Though often unnamed, there are many mothers in the Bible. Not all of them are good examples of loving motherhood, but they all have something to teach. In honor of Mother's Day weekend, I want to look at 6 Admirable Mothers!
Jochebed, the wise mother
We read her story in Exodus 2:1-10, but we don't get her name until Exodus 6:20. Jochebed has two children before Moses is born, Aaron and Miriam. Moses is born during a terrible time when Pharaoh was trying to implement Hebrew population-control by throwing newborn boys into the Nile.
Jochebed shows great bravery by keeping her son hidden for as long as she can. Even when she can hide him no longer, she uses wisdom to keep him safe. She covers a wicker basket with tar and pitch to make it water-resistant and sets him among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. Is it by chance that this is where the princess comes down to bathe? I highly doubt it. The princess opens the basket, and when she sees the baby, she takes pity on him. Because of Jochebed's wise plan, Moses grows up to become a great leader among his people.
Law-abiding Israelites probably looked at Moses' parents with a bit of embarrassment. Jochebed and Amram were nephew and aunt when they were married. While it isn't until later that this type of union is forbidden, some would still blush to see Moses' family tree. The way this story is written, with Jochebed unnamed at first, serves to highlight her bravery and wisdom more than her unusual marriage.
Naomi, a kind mother-in-law
We can read about Naomi in the book of Ruth, which is only 4 chapters long. Naomi suffers a great deal in her life. Her husband takes her far from home during a drought. Then while living in a foreign land, both her sons and her husband die. She is left bereft and with two daughters-in-law.
Naomi decides to go back home, and Ruth insists on going with her with the famous words, “Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God.” Ruth had the option to go back to her family and her gods, but something about Naomi made Ruth loyal to her—and the God of Israel. I think it is safe to say that Naomi's words and example had convinced Ruth that the God of Israel was worth leaving her family and home for.
Naomi returns home much poorer than when she left. Ruth must go and glean in the fields just so they can eat. Naomi could have let her sorrow take over, but instead, she looks for a way to repay Ruth for her kindness and to ensure both women will survive. With Naomi's guidance, Ruth marries Boaz in what is often considered the most romantic courtship of the Bible. Ruth gives her firstborn child to Naomi to raise, giving Naomi hope for the future. That baby grew up to be the grandfather of King David.
Hannah, the praying mother
The first book of Samuel opens up with the story of Hannah in chapters 1-2. She is one of Elkanah's two wives and she is barren. Though she is loved by her husband, she longs for a son. While we see other barren wives in the Bible, Hannah handles her situation with faith and a gentle spirit. She goes by herself to pray to the Lord for a child. She promises that if the Lord gives her son, she will dedicate him to the Lord all of his life.
When God answers her prayer and gives her Samuel, Hannah brings him to the tabernacle as soon as he is weaned. Though I am sure it was extremely difficult, she gives the little boy to Eli to raise in service to the tabernacle. She keeps her promise. We see her faith displayed again in a speech of praise and prophecy. She comes back yearly to visit her son and sees that he is growing in favor with God and men. I'm sure she struggled with missing her son, but she doesn't try to take him back. God blesses her by giving her more children, three sons and two daughters. Hannah's son grows up to be a mighty prophet of the Lord.
Elizabeth, the believing mother
Elizabeth's story is told in Luke 1 and opens with her barren and advanced in years. She is described as righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. What a commendation! I'll bet it was hard for her to follow the Lord's commandments and yet have others wonder why she wasn't blessed with a child.
Her husband Zacharias receives an angelic visit and the news that he and Elizabeth would have a son. The angel tells him that their son will be filled with the Holy Spirit and will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord. Zacharias does not believe, and he asks for a sign. The angel responds with a sign all right. He takes away Zacharias' speech until the baby is born.
Elizabeth does not seem to share her husband's doubt. She is also the first person mentioned in the Gospel of Luke to speak in the Holy Spirit. She sees Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and cries out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! ... And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” When Elizabeth's baby is born, she insists that he be called John, just like Zacharias was instructed. Her son grows up to be John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Jesus' arrival.
Mary, the favored mother
Probably the most famous mother to Christians is Mary. In Luke 1 we see her angelic visit from Gabriel, who says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” We know the story. The angel tells her she will conceive and bear a son. She asks how this can be possible when she is a virgin. The angel tells her that she will conceive a son by the Holy Spirit, a holy Child who will be called the Son of God. Mary accepts the angel's proclamation at once, saying, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”
Mary received both good prophecy and bad about her new baby. Shortly after Jesus' birth, they take him to the temple to offer a sacrifice as was commanded. In Luke 2:22-35 we see Simeon's prophecy over Jesus. He takes Jesus into his arms and blesses God saying, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” But he also says to Mary that the child is a sign to be opposed, “and a sword will pierce even your own soul.”
Mary was blessed to bear the Messiah, to raise him as her son. But she also had to witness people mock and ridicule her son, misunderstand him, deny him, and eventually crucify him. What a burden for a motherly heart to bear. Thankfully, the story does not end there. Jesus rises on the third day, resurrected and given honor by God.
The Canaanite woman, a mother of great faith
When Jesus was traveling through the region of Tyre and Sidon, he is approached by one we know only as a Canaanite woman. In her story, found in Matthew 15:21-28, she is following after Jesus and his disciples, begging that he would heal her daughter.
The Canaanites had their own gods and did not acknowledge the laws of Israel. The relationship between her people and Galileans had been tense for generations. The government took large amounts of grain from Galilee for the huge population in Tyre and Sidon, essentially stealing “the children's bread”. (1) Though she knows how Jews feel about her people, she follows after Jesus anyway. Not only this, she knows who he is better than many of Jesus' people. She calls him the Son of David, a messianic title steeped in prophecy.
Jesus keeps on walking, but she doesn't give up. The disciples finally ask Jesus to do something about her, because she was driving them crazy. The woman falls at Jesus' feet and gives a heart-rending plea, “Lord, help me!” After they speak Jesus agrees to her request, saying “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” She knew her past, but she also knew her great need for a savior, and her faith saved her child.
A wise mother from Proverbs
Do these mothers from the Bible inspire and encourage you? They each had their struggles, but all of them relied on God to see them through. The proverb could surely be applied to all of them,
“Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness,
Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her saying:
'Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.'
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”
Proverbs 31:25-30 NASB
How has God sustained you as a mother through your struggles? Please encourage us in the comments!
(1) Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels edited by Barry J. Beitzel page 251