Hard to credit it, I know, but there are two Mephibosheth's referred to in 2 Samuel. There is the better known one, the one I learned about as a child, the crippled son of Jonathan, to whom David shows great kindness. And then there's the one born to Saul and Rizpah, who I'd never noticed until I read a wonderful poem for Rizpah in last week's Baptist Times.
It must have been cold there on that hillside
Sackcloth coarse on your skin
Rain chafing, but barely noticed
Mother's grief savaging your heart
Shroud of loneliness as real
As the one denied your sons.
Your lonely vigil the last loving task:
Protecting them now, a last dignity,
Holding them to your breast to soothe and comfort,
No comfort to be found now, for them or you.
I have never heard a sermon on Rizpah.
She joins so many forgotten women.
Stories eclipsed by the 'more importnant'.
Yet I see her face reflected
In daily newscasts of places
We would like, in our comfort, to forget.
Where mothers again hold sons, or daughters,
Where no comfort will be found
But only a hope of dignity in death
As they are wrenched away
By war, famine or greed of others.
And yet again
God's Mother heart is broken.
Reading the accompanying Bible extract, I felt I had to check a real Bible to make sure there wasn't a transcription error - two Mephibosheth's in as many verses, one who is shown mercy and compassion the other who is slaughtered simply because he is who he is.
2 Samuel 21: 7-10 CEV
David had made a promise to Jonathan with the LORD as his witness, so he spared Jonathan's son Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul. But Saul and Rizpah the daughter of Aiah had two sons named Armoni and Mephibosheth. Saul's daughter Merab had five sons whose father was Adriel the son of Barzillai from Meholah. David took Rizpah's two sons and Merab's five sons and turned them over to the Gibeonites, who hanged all seven of them on the mountain near the place where the LORD was worshiped. This happened right at the beginning of the barley harvest. Rizpah spread out some sackcloth on a nearby rock. She wouldn't let the birds land on the bodies during the day, and she kept the wild animals away at night. She stayed there from the beginning of the harvest until it started to rain.
The poem focusses on Rizpah and her 21st century contemporaries, obscure women who tend to the mortal remains of their loved ones whose deaths are the result of human inhumanity. But I am also struck somehow by the two Mephibosheth's, related by blood, separated by circumstance. The seeming random nature of 'fate' and the mystery of a silent God loom large in these few short verses. To read on, it does seem that David made provision for a decent burial for Armoni and Mephibosheth, but that doesn't quite make up for what went before.
There is, so I discovered via a web search on Rizpah, also a Tennyson poem called Rizpah here evidently inspired by a newspaper account of the execution of a young man.
Makes you think:
- How little of the Bible we actually know nowadays
- How little we really learn even if we do know
And it just makes you think..