Rev. Rae Karim preached the following sermon during worship at the Constructive Theologies Project conference held in Columbus, OH in July of 2015.
Not on My Watch! – 2 Samuel 21:1-14
by Rae Karim
1 Now there was a famine in the days of David for 3 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.” 2 So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; the children of Israel had sworn protection to them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah.3 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?”4 And the Gibeonites said to him, “We will have no silver or gold from Saul or from his house, nor shall you kill any man in Israel for us.” So he said, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.”5 Then they answered the king, “As for the man who consumed us and plotted against us, that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the territories of Israel, 6 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.” 7 But the king spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the Lord’s oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul. 8 So the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; 9 and he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the hill before the Lord. So they fell, all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest. 10 Now Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until the late rains poured on them from heaven. And she did not allow the birds of the air to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night. 11 And David was told what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done. 12 Then David went and took the bones of Saul, and the bones of Jonathan his son, from the men of Jabesh Gilead who had stolen them from the street of Beth Shan,[b] where the Philistines had hung them up, after the Philistines had struck down Saul in Gilboa. 13 So he brought up the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from there; and they gathered the bones of those who had been hanged. 14 They buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the tomb of Kish his father. So they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God heeded the prayer for the land.
Details are the most important part of a story. They keep us interested. They keep us in anticipation for the next word, the next page, the next chapter. There is one such story where every detail matters and it was just read in our scripture.
There was a 3yr famine in the land. David wanted to know why. He asked the Lord and received an answer. In that answer David was told it had to do with his “oh so favorite” person Saul. Saul had broken an oath between Israel and the Gibeonites and attempted to annihilate them. He had good intentions, for the sake of what good meant in his perspective. Saul wanted to be validated as king of Israel by Israel, but was never able to get to that point, because of the way he governed them.
David wanted to make the wrong right and asked the Gibeonites how he could do so. They wanted revenge. They wanted to take their anger, hurt and pain out on Saul’s descendants, especially since Saul was now dead. They got what they wanted…7 sons…which in actuality were 2 sons of Rizpah, who we later find out was Saul’s concubine and 5 grandsons of Merab.
Didn’t the Gibeonites, just say in v4 they didn’t have the right to put anyone in Israel to death, but they put these young men to death. Sounds like hypocrisy…
For these men, innocent until proven guilty was never put into play. They were guilty by association, unfortunately the bearers of the burden by association to their bloodline to Saul. There was nothing that could be done to save them. According to the text, God’s answer to David as it concerned the famine, was that Saul and his house, which included these young men, were responsible. According to the text, David wanted to make things right. According to the text, what the king says goes! Sounds like modern day politics to me.
Regardless of the crime and reason for execution, dignity should have been present. These were still people, and men at that. They were probably providers, heads of their household…and at
the end of the day, God created them and God loved them as much as God loves us. However, dignity was in every way absent in this situation. Not only were they hung, but they were hung on a mountain, so EVERYONE could see. They were made to be examples of what not to do to the king, even though in essence they had done nothing. They were just being who they were, Saul’s boys.
To add fuel to the fire being in the 3rd yr of famine, the land was dry, there had been no rain, which meant there were no crops, which meant there was no food. Everybody and everything was hungry.
Everything…especially the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. Details – 7 bodies were up for grabs for the birds & beasts to feast on. These weren’t just any bodies. These were the bodies of able bodied, healthy men. Therefore the birds & beasts would be able to eat, and eat well, doing better than the people of the land.
Details – but there was a woman, who up until this point was seemingly desolate and powerless. See the man she had lived with and potentially loved, in the person of King Saul was dead. As a result she was no longer privy to the benefits of earthly royalty. And now the very fruit of her loins was dead and made to be a mockery simply because of their heritage.
It was not too long ago that my cousin Karen shared how the Lord reminded her that God is a relentless redeemer and in this story, God used a mourning mother as that avenue of redemption and reconciliation.
In all his kingly splendor, good ole king David was wrong as 2 left sandals. He did what the Gibeonites didn’t have the right to do. He did what they didn’t have the courage to do. It was as if they used David to do their dirty work and because David & Saul were frenemies, there was no need to convince David to agree. He was in from the start.
Details – The law, according to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 speaks as follows:
22 If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, 23 you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. David disregarded this law.
My former professor & current mentor Dr. Allan Boesak begged the question in his reflection on this text, was David threatened by these men…not because they had done anything wrong, but only because of who they were? Sounds like a question asked by black men, women and the marginalized everyday…
So here they are dead. The birds and the wild animals smelled death in the air. But still something else happened to the now marginalized woman named Rizpah. Rizpah received a dose of insurmountable strength in her body. V10 says she laid on a rock spread with sackcloth. I say that rock was the Solid Rock of God, so for every tear of sorrow, every scream of grief she was infused with strength for what was to come.
And what was to come, I’m sure was nothing she ever imagined she would or could do, but something within her wouldn’t let her rest. Details – Theologians say Rizpah guarded the bodies of these 7 men day & night for 7 months! She made a vow – not on my watch will these men, not just my sons but the sons of Merab, be preyed upon by the birds & beasts. If I have to burn in the scorching sun, if I have go without eating, without sleeping, without clean water for my body…if I have to go without support from a protest or rally or Merab, whose sons are here, or other people to stand with me, I will stand on my own. Day in and day out! My actions will speak louder than any words ever could! Sounds like Bree Newsome & that confederate flag.
As Rizpah went back & forth from one cross to the next, fighting off birds & beasts, her feet broke up the fallow ground of hard heartedness, revenge, anger, mistrust, fear, mockery. The land needed water. The people needed nourishment. They needed restoration. They needed to know God hadn’t forgotten about them, even though these men lost their lives. As Bree climbed that pole, reciting scripture…whom shall I fear? No one…she kept climbing. Rizpah kept walking. She feared no one, not even King David.
Rizpah wasn’t going to let such a horrendous act take place on her watch. This tireless, daring, radical move of Rizpah, not with the words of her mouth but with her actions, was not an attempt to show David up, but to show David that God is moved by vigor and vigilance. David had no choice but to do the right thing and restore dignity to the men and to Saul. South Carolina had no choice but to do the right thing, after Bree’s climbing of the pole and even her compliance with authorities spoke louder than her words. Details…did anybody notice that the authorities were not violent with her…they didn’t shoot at her, they didn’t bother the pole as she climbed…they even helped her jump across the iron gates.
After Rizpah stood, then and only then did God heed supplications for the land. After Bree climbed, South Carolina heeded the cry of the land. The land was now ready for reconciliation and redemption. God did just that – Blessed the land and made the land fruitful again, which caused the harvest to come forth.
We have that same opportunity to take a stand, as we come together critically, creatively and theologically as Christians and show better than we can tell that it – being the continual strength in construction of isms and the continual strength in evading the difficult discussions, and the continual “it doesn’t directly affect me” mantra, ain’t gonna happen ON OUR WATCH! As Darnell said earlier, we have to take that risk, recognizing the cost is worth the reward, so that God will bless our land again. So unity can truly exist again. So we don’t have to sing we shall overcome, but we have overcome; that we do overcome…we being all of us for all of us so God can again be proud of us. May we go forth in the strength of the Lord as we journey towards the fullness of this project.