We learn some of our best lessons not from books but from observation. A craftsman can read lots of books but they will learn much more as an apprentice to a master craftsman. I have learned some of my best lessons about preaching from listening to good preachers. And, like it or not, we learn most about parenting from what we have observed. We all have faced those moments in our parenting where we realized that we were talking or acting “just like my parents.” We all swore it wouldn’t happen . . . but it does. That’s because we learn best from what we observe.
This morning I want to present a “case study” for you to observe. I take you to a scene in Old Testament Israel. I introduce you to a mother by the name of Rizpah. She was one of King Saul’s concubines. In other words, she was one of the Kings “mistresses”. She very likely was an approved mistress. . . .approved by Mrs. Saul! It is a practice we abhor and know isn’t according to God’s command . . . but it is the way things were done then.
From her name which means “hot or glowing stone” we conclude that Rizpah was probably a very beautiful woman. She bore Saul two sons. Our text in 2 Samuel 21 has its historical setting after Saul has died and David is the King. This strange text can teach us some valuable lessons about parenting.
But before we get into these lessons that Rizpah can teach us, I want to take a detour and point out a couple of other lessons from this text. Our text tells us that there was a famine in Israel that had been going on for three successive years. Obviously things were very oppressive. David, and the rest of the people concluded (correctly) that God was punishing them. So, David goes to the Lord in prayer and asks what they were being punished for. God’s response was that the famine occurred because of something that happened during the reign of Saul. The former King had killed a group of people called the Gibeonites.
In order to understand why this was bad you have to turn to the book of Joshua Chapter 9 and read verses 3 through 21. In these words you will see that the Gibeonites had pulled a scam on the children of Israel. The Israelites were clearing the land of their enemies. The Gibeonites, seeing that they were in the path of destruction, sent a group of people to establish a treaty with Israel. However, they mislead the Israelites. They told them they were from a far away place and presented their “evidence” to prove that they had journeyed a long way. The Israelites were taken in. They did not consult God. Instead they decided to make a treaty with the Gibeonites. In Joshua 9:15 we read, “Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the Assembly ratified it by oath”. It was this promise that Saul violated when he killed the Gibeonites these many years later.
Now here’s the first thing I want you to notice, God takes our promises seriously. When we make a vow to the Lord, He expects us to keep our word! It didn’t matter that the Gibeonites had deceived them. It didn’t matter that it was a foolish treaty. It didn’t matter that decades had passed. They made the treaty under oath and God expected Israel to keep their promise . . . not so much to the Gibeonites . . . but to Him!
Do you see how important this is to us? When we make marriage vows, God expects us to keep our promise to Him and to our mate. When we take an oath to tell the truth in court, He expects us to tell the truth. When we sign our name at the bottom of a document He expects us to meet the obligations we accept. Do you see what an important reminder this is? In this day where people are so adept at lying and walking away from responsibilities we need this important message..
There is a second side issue that I want you to see. I want you to see that these seven young men may not have had to die. David summons the Gibeonites and asks them to name a punishment that would lift the curse. But do you notice what it appears David did not do? He did not ask God! In the desire to fix a problem David may have run ahead of God and as a result seven young men died for something they didn’t do. The principle is this: wisdom dictates that we always check with God first.
As a result of these actions Rizpah had her two sons taken from her and they were publically executed, their dead bodies put on display. This was obviously meant to be a powerful object lesson. These bodies would hang there and eventually, be eaten by the vultures. This is where we see some important lessons from the life of Rizpah.
First, notice how she guarded her children.
It is certainly true that a mother has a special heart for her children. Death does not sever this tie. I have come to realize that once you have felt life in your womb there is a bond that is never broken. People sometimes don’t understand that a child that dies before or shortly after birth is just as devastating a lose as losing an older child. The difference is, that others don’t seem to acknowledge the greatness of that loss.
Mother’s who have lost a child at any age (even as adults), never forget the pain. They deal with it but they don’t forget. They remember anniversaries. They place flowers at graves. A conversation can suddenly bring back the tears. And I suspect that if you were to look around this sanctuary today, you would see many moist eyes right now. The pain of loss remains.
