Below is a presentation I gave about Rizpah. There are a few different ways to read the passage, but I chose to read it according to the “little tradition” — the tradition that roots for the little guys and that seeks after justice. I chose that reading of it because it was both the most compelling reading, and also the one that made the most sense to me in light of the exegesis (background-digging) I did. Rizpah’s story is in 2 Samuel, chapters 3 and 21. And this was used as a part of a “ritual” for my Old Testament class that centered around silenced women in 2 Samuel and silenced people in today’s world.
My name is Rizpah, which means ‘glowing coal’. It is an apt name, for my passion runs hot but it is subtle. And my passion is persistent. I do not speak in your scriptures, but you can see my slowly burning passion in my actions.
Early in my life I was passed around. I was Saul’s concubine before Abner took me as a pawn in his bid for kingship. I had two sons by Saul, whom I loved dearly.
I loved my sons.
And then one day David said that God told him to give my sons to be killed to pay a debt of blood. David said this sacrifice would save the people and end the 3 year famine. He said God told him this. Kings are fond of saying that God tells them things. And this time, it was suspiciously convenient for David – my sons and the five other boys that David took away to be killed were nearly the last of the male relatives of Saul.
I loved my sons.
They were taken against their will. They were humiliated and violently sacrificed. And their bodies were left to rot and be eaten by animals. I didn’t say anything. I just sat with the bodies. In silence. I would not allow the birds to pick at my sons’ bodies. But my presence there… my silence… was intended to let the birds of compassion pick at the conscience of the King. I said nothing. He could not write me off as a lunatic because I said nothing. He could not defend against me because I asked nothing. I just sat. In silence. For six months. I sat. In silence. Watching my boys be received by the earth.
You see, silence is powerful if it is chosen. I was forced into silence, yes. But even though my voice was taken away, I chose the power of silence to bring to light that which is hidden.
David, the high and mighty king, was ashamed. My persistent, strong, silent presence would not allow him to hide from that shame. He had humiliated and killed my sons, Saul’s family, for his own gain. I would remind him of that by my silence until he finally relented and buried the boys, Saul, and all of Saul’s sons, giving them the dignity in death that he took from them in life. My powerful, chosen silence brought him to that.
And the famine stopped – not when the boys were killed, as David had said would happen – but when David repented and buried their bones.
My name is Rizpah, and God heard my silence.