BIBLE SOURCE: Acts 9: 36-42
Dorcas’ name meaning in Aramaic was Tabitha, but in Greek it was Dorcas, which means "antelope" or "gazelle" – a very graceful animal. The Bible is silent concerning the genealogy of Dorcas. She is the only named woman in Scripture who is specifically called a “disciple”. The story of Dorcas, which forms the subject of this study, has been an inspiration to thousands. It is packed full of valuable lessons, all of which are important and some of which need particular emphasis in these days. Dorcas lived in Joppa, a town situated on the shore of the Mediterranean, which at that time was the chief seaport of Palestine – compare Jonah 1:3 and Acts 10:5-8. She was associated with a little band of Christians, most of whom were poor. There was a Christian church at Joppa, and it is possible that the believers met for worship in Dorcas' home, which in those early days was the custom – look up Acts 12:12 and Romans 16:5.
SUMMARY OF THE STORY
DORCAS/TABITHA DIES AND SHE IS MOURNED – Acts 9:36-37
Dorcas seems to have been a well-off widow living in the coastal city of Joppa. The original Greek text describes this widow-woman as 'mathetria', a female disciple - the only time the New Testament uses this word. So immediately we know she is a woman of good repute. She is always portrayed as a holy woman, and also sounds like one of those accommodating, good-natured women who are so generous-hearted that they are loved by all. This is reinforced by the next thing we learn about her: she spends her time doing good works and 'acts of charity'. She is therefore an admired member of the community, esteemed by all. She becomes ill and dies. Her illness is unspecified, but we may assume she was nursed by her friends and family; there was nothing corresponding to a hospital or medical center at that time. Sick people were cared for, and treated, within their own home, by their friends and family. When she dies, her body is washed and cared and then laid out in an upper room. The 'upper room' has special significance in the Christian story. An upper room was the scene of the Last Supper in Jerusalem, and it is mentioned twice, pointedly, in the story of Tabitha. It is a space that is relatively quiet place where contact with God might take place. PETER IS SUMMONED, AND RESPONDS - Acts 9:38-39
Ritual mourning follows her death. She has many friends, and they all wish to show their respect and affection by openly grieving. Mourning was not a restrained activity in the ancient Middle East. People showed their grief by wailing, crying, and tearing the upper part of their woven garment. The more noise, the more the dead person was loved. But then someone has an idea. The people in Dorcas' house, described also as 'disciples', hear that Peter is in nearby Lydda. They send two men to get him and bring him to Dorcas' house. Peter responds immediately, and his journey is significant. It is a twelve-mile walk to Joppa, and by travelling there Peter is moving to the limits of Jewish territory - further away from Jerusalem, which at that time was hostile to the infant Christian church. Peter is taken to Tabitha's body, laid out in the upper room of her house. Her friends are gathered around her body. They show Peter the garments she has made for the poor. The evidence for a well-lived life is there for all to see. PETER RAISES DORCAS FROM THE DEAD - Acts 9:40-42
Peter is moved by their grief, but he puts them outside so that the room becomes peaceful and quiet again. There is only him and the body of Dorcas. He kneels and prays, facing away from the body - perhaps to focus his entire mind on God. Then he turns to Dorcas' body. Using her Jewish name, Tabitha, and drawing on the same source of power that Jesus had, he commands her to get up. The dead body responds. She opens her eyes, sees Peter, and sits up. He extends his hand to her and raises her up into a standing...