MOTHER: Em. Feminine Noun. (Strong’s 517).
Sounds like: ehm (“my mother” is pronounced, eemmee)
It is true. I am my mother’s daughter. I often recognize my mother in me… a turn of phrase, the words I say to encourage my daughters, the amused look I give them when they do something ridiculous; the way I stir a batch of cookies (which actually rarely happens; unlike my oldest daughter, I did not inherit any of my mother’s gifts related to the kitchen). Most importantly it was my mother who opened up the way to the Creator for me, and for that I will always be forever grateful! Thank you, Mom! In this regard I’m certainly proud to say, “like mother, like daughter”.
This expression, “like mother, like daughter”, was actually of Biblical origin, and Ezekiel recognized that this phrase would be one of his most quoted proverbs:
“Behold, everyone who quotes proverbs will quote this proverb concerning you, saying, ‘Like mother, like daughter [k-eemmah bittah].’”
However, following these words, Ezekiel did not paint a flattering picture of motherhood. Israel was like a mother who abhorred her husband and children, and her daughter was just the same. Israel was like an uncaring mother, and that was intended to be a shocking picture that Ezekiel presented. Primarily mothers in the Bible were examples of God’s strength, resilience and care… far from being hateful and uncaring.
Mothers were life-givers. And children with God-loving mothers were raised up in the fullness of life and taught to put their hope in YHWH from their earliest days:
For You are my hope; O Lord YHWH, You are my confidence from my youth. By You I have been sustained from my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s [eemmee] womb; my praise is continually of You.
A mother can be a great sources of living love and faith, and a child who has been raised by a mother who loves and respects God, has a greater chance to feel confidently sustained by God throughout his or her life. God fearing mothers in the Bible raised God fearing young men and women.
The first Old Testament mothers that come to mind from the Torah were the Jewish Matriarchs. These women were foundational mothers who brought life to the Tribes of Israel.
The first mother was Eve, Khava in Hebrew, and her name literally meant “life”.
Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living [em kal khai].
It is interesting that before there was any indication of procreation, or the appearance of children, the word mother (and father) showed up in the text:
YHWH God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The
man human [ha-adam] said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman [Ishah], because she was taken out of Man [Ish].”
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother [eemmow], and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
Mothers and fathers raised children to let them go. It would be a cycle that repeated throughout the history of humanity. Mothers did not create possessions for themselves… God created individual souls and mothers were the caretakers to nurture God’s children.
The Jewish matriarchs were:
- Sarah, the barren mother of Abraham who was blessed to conceive Isaac in her 90th year. Sarah tried to protect her son Isaac’s inheritance by banning Ishmael and Hagar. (Genesis 21:9-12).
- Rebekah, the barren wife of Isaac who was blessed by YHWH and conceived twin sons, Esau and Jacob. She encouraged deception to promote her favourite son, Jacob, over Esau… and was willing to take the curse upon herself if Jacob was caught deceiving Isaac (Genesis 27:9-13)
- Leah, Jacob’s first wife and mother of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and Dinah. Jacob did not love Leah as much as he loved Rachel, and Leah felt the sting of that rejection. In her sorrow YHWH blessed her with more children, including Judah, the line of the Messiah (Genesis 29:31).
- Rachel, Jacob’s beloved second wife. Rachel was barren until “God gave heed to her and opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22); she became the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.
Single Servant Mothers
Closely connected to these matriarchal mothers were three servant women, Hagar, Zilpah and Bilhah, who also became mothers to the ancient tribes: .
Hagar was Sarah’s servant, and when Abraham and Sarah doubted God’s promise of multiple descendants, they turned to Hagar to provide a womb for Abraham’s seed. Hagar was met by the angel of YHWH and promised a son, prompting Hagar to declare, “You are a God who sees [me]” (Genesis 16:7-14).
