2 Samuel 21:1-14
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 Deborah Mary, mother of Jesus
Rebekah Hannah Dorcas
Leah Ruth Lydia
Rachel Esther Priscilla
Rahab Mary Magdalene
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.
And sometimes the best thing we can do is simply listen to their stories. I want to read the stories of four women this morning, and I want you, not only to listen, but to really hear their stories of courage and devotion that have the power to change our own hearts.
Whenever I read the story of Hannah I think of all of those women who long to be mothers, but have a difficult time conceiving. All of the pain and the expense and the emotional distress and the disappointment and heartache they go through to have a child of their own. Hannah was a woman who had a deep love for God and trusted him in everything, but more than anything she wanted a child. Her husband loved her very much, but there was this longing that could only be filled with a child. And just as the story of Jesus begins with the story of Mary, so the story of the great OT prophet Samuel begins with the story of his mother Hannah.
There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah…. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year.
Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD'S temple. In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.” “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.” (1 Sam 1:1-20)
This passage is neither a commentary on why women can or cannot become pregnant, nor is it a formula for manipulating God’s will. It is merely the narrative of a woman whose absolute trust in God caught, not only the attention of Eli, but of God himself. She came to the Temple to pray, not with bitterness or anger over her situation, but with a broken heart and a yielded will, begging God to fill the desire of her heart. And he did, and her son Samuel, who had more than a little of his mother in him, became one of the greatest men in all of Israel’s history.
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. That is the story of Rizpah:
During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.)
David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make amends so that you will bless the LORD'S inheritance?” The Gibeonites answered him, “We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.” “What do you want me to do for you?” David asked. They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel,
let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and exposed before the LORD at Gibeah of Saul—the Lord’s chosen one.” So the king said, “I will give them to you.” The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the LORD between David and Jonathan son of Saul. But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul,
together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed and exposed them on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning. Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock.
From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds of the air touch them by day or the wild animals by night. When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had taken them secretly from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.)
David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up. They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land. (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. And 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 by vultures. 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 and lasted 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:
“Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the LORD will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the LORD'S battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the LORD your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. When the LORD has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the LORD has brought my master success, remember your servant.”
David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.” (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.
Let’s finish with Peter’s commentary on the story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham and literally the mother of God’s people. In 1 Peter 3, we are reminded of the humility and faithfulness of Sarah:
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (1 Peter 3:1-6)
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 laying down her life in service to others.
Illustration - Real sacrifice
In a rural area of South Korea as a missionary 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 longs for his children. 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?