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Studies on the Women of the Bible
by Davis W. Huckabee

Chapter 17

DORCAS—"Grazelle"


"Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber, and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord," (Acts 9:36-42).

This woman, as was common in the first century, had two names, one in the Hebrew language, Tabitha, and its Greek equivalent, Dorcas. Both names mean gazelle or doe. She was a disciple, probably having been saved along with others there, when Philip the deacon, after preaching at Samaria and having great success, was led by the Spirit to preach in several cities along the coast up to Caesarea, (Acts 8:5, 26-40), and this included Joppa. This woman was renowned for her benevolence work among the local widows as she made coats and other garments for them.

In the Christian faith, it is this concrete expression of faith which shows that one's faith in Jesus is not merely an ideology or a philosophy. It is a mistake to think of faith only in terms of one's private fellowship with God, gaining blessing from Him for yourself. It is sharing those blessings with others which shows that that faith is the "real thing," (Jam. 2:17). Jesus stressed again and again that love is seen in practical terms, that "love" is an action word. In the lives of the women whom we have studied so far we can see this expression of their faith and it is this aspect which we can see so very clearly in the life of this woman, Dorcas.—Robert M. Terhune, Prospective On Biblical Women, H, P. 188.

Here we see some important practical truths, such as: (1) However full of faith and good works one may be, it does not exempt one from death. (2) One need not despair over the death of a loved one, for the power of God is more than adequate to revive the dead if it be God's will. (3) At the same time, it must be recognized that every one of us has a terminal point at which time we must die and depart this life. (4) This world is not the saint's permanent home. We have an infinitely greater inheritance in the life beyond. (5) But in times of crisis it is not inappropriate to pray that God might extend one's life if He can be glorified thereby, (John 11:4).

This upper chamber wherein the body was laid out has been suggested as the regular meeting place of the Joppa church, and it is certain that churches sometimes met in such places, (Luke 22:10-13; Acts 1:13-14; 20:7-8). Scripture is silent as to whether the church in Joppa expected or asked Peter to restore this faithful woman to life, or if he had this intention when he came with them to where she lay. He was simply led by the Spirit, and he followed the movings of the Spirit of God. But he had observed his Lord's actions on similar occasions, so that he knew what might be done.

Dorcas had become sick and died. Her body was tenderly cared for, according to customs of the time, and placed in an upper chamber. And now Peter, having asked everyone to leave the room, "kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes... And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive... and many believed in the Lord." Where did Peter learn such things? He had watched the Master Himself resurrect the dead body of a young twelve year old girl, astonishing her grieving parents. Peter's own mother-in-law had had her physical life restored by our Lord. He had also seen our Lord raise the dead body of a widow woman's only son and deliver him to his mother, (Matt. 9:25-26; Mark 1:31, 5:40-42; Luke 7:11-15; 8:54-56). And now Peter, by the same power of the same Lord and Master, whom he had observed, the One with power over life and death, was able to command the dead body of this woman, whose life had been characterized by acts of benevolence, to arise and then present her alive to the grieving widows and saints, those who had been recipients of her kindness.—Wendy Gale Barkman, Women of the Bible Compared and Contrasted, p. 120-121.

Thus, Dorcas was restored to life, and this causes many to give attention to the Gospel that was preached by this church and by Peter, so that many became believers in the God that gave His people such power over death. Miracles never convert anyone, but they have often gotten a hearing for the Gospel which is God's only means of con­verting a spiritually dead soul, (1 Cor. 1:21). Let it be remembered what the Lord Himself gave as the reasons why seeming calamities sometimes are allowed to befall true saints—the glorification of God for His graciousness to the undeserving, (John 9:3; 11:4).

This cure was wrought, and all the other miracles were done, to be a means to make the gospel to be believed, which he published, and was an undeniable proof that this doctrine was from heaven; for none could do such things unless God were with him, or rather, unless God did them by him; so that this miracle wrought by St. Peter did more good to the souls of many, than to the body of this relieved woman.—Matthew Poole, Commentary On The Holy Bible, Vol. III, p. 416.

Dorcas probably never thought of herself as being anything except an ordinary saint and church member, but she was diligent to help others as she had opportunity, and that is what counts. She was not like many people today—utterly selfish and self­-centered—with no thoughts for anyone else. What a blessing she had been, and now continued to be to the little church at Joppa. Blessed is the church that has Dorcas type women among its membership.

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