2 Samuel 21:1-14
Ordinary Women – Extraordinary Lives The Bible is not short on accounts of women. But they are rare enough that those that it does include have a striking power about their stories. And their stories are memorable. Simply the mention of their names bring up those images of faithfulness, godliness and devotion that inspire us to live more faithful, godly and devoted lives.
Sarah Hannah Lydia
Rachel Mary Magdalene
Rahab Mary, mother of Jesus
And what is most remarkable is that these are ordinary women living extraordinary lives. They are not princesses born into royalty and privilege, but women whose lives were difficult and demanding and filled with risks and obstacles, but who willingly gave themselves in service to their families and their God.
Women of God
One name tucked away in 2 Samuel 21 is the brief story of a mother whose devotion to her sons convicted the heart of a king – 2 Sam. 21:1-14
David had loose ends to tie up, a kingdom to secure, political scapegoats, and alliances to make peace with. One of those alliances was with the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites were victims of Saul’s zealous thirst for vengeance. They had been decimated unjustly. The Lord has brought a famine on Israel because of this injustice against them. And now David wants to make amends and restore this relationship. And he asks the Gibeonites, “what will it take?” “The death of seven of his descendants.” David complies and turns over seven members of Saul’s family. They are killed and their bodies are left exposed on a hill for the wild animals and birds to eat.
As far as David is concerned, mission accomplished. Politics is a nasty business and sometimes you pay the cost and move on.
Enter Rizpah, who is the mother of two of these sacrificial victims – Armoni and Mephibosheth. These two are put to death for the sins of their father Saul, and shamefully left to have their bones picked clean. What is a mother to do?
Here’s what Rizpah did:
When her sons are taken and slaughtered and hung in shame on the side of a hill, she gathers a few supplies and travels to where they hang – she lays down a sackcloth rug and she camps out at the feet of her dead sons. During the day she shoos off the birds, and at night she beats off the wild animals. Her vigil began at the beginning of the barley crop in late April for five months until the coming of the rains in October.
What remarkable self-sacrificing devotion. But that’s not where the story ends. David hears about it. Not because Rizpah picketed outside David’s court, but because her example was so powerful that people were talking about it everywhere – until finally the word gets back to David. And David is convicted of his need to make right something he has let go too long. He goes to Jabesh Gilead and gathers the bones of Saul and Jonathan who themselves had been killed and hung in shame by the Philistines, as well as the bodies of Rizpah’s sons and he takes them home to give them a proper burial.
Rizpah’s devotion as a mother convicted David the mighty king to do what is right. The chapter began with a famine in the land because of Saul’s mistreatment of the Gibeonites. An impenetrable cloud of sin hung over the land and God’s silence radiated his displeasure with how Saul had acted. But David’s solution wasn’t any better – following injustice with vengeance. And God’s silence continues until David’s heart is convicted by the example of this faithful mother and he is spurred on, not only to do the right thing with her sons, but to do the right thing by Saul and Jonathan. And then, the writer of 2 Samuel says, “After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.”
Have you ever done something that you knew wasn’t right and you knew you should feel badly about, but you excused it because sometimes you just have to do things you don’t like to do? And it weighed on your conscience, but not enough to do anything about – until you came up against the example and words of someone whose godliness and integrity wouldn’t let you ignore it any longer.
How often it is a woman who displays the qualities of faithfulness that really bring us face to face with our own faithlessness.
Abigail is one of those kind of women. You will remember her story from 1 Samuel 25. She was the wife of Nabal, a wicked man who terribly insulted David by refusing his men provisions, even though David’s army had protected his land. His name literally meant “fool.” And Nabal’s foolishness brought about David’s anger. David set out with his army to exact vengeance on him and his house when he is met in the valley by Abigail, who is the wife of Nabal. Listen to a part of that conversation: 1 Sam 25:28-33.
Abigail is the opposite of Nabal. She is smart and resourceful and realizes what danger her husband has brought upon their family. And so Abigail gathers as many provisions and gifts as she can and sets out on an intercept course with David’s army. They meet in a mountain ravine where Abigail pleads with David for the life of her husband and her family. She gives the provisions to David and asks him to forgive the wicked foolishness of her husband, and by her faithfulness averts this disaster upon her family. David is so taken by her act of reconciliation that he relents and blesses her and her household.
In 1 Peter 3, we are reminded of the humility and faithfulness of Sarah – 1 Peter 3:1-6. And Peter’s call to submission is interesting – it is in a series of admonitions to submission:
Be submissive to rulers and authorities Slaves be submissive to masters Christ was submissive to those who would kill him And he tells us, “to this you were called” – to be submissive to suffering for Christ And finally, “wives, in the same way be submissive…”
You see, I don’t read the Bible and find women who were powerless victims in a patriarchal society that belittled and demeaned them.
I do find that women of God demonstrated strength, and were effective when they acted, not in an aggressive, power-wielding show of force, but as Peter says, “in the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”
I would submit that that is the way any person, man or woman, is going to be most effective – Jesus said in Mark 10 that it’s not by the worldly lording it over others that the Christian leads, but by being a servant and living a life of sacrificial service.
Stories of sacrifice:
Illust - The notebook
You may remember the movie a few years ago – The Notebook. She has Alzheimer’s – she lives in a nursing home – she no longer knows her husband. He lives there also, though he is healthy and able to live on his own. Every day, he cares for her and reads to her from a notebook in which she had written the story of their life together – hoping that it will jog her memory and he will have her back.
Their children and grand-children come for a visit and she asks who these people are. When she returns to her room, they beg him to come home. He says, “I am home. My home is with her.”
He makes incredible sacrifices to be with her, but it is obvious that to him they are not sacrifices.
Illust - An ox to sell
A second story comes from a missionary in a rural area of South Korea who was showing two visitors around the countryside. They stopped by a field where a boy was pulling a crude plow and an old man held the plow handles and guided it. The visitors remarked, “They must be very poor.” The missionary replied, “Yes, that is the family of Chi Noue. When we were building our place of worship, they were eager to give something to it. They had no money, so they sold their only ox and gave the money to the church. This spring, they are pulling the plow themselves. The two visitors were silent for several moments. Then one said, “That must have been a real sacrifice.” The missionary said, “They do not call it that. They thought they were blessed to have an ox to sell.”
What would you do for your family? Whatever it takes. You would sacrifice everything to care for your children – but the truth is, you would never think of it as a sacrifice.
That’s the kind of God we have. One who camps out waiting for the opportunity to bring us home. One who meets us on the way to bring reconciliation. One who submitted himself to the death we deserved so that we might be with him forever.
Would you expect any less?
Posted on Sun, May 8, 2011
by John Roberts