,” said they all, “we will do it.” So, when our great Captain sends round, as He doth to us, the word of command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature,” if we were all good soldiers of the Cross, we should say at once, “We will do it.” However hard the task, since God Himself is with us to be our Captain, and Jesus the Priest of the Most High is with us to sound the trumpet, we will do it in Jehovah’s name. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Deeds

When a man dies they who survive him ask, what property Ire has left behind; the angel who bends over the dying one asks what good deeds he has sent before him. (H. W. Beecher.)

What one can do

In one of the Napoleonic wars a young soldier complained to his commanding officer that his sword was too short. “Then add a step to it,” was the curt and significant reply. “When I hear,” says the Rev. W. L. Watkinson, “a man say, ‘You know you cannot do more than you can do,’ I am always still for a moment. It is such a philosophic sentence that it can only be taken in slowly.” But you never know what you can do until you put your soul into it--until you add a step. Says Paul to Timothy: “Stir up the gift that is in thee.” And it is not so much a question of environment as it is a question of soul; it is not a question of opportunity, because “it is in thee.”

Action more than knowledge

“It is not the man who knows most, but the one that does best, that wins the victory, Grant, and Meade, and Sheridan could have been taught many lessons by our learned professors of military tactics and strategy, but none of these could have guided his forces to victory as Grant did at Chatanooga, Meade at Gettysberg, or have hurled his masses as Sheridan did at Winchester. Action guided by knowledge, if you will, but better action without knowledge than much knowledge and feeble action.” (General Sherman.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 21:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/2-samuel-21.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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