Bible Ladies (Part 6): Dorcas

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Young Woman Sewing by Thomas Couture 

Acts 9 gives us one of the resurrection accounts of the Bible. A disciple named Dorcas or Tabitha is raised, not by Jesus but by the apostle Peter. This sister in Christ had an incredible reputation of good works. Here is the account:

“A woman who was a follower lived in the city of Joppa. Her name was Tabitha, or Dorcas. She did many good things and many acts of kindness.  One day she became sick and died. After they had washed her body, they laid her in a room on the second floor.  The city of Lydda was near Joppa. The followers heard that Peter was at Lydda and sent two men to ask him to come at once.  Peter went back with them. When he came, they took him to the room. All the women whose husbands had died were standing around crying. They were showing the clothes Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter made them all leave the room. Then he got down on his knees and prayed. He turned to her body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes and looked at Peter and sat up.  He took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then he called in the faithful followers and the women whose husbands had died. He gave her to them, a living person.  News of this went through all Joppa. Many people put their trust in the Lord (verses 36-42).”

Many churches today are caught up in titles. Whether it be Pastor White, the Apostle Black, the Minister Greene, or Meet-them-at-the door-and-say- they-are-welcome Brown, we seem to find a place for titles.  Dorcas, however, bears no “title” but only a descriptor – “follower.”  Here is a woman, though, who the widows of the church openly wept for, and who displayed the fruits of her service – “the clothes she had made” for said widows.” This servant (minister), and helper (deaconess) bears neither of these titles.

It wasn’t about recognition.  It wasn’t about position.  It was about exercising the gifts given to her by the Spirit, whether “officially” sanctioned or no. She, a follower of Christ, fulfilled the second great commandment – she loved her neighbour.

Dorcas shows us that it is enough to be brother or sister White, Black, Greene, or Brown.  And better still it is enough just to be Jill, Tom, Ben, or Sally. We are family – beyond titles – those very crowns we will ultimately cast before the throne.

But more than her humble – but spiritually exalted calling, she was one willing to give what she had to offer.  Much like the widow in the temple which Jesus witnessed offering the two mites. She too “put in  [what] . . . she had ( Luke 21: 4).”

The lessons then that we can take away from Dorcas are 1) be prepared to aid with whatever gifts we have been blessed with; 2) those contributions may well have a greater impact than we can imagine in the lives of others; 3) serve as reflection of Him within us, not as a showcase for our own egos; 4) titles are not an end in themselves, but a reflection of 1, 2, and 3 in our lives.

Padre

 

Bible Ladies (Part 5), The Foreign Women (b): Rahab

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The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

As in the case of Zapporah and Ruth, Rahab in the Book of Joshua is a foreign woman of note.  She is presumably a Canaanite, or at least lives in Canaan.  She lives on the border of the Jordan in the city of Jericho, the first place of conquest by the Israelites within the Land of Promise.

The main account of Rahab is found in Joshua chapter 2. She offers refuge to the Hebrew spies, and takes great risk in hiding them within her home.

“Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. The king of Jericho was told, ‘Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.’  So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.’ But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from.  At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.’  (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut (verses 1-7).”

Okay, the account tells us she is a prostitute. It could be argued that her protection of the men in her house was a occupational or “professional” decision.  The details, however, do not stack up to such a narrow line of thinking.  She not only gives them shelter, but vital intelligence as well.

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof  and said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.  We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below (verses 8 – 11).”

This information is valuable militarily (as it shows the low morale of the people of Jericho).  It also, however, shows her clear belief in the power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Herein, lies a dilemma.  She as a Canaanite is marked for destruction (Deuteronomy 20:17).  Yet, she has just expressed a faith in God, and has aided the cause of the Hebrews.  Her redemption is promised in the following passage.

“‘Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them – and that you will save us from death.’  ‘Our lives for your lives!’ the men assured her. ‘If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.’ So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall.  She said to them, ‘Go to the hills so that the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there for three days until they return, and then go on your way.’ Now the men had said to her, ‘This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house.  If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.’ ‘Agreed,’ she replied. ‘Let it be as you say.’ So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window (verses 12 -20).”

Okay, life spared, and her household.  But there is more! Let’s look at some details.

While some Evangelicals have tried to sanitise Rahab’s reputation by noting that she was some sort of weaver (thus the flax bundles on her roof), this does not diminish the testimony of several scriptures to her being “a harlot” (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25, and others).  This view is also found within rabbinic tradition as well. In fact, rabbinic literature not only acknowledges her prostitution, but her repentance and conversion to the faith.

The texts have a conversion process mentioned for Rahab, “Master of the Universe! I have sinned with three things [with my eye, my thigh, and my stomach]. By the merit of three things pardon me: the rope, the window, and the wall [pardon me for engaging in harlotry because I endangered myself when I lowered the rope for the spies from the window in the wall].” (Babylonian Talmud, Zevahim 116a-b).”

And now, what about the woman herself?  In Joshua, Rahab is apparently in her forties or even aged fifty, but still able to bear children as she is cited as being the mother of Boaz in some traditions. There is a spelling variant (Rachab/Rahab) in Matthew 1: 5 which various interpreters have argued makes her a different woman. If she is the same, she would be the wife of Salmon and therefore an ancestor of Jesus. Rabbinic tradition suggests, however, that Rahab married not Salmon but Joshua himself (Midrash: Eccl. Rabbah 8:10:1).

