Rizpah- Primeval Motherhood
May 10th, 1992 @ 8:15 AM
2 Samuel 21:1-14
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Samuel 21:1-14
5-10-92 8:15 a.m.
We welcome the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. You are a part now of our precious First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the senior pastor, W. A. Criswell, bringing the message entitled Rizpah – Primeval Motherhood. I am going to read from one of the strangest pages in all of literature, as well as in the Word of God, 2 Samuel 21:
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, It is because of Saul, and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.
So the king called the Gibeonites, and spoke to them; (the children of Israel had sworn protection to them: but Saul had sought to kill them.)
Therefore David said to the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? and with what shall I make atonement, that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?
And the Gibeonites said to him, We will have no silver nor gold from Saul, or from his house; nor shall you kill any man in Israel for us. So David said, Whatever you say, I will do.
Then they answered the king, As for the man who consumed us, Saul, and plotted against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the territories of Israel,
Let seven men of his descendants be delivered to us, and we will hang them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord chose.
And the king said, I will give them.
So the king took the two sons of Rizpah, which she bore to Saul, and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul,
And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the hill before the Lord: so they fell, the seven together, were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest.
Now Rizpah spread for herself sackcloth on a great rock. She did it from the beginning of harvest in April until the late rains in fall, six solid months. And she did not allow the birds of the air to rest on them by day nor the beasts to attack them by night.
[2 Samuel 21:1-10]
I can’t believe such a thing. Six months that mother guarded the hanged bodies of her two boys.
Now it became known throughout the land, and David was told what Rizpah had done.
So David went, took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the street of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them up.
And he brought up the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan; and they gathered the bones of those who had been hanged, those two boys.
And after that God heeded the prayer for the land.
[2 Samuel 21:11-14]
I say, I’ve never read anything like that in my life.
Three years of drought, and when the people sought for an answer from the Lord—we’re not told how they did it—in the Lord’s answer; was it by Thummim and Urim, the flashing jewels on the breastplate of the high priest? Was it by a revelation to the prophet Nathan? Was it by one of the priests in the holy temple? We’re not told. But God said, “The reason for this visitation from heaven, this judgment from God is because you have broken the vow and the covenant you made with the Gibeonites.” Even though, you remember, the Gibeonites had deceived Joshua, made as though they were in a foreign country, and wanted to be at peace with the invading armies of Israel. And Joshua and Israel made a covenant with the Gibeonites that they would protect them, and they’d live in peace together through all the succeeding generations [Joshua 9:1-15].
Now Saul broke that sacred covenant, and he sought to slay all of the Gibeonites. They lived about eight miles northwest of Jerusalem. And the Lord visited Israel because of the breaking of that sacred covenant. And when David sought the face of the Lord and was told why the three years of the drought [2 Samuel 21:1], he went to the Gibeonites and said, “What shall we do to make atonement for the blood that Saul has shed in your midst?” And the answer was, as we have read, “We do not want silver, we don not want gold; blood for blood. Let atonement be made in seven of the descendants of Saul, that they be slain likewise. And let blood purge the iniquity of the land” [2 Samuel 21:3-6]. So they took five grandsons of Saul, the children of Michal, and two of the boys of Saul’s palace wife, Rizpah, and they hanged them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul [2 Samuel 21:3-9].
Well, when Rizpah saw the death of her two boys, she forsook her home, she climbed the long, dusty road up the hill of Gibeah, taking with her a large sackcloth, and on a big rock made a little tent for herself, and for six months, day and night, watched over the dead bodies of those boys. In the daytime with her staff driving away the carrion birds, the vultures, the eagles, and in the nighttime with a torch, driving away the jackal and the wolf and the wild dogs. No wonder the whole land was moved by such love, and no wonder David did what he did in burying those two boys with Saul the king and with the bones of Jonathan [2 Samuel 21:10-14].
That’s why Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the poet laureate of England and one of the greatest literary figures of the world, wrote a poem entitled “Rizpah,” the name of that precious mother, “Primeval Motherhood.” I have a big volume of the greatest of English poetry, and to my surprise—I was not looking for it—to my surprise, the poem chosen from Alfred, Lord Tennyson is “Rizpah.”
Upon a day, Tennyson was reading an obscure newspaper, and in that paper he read a story of a mother whose son was hanged for robbing the mail. And the mother went to see the boy in his cell, and the jailer said, “The time is up,” and pushed her out. When he closed the door against her, the boy on the inside cried, “Oh Mother, Mother!” When she sought to turn to ask what the boy had in heart, the jailer refused, and sent her away. Thereafter the cry of that boy rang in that mother’s heart. What did the boy want to say? They tied her, the mother, in a madhouse, and she was there for the years and the years and the years. And in her old age, the keepers of the prison let her go. And in the blackness of every midnight hour, that mother dug up, one by one, the bones of her boy, beneath the gallows where he was hanged, and took them one by one to the churchyard, in order that her boy might be buried in holy ground.
Tennyson read that. And this is the famous poem that he wrote, “Rizpah”:
Wailing, wailing, wailing, the wind over land and sea—
And Willy’s voice in the wind, “O Mother, come out to me.”
Why should he call me tonight, when he knows that I cannot go?
For the downs are as bright as day, and the full moon stares at the snow.
We should have seen, my dear; they would spy us out of the town.
The loud black night’s for us, and the storm rushing over the down.
When I cannot see my hand, but am led by the creak of the chain,
And grovel and grope for my son till I find myself drench’d with the rain.
Anything fallen again?—
talking about his body—
Nay—what was there left to fall?
I have taken them home, I have number’d the bones, I have hidden them all . . .