If you understand Rizpah’s pain, you understand why she did what she did. She camps out by their bodies and determines that she is going to keep the vultures away. She was powerless to stop their execution but this is something she can, and will do. It is a mother continuing to show love . . . even in death.
But there is more here than a message about the reality of grief. It was suggested to me that Rizpah points to a spiritual lesson: the fact that mothers need to work to keep the vultures away from their children. Our children face vultures every day. They face pressures to conform. They face the vultures of substance abuse. They face the vultures of immoral behavior. But let me address the issue in a more defined way. We need to guard our children from the vultures of,
- a godless life. We live in a day when our kids are being taught that all faiths are the same. Do you understand that when we say that all faiths are the same, even though they teach contradictory truth, we are really telling our children that faith is nonsense? We live in a religious world . . . but it is a world of man made religions. We must guard our children from this! Manmade gods are not gods at all. We must help our kids understand this. We can best guard our children from godlessness by introducing them to the true and living God. We guard them by demonstrating our own faith. We do combat with the vultures when we are involved in a Bible believing church. We do combat when we wrestle in prayer for the souls of our children.
- We must guard our children from the vulture of a trivialized life. Do you see that we live in a world where life is destroyed on television hundreds of times in a week. Our heros kill someone and we cheer. We live at a time when the fact that abortion ends the life of a human being doesn’t bother most people. People attack and kill each other without giving it a second thought. Then they stand in a courtroom with no sense of remorse. They feel nothing. We live in a time when the other guy is always the one to blame when something happens. We make poor choices and when the choices backfire we shift responsibility to someone else. The result? People have trivialized life. Nothing matters. No one takes responsibility for their own behavior. Life loses its preciousness. We must guard our children from these vultures!
- We must guard our children from the vulture of an undisciplined life. We live at a time when everyone is urged to live for the moment. Indulgence, not sacrifice is the watchword. Consumption, not restraint is the battle cry. We need to teach out children how to appreciate what they have and to realize that what they have cannot determine who they are. We live in a day of permissive parenting. We don’t want to hurt our child’s ego. We figure that our children will grow out of whatever stage they are in. But in truth we have mistaken permissiveness for love when in reality it is the abdication of love!
Over 200 years ago Suzanna Wesley reared 19 children. She was devoted to the task and had 16 rules,
- Eating between meals is not allowed
- As children they are to be in bed by 8:00 PM
- They are required to take medicine without complaining
- They were to subdue their self-will so that they might be open to God’s salvation
- Teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak
- Require all to be still during worship
- Give them nothing that they cry for, and only that which is asked for politely
- To prevent lying, punish no fault which is at first confessed and repented
- Never allow a sinful act to go unpunished
- Never punish a child twice for a single offense
- Commend and reward good behavior
- Any attempt to please, even if poorly performed should be commended
- Preserve property rights, even in smallest matters (respect what belongs to others)
- Strictly keep all promises
- Require no daughter to work before she can read well (finish your education)
- Teach children to fear the lord.
These vultures are not mentioned in the text, but I hope you see that this is an appropriate application of our passage to our daily living. We need to be more active in protecting our children from the influences that will destroy them.
Notice also the Diligence of Rizpah
We are told that she stood watch from “the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies.” This text could mean one of two things. First, it could mean that the bodies hung there until the drought had ended and the rains came. This would have been an indication that the plague or the curse had ended. In this case, Rizpah may have been outside for only several days or several weeks. But the majority of scholars seem to feel that the text best lends itself to the interpretation that the bodies hung there from the beginning of the harvest until the rainy season. The barley harvest came in April and the early rains didn’t arrive until around October or November. This would mean that Rizpah could have been out guarding those bodies for around six months!
We don’t know which view is correct, but we do see that Rizpah saw things to their conclusion. She didn’t start out fast and then fizzle. She stayed the course. And the key to being a good Mother is that same kind of diligence and persistence.
Monica, the mother of St. Augustine was another example of diligence and persistence. She was the wife of a pagan and her prayers changed the world. She prayed every day for her husband and her prayers were answered when he became a Christian shortly before his death. Augustine, her youngest son was 18 at the time. He was keeping bad company and was already involved in a sexually immoral lifestyle. The last thing in the world he wanted was to be a Christian. He didn’t want to give up his illicit pleasures and the “whole God thing” didn’t make any sense to him.
