God’s Word for You
Acts 9:40-43 Tabitha, get up
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 21, 2020
40 After Peter sent them all out of the room, he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up .” She opened her eyes, and on seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling back the saints and widows, he presented her, alive. 42 This became known all through Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Then Peter stayed in Joppa for many days with Simon, a man who was a tanner.
Before doing anything else, Peter emptied the room. He did not know what God’s plan was for this woman. Here was no sick or crippled man to be healed in the streets, but a dead woman. Would God want her to return to life? He prayed, kneeling, in an act of complete submission and reverence to God. Certainly his unrecorded words included the same thought of Jesus’ prayer, “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10, 26:42).
Luke says that Peter turned toward the body of the woman. This tells us that he was not facing her when he prayed. Was he facing a window? Perhaps toward Jerusalem, as Daniel had done (Daniel 6:10)? It’s of no real importance. We are not required to face any particular direction when we pray. In America, many churches are oriented so that when the congregation faces the altar, they are also facing east if east of the Mississippi or west if west of the Mississippi, but the vast majority are simply aligned so that the street entrance is the “back” of the church, and therefore most congregations are facing north or south and not east or west. Because of a bend in a river and the alignment of city streets, the altar where I serve faces southwest, which has no spiritual significance whatsoever.
Peter said, “Tabitha, get up.” In Aramaic, this would have been, “Tabitha, koum!” This is so close to what Jesus said to the daughter of Jairus that in Mark 5:41 some Greek manuscripts actually have “Tabitha koum” instead of “Talitha koum” (“Little girl, get up”).
The woman came to life right away. Her eyes opened, and she saw Peter. It is not for us to speculate beyond what the text says. The dead woman came back to life. Peter helped her up, giving her his hand, and then he brought her out, down the stairs, to present her to everyone who was there: saints and widows. The joy of the reunion was obvious, but Luke does not give details about that. Instead, he lets us know that this resurrection became well known all through the city. Everyone in Joppa heard about it, and once again the number of believers grew.
Readers will have questions about Tabitha after her experience that we can only answer by applying other passages. Did her spirit remember what heaven had been like? Did she miss it? Was her soul unshakable after this? Did she commit sins after she was raised from the dead? How long did she live? Was her later death a difficult one? Did she live a long time, or only a short while?
She probably did remember what heaven had been like, but like many, she probably refrained from saying much about it, seeing or hearing “inexpressible things that (she) is not permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Certainly, she missed it, but being a mature believer, she was content to be where she was until she could return to paradise. “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me” (Philippians 1:22). Was her soul unshakable? Could she have fallen from God’s grace, having experienced heaven already? I would prefer to say that she could not have, but the devil’s fate teaches us otherwise. Yet Tabitha’s faith was humble, a faith that showed itself in quiet service to the Lord. She was not after her own glory, but God’s glory. So the better response here is that I am confident that she did not fall from grace after this, but remained a faithful child of God and a believer in Christ her Lord. Did she commit sins? She was a human being, and so she committed sins, but her sins were covered by the blood of Christ. Her repentance may have been more acute because of her knowledge of the glory of heaven and a more sharpened sense of how severely sin separates man from God. As to the length of her subsequent life, Moses says: “the length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength” (Psalm 90:10). At various times, this has been longer, or far shorter. In our time, people of certain primitive cultures have very short lifespans, not reaching forty. In some ancient but non-industrial cultures, many live far into their hundreds. In our industrial society, “seventy or eighty” is still the rule. Whatever Tabitha’s lifespan, it was a gift from God. The same is true for us all. Use the time you have to give glory to God. He will gather you home when the time is right.
The chapter ends with the comment that Peter stayed there in Joppa for a long time, “many days,” with Simon the tanner. A tanner was a man who worked with animal hides, and his home would have been considered an unclean household to Jews. Peter’s residence there was significant for this reason. Although Peter made mistakes about when to keep the ceremonial law from time to time (Galatians 2:14), he generally got it right. Here, he was showing himself to be prepared for a reminder that the entire ceremonial law was fulfilled in Jesus and at an end, forever. God was preparing him to see that even the most personal part of the ceremonial law was fulfilled, and that what was deepest-set in the habits of God’s people had changed. There were no longer even any restrictions on that most personal of things: food.
Pastor Timothy Smith