Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:36-43

Dorcas Restored to Life

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas.[a] She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 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.” 39 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[b] and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 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. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

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Last week’s post, about Peter’s healing of the paralytic Aeneas, explained why St Luke — who wrote Acts — shifted focus for a few chapters from Saul (St Paul) to Peter. Briefly, Saul had fled Jerusalem for his home city of Tarsus for a time.

Peter had a dramatic ministry:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 9:32-35 — Peter, healing miracle, Aeneas

The following post also gives insight into Peter’s character and personality:

John MacArthur on Peter

Peter was ministering in Lydda, which was where he healed Aeneas. Last week’s post had more on Lydda, past and present.

Lydda was close to Joppa, where Dorcas lived. The city’s modern name is Jaffa. BiblePlaces.com has a good page on the history of the port accompanied by photographs. It is near Tel Aviv and is not to be confused with Haifa, which is a modern port created by the Israelis.

The name Dorcas is Greek. Dorcas’s name in Aramaic was Tabitha. Both translate as ‘gazelle’ or, as Matthew Henry notes, ‘doe’, signifying a pleasing creature. She was a baptised convert and her life’s work was devoted to others (verse 36). Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

1. She lived at Joppa, a sea-port town in the tribe of Dan, where Jonah took shipping to go to Tarshish, now called Japho. 2. Her name was Tabitha, a Hebrew name, the Greek for which is Dorcas, both signifying a doe, or hind, or deer, a pleasant creature. Naphtali is compared to a hind let loose, giving goodly words; and the wife to the kind and tender husband is as the loving hind, and as the pleasant roe, Proverbs 5:19. 3. She was a disciple, one that had embraced the faith of Christ and was baptized; and not only so, but was eminent above many for works of charity. She showed her faith by her works, her good works, which she was full of, that is, in which she abounded. Her head was full of cares and contrivances which way she should do good. She devised liberal things, Isaiah 32:8. Her hands were full of good employment; she made a business of doing good, was never idle, having learned to maintain good works (Titus 3:8), to keep up a constant course and method of them. She was full of good works, as a tree that is full of fruit. Many are full of good words, who are empty and barren in good works; but Tabitha was a great doer, no great talker: Non magna loquimur, sed vivimus–We do not talk great things, but we live them. Among other good works, she was remarkable for her alms–deeds, which she did, not only her works of piety, which are good works and the fruits of faith, but works of charity and beneficence, flowing from love to her neighbour and a holy contempt of this world.

Dorcas was a seamstress who made clothes for the poor. She fell ill and died. The widows who attended to her prepared her body but, instead of burying her, laid her in an upper room (verse 37). John MacArthur explains:

Now, the custom of the Jews at death was immediately to bury the body, since they did not do any embalming. They would merely do what they called the washing, the Mishnah prescribed a certain washing, and then the burial immediately. But in this case, they didn’t bury her, which was very unusual, because dead bodies were a very unsacred thing in Israel to a Jew, and they didn’t let dead bodies hang around.

Henry adds information about the water and says the room where Dorcas was laid out could well have been the meeting place for the disciples of Joppa:

they washed the dead body, according to the custom, which, it is said, was with warm water, which, if there were any life remaining in the body, would recover it; so that this was done to show that she was really and truly dead. They tried all the usual methods to bring her to life, and could not. Conclamatum est–the last cry was uttered. They laid her out in her grave-clothes in an upper chamber, which Dr. Lightfoot thinks was probably the public meeting-room for the believers of that town; and they laid the body there, that Peter, if he would come, might raise her to life the more solemnly in that place.

MacArthur goes on to say:

They know Peter’s nearby, and they also know Peter has the power to raise the dead if the design of God is that; and so rather than burying her with great faith, they take her body and they stick it upstairs in the upper chamber.

The disciples in Joppa sent two men to Lydda to get Peter to make the ten-mile walk to see Dorcas (verse 38). They did not tell Peter why they came, but simply said he needed to go with them right away.

Peter needed no persuading and went with the men to Joppa. When they reached the house of Dorcas, the grieving widows showed him some of her handiwork, among them undergarment tunics (verse 39).

Henry wrote that the widows were likely to have been poor and recipients of her charity. MacArthur thinks that the widows helped her and that she led their ministry, the original Dorcas Circle.

There must have been quite a hubbub, as Dorcas was a pillar of her community. Peter, as Jesus did when He raised Jairus’s daughter, got everyone outside (verse 40). No doubt, the widows wanted to see what he would do, but Peter — as did Jesus — needed to be alone.

Peter knelt and prayed. Henry points out that this was a greater task than healing Aeneas. It involved restoring life:

in this greater work he addressed himself to God by solemn prayer, as Christ when he raised Lazarus; but Christ’s prayer was with the authority of a Son, who quickens whom he will; Peter’s with the submission of a servant, who is under direction, and therefore he knelt down and prayed.

Peter turned to the woman, and, as is so often with the miracles documented in the New Testament, asked her to do something, in this case, arise.

She opened her eyes and, upon seeing Peter, sat up. He extended his hand to Dorcas, which Henry says was not done solely to help her but also to welcome her back to life. He then summoned the ‘saints’ — quite possibly, including male disciples — and the widows to see Dorcas restored to life (verse 41).

News travelled quickly around Joppa and many more souls believed in the Lord (verse 42). Henry was certain that word of the miracle extended beyond that port city:

it being a town of seafaring men, the notice of it would be the sooner carried thence to other countries, and though some never minded it many were wrought upon by it. This was the design of miracles, to confirm a divine revelation.

Peter stayed in Joppa for some time, at the home of a tanner named Simon (verse 43). Luke’s inclusion of Simon’s occupation is an important detail. Tanning leather was one of the lowliest occupations. Even today, tanning, whilst necessary, is looked down upon. It is a smelly business.

MacArthur explains:

One of the most despicable trades in the mind of a Jew was that of a tanner, because a tanner, you see, dealt with the dead…the skin of dead animals, making leather. No self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with a tanner. He was despised; and, in fact, the Mishnah said if a woman had a husband who took on the trade of a tanner, she had the right to divorce him, because he went into something so defiled. A tanner was not respected. Not only that, it was ceremonially unclean.

However, Peter chose to stay with a tanner, revealing that, even though he knew all the social opprobrium about the occupation. Peter lodged with someone who was among the lowest of the low.

MacArthur adds that Peter’s stay was not a short one, either:

He stuck around a couple years, and the whole time he lived in Simon’s house, and he never turned him into a carpenter. He let him be what he was. He didn’t make him change. 

I would not be surprised if Simon’s social status increased as a result. Peter might have taught the people of Joppa a valuable lesson in inclusion and humility.

Next time: Acts 10:1-8

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