When my colleague raised the brilliant idea of looking to mums in the Bible as we celebrate Mother’s Day, I didn’t think it was going to go this way.
But reviewing the list of women I could feature, it quickly became obvious that many mothers in the Bible had it bad.
I’m glad the Bible records these stories. It can otherwise be easy to think that our situations are unique or our circumstances cannot ever be redeemed.
These women show us that grace covers a whole lot, even if it doesn’t always take away the pain that seems so inextricably woven into some of our pasts.
In this sampling of mothers from biblical times, we delve into the life stories of four women who each have something to teach us.
They said she had “weak eyes” – whatever that means – but her sister Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful (Genesis 29:17) . We’re told in quite some detail how much Jacob desired Rachel, but guess who also ends up being married to Jacob? It’s Leah.
What’s the woman to do in such a humiliating, loveless marriage? Leah thought that having a son might change things. The last five verses in chapter 29 is an emotional insight into Leah’s world as the lesser-loved wife.
She named her first three sons Reuben, Simeon and Levi. The Hebrew meaning of their names alludes to a mother’s longing to be seen and desired by her husband.
Leah knew that God had seen her misery (Genesis 29:32) and gave her Reuben. She thought that bearing Jacob’s firstborn would earn her his love. But even when Jacob did not, God loved her. And blessed her with children.
God saw more than her misery; God saw Leah when she thought nobody did.
Though she was also King Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba is perhaps more well-known as the woman King David lusted after. His affections cost Bathsheba greatly and terribly. David slept with Bathsheba, and later ordered the murder of her husband, so that he could marry her to cover up the scandal.
Even though David displayed true repentance for his wrongdoing (2 Samuel 12:13, Psalm 51), there were still consequences. The son born to the couple would die.
In spite of her tragic ordeals, Bathsheba persevered as a survivor and raised their second son Solomon, whom the Lord loved. Bathsheba also became one of the four women who were honoured in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:6).
Barren until she was “well along in years”, Elizabeth was the wife of a priest named Zechariah. Both she and her husband were descendants of Aaron – Israel’s first high priest – and were noted by the author Luke to be “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Luke 1:6).
However, infertility was a real stigma back in those days and associated as a sign of disfavour (Deuteronomy 7:12-14). Elizabeth felt the shame, but held on to her faith all those long years before an angel would tell Zechariah that they would have a son named John.
Like Old Testament legend Sarah – who also had her son in old age – Zechariah had his doubts. But we don’t read about Elizabeth’s doubt anywhere. Perhaps Elizabeth had recalled Abraham and Sarah’s experience (Genesis 21:2), and developed faith that God could do it for her too.
The most famous mum in the Bible, Jesus’s earthly mother didn’t have it easy.
Just imagine what it took for a virgin girl to tell her fiancé that you’re going to deliver the baby in your belly because He is the awaited Saviour of your people (Luke 1:26-38). The social pressure!
Years later, Mary also had to grapple with the death of her firstborn. Her heart must have been so terribly broken at Calvary (John 19:25). Even if she had clues about her future (Luke 2:34-35), she still had to walk her eldest of five sons from the cradle to the cross.
Such was her devotion to God, that it prompted willing and humble obedience.
There isn’t a human story without sadness or mess – even in blessed Mary’s – because we live in a fallen world that’s marred by sin. But with God, He can weave threads of salvation into our stories.
This Mother’s Day, we honour all with a mother’s heart and we’re praying for you:
Mothers-to-be. New mothers. Single mothers. Widowed mothers.
Those yearning to be a mother. Those who didn’t become a mother by choice.
Mothers who are winning. Mothers who are struggling. Mothers who’ve lost a child.
We pray that you’ll remember that God is still writing your story.