Not long after, Ishmael was born, God’s promise to Abraham (to have multiple descendants) was also fulfilled and Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac. Motivated to protect her son’s inheritance at all cost, Sarah, with Abraham’s blessing, forced Hagar and Ishmael to leave camp. With nowhere to go, Hagar took her son and headed into the wilderness, almost dying of thirst in the process. Hagar called out to God and begged that she not have to watch her son die.
When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.
Hagar remembered that this was the God who saw her… and she lifted up her voice to be heard and seen. Ishmael joined his mother in crying and YHWH responded. Hagar was to take her son to water; she was also to lift him up and hold him by the hand so he could becoming the father of a great nation. And a great nation he did become! Ishmael had twelve sons (Genesis 25:12-18) and one daughter (Genesis 28:9), just as Jacob would have only a few generations later. This was what Godly mothers were to do: lift up their children and hold them by the hand, leading them and encouraging them throughout their whole lives.
Zilpah and Bilhah were also servant mothers; Zilpah, the servant of Leah and Bilhah, the servant of Rachel. With Jacob as the father, Zilpah gave birth to Gad and Asher and Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. These four sons were four of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Hagar, Zilpah and Bilhah were, in essence, single mothers. They were given very little recognition, but they were the quiet strengths behind their sons, all three of whom would become the figureheads of great tribes. We don’t get to read the stories, but undoubtedly they encouraged (lifted up) their sons, and guided them (held their hands) to become strong independent men and leaders of their families.
She Named him…
Although naming wasn’t exclusive to women, it did seem quite common in the Bible for mothers to name their children.
Leah named her sons Reuben (Genesis 29:32), Simeon (Genesis 29:33), Levi (Genesis 29:34), and Judah (Genesis 29:35); Rachel named Bilhah’s children, Dan (Genesis 30:6) and Naphtali (Genesis 30:8); Leah named Zilpah’s children, Gad (Genesis 30:11) and Asher (Genesis 30:13); Leah named her fifth and sixth sons Issachar (Genesis 30:18) and Zebulun (Genesis 30:20), and she named her daughter Dinah (Genesis 30:21); Pharaoh’s daughter named the baby she found in the Nile, Moses (Exodus 2:10); and Hannah named her son Samuel (1 Samuel 1:20)… to name a few (no pun intended).
Every name had meaning and Rachel named one of her sons with great optimism and the other son with great sorrow:
Then God remembered Rachel, and God gave heed to her and opened her womb. So she conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” She named him Joseph [meaning to increase or to add]], saying, “May YHWH give me another son.”
YHWH did give her another son, but she died in the process of giving birth. In the last moments of her life she gave a name to her youngest son:
Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labour. When she was in severe labour the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for now you have another son.” It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
Rachel got what she asked for after her first child’s birth: another son, but her death was the result of her wish. Ben-oni meant “son of my sorrow/misfortune/affliction” but Jacob changed the name to Benjamin, meaning “son of the right hand”.
Notice that all twelve tribes, apart from Benjamin, were named by their matriarch. Benjamin was the only one that his father had a hand in naming. There would be no son of sorrow listed in the Tribes of Jacob.
In Yeshua’s day, Zacharias was warned by an angel that his son was to be called John, so when his wife challenged Jewish naming protocol during her son’s circumcision ceremony he supported her wholeheartedly, despite the crowd’s astonishment:
And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.”
And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished.
Honour Your Mother
The matriarchs certainly helped solidify that motherhood was a noble profession in Jewish culture. Even the great judge Deborah chose to describe herself as a mother rather than a judge:
The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel [em b-Is’rael].
YHWH, indeed, made it very clear that mother’s were to be treated with great respect and honour. Most are aware that honouring your mother was part of the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16), and yet on a third occasion YHWH told Moses to announce the importance of honouring one’s mother and father:
Then YHWH spoke to Moses, saying:
“Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I YHWH your God am holy. Every one of you shall reverence his mother [eemmow] and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am YHWH your God.’”
Be holy, revere your mother and father; keep the sabbaths… this was good living according to YHWH. Honouring your parents was key to being a respectful human being. This was so important to YHWH that in Exodus 21:15,17 it was stated that anyone who cursed or striked at either parent should face death. Basically, don’t mess with your mother!
