36 At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha , which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. 37 But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. 39 Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha , arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. 43 So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner. NKJV
The Church of God was in its infancy, growing daily as the apostles preached and members spread the word in their own communities. It also faced great persecution from threatened Jewish authorities, often at the direction of a man named Saul (Paul).
When the astonishing word of Paul’s conversion spread, those who had fled for their lives reacted first with fear and disbelief, and then pure relief. It was the mid 30s AD, and “… the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
While the Bible doesn’t refer to a specific church at Joppa, it does mention disciples and saints who lived there (Acts 9:38, 41). It is an ancient city with a history. Joppa was part of the territory assigned to Dan; it was the delivery port for wood floated down from Lebanon for Solomon’s palace and temple (II Chron. 2:16); and it was the ancient seaport from which Jonah tried to run from God (Jonah 1:3). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAuST_p03h0&feature=related
Even pirates roamed its waters from time to time. Josephus mentions Joppa’s rough shores contributing to shipwrecks and death (The Wars of the Jews, Book 3, Chapter 9:3)—a likely cause of widowhood for some in Joppa. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pejcOWYE2fU
To the eye of a casual observer, Joppa probably looked and functioned like any other city of its size. But within its hustle and bustle, a disciple named Tabitha* (Dorcas in the Greek) earned a reputation for doing good works and charitable deeds. Was she a philanthropist who supported local widows out of her own resources, or did she belong to a community of widows that was active among the disciples at Joppa? Whichever the case, the Scriptures record that she made tunics and garments as at least part of her charitable deeds.
Then “it came to pass in those days that she was sick and died” (Acts 9:37). The disciples in Joppa knew Peter was in nearby Lydda, some ten miles away. Knowing of the miracles that often accompanied his preaching, they sent two men to the Apostle imploring him to come to Joppa quickly.
Arriving a few hours later, grief-stricken widows greeted Peter, mourning the loss of their beloved friend. Clearing the room where she lay, Peter prayed and said, “Tabitha, arise.” She opened her eyes, her life restored! Word of the miracle quickly spread throughout the environs, and “many believed in the Lord” (verse 42).
Peter remained in Joppa for a time and another miracle occurred—the vision that led to the opening of salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 10). And though the church at large continued to grow, rumblings of discontent and fears of sedition troubled the land. Jewish unrest grew under the tightening control of the Romans, making confrontations inevitable and frequent. Military forces moved down the coast of Palestine, burning and destroying cities as they went. In the fall of 66 AD, an army was ordered to take the walled city of Joppa by surprise, and keep it, if possible.
Meeting with no resistance, Josephus records that “soldiers fell on them, and slew them all, with their families [some 8,400 residents by his account], and then plundered and burned the city” (Wars of the Jews, Book 2.Ch.18,10). And so the place that had witnessed the mighty works of God a few decades earlier was no more.
The Bible is silent as to the fate of Dorcas and the rest of the saints in Joppa. But her story continues to bear witness, to any who might care to read, of the miraculous power of God and, of a woman who ministered, not with words, but with charitable deeds.
*Referred to as Dorcas throughout.