Because of my week at college, I’m behind on my She Reads Truth summer devotional, Women of the Word – Old Testament. I’m starting where I left off, so this conversation may be behind you already. I’ve spent a couple of mornings reading and pondering the tangled lives of Rachel and Leah – sister wives of Jacob.
If we had to name our children according to the drama in our lives, what would we be calling them? In Rachel’s barrenness, she had her handmaid, Bilhah, bear two children “on her knees” or on her behalf. Including her adopted sons, here is what she named her boys:
Dan = vindicated (or my translation: Got You!)
Naphtali = winning!
Joseph = I want another one
Ben-oni = sorrow
Luckily, we get to name our children names we like – not representative of our inner struggles & inter-family conflicts!
Leah, who seems to have found some comfort from God after the birth of her fourth son, Judah, jumps back into the competition game when Rachel starts relying on a maidservant for children. Leah subs her maidservant, Zilpah, into the family fertility game. And now we’ve got four women, lots of boys, little girl Dinah, and fighting mothers. Makes you glad you don’t have to spend Thanksgiving dinner around this family table!
But here’s my real thought for this morning: In this study of Women of the Word we’re talking in depth about Rachel & Leah. But we’re merely passing by Bilhah and Zilpah as minor chess pieces in this family game. THEY’RE Women of the Word.
We don’t know much about them. We’d have to read between the lines of Scripture. We can surmise that they were servants, owned body and soul by Laban. They were given as wedding gifts to his daughters for use in their married households.
They were owned and given away without their consent or desire.
They were required to physically meet the needs of petty, competitive women.
They were given sexually to a man for the purpose of conception.
They carried a child and went through labor so that another could “claim” their son.
They carried, birthed and gave up two sons each.
They continued to work and labor as servants.
The competition between the sisters never ceased.
I don’t know what history could tell us about these two servant women. I don’t know how race & privilege & social ranking played into this story in ways we don’t understand from these few verses. I don’t know what Bilhah or Zilpah thought or felt about their lot in life. I don’t know what Jacob’s feelings were towards these women and their children. I don’t know if they believed in the God of Jacob or cursed him for the pain and brutality of their existence.
I understand why She Reads Truth folded their names and stories in with their owners, Leah and Rachel. But I wanted to say their names on the front porch. To honor the little we know about them. To hurt for the hard, hopeless reality of their lots in life.
Bilhah and Zilpah, you’re Women of the Word and we remember you this morning.