I was going through an old memory drive because I have been updating high school transcripts for college entrance (home-schoolers), and I ran across devotional notes. I had forgotten about them, but as I read through, I rediscovered a gem. The Bible tells us of many real people, often times in what seems like just a glimpse, but a closer look at history can teach us more and help us to understand why they were so significant. Today, I want to share with you about a woman named Dorcas.
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.”Acts 9:36-43
The Meaning of Her Name
She was a Christian. She is called, “a certain disciple,” and is included in this way among the numerous disciples mentioned in the New Testament. She was a Christ-like example to others around her as the book of Acts says that she was looking after the widows. Looking after the marginalized people of this world is one of God’s characteristics, too. In Psalm 146:8-9, God is shown as lifting up those who are bowed down, for watching over the alien, and sustaining the fatherless and widow.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
Dorcas lived in Joppa.
It is the only natural harbor in Israel, and is now a port near modern day Telaviv. It was also one of the earliest cities to have a Christian population. Philip, the evangelist, had preached the Gospel to all the cities along the Mediterranean Sea from Ashdod (Azotus) to Caesarea, which included Joppa. His message of forgiveness recognized Gentile believers as equals with Jewish believers (see Acts ch. 8). Since Philip had been a deacon in the Jerusalem Church concerned with the care of the poor and widows, it is not a surprise that the church in Joppa was a center of fervent evangelism and well organized social service.
Dorcas was a Jewess in a Gentile port. Perhaps she was originally from Joppa, or maybe she had come there as a missionary from another Jewish city to serve. We do not know, but she may have been a widow herself. Scripture does not mention a husband or family.
She must have been a woman of means. For one, she appears to have owned a home. She also had the means with which to help the poor (Acts 9:36). She sewed clothes for others (vs. 39). Not only that, but she made the widows tunics (also called robes or chiton) and other garments. A tunic was an inner garment that was worn next to the skin. Sewing one was a difficult process. First, the material had to be made, or purchased (if one had the means to do so). Then the material had to be stitched together, slowly and carefully, all by hand.
The word for “other clothing” was himation which was an outer garment, mantle or cloak. Cloaks were difficult to make because they were made by hand. They were made from animal skins, goat or camel hair, or wool. If the cloak was made of animal hair, the hairs had to be spun into thread or yarn and then woven into cloth. Then the cloth would have to be sown together by hand to form the cloak. Because they took so long to make they were considered to be valuable and a gift of one was an honor. We can deduce from all this that Dorcas was also a skilled seamstress.
Do you imagine she developed relationships with the widows she served? They loved her. She was loved and mourned.
The disciples had heard that Peter was in Lydda, and so they sent for him. Peter had healed a paralytic in Lydda who had been bed ridden for 8 years. People would have heard of this and hoped that he could bring Dorcas back. It is possible that she was dead a total three days before her resuscitation.
Dorcas’s miracle was the cause of an evangelistic explosion.
“This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.” Acts 9:42
Just as the Lord had used Aeneas in Lydda, He chose to use Dorcas to display His power and cause many to come to faith. In the New Testament, we see miracles occurring when God wants to authenticate the message of salvation- in Joppa we see Him using Dorcas to show the world His truth about who He is, the All powerful One who controls life.
Because Joppa was a port, news of the miracle and the good news of salvation would have traveled to other lands.
Dorcas used what was in her hand–her needle and skills– to serve God and others. Her example led to the creation of the Dorcas Society, a charitable organization which is dedicated to doing acts of service. We have a Dorcas Thrift Shop in our town. They offer affordable items for sale and the proceeds fund a school and provide grants to many other Christian organizations. The Christian camp where or family serves has been a recipient of one of their grants.
You never know how God will use an act of kindness and goodness to change lives and cities and history. He used Dorcas’s needle and kind heart to develop relationships so that her miracle sparked an evangelistic explosion. He used my friend George and his love for orphans and Dairy Queen to save dozens of kids with the gospel. You can read about George HERE. What’s in your hand?
Special thanks to my friend Kathie for allowing me to use her research resources.