Rabbinic sources state she was 10 at the time of the Exodus and therefore 50 when the spies came to her.  This does seem to be supported by the knowledge she possesses in Joshua 2: 8-11.

Whether she is in the line of the coming Messiah, or the wife of the leader, Joshua – Rahab remains a woman of faith.  She was willing to risk her life, forsake her nation, and defy her king in the service of the King of kings.  She is an inspirational “Bible Lady” who shows that no matter what one’s background, and past sins, that God is willing to accept and use them for the kingdom.

Padre

 

Other Bible Ladies posts:

See also:

 

Bible Ladies (Part 1): Hagar (A study in strength and weakness)

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Fanfani Enrico Hagar And Ishmael

One of the most interesting and sometimes controversial women of the Bible is the matron (or even matriarch) Hagar.  She should in no way be confused with Dik Browne’s comic strip Viking, but should be seen as a woman of mystery, nobility, and at least some measure of faith.

We first find reference to Hagar in Genesis chapter 16, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived (verses 1-4a).”

This has long been a talking point, that any wife might offer the maid to her husband to produce a child with.  Fair enough, the need for an heir was an insurance policy in those days, but this is more of a discussion about Sarai (Sarah) so I will leave it off for now.

What happens next is interesting, however. “When she knew she was pregnant, she (Hagar) began to despise her mistress (vs 4b).”  This may well have been a disdain for being put into the situation of bearing a child as a surrogate, without having a choice in the matter.  Another take is that, she had now become “more important” than her mistress by virtue of her pregnancy, so exploits her new found role as “heir-bearer.” To me, a third explanation is intriguing however.

This view centres around a rabbinic tradition that Hagar was the daughter of an Egyptian nobleman, and that her servant status to the house of Abram was part of the settlement Pharaoh had made with Abram in Genesis 12.  “When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman.  And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.  He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.  But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?  Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had (verses 14-20).”

In this view, this was a woman of noble birth, not a common slave  Her attitude therefore is more haughty (or at least confident) than might be expected, and fits Hagar’s character (or at least pride) in this passage and beyond.

In the biblical account Sarai mistreats Hagar and she flees from the abuse. While alone in the wilderness an angel appears to her. “Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”  The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”  The angel of the Lord also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael for the Lord has heard of your misery (16: 9-11).”  When she later gives birth, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me. (vs 13).”

She may be noble and haughty at times, but she is obedient to the instructions from God. But, God’s plan was not for the heir to be Ishmael, and in the fullness of time Isaac is born to Sarai/Sarah. Ishmael and his mother are therefore cast out into the wilderness.  “Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink (Genesis 21:14-19).”

This episode is also fascinating.  When Abraham sends them away, he gives them food and water, but no material wealth. It is a symbolic point being made, that Ishmael and his mother have no claim of inheritance.  They are sent off with the bare minimum.

Now in the desert, the water gives out.  Hagar leaves her son in the cover of a bush and goes away to mourn his impending doom.  I marvel at this in two respects.  The first is that this woman who adamantly held to a name for her son, given by an angel, would ignore the same angel’s prophecy that Ishmael would become the father of a nation.  Okay, despair is a powerful thing.  Many of us might well have done the same.

The second point to ponder is that she removes herself from her son so she can’t watch him die.  I am not going to judge, for every person deals with this scenario in a personal way.  She clearly does not want to witness the most terrible event in her life – her son’s death.

On pondering this, I myself could not do the same.  I have lost a child.  If I had that day to live over, I would have given anything to have had just a few more precious moments with her – even if they did culminate in her death.  It seems, a common approach.  Mary made her way to the cross of Jesus, and many others have sought those last few minutes even if ending in pain.

In Islamic tradition, however, Hagar’s actions are not quite as passive.  Yes, she may well have in the end went to the side to sob, but before that she is said to run back and forth throughout the area looking for water (an event reenacted every year as part of the Hajj pilgrimage).

Here again is a woman of dignity and of will.  Her faith may have waned, but her spirit doesn’t until the end.  An end, in which God again intervenes, and she sees the needed water.

This proud woman’s last recorded act is to secure a wife for her son in Genesis 21:21, a wife not of the local tribes, but of her own people in Egypt.  This is often cited as supporting evidence of her Egyptian noble status.  Why would a slave return to the land of her captivity, or seek a wife for a free born son among the lower rungs of society (he former peers).  As an Egyptian of good family, however, she might well seek a suitable wife from among her peers and extended family, fit for one who would sire “twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps (Genesis 25: 16).”

So what can we learn from this “Bible Lady?”  First, whether noble or base she had pride and self-assurance.  This was especially prevalent when she was following the lead of God.  Secondly, she obeyed God.  This was true in her returning to Sarai, and in the naming of her son. Finally, she like us had lapses in her faith.  There is much to this last point.  Her faith (and remembrance of the God’s promise) started to fail.  But, just when she finally gives in to the despair, God stepped in and “opened her eyes.”  We can take heart in that.  God is faithful, even when we are not.  He will lift us up, especially when we have hit bottom.

Let us seek the emulate the strengths of this woman, Hagar; and let us learn from and grow from her weaknesses.

Padre

[I will post several other studies on “Bible Ladies,” though the order will not be systematic but rather as my musings and ramblings lead me].