"Rizpah: The Influence of Faithfulness"
At first glance here's a classic Hebrew scripture story of blood and guts that should be left where it is--consigned to the obscure bit of 2 Samuel 21 in which it is placed. It appears to portray God as sending famine on the land because of Saul's treaty violations with the Gibeonites; and, bloodthirsty, needing to appease His anger.
Is God like the Gibeonite pagan Baal god who needs the sacrifice of Mot by Anat in order to restore the fertility of the earth? If so, it calls into question the whole issue of how the atonement for sin is accomplished--by human sacrifice or God's sacrifice? Rizpah's faith provides the answer.
Recurring famines were a part of ancient agrarian life. When a particularly hard-hitting three-year drought ravaged Israel, David inquired of the Lord for the reason. He was told, "It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites" (2 Sam. 21:1). Saul disregarded a treaty which the Gibeonites deceptively finagled with Joshua (Joshua 9:15, 16).
Instead of inquiring of the Lord for the remedy, David went to the Gibeonites for an answer to the dilemma. "... Wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LORD?" (2 Sam. 21:3). David's accommodation to the heathen in order to find a means of expiating God is striking. The assimilation of religious ideas indicates a lack of discernment on his part.
The Gibeonite response is that it's not a matter of money; nor that they have any power over the lives of others, for only the king has that right over his subjects. David asks, What do you need? They reply, "Seven sons of Saul." So David grants their request: two sons of Rizpah and five sons of Michal, Saul's concubine and daughter.
The Gibeonites took the seven to a high place and ritually sacrificed them by dismemberment "and exposed their bodies on a hill before the LORD" (2 Sam. 21:9, NIV). According to the pagan fertility rite, this sacrifice served to restore Baal to life, to cause the streams to flow, to rain down fatness, and to bring to an end the drought which reigned in the absence of Baal. Did it accomplish its intended purpose? No rain came. The only consequence of this kind of violence that could be expected was a spiral into more revenge slayings on the part of Saul's descendants against the Gibeonites or even David's household.
However, Rizpah appears suddenly on the scene of execution where the body parts have been left exposed to dishonor and indignity. She returns love and peace for vengeance and violence. She sets up a six-month vigil in honor of the dead, warding off predators and vultures. Her solitary mourning and repentance saved the king and the nation from the slippery slope of absorbing the pagan concept of the atonement.
The Gibeonites believed that they must offer human sacrifice on the high place in order to appease the angry Baal who has vanished. This alone will bring back the rains.
The idea of offering an expiatory sacrifice to an offended deity has been taken up into popular Christianity. The common view of the atonement is that since God is angry with sinners and His justice has been offended, Jesus takes the hit vicariously for sinners, and God's wrath is assuaged. The more near Protestant view is that God is angry toward sinners, but since He loves them He doesn't take His wrath out upon them, but takes it out on His Son. Either way the bottom line is a God who is angry with sinners and needs a target.
When God gave the covenant to Abraham (Gen. 15:9-21), the ancient practice of walking between the animal parts solemnized God's promise. First, Abraham "reverently passed between the parts of the sacrifice, making a solemn vow to God of perpetual obedience" (Patriarchs and Prophets [PP], p. 137). Then God was represented as a "smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces" (vs. 17), "totally consuming them,"--"the severed victims" pointing to Christ (op. cit.)
God does not ask for our promises in order to enter into His covenant. Ellen White writes, "Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand" (Steps to Christ, p. 47). God found "fault with them" (Heb. 8:8) because Israel promised "all that the LORD hath spoken we will do" (Ex. 19:8)--egocentric-motivated faith. God's love compels us to believe His covenant "stablished upon better promises" (Heb. 8:6)--His own "better promises."
When Abraham passed through the victims, he represented Christ, the true Seed, through whom God's promise would be fulfilled (Gal. 3:16). In addition, Abraham represented his spiritual descendants. "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed" (3:29). Abraham made the "vow to God of perpetual obedience" as the representative of the Seed. "For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen" (2 Cor. 1:20). The only promises worth believing in the everlasting covenant are the mutual promises of the Father and the Son.
Ellen White writes, "The Lord condescended to enter into a covenant with His servant, employing such forms as were customary among men for the ratification of a solemn engagement" (PP 137). The pagan custom for the violation of mutual promises entered into was for the party to be dismembered or ritually sacrificed in disgrace. However, God's covenant-promise to Abraham was a one-sided land grant promise. God took the forms of ritual dismemberment of the victims. Instead of conveying the pagan message of appeasing the angry deity, God communicated the gospel message by "totally consuming them" (ibid.). The animals that were sacrificed in connection with the worship of Jehovah in the were consumed with fire. Thus the victims pointed to Christ who bore the "curse" of God-forsakenness on the cross, dying our second death (Gal. 3:13).
Christ made the choice to die apparently cursed of God and totally forsaken--the second death. The last temptation of Christ was to come down off His cross and be with His Father. The revilers said, "If thou be the , come down from the cross" (Matt. 27:40).
did not abandon His Son in His greatest hour of need. He was there with Him. However, the great controversy with Satan would not permit Him to visibly support His Son, for Christ must endure the full wrath of sin which raged within and conquer by faith alone. As the world's Sin-bearer, He felt the condemnation that every sinner will feel when at last they feel God-forsaken because of their own choice to cut themselves off from Him.
Christ prayed, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). His prayer was heard. "For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from Him; but when He cried unto Him, He heard" (Psalm 22:24). He died victorious over all outward evidences of defeat to the contrary. He died victorious over temptations from within to preserve self at all costs by rejecting the will of His Father--the cross. He kept His promise to be the Surety for the human race. In the final moment His faith declared, "It is finished" (John 19:30).
Oh, what price Love paid to sinners! The Father and the Son paid the price to you. It is for the purpose of winning enemy hearts to God.
What motivated Rizpah? She understood God's everlasting covenant promise to pledge Himself the sacrificial atonement for the sins of the nation. She chose to respond by faith to God's great love. She never spoke a word, but her life and example of repentance on a lonely mountaintop in identifying with the king and nation who were sliding into paganism, caught the attention of a messenger who reported it to David.
In response to Rizpah's "sermon" the king repented. He demonstrated by his actions that he was truly sorrowful. The neglected corpses of Saul and Jonathan, in addition to the dismembered Saulides, were given a proper burial; and the nation mourned. Following Rizpah's corporate repentance "water dropped upon them out of heaven" (2 Sam. 21:10).
--Paul E. Penno--------------------------------------------------------
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