As we continue with our celebration of Women’s History Month, we look at another group of Unsung Heroes from the Bible. Today we turn our attention to servants, those hard working women who worked quietly in the background taking care of others.
We’ve already featured a number of servant women. One of the first was Hagar. Taken from Egypt to be Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar got caught up in Sarah’s schemes to take matters into her own hands. Twice she fled for safety into the wilderness, and twice God met her there and assured her that she wasn’t alone.
Another servant we’re all familiar with is Naaman’s wife’s servant girl. Thanks to her helpful advice, Naaman was healed from his leprosy.
And, of course, there’s Mephibosheth’s nurse who dropped him while she was trying to rescue him from danger.
We meet Deborah in Genesis 24:59, but we’re not told her name right away. It’s not until her death in Genesis 35:8 that we find out her name was Deborah. So who was she?
The Bible calls her a nurse, but she wasn’t a nurse in the sense of what we would know today. She was likely more of a nursemaid who was there at the birth of Rebekah and assigned to take care of her in the role of a nanny. When Rebekah left home to marry Isaac, Deborah went with her. When Rebekah gave birth to Jacob and Esau, Deborah was there, perhaps serving as midwife then helping to raise the boys. When Jacob married Rachel, Deborah came with him. When Jacob parted ways with Laban and took his household to meet Esau, Deborah was a part of that household. By this time, Deborah was much advanced in age. Nonetheless she traveled with them because she was part of the family. When they reached Bethel, she could make it no longer and died.
In Genesis 35:8 we’re told that Deborah was buried beneath the terebinth tree, and it was called Allon Bachuth, which means, “the oak of weeping”.
Deborah is only mentioned in two verses of the Bible. She spent her entire life in the background serving others. But when she died, she left a gaping hole in the lives of those who knew her. Very rarely is the death and burial place of women included in the Bible. For that matter, very seldom does the Bible tell us the burial place of men. And, yet, this servant woman made such an impact, that it was deemed important to let us know where she was buried and to note that those who knew her mourned her death.
Next, I’d like to address Bilhah and Zilpah. They were the maids given to Rachel and Leah by Laban when they married Jacob. Their job should have been merely taking care of the young women, but they got caught up in a tangled web of competition between the sisters. It started when Rachel was unable to conceive so she gave Bilhah to Jacob as a secondary wife so that she might bear children for Rachel. Then Leah did the same with Zilpah. Back and forth the women went, using their servants as surrogate mothers.
As if it weren’t enough the way Rachel and Leah treated Bilhah and Zilpah, after Rachel’s death, Leah’s oldest son Rueben raped Bilhah. What a mess this family made. This godly family used their servants as pawns for their personal pleasure. Rueben grew up seeing how little respect his parents had for their servants and he followed in their footsteps in the way he treated Bilhah.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them to be thrown into an uncomfortable relationship with Jacob. Then to go nine months carrying a child, but once he was born, he wasn’t really your child. He was someone else’s, but just as they were secondary wives, their children were secondary sons as well.
The Rest of the Story
Although only a handful of female servants are singled out in the Old Testament, the words for “servant” occurs over a thousand times in the Bible. The Hebrew word “ebed” means serve or servant. Servants belonged to other people and worked for them. It’s a word used often to describe godly men and women who belonged to God and were doing His work.
Servitude is a humble position. The servant has little input in their decisions, but instead are at the mercy of someone else.
The women we’ve talked about who were servants in the Old Testament had little input in their circumstances. Separated from their families, placed in domestic positions, deprived of the right to choose a spouse and have a family of their own. They had few rights and were often taken advantage of, victims of those who oversaw them.
And yet, each day these women made the important decision of how they would handle the situation they were in. They could have chosen bitterness and anger. They could have spent their days filled with regret, lamenting what could have been rather than accepting what was.
But these women dealt with their circumstances the best they could. Though they were always second-class citizens, they established themselves within the families they served, often becoming beloved members of the household.
Like these women, you might be in a position not of your choosing. You may have little input in your circumstances. You might be separated from your family, deprived of your own spouse and family. You may have limited rights, and be a victim, taken advantage by others.
And yet, each day you get to choose how you react to your world. Are you caught up in bitterness and rage? Do you spend your days dwelling in regret and lament? Or are you dealing with your circumstances the best you can?
God placed you where you are for a reason. Though you might not understand His reasoning, He has a job for you where you’re at. People are depending on you. They need you.
You may feel insignificant, like a second-class citizen. You may think there’s nothing you can do that will matter. But that’s not true. Just as God used Deborah to love on Rebekah and Rachel and the rest of the household, just as He used Naaman’s wife’s servant girl to lead Naaman to the prophet Elisha, just as He used Mephibosheth’s nurse to save Mephibosheth, He can use you right where you are to love on those around you and to even help them find salvation. You are NOT a second-class citizen in His eyes. You are first-class all the way.
Lord God, thank You for these women who served in menial tasks and yet served to the best of their abilities. Thank You for this reminder that You place us where we are for a reason and that You have a job for us to do that only we can do. Open our eyes to what that job is. Reveal to us any attitudes that are coming between us and You. Forgive us for getting caught up in our circumstances. Help us to see things with Your eyes, appreciative of our blessings rather than focused on our limitations. We love You. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
That concludes today’s episode of All God’s Women. Next week we wind up our Women’s History Unsung Heroes with Undercover Agents. Yes, believe it or not, but the Bible has a number of female spies and women who worked behind the scenes during battle times. You’ll not want to miss this fun episode.
Bible Study Review
- Who did Deborah serve?
- How did the family respond to her death?
- How were Bilhah and Zilpah treated by their mistresses?
Thoughts to Ponder
- How might Deborah have served the family?
- Why did they honor her death?
- What kind of relationship might Bilhah and Zilpah have had with their children?
- Do you have a problem serving others?
- Are there those in your life you should be serving?
- How can you make the most of the situation you’re in?
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