It’s almost Mother’s Day, when we honor our mothers and motherhood itself. People celebrate in different ways. We send cards, buy gifts , or go out to eat together. It’s a joyous way to say, “thank you” to the woman who gave you life.
But Mother’s Day is a hard day for many women, too. Many mothers struggle with infertility, and Mother’s day only reminds them of the children they wish they had. Many mothers have lost children or are estranged from them. We should pray for those for whom Mother’s Day is painful as well.
Today, we are going to look through stories of mothers in the Bible. They went through a full range of emotions, from joy to grief. Their stories can help us appreciate what all mothers experience.
You may not recognize the name, Jochebed. We only know her name through the list of the heads of the household in Exodus 6:20 . It’s really easy to skip over the long lists of names. They can seem like extraneous details to us, but they were really important to ancient Israelites as a source of their personal histories.
Jochebed gave birth to Moses during one of the most horrific periods of Biblical history. The Pharaoh of Egypt had decreed that the Hebrew midwives kill any son born to Hebrews. When they refused, Pharaoh ordered his people to throw those sons in to the Nile.
So, terrified to lose her son, Jochebed hid Moses until he couldn’t be hidden any longer. She had a clever plan. She would make a boat out of a basket and send it down the river to the place where Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing. Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses, and she took him as her son.
Miriam, Moses’ sister, had followed Moses down the river, and she saw Pharaoh’s daughter pull the child from the river. Miriam suggested Jochebed as a nurse for the child. Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, and she paid Jochebed to nurse her own child. Jochebed had a desperate plan, and God provided for her.
When you think of mothers in the Bible, you probably don’t think about Rahab. In fact, Rahab’s story in Joshua 2 doesn’t mention children at all. She is, however, an important mother in the history of God’s people. Here’s why:
Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. When Joshua and God’s people entered the promised land, Jericho was the first city they encountered. You probably know God’s plan for Jericho; the people of Israel were to march around the city for seven days. On the last day, they were to shout, and the walls would come down.
Joshua sent two spies into Jericho to scope out the place. When they were discovered, Rahab hid them in her home, and she tricked the officials who came to arrest the spies. Before Rahab helped the spies escape through her window, she asked them to make a promise.
She told them that she knew that God had given the land to the people of Israel, and she knew that Jericho would fall. She asked that the spies promise to keep her and her family safe. Rahab believed the promise that God gave Israel, and she asked for help from his people.
Rahab is an important mother because of her relationship with Jesus . Rahab gave birth to Boaz, who married Ruth. Rahab is the first gentile, and the first prostitute, in the line of Jesus. Her relationship to our savior shows the extent of God’s mercy to all people.
Naomi’s motherhood story shows us strength in the midst of tragedy. Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, left Bethlehem to escape a famine. They took their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to Moab, where they settled. Eventually, Mahlon and Chilion married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth.
Then tragedy struck. Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion died, leaving Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth without husbands or sons. Israelites believed it was a disaster when a man died without sons. This would have been a double disaster since not only Mahlon and Chilion died, but also Elimelech died without heirs.
Naomi decided to go back to Bethlehem, so she told her daughters-in-law to go back to their fathers’ households and find new husbands. Orpah listened, but Ruth stayed with Naomi. When Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem, she was so distraught that she changed her name from Naomi, which means “pleasant,” to Mara, which means “bitter.”
When in Bethlehem, Mara (Naomi) guided Ruth to marry Boaz. When Ruth and Boaz had a child, Obed, he became the heir to Elimelech, restoring Elimelech and Noami’s family by levirate marriage . God had turned Naomi’s bitterness back to happiness through Boaz and Ruth. Obed was another step in the line of Jesus. His son was Jessie, and Jessie’s son was King David.
Hannah lived during the last days of the judges, the generation before Saul became the first king of Israel. Her husband, Elkanah, had another wife, named Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah didn’t.
Anyone who has faced infertility knows how terrible it can be. Penninah made it worse, because she would continually insult Hannah and make fun of her terrible sadness.
When the family went to the Tabernacle to offer sacrifices, Hannah prayed desperately to God that he would give her a son. She promised that she would dedicate that son to serving God. God answered her prayer, and she gave birth to Samuel who became a prophet and the last judge in Israel.
Hannah’s faith encourages all who face infertility to trust in God. He may or may not answer prayer, but he is always the one who comforts his people in distress.
Elizabeth faced a similar situation to Hannah, except hers was worse. Elizabeth had been barren all her life, and now she was old, too old to have children.
Her husband Zechariah, was a priest. Only some priests served in the temple continuously. Others, like Zechariah, would go to the temple to serve at regular intervals, kind of like the Army Reserve. While Zechariah was on duty, he entered the temple and saw a vision.
The angel, Gabriel, told Zechariah that Elizabeth would have a son and that the son would be a great prophet to prepare God’s people for the Messiah, Jesus.
Elizabeth was another mother who struggled with infertility, and God answered her prayers. Elizabeth’s pregnancy is a special miracle because of her advanced age. With her husband, they raised the greatest prophet in history, John the Baptist.
No list of mothers in the Bible is complete without the Virgin Mary. When she was engaged to be married to Joseph, the angel Gabriel came to her while she was alone. He announced that she would have a son and that she would call him Jesus, because he would save the people from their sins.
Of course, Mary was confused. She was a virgin. How could she possibly have a child? The angel explained that the Holy Spirit would make her pregnant, and her son would be the Son of God. Mary responds simply and faithfully to the announcement. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary shows a simple, perfect faith in God’s promises. An unmarried pregnancy could cause her terrible trouble. Her fiance wouldn’t be happy. He would have ended the engagement if an angle hadn’t appeared to him in a dream. The people in Nazareth wouldn’t have been nice to her either. Yet, she simply accepts the promise like a faithful servant of God.
Mary follows Jesus through his whole ministry, and we see her go through joy and pain. I couldn’t imagine how she felt when her son entered Jerusalem with shouting and cries of “Hosanna!” Joy becomes grief when he is tried and executed. But three days later, Jesus lives! What an incredible emotional journey.
The Virgin Mary stood as a witness in the church for years to come. She lived with St. John, the evangelist, and her testimony about her son was a powerful voice to add to the proclamation of the church.
This Mother’s Day, thank your mother for what she has done for you. But also think about, and pray for, all the people for whom Mother’s Day brings only sadness. God comforts those who mourn through the son of a virgin, Jesus Christ. Let us follow his example and give comfort to those who need it.
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