Save My Child!
The Bible represented mothers as fiercely protective of their children. In a time of great sorrow, Ezekiel compared Jewish mothers to lions who lost their cubs to Egypt and Babylon:
“As for you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel and say, ‘What was your mother [eemeka]? A lioness among lions! She lay down among young lions, she reared her cubs. When she brought up one of her cubs, he became a lion, and he learned to tear his prey; he devoured men.
The first of her cubs was captured and sent to Egypt, but despite her great sadness she lovingly reared her second cub, but that child was captured and sent to Babylon:
Then nations set against him on every side from their provinces, and they spread their net over him; he was captured in their pit. They put him in a cage with hooks and brought him to the king of Babylon; they brought him in hunting nets so that his voice would be heard no more on the mountains of Israel.
Bathsheba was like a lioness for her son Solomon. She fought for his right to the throne and she saved his life by doing so. The fight for the crown was dangerous. Competing brothers would have their siblings killed to claim the throne. Bathsheba had to fight for her son’s right to rule and his right to live:
1 Kings 1:11-12
Then Nathan spoke to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon [em Shlomoh], saying, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king, and David our lord does not know it? So now come, please let me give you counsel and save your life and the life of your son Solomon…
So Bathsheba went to her husband David and said…
1 Kings 1:17-21
“My lord, you swore to your maidservant by YHWH your God, saying, ‘Surely your son Solomon shall be king after me and he shall sit on my throne.’ Now, behold, Adonijah is king; and now, my lord the king, you do not know it. He has sacrificed oxen and fatlings and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king and Abiathar the priest and Joab the commander of the army, but he has not invited Solomon your servant. As for you now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it will come about, as soon as my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be considered offenders.”
David listened to Bathsheba and replied:
1 Kings 1:29-31
“As YHWH lives, who has redeemed my life from all distress, surely as I vowed to you by YHWH the God of Israel, saying, ‘Your son Solomon shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place’; I will indeed do so this day.” Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground, and prostrated herself before the king and said, “May my lord King David live forever.”
Mothers, as the caretakers of God’s children, were like lions of protection. When danger, from enemy or illness mothers fought for their children. Sometimes that meant finding the right people to make miracles happen.
The widow in Zarephath whose son had died, reprimanded the prophet Elijah and in response he raised her son from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24). In another instance, there was a kind, barren, woman from the village of Shunem, who looked after Elisha every time he passed through the village. For her kindness Elisha prayed that her fertility be restored. It was, and she gave birth to a son, but at an early age the child became very ill.
2 Kings 4:23
He said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.”
The Shunammite’s faith could only cling to one conclusion: her son would live and Elisha would make that happen.
2 Kings 4:27-28
When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and YHWH has hidden it from me and has not told me.”
Then she said, “Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”
The truth was, she never did ask for a son, Elisha just intercepted on her behalf and asked God to give her a child. When he announced to her that she would have a child, her response was, “No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant” (2 Kings 4:16b)).
Essentially she was saying, don’t lie to me, either I have a son, or I do not. When her son was ill her statement to Elisha was “Do not deceive me” (2 Kings 4:28), in other words, do not tell me that I don’t have a son. In response Elisha took extraordinary actions to restore the child’s life:
2 Kings 4:32-37
When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to YHWH. And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes. He called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Take up your son.” Then she went in and fell at his feet and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son and went out.
The Shunammite mother was not above using guilt to save her son. Elisha promised she would have a son and she made him live up to his promise.
Yeshua, no stranger to these stories of Elijah and Elisha, also responded to the call of a mother in need. While traveling up North in the Canaanite villages of Tyre and Sidon, Yeshua came across a foreign woman who recognized Him as the Lord and Son of David:
Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”
But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.”
