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Inspiring story of strong woman teaches lesson

Editor’s Column

By Jeremy Weldon

Of all the tales of strong women, it’s the ancient Middle Eastern story of Rizpah that tops the list for me.

We should pause, now and again, to reflect on the tragedy in her life and glean lessons we can apply every day in our little piece of the world here in Panola County, Mississippi.

Surely, you remember Rizpah from your studies. She was a mistress of a great king, and had sons that might one day be heirs to the throne.

But, the king was killed in a vicious battle and the conquerors actually nailed his body (along with his sons) to the walls of the city to humiliate his remaining family.

The two countries made a truce after that, but the new king of her country came from a different family and she and her sons were lucky to be left alive, much less part of the ruling class.

A few years later the king of the country that killed Rizpah’s king demanded that seven descendents of the dead king’s family be sent over to repay for the killings of seven of his own men in a sneak attack several years before. (Lots of killing in this story, but every word is true. Keep reading.)

The new king had a hard choice. He knew the previous king had committed an atrocity and he really didn’t want any more trouble with this neighbor country. So, he agreed to send seven of the old king’s offspring.

He got five from a woman who had been the king’s last wife, and then he took Rizpah’s two sons because she was his mistress and the boys were his. Awful, awful story, but it happened.

The seven men were handed over and the neighboring king promptly killed them and hung them from trees on the border of the two countries to taunt the other king.

Here’s where our heroine does a remarkable thing. The story goes that this woman camped out by the hanging bodies and wouldn’t leave.

During the day, she kept the vultures and birds of prey from eating them. At night, she fought off wild animals who tried to devour the dead sons.

She kept up this amazing vigil for weeks, maybe months, constantly fighting off birds and beasts, protecting rotting corpses and preserving some measure of dignity.

Finally, her new king heard about this vigil and what this strong woman was doing. He was so impressed that he sent men to cut down the bodies and give them a proper burial.

The king also made arrangements to get the remains of the deposed king and his sons back home and gave them a fitting funeral.

Think with me. Is not our fair community, even our good state, filled with modern day Rizpahs? Through no fault of their own they daily battle the symbolic birds and beasts of this life to fight for the last measure of dignity in their families and circle of friends.

Circumstances of life are not fair, or even close. So many bad things happen to so many good people. And, yet, in life’s every day tragedies we can see many examples of strong people – generally women – fighting and struggling to shoo away the trouble and fight off the tragic.

Rizpah kept up her vigil in full view of all the kingdom, but today so many are locked in desperate battles unseen by many of us who blindly flap around tending to our selfish wants while others in our very community (our neighbors!) pine away, the fight slowly becoming too much.

Let’s learn from Rizpah. When the worst of life happens, make a camp and keep a vigil. Save what you can. Keep your dignity, and don’t be afraid to get rough when it’s needed.

The more fortunate of our country should always be watching out for the Rizpahs, sensitive to these peculiar situations.

Want to know more about Rizpah? It’s easy. You most likely already have the book at your house, and probably on your phone. Her story is found in II Samuel 21 of the Bible, and it has captivated me from the time I first heard it as a child.

Oh, the king that gave Rizpah’s sons away to be murdered? Well, it was King David. Yes, the same shepherd boy who killed Goliath with a slingshot and became Israel’s greatest hero from then to now.

Strange how folks change when they grow up, huh?