Tucked away in an obscure collection of texts in 2 Samuel 21 is a story occasionally cited to suggest that God’s avenging anger needs appeasement. Nestled within this depiction of atonement is the ancient notion of bloodguilt, while a lesser known story is easily overlooked, lacking the attention it deserves. It tells of a woman burdened with grief and searing pain because her two sons have been torn from her. Rizpah is her name. The story has not gone unnoticed, however, by many a brave mother gripped by despair and grief at the death of a child. Such women, left powerless and bereft, receive little mercy.
Even when young, I was an avid student of the Bible. The fiery descriptions of God’s judgment activated my imagination. Early on, I embarked on a pilgrimage to reread every verse of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation while contemplating just one question: What is the meaning of the fiery language in Scripture?
When the Ark of God’s Presence falls on hard times, David wants to bring it to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 4–5). On the way, great festivity ensues that includes many band-accompanied songs. Everyone knows that something wonderful is happening, but suddenly, the cart transporting the sacred vessel is shaken by the oxen bearing it (2 Samuel 6:6). Uzzah, one of the servants attending the ark, responds by reaching out to steady it and is struck dead on the spot.
I have thought about how God’s judgments might factor into modern plagues, especially in light of the plagues in the Old Testament. Is this virus a punishment? A warning of impending doom? Is God trying to teach us a lesson? Some have suggested that we are experiencing an end time epidemic, taken right from the pages of the apocalypse. Is this really true?