Who was Bilhah in the Bible?

Bilhah is most known as the mother of two of Jacob's twelve children from whom came the twelve tribes of Israel. She had been Laban's servant (Genesis 29:29), became Rachel's handmaid, was a concubine to Jacob (Genesis 30:3), and birthed Dan and Naphtali (Genesis 35:25). Jacob's oldest son, Reuben, slept with her (Genesis 35:22).

Upon Rachel's marriage to Jacob, "Laban gave his female servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant" (Genesis 29:29). The Bible provides no other details about Bilhah, her background, or Laban's purpose in giving her to Rachel. However, we know she had been Laban's servant, became Rachel's servant, and was of child-bearing age. When Laban's sister, Jacob's mother, Rebekah, married Isaac, she took her nurse Deborah (Genesis 24:59) and multiple other young women (Genesis 24:61). When Rachel's sister married Jacob the prior week, Laban had given her a servant named Zilpah (Genesis 29:24). So this was a custom Laban had done many times before. Bilhah obviously had no choice in this transaction.

Similarly, when Rachel found herself unable to conceive, she decided to give her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob in order to bear children on her behalf. Again Bilhah would have lacked the autonomy or status to either refuse or consent to this arrangement. This plan to have a female slave bear children on behalf of a barren wife is much like Jacob's grandmother Sarah's plan to have her servant Hagar bear children to Abraham. Bilhah did indeed bear two sons to Jacob, Dan and Naphtali (Genesis 30:3–8). Interestingly, these two sons, though born by a servant, were counted among Jacob's twelve sons right alongside the eventual biological children of Rachel and Jacob's other wife Leah. When the Bible recorded Jacob's seventy descendants who entered Egypt under Joseph's protection, Bilhah is listed as responsible for seven of them (Genesis 46:25). Thus, ten percent of the nation of Israel at that time traced their lineage through this woman Bilhah.

Unfortunately, Jacob's oldest son Reuben (born by Leah), defiled his father's bed by laying with Bilhah after Rachel's death (Genesis 35:19–22). The Bible lays responsibility for this incident squarely upon Reuben who thus lost his rights to preeminence as the oldest son (Genesis 49:4). Perhaps after Rachel's death, Bilhah lacked the protection that having a mistress who was the favorite wife would have provided.

Bilhah was a servant with no autonomy, no status, and no say in the circumstances of her life. And yet, God knew her name and made sure she was credited with the propagation of the nation of Israel. God saw Bilhah and engaged her in accomplishing His will.

The Bible's inclusion of Bilhah's name and her contribution to the formation of the tribes of Israel by mothering Dan and Naphtali teaches that God knows everyone's name no matter their status in this life and that He can use them to accomplish His purposes even when they lack autonomy and face unjust circumstances. When assuring His disciples of their worth to God, Jesus told them, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Luke 12:6–7). Although Laban, Rachel, Jacob, and Reuben undervalued and even disdained Bilhah, God valued her because He knew and loved her. Thus, Bilhah was a loved and valued servant of the Lord.

Related Truth:

Who was Zilpah in the Bible?

Who was Rachel in the Bible?

Who was Leah in the Bible?

What are the twelve tribes of Israel?

Why is knowing about the various characters in the Bible important?

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