“The seven men were hanged on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest. Then, the mother Rizpah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell upon them from the heavens. And she did not allow the birds of the air to come upon them by day or the beasts of the field by night (2 Samuel 21:9-10).”
I am struck by the sadness of this story, and the act of love, kindness, and devotion of the mom. Technically she was only the mom of two of the seven men hanged, but she cared for all of them. She is honoring her dead and clinging to whatever memories she has as a new and hard chapter of her life begins. She’s not just grieving one death but seven deaths. How does one grieve seven deaths? How does one grieve well?
Sackcloth is a rough and heavy cloth used for mourning the dead, or mourning sin, “in sackcloth and ashes.” It’s not the finest silk and doesn’t make for comfy pajamas. She spread it out for herself as a blanket, near the corpses, to stay as close as she could. She was in mourning. How could she leave her family at this time? And she stayed for the long haul until the rains came. I’m reminded of different movie scenes where the husband sits in the cemetery next to his beloved wife’s headstone. Grief is remembering the good old days, longing for some connection, and filling a hole that can never be restored. “If I could just stay with you a little longer, no matter how much it hurts. I miss you.”
We are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep,” in Romans 15:15. Sadness, grief, and mourning are real, when circumstances happen beyond our control. Another school shooting. A DWI driver. The sleepless nights and aching in your soul, a mother’s tears or father’s standing at the window and watching and hoping for his estranged son to come home. A mother camps at the foot of her family, protecting their dead and hanging bodies from birds and beasts. Grief and devotion.
Martin Luther King Jr. preached in a sermon, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Rizpah stood strong in her grief. Tragedy is the true test of a person. Maybe we need tragedy in life to mold us and shape us, to grow us. But is there any comfort? C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. If you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.” Where can you find comfort in such awful sadness? Maybe tragedy exists to point us to God. Can you trust God in the middle of your grief?
I don’t know if there are any answers about Rizpah and the seven men hanged that day. Maybe one reason the story is there is to examine sadness, to sit in grief, to remember we are small and God is big, that grief and sadness are facts of life in this broken world. Circumstances happen. Life is beyond our control. You say, “Good morning” to a loved one and there’s no guarantee you’ll see them again at night. Can Rizpah trust God in the middle of her grief? Can you? Christ came the first time to make things right and He will come again to make all things new. He will wipe away every tear and heartache. He is with you in your sadness.