Ah—you that have liv’d so soft, what should you know of the night,
The blast and the burning shame and the bitter frost and the fright?
I have done it, while you were asleep—you were only made for the day.
I have gather’d my baby together—while you slept the moments away.
I kiss’d my boy in the prison, before he went out to die.
“They dar’d me to do it,” he said, and he has never told me a lie.
I whipp’d him for robbing an orchard once when he was but a child—
“The farmer dared me to do it,” he said; he was always so wild—
And idle—he couldn’t be idle—my Willy never could rest.
The king should have made him a soldier; he would have been one of the best.
But he liv’d with a lot of wild mates, and they never would let him be good.
They swore that he dare not rob the mail, and he swore that he would;
He took no life, but he took one purse, and when all was done
He flung it among his fellows—“I’ll none of it,” said my son.
I came into court to the judge and the lawyers, and I told them my tale,
God’s own truth—but they kill’d him, they kill’d him for robbing the mail.
They hang’d him in chains for a show—he had always borne a good name—
There to be hang’d for a thief—and then put away—isn’t that enough shame?
Dust to dust—low down—let us hide! but they set him so high
That all the ships of the world could stare at him, passing by.
And the jailor forced me away. I had bid him my last goodbye;
They had fastened the door of his cell, “O mother!” I heard him cry.
I couldn’t get back, tho’ I tried, he had something further to say,
And now I never shall know it. The jailor forced me away.
Ever since I couldn’t but hear that cry of my boy that was dead.
They seiz’d me and shut me up: they fasten’d me down on my bed.
“Mother, O Mother!”—he called in the dark to me year after year—
They beat me for that, they beat me—you know that I couldn’t but hear;
And then at the last they found that I had grown so stupid and still
They let me abroad again—but the creatures had work’d their will.
Flesh of my flesh was gone, but bone of my bones was left—
I stole them all from the grave—and you, you will call it a theft—
My baby, the bones that had suck’d me, the bones that had laugh’d and had cried—
Theirs? O no! they are mine—not theirs—they had mov’d in my side.
Do you think I was scar’d of the bones? I kiss’d them, I buried them all—
I can’t dig deep, I am old—in the night by the churchyard wall.
My Willy ‘ill rise up whole when the trumpet of judgment is sound,
But I charge you never to say it was I that buried them in holy ground.
And read me a Bible verse of the Lord’s good will toward men—
“Full of compassion and mercy, the Lord”—let me hear it again;
“Full of compassion and mercy—longsuffering.” Yes, oh yes!
For the sinner is born to murder—the Savior lives but to bless.
He’ll never put on the black cap except for the worst of the worst,
And the first may be last—I have heard it in church—and the last may be first.
Suffering—O long suffering—yes, as the Lord must know,
Year after year in the midst of the wind and the shower and the snow.
Madam, I beg your pardon! I think that you mean to be kind,
But I cannot hear what you say for my Willy’s voice in the wind—
The snow and the sky so bright—he us’d but to call in the dark,
And he calls me now from the church and from the gibbet—for hark!
Nay—you can hear it yourself—it is coming—shaking the walls—
Willy—the moon’s in a cloud—Good night. I am going. He calls.
[“Rizpah,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1878]
Did you ever hear anything like that in your life? Maybe it was that that inspired Rudyard Kipling to write,
If I were hanged on the highest hill,
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother of mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother of mine!
And if I were damned in body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother of mine!
[“Mother O’ Mine”; Rudyard Kipling, 1922]
A tribute to primeval motherhood. They took care of us, both in body and in soul. Would you pardon me if I spoke of my own mother? Taking care in body and in soul.
I can remember this, and I do not know why, I can remember this as vividly as if it were yesterday; I was barely five years old, living on a poor, dusty, forsaken farm in New Mexico. I had developed a deep infection in my right leg. My whole calf had turned to pus. And my mother took me in her arms to Trinidad, Colorado, and there in the hospital Dr. Friedenthal operated on my right leg. And when those days were over, my mother took me in her arms again, and on the train returned back to the farm in New Mexico. And I vividly remember a passer-by looking at my mother holding me in her arms said, “Your little boy, he is so poor.”
Mother’s care for the little boy she bore in birth, my physical frame, and mother’s care for my soul. The preacher was staying in our house, holding a revival in the little white cracker box church in the town. And at a morning service, I just happened to be seated back of my sainted mother. When he gave the invitation and we stood to sing, mother turned to me, ten years of age I was, and said, “Son, today, today would you take Jesus as your Savior?” And I said, “Mother, I will.” She was crying. You know me. I inherited that from her. I have asked God ten thousand times about my crying and my tears. I’ve struggled against it all the days of my preaching life, and I weep today as though I had never asked God to deliver me from it in my life, just moved. Couldn’t see the preacher for crying, but I went forward at the invitation of my sweet mother, and told him that I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and asked to be baptized; her loving care for me.
And that’s why I think God wrote in His sacred Book this marvelous tribute to mother.
Who can find a worthy mother? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts in her. She will have no lack of gain; she does him good and not evil all the days of her life. She extends her hand to the poor; yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom; and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up, and call her blessed—
One you quoted a moment ago—
Her husband also, and he praises her. Many daughters have done excellently, but thou excellest them all. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a mother who fears the Lord shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
That’s the way we feel about our mothers, as God Himself feels that way about them, too. Bless you, sweet and sainted mother.
Now, Fred, let us sing us a song of appeal. And while we sing the song, somebody you this Mother’s Day, to give your heart in love to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], a family you to come into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], or anybody you answering God’s call in your heart and life, down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the lower floor, “Pastor, God has spoken to me this day, and I am answering with my life.” Make it now, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.