Tabitha in the Bible was a faithful disciple of Jesus. Acts 9:36-42 tells us that Tabitha (who was also known as Dorcas) was devoted to good works and charity. Just like Tabitha, so many of us are devoted to helping others. But, when we need help, who is there to help us? The story of Tabitha/Dorcas shows us that when we do as Jesus taught, we are his disciples and he hears our prayers.
Thank you, Lord, for hearing us when we pray to you. Thank you for healing us when we ask you to. Though it might not be when or how we expect it, you will do it when it is the right time. Thank you for watching over us and blessing us. In your precious name, amen.
“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. … Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.” – Acts 9:36-37a, 40
Introduction to the Story of Tabitha/Dorcas
Tabitha was a disciple. She followed Jesus’s teachings about how to treat others. She made clothes for the widows and the poor. She always did good and helped those in need. Then, suddenly, Tabitha got sick and died. Two men were sent to urge Peter to come to Joppa. Tabitha was placed upstairs in preparation for burial, and her friends and the widows were there mourning her passing.
When Peter arrived, the women were crying, and they showed him the clothes Tabitha had made for them. He sent them all out of the room. He got on his knees and prayed. He turned to her and said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and sat up. Peter called for all of them to come back, and he presented a living Tabitha to them. Her coming back to life became known all over Joppa, and many more people believed in the Lord as a result.
In this story, we encounter a faithful disciple who helped others and who received the help of God when she was in her time of need.
Digging Deeper: Tabitha/Dorcas in the Bible
Luke introduces Tabitha in Acts by calling her a disciple. He also writes that “she was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36, NIV). Tabitha, like so many women, helped others. She may have been a widow herself, possibly with financial means. This may be how she was able to help so many. In any case, there is no doubt that she was loved by those she helped.
But, then, she got sick and died. When Peter reached Tabitha’s home, there were widows and friends and other disciples all gathered upstairs mourning her. The widows were crying and showed Peter all the robes and other clothing Tabitha had sewn for them. Clearly, Tabitha was beloved in the community and had given herself consistently to all—specifically to the least among them—with generosity of spirit and of her material gifts. She had literally clothed the widows, fulfilling in her life even before her (first) death the responsibilities both Moses and Jesus had placed on those who would be in covenant with God (cf. Deuteronomy 10:12-18; Matthew 25:35-40).
Luke then describes the intimate scene between Peter and Tabitha in the kind of sparse narrative style typical of biblical storytelling. Peter prays for her, then speaks two words (in the Greek): “Tabitha, get up” (Acts 9:40). And she arose! I wonder what that moment was like for her. What did she learn as she traversed the threshold from life to death—and back to life? Did she return with a greater sense of gratitude for the mere fact of being alive?
And what was it like for Peter? He had the immense privilege of presenting her—alive!—to her friends and co-laborers. I imagine him cherishing the gift, deferring the spotlight to the returned disciple, and giving praise to God. Tabitha’s resurrection became known all over Joppa, and Luke tells us that many people believed in the Lord on account of her story.
Peter’s prayer over Tabitha was instinctive, inspired. We don’t know what he prayed, but he seems to have practiced what Jesus had preached. Jesus had healed the sick and raised people from the dead. Peter had listened to Jesus’s teachings carefully, and because he had seen Jesus heal people, he knew how to pray.
When we pray, we call on Jesus to hear our prayer. The Lord is always listening. It doesn’t matter whether we pray out loud or silently; God hears us. We may not be able to bring someone back from the dead, but we can pray for those who need healing. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26a). Whether we live or die, God will still be with us.
She Is Called and We Are Called
We know so many people who have helped others. But when helpers get sick, who helps them? When COVID-19 was all around us, it was hard to help others unless they were family or lived with us. Sometimes, all we can do is pray for others without being with them physically. Tabitha demonstrated tangible love for others by meeting their needs with the gifts she had. She made them clothing and she cared for them.
Peter prayed for Tabitha’s health, but we pray for other things, too, like jobs, a place to live, someone to quit drinking or smoking, etc. We all need prayer, for whatever it is we need, even if it is for calm and inner peace in the face of our stress. When we follow Jesus’s teachings—helping others and treating them the way we want to be treated—we are his disciples.
How many people have asked for prayers from you by texting or calling you? How many do you see on Facebook asking for prayers? Everyone needs prayer, whether it is for healing or being kept safe from COVID, for food because they are in quarantine and cannot go to the store. We might not always be able to help with material things, but we can help by offering our prayers—and then sharing our prayers with those we’ve prayed for, to encourage them.
And we should pray for ourselves, too. Whether it is for healing, for a job, for food, for energy, or for happiness, we can pray for ourselves. There is nothing wrong with praying for ourselves. God always hears our prayers.
Our Lord loves us all. God wants us to know that and to tell others that God loves them, too. Whether we are a child or a grown adult, we all need to know that. We can spread that word to others so they can feel the love of the Lord.
As we seek to love others with the love of God, we might be tempted to over-complicate things. Tabitha teaches us that we love others by using our gifts for God’s glory in the service of those around us. We may not be able to make clothes (or maybe we can), but God has given us unique gifts that will bless others if we step out in faithfulness.
In Tabitha’s story, we see the ripple effect of a life lived with faithfulness. Even though Tabitha’s role is not tremendously active in the story (she is ill or dead for most of it), the way her community mourned her loss demonstrates the impact her life had on those around her. Tabitha used her gifts to bless those who encountered her. We are called to bless others with the gifts we have been given, too.
Peter used his gifts and calling by praying and lifting up a sick sister in the faith. Tabitha used her gifts by clothing the people around her. We may not be the resident seamstress or tailor, but God has given each of us gifts that will build up our communities and bless others.
- Do you find it easier to pray for others or to pray for yourself? Why do you think that is?
- Who has been a Tabitha in your life?
- How might God be calling you to meet needs in your community?
- What surprised you in this Bible study session?
- What do you hear the Spirit saying to you/your family/your church/your community?
Regina Brannock started attending Apache Reformed Church when she was in ninth grade. Her home church, Cache Creek Presbyterian Mission, closed the year before. Regina has been a member of the RCA Education Council, served on the Native American Indian Ministries Council, and has attended the Women’s Tri-Annual Conference, General Synod, and General Synod Council meetings. Regina is in the final process of being a commissioned pastor for her church, having already been in the pulpit many times in the past several years. She encourages women to remember that there are those watching you learn: bring up the young people to follow you when you are ready to rest so they will know what to do to lead.
Continue this Bible study as a book
Get your copy of the She Is Called Women of the Bible Study Vol. 2
This Bible study is from the second book in the Women of the Bible Study Series. Get the book to discover how women like Mary and Martha, Abigail, and Junia embraced God’s call for their lives.