But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
Yeshua came for everyone, and every mother, not just the Jewish mothers. His sarcastic response to His disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” ensured a surprise reaction when His verbal spar with the woman came to a close. Yeshua was both amused and happy with her reply. This woman didn’t care about the social stigmas of the day, she was fighting for the life of her daughter, the rest didn’t matter. The faith of a mother is great!
Mothers of Adoption
We’ve looked at matriarchs and queen mothers, country mothers and single mothers, but there are also mothers of adoption in the Old Testament. Adoption is very important to our family. My mother was adopted as an infant. She was born in 1948 and at the age of 67 she met her birth-mother for the first time. Although there are more examples of men adopting children in the Bible, there are two examples of mothers who faced the decision to give up their child for a better life.
There’s a story from the days of Solomon in which a woman made the choice to give up her son, rather than see his death. Two women claimed that the baby was theirs; one mother had lost her son to crib death and stole her neighbour’s son and claimed him as his own. Both mothers swore to King Solomon that the child was theirs. In response Solomon called for a sword and made this startling announcement:
1 Kings 3:25-27
“Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.”
Then the woman whose child was the living one spoke to the king, for she was deeply stirred over her son and said, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him.”
But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him!”
Then the king said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him. She is his mother [hee eemmow].”
The birth mother would rather give up her son to the deceitful woman than see harm done to him. It was better to see her son with a false mother than see him dead. It was a maternal sacrifice worthy of great respect and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we read Solomon’s decision: the baby would go back to his rightful mother.
But there is one story in the Torah where a mother did give up her child to ensure he had a chance at a good life. In the years surrounding Moses’ birth the Pharaoh of Egypt feared the rise of the Jewish people; he demanded that all Hebrew boys born were to be drowned in the Nile.
Moses’ mother could not do such a vile thing and so she hid him for three months…
But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him.
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go ahead.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, “Because I drew him out of the water.”
According to Exodus 6:20 Moses’ birth mother was named Jochebed (meaning YHWH is Glory) and she had to make a heartbreaking decision. Jochebed gave her son up to guarantee a life for him. His death, had he stayed with her, was an almost certainty. Any life was better than no life, and being an adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter would give him great protection and privilege. As a loving mother, Jochebed’s choice was the only one she could make.
Being a good birth-mother or adoptive-mother doesn’t always guarantee obedient children. Samson’s birth was foretold to his mother by an angel of YHWH (Judges 13:2-5), and by all respects it appeared he would be a child of great honour.
Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and YHWH blessed him.
YHWH blessed him, but Samson, as far as sons go, was pretty terrible. He was compulsive, belligerent and impetuous. His desire for a beautiful Philistine woman took precedence over his parents encouragement to find a Hebrew woman of YHWH’s chosen family. But Samson demanded they follow his wishes instead of their own. It led to nothing but disaster. Solomon also tricked his mother and father into eating unclean food that was banned by Jewish custom, and as far as we know they never found out that they eaten honey from a comb built in a lion carcass. Solomon might as well spit on their plate before he handed them their food.
We’ve all been blessed by God in many ways, but as children of God we’re often pretty terrible too. Considering we are all God’s children, the Bible is full of disobedient children:
For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rises up against her mother [v-eemmah], daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household.
When home life falls apart a society falls apart. Solomon, in all his glory and grandeur, disregarded his mother. Although, as we have seen earlier, Bathsheba fought for her son’s right to be king, Solomon did not always show her the respect she deserved. In fear for his kingship he disobeyed his mother’s request:
1 Kings 2:13-21
Now Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon [em Shlomoh]. And she said, “Do you come peacefully?” And he said, “Peacefully.”
Then he said, “I have something to say to you.” And she said, “Speak.”
So he said, “You know that the kingdom was mine and that all Israel expected me to be king; however, the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from YHWH. Now I am making one request of you; do not refuse me.”
And she said to him, “Speak.”
Then he said, “Please speak to Solomon the king, for he will not refuse you, that he may give me Abishag the Shunammite as a wife.”
Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak to the king for you.”
