Motherhood in the Bible
by John A. Tvedtnes

There are nearly 400 references to mothers in the Bible. One of the earliest human titles in the Bible is that of “mother.” It appears in Genesis 3:20 in reference to Eve, who is called “the mother of all living.”

When Eve was brought to Adam, he recognized her as “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:22-23). God himself termed her “an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18), where the English word “meet” means “suitable.” The Hebrew is better translated “as his complement,” or “as his equivalent.” The passage demonstrates the equality of women and men in the eyes of God.

The equal status of mother and father is reflected in the fifth of the Ten Commandments, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). To this, the Lord added that “he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:17). Jesus later reiterated, “For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death” (Matthew 15:4; see also Matthew 19:19).Some Bible passages pronounce severe curses on any who would dishonor father or mother (Proverbs 20:20; 30:17), while others stress the sorrow that comes to a mother when she has a sinful child (Proverbs 10:1; 29:15). Proverbs 15:20 says that “a foolish man despiseth his mother.”

The author of the Proverbs counseled his son to “hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother” (Proverbs 1:8; repeated in 6:20). “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22). One chapter of that biblical book comprises “the words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him” (Proverbs 31:1). Lemuel, identified by some as Solomon, may have written the words, but they are those of a mother addressed to her son, as the wording in the rest of the chapter makes clear.

Some of the mothers mentioned in the Bible have gained renown that has lasted through the millennia. We think of Sarah, wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac, who raised a son so faithful that he acquiesced to God’s command that his father offer him in sacrifice, and then praised the Lord when the order was rescinded (Genesis 22). Isaac married Rebecca, who became the mother of twins, Jacob and Esau. It was she who ensured that the more righteous son, Jacob, receive the patriarchal blessing from his father, as the Lord intended (Genesis 27). Jacob married the sisters Leah and Rachel and their two handmaids, who became the progenitors of the tribes of Israel. Though we do not know the names of the mothers of most of the men in later Bible times, it is interesting that the Bible makes a point of giving the names of the mothers, as well as the fathers, of the kings in the line of David.

The most famous mother was, of course, Mary of Nazareth, whose name almost never appears in the New Testament without reference to her being the mother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:18; 2:11; 13:55; Luke 2:34; John 19:25; Acts 1:14). When she and Joseph found the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, he made a point of saying that he had been “about my Father’s business,” but nevertheless returned to Nazareth with them “and was subject unto them” (Luke 2:48-51). From this, we learn that, despite his divine nature and calling, Jesus was obedient to his mother and stepfather. Even as adult, we find him acceding to Mary’s request to provide wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:3-8). When other women are mentioned in the story of Christ, they are typically identified as mothers. Thus, we have the widowed mother of Nain, whose only son Jesus raised from the dead (Luke 7:11-15), the mother of Peter, whom Jesus healed (Matthew 8:14), and the mothers who stood nearby as the Savior hung on the cross (Matthew 27:55-56). It was, in fact, during this time of suffering that the crucified Christ, as one of his final acts in mortality, made provision for the care of his own mother, placing her in the keeping of one of his trusted disciples (John 19:25-27).

In the Old Testament, the prophets Isaiah and Hosea liken Israel to a mother for the people, the bride of the Lord himself. In one passage, the Lord compares himself to a mother, saying, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:13). Surely this demonstrates the high esteem in which the Lord holds mothers and suggests that we do the same.

2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.