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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Rizpah

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(Heb. Ritspah', רַצְפָּה, a live coal, as in Isaiah 6:6; Sept. ῾Ρεσφά v.r. ῾Ρεφφάθ; Josephus, ῾Ραισφά [Ant. 7, 1, 4]), a concubine of king Saul, and mother of two of his sons, Armoni and Mephibosheth. B.C. cir. 1080. Like many others of the prominent female characters of the Old Test. Ruth, Rahab, Jezebel, etc. - Rizpah would seem to have been a foreigner, a Hivite, descended from one of the ancient worthies of that nation, Ajah or Aiah, son of Zibeon, whose name and fame are preserved in the Ishmaelitish record of Genesis 36. After the death of Saul and the occupation of the country west of the Jordan by the Philistines, Rizpah accompanied the other inmates of the royal family to their new residence at Mahanaim; and it is here that her name is first introduced to us as the subject of an accusation levelled at Abner by Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 3:7) - a piece of spite which led first to Abner's death through Joab's treachery, and ultimately to the murder of Ishbosheth himself. The accusation, whether true or false - and from Abner's vehement denial we should naturally conclude that it was false involved more than meets the ear of a modern and English reader; for among the Israelites it was considered "as a step to the throne to have connection with the widow or the mistress of the deceased king" (see Michaelis, Laws of Moses, art. 54). We hear nothing more of Rizpah till the tragic story which has made her one of the most familiar objects to young and old in the whole Bible (2 Samuel 21:8-11). Every one can appreciate the love and endurance with which the mother watched over the bodies of her two sons and her five relatives, to save them from an indignity peculiarly painful to the whole of the ancient world (see Psalms 79:2; Homer, Il. 1, 4, 5, etc.). But it is questionable whether the ordinary conception of the scene is accurate. The seven victims were not, as the A.V. implies, "hung;" they were crucified. The seven crosses were planted in the rock on the top of the sacred hill of Gibeah the hill which, though not Saul's native place, was, through his long residence there, so identified with him as to retain his name to the latest existence of the Jewish nation (1 Samuel 11:4, etc.; and see Josephus, War, 5, 2, 1). The whole or part of this hill seems at the time of this occurrence to have been in some special manner dedicated to Jehovah, possibly the spot on which Ahiah the priest had deposited the ark when he took refuge in Gibeah during the Philistine war (1 Samuel 14:18). The victims were sacrificed at the beginning of barley harvest - the sacred and festal time of the Passover and in the full blaze of the summer sun they hung till the fall of the periodical rain in October. During the whole of that time Rizpah remained at the foot of the crosses on which the bodies of her sons were exposed the mater dolorosa, if the expression may be allowed, of the ancient dispensation. She had no tent to shelter her from the scorching sun which beats on that open spot all day, or from the drenching dews at night, but she spread on the rocky floor the thick mourning garment of black sackcloth which as a widow she wore, and crouching there she watched that neither vulture nor jackal should molest the bodies.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Rizpah'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/r/rizpah.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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