Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Bilhah the Concubine

Bilhah by Margot 
It is day number 2 of the A-Z challenge and I am looking at women of the Bible who's names go with the letter of each day. Today B is for Bilhah. I am also trying to do a digital painting for each character - hard to say what Bilhah really looked like but in my mind she looks like my painting. A-Z visitor I have been writing daily M-F since July of 2011. I participated in last years A-Z and put together an e-book from those posts. Here's the link if you are interested. http://payhip.com/b/dGY2

Genesis 30:2 And Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, 
Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”

 Jacob had two wives Leah and Rachel. Rachel was loved and favored by Jacob. Leah was not loved, he had been tricked into marrying her. While Rachel is more favored I think Leah is the more Godly of the two sisters. We see in Rachel envy and jealousy. She blames her husband for her barrenness. She does not turn to God in prayer but allows her heart to grow bitter and angry. After Leah has been blessed with four sons Rachel she gets fed up and offers her maid Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her. So Bilhah is a handmaid or servant to Rachel and her duties have been expanded to having sex with Jacob to produce children for Rachel. She is a concubine, a woman who does not have the status of wife of social positon. Generally a wife would have a dowery a concubine might be a slave or a girl from a poor family.

'"Concubinage was practised in many ancient cultures, especially in Mesopotamia.....where a private citizen might have one or two concubines in addition to his primary wife.....a concubine was often a slave or part of the booty of war (Judges 5:30). A man might have a concubine simply as an economical form of marriage, since no dowry or bride-price was required. A concubine could add to a man's prestige by giving him two wives and thus an increased capacity for children. Such offspring were normally delivered onto the knees of the legal wife, thus establishing their legitimacy as family members. The concubine was also another servant to add to his work force.' (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1997, Vol 1, p504)."
So Bilhah is a surrogate mother almost more of a nanny. It is Rachel who names the children and claims them as her own. Bilha would probably done more of the child care and nanny work. I suppose from Bilhah's position it insure her children a better life then she as a slave could ever hope to give them.  Some of the commentaries that I read said that Bilhah and Zilpah, were step sisters to Leah and Rachel. That they were daughters of Labans concubine. They may also have been foreign household slaves given to each girl upon her marriage. 

So the baby race begins between the sisters. 

 Leah's name means wild cow, cow eyed or weak eyes, or maybe weak on the eyes. She gives birth six sons. 

first born Ruben, his name means behold a son
second born Simeon his name means hearing, or God has heard that I have been hated.
third born Levi his name means adhesion - or now my husband will want me.
fourth born Judah  his name means praise. 
We learn a lot about Leah by the names she gives her sons. You can tell that she has cried out to God to help her in her unloved marriage. You can see how she desires that her husband would want her. Her heart is thankful and filled with praise to God for giving her sons.

Bilhah has sons the next two sons for Rachel who is jealous.

fifth son Dan his name means judge - or in Rachel mind God has finally judged in my favor.
sixth son Naphtali - wrestle - or I've wrestled with my sister and won.

Zilpah had two sons for Leah  (her name means drooping)

seventh son Gad - his name means my good fortune or a troop cometh
eight son Asher - his name means happy she has given Jacob six sons

Leah has two more sons 
ninth born Issachar his name means hired - God has given me my due or reward.
tenth born Zebulun his name means dwelling. I think God has dwelt with me.

Rachel the barren one finally has two sons
eleventh son Joseph - his name means God has taken away my reproach.
twelfth son Benjamin - she names him Ben-oni, son of my pain but after she dies in child birth his father names him Benjamin son of my right hand. 

Interestingly Ruben the first born of Leah looses his birth right because he sleeps with Bilhah his fathers concubine. Genesis 35:22 and 49:4) Was this a relationship with two consenting adults, did he take advantage of her, were they close because she had been the one to care for the kids. Did he sneak into her bed and defile her with out her knowing it was him? Was he trying to defile her so his own mother would get more of his fathers attention. There is a lot we don't know for sure. 

So what might we learn from this character? 

Bilhah is a faithful servant to her mistress. She is willing to become a concubine to give her mistress children. I don't think she was forced into this arrangement but rather out of love for her mistress was willing to sacrifice for her mistress happiness.  
Was the whole deal with Ruben less out of need for a woman and more a way to take out a competing wife whom perhaps his father favored after Rachel death. Having served Rachel for many years she would have been more of a comfort to grieving Jacob. What if  Rubens defilement was motivated by more than lust. He had seen his mothers sorrow over being unloved. He simply tipped the scales in her favor. We know what happens to him he looses his place as first born and chief heir of the family. He is still a son but he loses his place of prominence and influence. Interestingly there are no notable characters from his tribe mentioned in bible stories. We don't know what happens to Bilhah 

This entire family suffered from the jealousy of the two sisters you see it in how the brothers betray Joseph into slavery. Jacobs favoritism is at the heart of the problem. The whole family is vying for his attention that he does not share with them all. He favors Rachel and her sons. 

Bilhah is caught in the middle of it all, perhaps the incest with Ruben is simply that she has been forgotten by Jacob. She is provided for as a wife but never really loved. It is hard for me to imagine spending ones life as a slave or as a concubine. To spend your life in a loveless marriage and to endure the bickering and jealousy of two sisters must have been exhausting. Then again for a woman of no means to have a home and for her sons to be included in the inheritance of a wealthy man may have seemed a good choice. Perhaps she felt she did well for herself. 

Prayer: Lord help us when we are caught in a place between others who bicker and constantly are trying to win the the love an attention of others. Help us to not get caught up in the political and sociological maneuverings of others. Help us when we seem forced into situations that are difficult at best to turn to you and to see how you would use them to mold and shape us for your glory.  


  1. Thanks again for your words Margot. Some interesting thoughts, some more difficult to understand than others, but an interesting family to figure out. I'm so thankful for the Patriarch's of the OT and for their faithfulness to God.

    1. Thanks for stopping by again Donna. I appreciate your comments. Some of these characters get a bit complicated and I wonder how much of the back story to tell.


  2. Another interesting piece. I like the digital picture today. Bilhah had a tough life from my perspective, but maybe she felt blessed--hard to say. Interesting about her and Ruben. You are blessing us, Margot with your hard work :)

    1. Sharon your comments are such a blessing to me. Its nice to get comments from real people and not the countless anonymous ones promoting their own sites. Anyway I changed my settings to not allow anonymous comments any more. Anyway glad you enjoyed todays B - topic. Thanks for noticing that blogs just don't happen. I do put in a fair amount of time each day in an effort to write interesting posts that will encourage and inspire.

      Blessings, Margot


God's Original and Final Intent part 5

This is my final paper for The International Healing Rooms School of Transformation in Spokane Washington. Its is very long paper so I ...