Rizpah was a mother. That’s the first thing you need to know about her, because once you know that, you will immediately understand the rest of her story. She had two sons with King Saul — Armoni and Mephibosheth. She was one of the king’s concubines, a norm in ancient Israel.
Though she was little more than a commodity, we read her name and her story in the Old Testament. Here’s why:
As payment for their father’s war crimes, Armoni and Mephibosheth—along with five other male family members—were taken and hanged at the highest point in the city so that all could see. Not only were they executed, they were denied a proper Jewish burial, which withheld honor and dignity to them in death. Rizpah was not having it.
She climbed the hill to her sons’ bodies and held a vigil for them, protecting their bodies from elements and animals until they were given the burial they deserved.
Rizpah daughter of Aiah took rough burlap and spread it out for herself on a rock from the beginning of the harvest until the heavy rains started. She kept the birds away from the bodies by day and the wild animals by night.
2 Samuel 21:10, MSG
Many artists have depicted this scene. Rizpah fighting off giant birds of prey in the foreground — grieved and determined — while seven bodies hanged behind her. You can see something in her eyes you probably recognize.
I have loved this story for years. It’s so grizzly, and yet I always come back to it. To me, this story — more than any other I have ever heard — most accurately captures the heart of a mother.
Rizpah camped on that hill for months. She did so through threat of harm and exposure and during a devastating famine. She sat vigil for her children until her tireless advocacy finally caught the attention of King David. He heard of her protest and was moved to collect the bones of Saul and Jonathan, along with the bones of these seven men. He gave them the proper Jewish burial Rizpah had been fighting for.
It is at the point of the burial that the famine in Israel is lifted.
The word power means influence, ability to, capacity to. Rizpah showed her power, even though she herself was little more than property, to move the heart of leadership to protect and provide for her beloved sons, and to move the heart of God to end the famine and relieve the suffering of many.
Her heroism was her presence. Her superpower was her love.
She did what mothers do. She went to her children. She sat beside them. She protected them. She fought for them. Rizpah’s name means “coal” or “hot stone” or “live coal.” Yep. I get that. You want to see a white-hot center? Mess with a mom’s child.
I share the story of Rizpah with you to remind you of something you already know: You hold great power in your hands as a mother. But here is what I want you to remember: The power is not in your scheduling, strategizing or systematizing. The power is not in your household management, organization or chore charts. The power is not in your sleep training, discipline model or meal plan. The power is not in something you can figure out or make happen.
Your power as a mother is in your love. Your fierce, undiluted, hot-coal love. With all the images and messages of “good mothering” confronting us constantly, it can seem almost irresponsible to believe that love is the single greatest gift we can give. Or that love could possibly be enough.
My love is here.
My love is enough.
God’s love is present in me, already, and it flows through to my kids every single day. Already. This love is more than enough. In fact, it’s the single most important thing my kids need from me.
Your power as a mother comes from trusting that your love is present and it is enough. Will you trust love today?
If you are worrying about adopting the latest mothering trend, searching the Internet for a new plan or experiencing more guilt than you care to admit, I invite you to stop and do one thing. Breathe this prayer:
Your love is here.
Your love is enough.
Leeana Tankersley is a writer, mom of three, and hope warrior. She is the author of six books, including Always We Begin Again and her forthcoming, Hope Anyway, and she is a regular contributor to MOPS. Learn more at leeanatankersley.com or follow her on IG @leeanatankersley.