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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 large influence!

  1. The Pawn that Dethroned a King

    1. 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 sides?

      1. 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.)

    2. Read 2 Samuel 3:6-7. Saul is dead. If the charges against Abner are true, would this simply be a matter of lust?

      1. 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.)

      2. 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.)

    3. 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 accused.)

    4. 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 David.)

      1. 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.)

    5. Has Rizpah changed the course of history? (Indirectly.)

  2. Justice?

    1. 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.)

      1. What reason does God give for the famine? (King Saul had killed the Gibeonites.)

    2. 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 exterminate them.)

      1. 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.)

    3. 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.)

    4. 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 death.)

      1. 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?

    5. Read 2 Samuel 21:5-6. Saul is dead. What do you think about King David's verdict in the matter?

      1. 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?

      2. 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 requires?

      3. 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.)

        1. What about the fact that Saul is dead? Doesn't that make the matter moot?

    6. 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?

      1. 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.)

    7. 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:

      1. Read Exodus 34:6-7. Would this allow Rizpah's sons to die under this rule? (Yes!)

      2. Read Deuteronomy 24:16. Should Rizpah's sons die under this rule? (No!)

        1. 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.)

          1. Does that help you resolve this if you were King David and had to make this judgment?

    8. 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!)

    9. 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!)

    10. 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.)

    11. 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 else.)

    12. 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 influence!)

      1. 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.)

  3. The Example of A Mother

    1. 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?

      1. Why doesn't she bury them? (She cannot. Recall that in 2 Samuel 21:6 King David ordered them to be killed and "exposed.")

      2. Can you imagine what a terrible ordeal this was for her?

    2. 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.)

    3. 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.)

    4. 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 justice?

  4. 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.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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