Reading through the story of Jacob, I came across two practically unknown women: Bilhah and Zilpah. Have you ever heard anyone talk about these women? I haven’t. When I think about Jacob and his family, I think about Rachel, Leah, and the twelve tribes of Israel (And I think about Joseph because he’s my favorite). Something about these women struck me, so I thought I’d investigate. Maybe I could do a character study about these women. But they are never quoted in the Bible. There are very few facts listed about these women. Here’s what we know for sure:
- They were originally Laban’s servants. He gave them to his daughters when they married Jacob.
- They were given by Rachel and Leah to Jacob as wives when Rachel couldn’t bare children and Leah had stopped bearing children.
- Their children were named by their mistresses, Rachel and Leah.
- Jacob never talks about them as his wives. They are even described as his “female servants” in Genesis 32:22.
Let’s put aside the fact that they weren’t able to chose a husband for themselves and they didn’t even get to name the children they had. The most outrageous story about these women is this: Jacob’s brother Esau is about to meet him in the country. Jacob fears that Esau has come for revenge and will slaughter him and his entire family. Jacob decides to butter up his older by two minutes brother by sending him presents of cattle and servants. His messengers tell him that Esau is still coming and he’s bringing 400 men with him. Jacob gets really scared. So he divides up his people and cattle into two camps. Jacob figures one will die and one will manage to get away. Then Jacob has his personal servants and cattle meet Esau with gifts a second time. Esau is still coming with all those men! Jacob divides up his family to meet his brother. He sends Zilpah and Bilhah and their kids first. Then he sends Leah and her children. Rachel and Joseph are the very last. Maybe by then Esau and his bandits will be too tired by all they slaying that Rachel and Joseph will be spared.
Can you imagine being married to someone and they place you ahead of the family they consider their “real” family to be a human shield for them? That’s what Jacob did. To Bilhah, Zilpah, and even Leah. He didn’t want to be married to Leah in the first place, but that’s another story for another time.
So what’s the deal? What can we learn from Bilhah and Zilpah? Except for the cruel conditions with which Jacob treated them, they are a lot like us. Followers of Christ are called to lay down our lives to follow Him.
im. We learn that this earth is not our home and nothing we have really belongs to us. Our children belong to God. Our money belongs to God. Our families belong to God. Our friends belong to God. Our time on earth no matter how short or long is His. Everything we see is His. We are to be good stewards of the people and things He has given us.
Rachel and Leah claimed Bilhah and Zilpah’s children as their own. They even named them. Did you know that Jesus is going to give us names when we get to heaven? He’s going to bestow names to us that only the recipient knows.
I think Bilhah and Zilpah are good examples to us. There is no account of them complaining, which we aren’t to do either. Even when Jacob sent them to be human shields. There is no account of them not loving or taking good care of the children that were only considered theirs by Jacob.