So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king arose to meet her, bowed before her, and sat on his throne; then he had a throne set for the king’s mother [l-em], and she sat on his right. Then she said, “I am making one small request of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Ask, my mother [eemmee], for I will not refuse you.”
So she said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah your brother as a wife.”
Solomon said to his mother, “I will not refuse you,” but out of paranoia he blatantly refused her request and had Adonijah killed. Solomon disobeyed his mother’s wishes… out of fear.
Yeshua was an obedient child. He also faced fear; as soon as he publicly showed his divinity, his mission to die for the people would begin. When His mother requested that He create wine for a wedding, Yeshua made statement to weigh her response:
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
Yeshua questioned her, but HIs mother did not hesitate, and so He obeyed her unexpressed request and made wine out of water. This first miracle would set the ball rolling and Yeshua’s ministry towards sacrifice began.
No mother has ever had a child like Mary’s first child, and the truth is no matter how much effort you put in, or how much you love God, it does not guarantee that your child will be good. But in the same regard, good children aren’t guaranteed to have great mothers either.
Mothers of Destruction
There are some spectacularly horrible mothers in the Bible, just as there are some spectacularly horrible fathers. Many children who were raised by wicked mothers became wicked themselves. The apple rarely falls far from the tree:
2 Chronicles 22:2-3
Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name [w-shem eemmow] was Athaliah, the granddaughter of Omri. He [Ahaziah] also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother [eemmow] was his counsellor to do wickedly.
Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab, king of Judah, and his wife Jezebel. She was an apt student of wickedness, at the hands of her notoriously evil mother Jezebel.
Some children, however, can escape the snares of wicked parents. Sometimes, thankfully, the apple takes a far leap from the tree. King Asa of Judah wished to honour and follow YHWH, but he did so in opposition to his mother’s behaviour. Maacah, his mother, built idols to Asherah, a Canaanite goddess, and so king Asa removed her from court and stripped her title of queen mother:
1 Kings 15:9-13
So in the twentieth year of Jeroboam the king of Israel, Asa began to reign as king of Judah. He reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s [eemmow] name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. Asa did what was right in the sight of YHWH, like David his father. He also put away the male cult prostitutes from the land and removed all the idols which his fathers had made. He also removed Maacah his mother [eemmow] from being queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah; and Asa cut down her horrid image and burned it at the brook Kidron.
In the Bible, as in life, not all mothers were beautiful caretakers of God’s children. Honouring your mother was always second to honouring YHWH.
A mother’s response to a disobedient child is incredibly important. Discipline isn’t meant to be cruel, in fact when done in love its incredibly compassionate. Mother’s are trying to raise decent human beings and that means gentle discipline is imperative to raising gentle humans. A mother’s response to her disobedient child could either make or break the child and the implications could go far beyond one generation.
There was a son named Micah who stole eleven hundred pieces of silver from his mother. Wisely he admitted his mistake, but her response was baffling. She called on YHWH to bless her son and then she dedicated part of the recovered money to YHWH and commissioned a graven & molten image to be made (Judges 17:3). She made the images in honour of God, regardless of the fact that it was completely disrespectful to God. He had made it very clear that graven images were to be banned amongst the Hebrew people (Exodus 20:4).
So when he returned the silver to his mother [l-eemmow], his mother [eemmow] took two hundred pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons, that he might become his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.
The mother had given no reprimand to her son, and she repaid his sinfulness of theft with the sinfulness of idol worship. These graven images eventually went to the tribe of Dan and they were set up for worship in what would become the city of Dan. It was a strange hybrid of worshiping YHWH and graven images at the same time. One mother’s terrible choice and lack of discipline lead an entire tribe down the wrong path.
One of the most notorious mothers in the New Testament was Herodias:
Matthew 14:6-8 (see also Mark 6:21-28)
But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Having been prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
Herodias used the seductiveness of her daughter to execute John the Baptizer. Mothers were to be life-givers, but John died at the hands of a mother’s request. Herodias was a life-taker; she corrupted what the role of mother was meant to be, and as a result she was unworthy of title Mother.
