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Sabbath School Lessons on Background Characters in the Old Testament
About the Author
Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
is the author of these Sabbath School lesson study outlines. He is the Reed Larson Professor of Labor Law at Regent University School of Law. Professor Cameron has devoted his life to promoting the Gospel and defending believers. In addition to teaching at an overtly Christian law school, he continues his 37 year practice of law which is limited to the litigation of constitutional rights and religious freedom cases for employees. He holds an undergraduate degree from Andrews University and a Doctor of Law from Emory University School of Law.
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Lesson 9: Rizpah: The Influence of Faithfulness *
Introduction: Did you know that your life has an influence on
others? I recall clearly the point in my life when I realized this
and considered the nature of my influence. My influence was not what
I wanted, so I started to make changes. Sometimes seemingly small
things influence others. Many years ago an employee called me for
help in obtaining a religious accommodation. When I asked why the
employee held these beliefs, she said "I fear God." That made a big
impression on me. Although I've forgotten the details of that
lady's case, I have not forgotten her arresting words or the
positive impression they made upon me. Let's jump into our Bible and
study how a lady, with very little authority in this life, exerted a
- The Pawn that Dethroned a King
- Read 2 Samuel 3:1. Do you recall last week that during
this war Abner, the chief general of Israel, approached
King David of Judah and told him that he wanted to change
- Do you recall the main players in this war? (Joab
was the chief general to King David of Judah. Abner
was the chief general to King Ish-Bosheth of Israel.
Ish-Bosheth was Saul's son.)
- Read 2 Samuel 3:6-7. Saul is dead. If the charges against
Abner are true, would this simply be a matter of lust?
- Read 2 Samuel 16:21-22, 1 Kings 2:21-22 and 1 Kings
1:1-3. What is the significance of sleeping with
King David's concubines? (It suggests that you have
taken over the power of the king.)
- Remember that 2 Samuel 3:6 said that Abner "had been
strengthening his own position in the house of
Saul." Do you think that King Ish-Bosheth believes
that Abner intends to take his job? (That seems to
be the charge.)
- Read 2 Samuel 3:8. Do you think the charge against Abner
is true? (Abner is offended. He says that King Ish-Boseth
is accusing him of acting like a dog. Abner insists that
he is loyal to Saul's family and has been falsely
- Read 2 Samuel 3:9-11. What does Abner say that he intends
to do because of this insult? (Since he is not trusted,
he says he will be disloyal and turn Israel over to King
- If Abner were guilty of plotting to overthrow Ish-Boseth, would he have that reaction? (We don't know
for sure if Rizpah, because of her beauty, had been
taken by Abner. But, it makes no logical sense for
him to take her as a power-play in Israel. If the
point was power, Abner would just declare that he
was now King of Israel.)
- Has Rizpah changed the course of history? (Indirectly.)
- Read 2 Samuel 21:1. What is the first thing that King
David does when he faces a difficult problem? (The nation
had a famine three years in a row, so David goes to God.)
- What reason does God give for the famine? (King Saul
had killed the Gibeonites.)
- Read 2 Samuel 21:2. What, exactly, was the problem
between Saul and the Gibeonites? (Although Israel had
sworn not to kill the Gibeonites, Saul tried to
- Why should that trouble God enough to bring a
famine? (God not only loves us, but He is our judge.
Being a judge is an aspect of love.)
- Read 2 Samuel 21:3. Consider this a moment. Who should
David have asked, if anyone, about what to do? (If David
could ask God about the nature of the problem, he
certainly could ask God about the proper remedy.)
- Read 2 Samuel 21:4. The Gibeonites say that they do not
have the authority to impose a penalty. What possible
penalties do they suggest? (Money or putting someone to
- Notice that David again asks the Gibeonites for
direction as to what penalty should be imposed. We
know, based on his dealings with Amnon and Absalom,
that David has a history of being weak when it comes
to imposing penalties on family. Is David being
weak? Or, is he being a reasonable judge by asking
what the injured party claims for relief?
- Read 2 Samuel 21:5-6. Saul is dead. What do you think
about King David's verdict in the matter?
- Does this reflect God's justice? Or, is David just
being weak and giving in to unjust demands by the
Gibeonites because he wants the famine to end?
