Zilpah and Bilhah aren’t familiar women in the Bible, yet their contribution to the nation of Israel is significant.
When Laban’s two daughters marry Jacob, Dad gives them each a wedding gift: a servant. To his daughter Leah, he gives his servant Zilpah, while to his daughter Rachel, he gives Bilhah. These servants should be nothing more than a footnote in history, but that’s not how the story unfolds. Their lives have a distressing parallel to Hagar who preceded them.
While Leah gives Jacob several sons, Rachel has no children. In desperation, she offers her servant, Bilhah, to her husband to make babies in her place. Her foolish husband agrees, impregnating his wife’s servant—twice.
Not to be outdone, Leah does the same thing, offering her servant, Zilpah, to sleep with Jacob. Zilpah also gets pregnant—twice. Eventually Rachel has two boys of her own, while Leah has six sons altogether.
As a result, the two servants produce four sons for Jacob. Of his twelve boys, four are not from his wives, but from his wives’ servants. The twelve boys become the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacob), so one third of the nation of Israel results from Jacob’s relationship with his wives’ two servants.
Zilpah and Bilhah have nothing to say in any of this. As servants, they must obey their mistresses. They are voiceless victims. But as he often does, God rewards the underdogs, with Zilpah and Bilhah’s offspring comprising one third of his chosen people.
Even when we feel like helpless, voiceless victims, God is on our side. Do we truly believe that?
[Discover more about Zilpah and Bilhah in Genesis 29–35.]
Read about other biblical women in Women of the Bible, available in audiobook, e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.