During the next 15 years Monica prayed fervently for her son. She never wavered in her expectation that someday he would become a believer. She prayed. She fasted. She loved him with an unwavering love. She encouraged him in his study of rhetoric. She encouraged him to take a Professorship in Milan in the hopes that he would be influenced by the preaching of Ambrose the bishop there. Here hope was realized. In his early 30’s Augustine was converted. He became a bishop himself and became one of the greater thinkers of all time. Augustine realized that his mother’s diligence on his behalf had much to do with his conversion.
What about you? Are you diligently battling for the soul of your child? Are you surrounding your children with prayer. Are you persevering or do you become intense only in a crisis? Day after day Rizpah stayed at her task. I’m sure there were days she was tired, overheated, maybe even sick. But she kept at it.
Chuck Swindoll once was commenting on the startling rise in the divorce rate. He especially underscored the fact that ten years ago, for every wife or mother who walked away from her home and responsibilities, six hundred husbands and fathers did so. Today- only ten years later- for each man who walks away, two women do! He does not take sides or advocate that either should leave. He is distressed that people are increasingly choosing escape as the favorite method of coping. Then he says these words,
Once upon a time, when the going got tough, the tough got going. No longer! Contrary to our great American heritage, many of today’s citizens would rather switch than fight . . .or more honestly, quit than stick. That which was once not even an option is now standard operating procedure. Now, it’s “if you start to sink, jump, don’t bail” . . . or “if it’s hard, quit, don’t bother.” [Finishing Touch p. 474]
Do you know what the greatest problem in the home today is? It is laziness or a lack of perseverence. We need more of the Spirit and determination of Rizpah.
Finally, Notice Her Reward
There is nothing that could give Rizpah her children back. There is nothing that could fill the hole that existed in her heart. But because of her actions the King took notice. He had her sons buried in the proper fashion. She achieved her goal. And not only this . . . Rizpah became a model for others who would come after her.
No matter what your circumstance, you can only do the best you can do. Rizpah couldn’t bring her children back, but she could make sure they were buried properly. You may not be able to undo failures in the past but you can change what happens from here on out. You may not be able to make things “the way they were” but you can make things better than they are. You may not be able to solve your children’s problems, but you can stand with them. Things may not change over night but they can change.
You may be wrestling for the soul of your child today . . . it is worth the effort. You may be fighting for children’s future happiness today . . . it’s worth the effort. The reward of diligent parenting is children who are content, focused, and faithful. It is a reward that doesn’t come easily . . . but is worth whatever it costs.
So, what lessons do you need to apply today?
Are you diligently guarding your children from the vultures of life? Do you need to take more of a “hands on” approach? Have you abdicated your position of influence to the Television or the school, or the community? Do you need to help your children become more disciplined and focused? What are your children learning from you? Are they learning to take responsibility or make excuses? Are they learning to walk faithfully or to always take the course of least resistance?
Young people, what kind of parents will you be? What kind of example are you giving to your friends? Maybe your parents aren’t much of an example. Are you using this as an excuse or are you determining that the slide away from God is going to stop with you? If your parents are setting boundaries . . . stop complaining and thank God. Don’t envy those who have parents who don’t care! You have been granted a great gift. Be grateful.
Are you on the verge of giving up? Are you ready to throw your hands in the air and walk away? Choose diligence my friend. Refuse to surrender what is good and right for what is easy. Maybe you need to re-establish a relationship with one of your children. Stop waiting for them to make the first move! You are still the parent.
Maybe you sit here today and want to do better but you don’t know where to start. May I make a suggestion? Start by resting in the Savior’s arms. Entrust yourself to the salvation that He extends. Draw upon the strength that He offers. Stop running away from Him and turn toward Him. Give Him the broken pieces of your life and let Him begin the process of making you whole. It’s an awesome responsibility and we need help. The Lord is near to all who call on Him. Why not call on Him today?
And for those of you who find Mother’s Day to be a painful reminder of a terrible loss, please understand that even though we may not understand the depth of your pain . . . we do know that it is real. But even in your pain, will you do something for us? Please remind us . . . . over and over and over again, that we should appreciate what we have. Then you, like Rizpah will speak volumes, even in the midst of your pain.