Zilpah is primarily known as the mother of two of Jacob's son who were heads of two of the twelve tribes of Israel. She was given to Leah as a handmaid, presented to Jacob as a concubine, and eventually became mother to Gad and Asher.
Laban mischievously tricked Jacob into marrying Leah when he had originally wanted to marry her sister Rachel. Upon marriage "Laban gave his female servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her servant" (Genesis 29:24). The Bible provides no other details about Zilpah, her background, or Laban's purpose in giving her to Leah. However, we know she had been Laban's servant, became Leah'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), so this was a custom Rebekah's brother Laban had done before.
God blessed Leah with four sons at the beginning of the marriage, but her sister Rachel was unable to conceive. During this time of barrenness, Rachel decided to give her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob in order to bear children on her behalf, much like Jacob's grandmother Sarah's plan to have her servant Hagar bear children to Abraham (Genesis 29—30:8). When Leah saw that her sister's servant was bearing children, she decided her own servant Zilpah would now be engaged in the same task. Thus after Bilhah bore Dan and Naphtali, Leah's servant Zilpah bore Gad and Asher (Genesis 30:9–13). These four boys, though born by servants, were counted among Jacob's twelve sons right alongside the biological children of Leah and Rachel.
While Hagar, Zilpah, and Bilhah had no choice in the circumstances of their becoming mothers, no autonomy, and no status, the Bible still records their names and credits them with the propagation of the nations. When listing Jacob's seventy descendants who went to Goshen in Egypt under Joseph's protection, Zilpah is credited with sixteen people (Genesis 46:18). Over twenty percent of the nation of Israel at the time traced their lineage through this woman Zilpah.
Although she lacked autonomy and held low status in this life, God knew Zilpah's name and made sure it was recorded in Scripture so she would be remembered throughout history. God "regards the lowly" (Psalm 138:6) and dwells "with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly" (Isaiah 57:15). God saw the servant Hagar (Genesis 16:13; 21:19) and He likewise saw and provided for Leah's servant Zilpah. Zilpah's story teaches that no matter a person's status in life, they are known and loved by God and can be used by Him to accomplish His will.
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