Bilhah and Zilpah were servants who were given to Rachel and Leah when they married Jacob. Bilhah belonged to Rachel. Zilpah belonged to Leah.
As we know, Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah or any other woman. But when Rachel found out that she couldn’t have children, she gave Bilhah to her husband as a third wife so that Bilhah could have children for her. Bilhah is mentioned several times in the book of Genesis (29:29; 30:3, 4, 5, 7; 35:22, 25; 37:2; 46:25), and also in 1 Chronicles 4:29; 7:13. Bilhah gave birth to two sons, Dan and Naphtali, who grew to be large tribes in Israel. The Bible also tells us that Reuben, Leah’s oldest son, had an inappropriate relationship with Bilhah which caused him to lose out on his birthright as the first-born.
Zilpah was given by Leah to Jacob as a fourth wife. She also gave birth to two sons, Gad and Asher, who also grew to be large tribes in Israel. She is mentioned several times in Genesis (29:24; 30:9, 10; 35:26; 37:2; 46:18).
These two servant women do not play prominent roles in the Bible, but they do have an important part in bringing God’s nation of people into existence.
1. Through sacrifice, Bilhah and Zilpah were a part of birthing the twelve tribes of Israel. When God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the sea shore, who knew that He would use a scheming mother (Rebekah), brothers at odd (Jacob and Esau), a manipulative trickster (Laban), rival sisters (Leah and Rachel), and two servant women to bring it about?
When Bilhah and Zilpah gave birth to their children, they did not have complete control over them. They did not even have the opportunity to name them. Rachel and Leah claimed them for their own. It must have been hard for Bilhah and Zilpah to share their sons (and a husband) with two other women who were not subservient to anyone, but they willingly sacrificed – and they did so out of love – love for their sons, love for Rachel and Leah, and love for the greater good of the family.
At the time, Bilhah and Zilpah may not have been fully aware of the part they were playing in God’s great story. Likewise, we may not recognize how God is using our sacrifices, problems, and circumstances in His story either, but we each play a unique role. One day, we shall see it all clearly.