- Recall that this whole sequence of events started
because of God's concern about love and justice?
Shouldn't God be consulted about what justice
- Let's read Numbers 35:30-33 to discover God's rules
about murder and punishment for murder. What points
support what the Gibeonites have requested and David
has granted? (Saul's shedding of innocent blood has
polluted the land. Only the shedding of the blood of
the murderer can atone for the land.)
- What about the fact that Saul is dead? Doesn't
that make the matter moot?
- Read 2 Samuel 21:7-9. Saul's one living son is spared,
but his sons by Rizpah are killed, along with five of
Saul's grandsons. Is this in accord with God's law?
- If this is a just penalty, on what basis would one
grandson of Saul be spared and other grandsons
killed? (This shows that King David believes that he
can alter whatever the law says because of a
personal promise he made to Jonathan. David is not
going by the rule of law, he is going by whatever
he, the King, thinks should be the rule.)
- What our discussion needs is more information about the
rules that God had established that might cover such a
situation. Let's explore some of them:
- Read Exodus 34:6-7. Would this allow Rizpah's sons
to die under this rule? (Yes!)
- Read Deuteronomy 24:16. Should Rizpah's sons die
under this rule? (No!)
- Let's make you the judge. Can you explain or
reconcile these apparently conflicting rules?
(If you look at the context of the Deuteronomy
rule, it is a series of laws governing human
behavior. On the other hand, the Exodus 34
statement is not a law. It simply says that
when God punishes sin, it extends to the
grandchildren of the sinners.)
- Does that help you resolve this if you
were King David and had to make this
- King David did not have the book of Ezekiel available to
him. However, we do. Ezekiel 18 has an extended
discussion about imposing a penalty for the sins of one
generation on another. One example given is of a
righteous man who has an evil son, who in turn has a good
son (the grandson of the righteous man). The question
posed is whether this grandson should suffer for his
father's sins. Read Ezekiel 18:17-20. Should Rizpah's
sons die under this rule? (No!)
- Let's move downstream in the history of Israel's kings.
Read 2 Kings 14:5-6 to see how King Amaziah handled a
similar situation. Would he have agreed to have Rizpah's
sons die? (No!)
- Do you think that King David, in imposing the penalty
suggested by the Gibeonites was doing the will of God? (I
do not. I believe that David's weakness in decision-making, and his determination to take direction from the
Gibeonites and not God, resulted in an injustice.)
- For those who disagree, and think that God would have
sanctioned this penalty, read Jeremiah 31:27-30. What
does this suggest is God's more perfect plan? (That
people die for their own sins, not the sins of anyone
- As a practical matter, do you find that you (or others)
are punished for the sins of your parents? (Yes. We are
either blessed or hindered by the lives lived by our
parents! I had great parents that were a great blessing
to my life. If you are a parent, take note of your
- Read Jeremiah 31:31-32. What is God's answer to this
problem? (Jeremiah points to the time of the "new
covenant." Whatever may have been the rule for
Israel and Judah, whatever may be the practical
reality of life, God promises us that when it comes
to salvation, eternal life, and God's ultimate
justice, each person lives or dies based on his or
her own life.)
- The Example of A Mother
- Sadly, Rizpah loses her two sons over the sin of King
Saul. Let's read 2 Samuel 21:10. How much does Rizpah
love her sons?
- Why doesn't she bury them? (She cannot. Recall that
in 2 Samuel 21:6 King David ordered them to be
killed and "exposed.")
- Can you imagine what a terrible ordeal this was for
- Read 2 Samuel 21:11-14. How has Rizpah, this sad mother,
influenced the King? (He is reminded of his duty towards
the bones of Saul and Jonathan. He gives them a proper
burial. The text also indicates that Rizpah's sons were
also properly handled.)
- Would the Gibeonites like this? (The love and example of
Rizpah outweighs their request for a penalty to be
imposed on Saul and his house.)
- Friend, in this world we find injustice. Many blame God
for this. But, Jeremiah shows us that when it comes to
final justice, the God who died for our sins, will only
hold us accountable, if at all, for our own misdeeds.
Will you determine today not to question God's love and
- Next week: The Man of God: Obedience is Not Optional.
* Copr. 2010, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.