Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah is a little-known biblical heroine. She is mentioned only twice in the Bible. In 2 Sam. 3:7, she is mentioned as one of Saul’s concubines. She was the mother of Armoni and Mephibosheth. After the death of Saul, Abner took her as wife, resulting in a quarrel between him and Saul’s son and successor, Ishbosheth, who was also called Ishbaal. We read in 2 Sam. 3:7-10:
Now Saul had had a concubine, Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah. And Ishbaal, son of Saul, said to Abner, “Why have you slept with my father’s concubine?” Enraged at the words of Ishbaal, Abner said, “Am I a dog’s head from Judah? As of today, I have been loyal to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and his friends, and I have kept you out of David’s clutches; and today you charge me with a crime involving a woman! May God do thus to Abner, and more, if I do not carry out for David what the Lord swore to him—that is, take away the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish the throne of David over Israel as well as Judah, from Dan to Beer-sheba.”
The quarrel led to Abner’s defection to David, who was then king of Judah. This incident led to the downfall of Ishbosheth and the rise of David as king.
We meet Rizpah again during the episode of the Gibeonites. During a famine that lasted for three years, David inquired of the Lord, who told him, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and his family because he put the Gibeonites to death.” The Bible does not reveal this particular incident. The Talmud explains: “The truth is that, as he killed the inhabitants of Nob (Sam 21:19), the city of the priests who were supplying them with water and food, Scripture regards it as if he himself had killed them” (Yebamoth 78b). That is, Saul deprived the Gibeonites, who were non-Israelites, of their livelihood. The Talmud regards this act equivalent to murder.
David called the Gibeonites and asked them, “What must I do for you and how must I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” The Gibeonites answered, “let seven men from among Saul’s descendants be given to us, that we may execute them before the Lord in Gibeon, on the Lord’s mountain.” David did so, sparing Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son. But he turned over to the Gibeonites Rizpah’s two sons and five sons of Saul’s daughter, Merob. The Gibeonites executed all seven, staking them upon the mountain. Their bodies were left to be consumed by vultures and wild beasts. The story continues:
Then Rizpah, Aiah’s daughter, took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on the rock from the beginning of the harvest until rain came down on them from the heavens, fending off the birds of the heavens from settling on them by day, and the wild animals by night
When David learned what Rizpah had done, he retrieved the bodies of Saul and Jonathan, whose bodies had been hanged after they died in battle, and also the bones of those who had been executed, and gave them proper burial. Then the Bible tells us: “After all that the king commanded had been carried out, God granted relief to the land.” Since Rizpah’s actions caused David to fulfill his duty to honor the dead, she is the one who saved Israel from famine.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.