Dedicating your Children
Although there are many examples of bad mothers, the mothers of the Bible that most people remember are the good and kind mothers, like Mary (mother of Jesus), Elizabeth (mother of John the baptiser) and Hannah (mother of Samuel)… All three of these women dedicated their sons to YHWH.
It was actually a commandment for Hebrew mothers to dedicate their first sons to YHWH:
Exodus 22:29-30 (see also Leviticus 22:27)
“You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. It shall be with its mother [eemmow] seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.”
It was Jewish custom, and it remains to be a Jewish custom, to dedicate the newborn on the eighth day of life; on this day the covenant of circumcision was to be performed if the child was a boy.
Hannah had longed for a child for so many years, and when she was finally blessed by YHWH with a son, she dutifully dedicated him to YHWH to serve in the Temple. After Samuel was weaned she handed him over to Eli the priest to raise him. Here’s what she said as she handed him over:
1 Samuel 1:27-28a
“For this boy I prayed, and YHWH has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have also dedicated him to YHWH; as long as he lives he is dedicated to YHWH.”
Hannah did not hesitate. To her, the greatest honour was dedicating your life to God and she humbly and joyfully gave her son back to YHWH, the One who had given Samuel to her in the first place:
1 Samuel 2:18-21 Hannah
Now Samuel was ministering before YHWH, as a boy wearing a linen ephod. And his mother would make him a little robe and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May YHWH give you children from this woman in place of the one she dedicated to YHWH.” And they went to their own home.
YHWH visited Hannah; and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew before YHWH.
Samuel became an incredible leader and prophet in the early days of Hebrew kinship, but without his mother’s faith, wisdom, and obedience, Samuel would never have had the influence that he came to possess. The Psalmist may have had Hannah in mind when he wrote these words:
He [YHWH] raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people. He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children [em ha-banim]. Praise YHWH!
In first century Israel the 8th day protocol for a son included circumcision and a naming ceremony. We saw that Zacharias and Elizabeth gave their son the name John on the eighth day (Luke 1:59-63), and Yeshua was also given his name on the eighth day. Following the ceremony the firstborn son would be presented to the LORD in the Temple:
And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called Holy to YHWH”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Simeon was the attending priest at the time of Yehsua’s dedication. He was a devoted man of God, and he understood immediately who this little child was:
And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. And he [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he [Simeon] took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
“Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your Salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Mary was given a startling announcement about her tiny infant son, someday a sword would pierce her soul. She undoubtedly pondered these words in her heart, but nothing she could have imagined would lead her to fully understand just how she would be pierced, and the heartbreak she would experience. No mother should have to bury their own child, but Yeshua knew his mother would have to do just that.
One day, while Yeshua was walking near the city of Nain about 14 km south of Nazareth, He came across a funeral procession. In seeing a mother mourn for her adult son, her only son, Yeshua was overcome with compassion:
Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Yeshua knew where He was going… He knew that His own mother would watch Him die a horrible death. His compassion for this woman, who outlived her only son, touched Yeshua’s heart. It was personal; He must have felt an overwhelming need to heal her pain. No mother should bury her child, but many have. Yeshua wanted to take that pain away… and for this mother, He did.
But Yeshua could not take that pain away for His own mother. Mary would feel the pain of burying her first son:
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
Yeshua wouldn’t let go until he had arranged a safety net for His mother. After this, He said, “It is finished!” He had done His duty as the Son of God and the Son of Mary.
Mothers and the Genealogy of Faith
Many Biblical mother’s were wise (like king Lemuel’s mother in Proverbs 31), self-sacrificing (like Naomi in Ruth 1:8-9), valiant & resilient (like Ruth in Ruth 3 & 4), great teachers (Proverbs 1:8-9), and unyielding in their protection (like Rebekah in Genesis 27:46 & 28:1).
But mothers weren’t perfect and they could sometimes overdo it, perhaps even to the embarrassment of their children. The wife of Zebedee, and mother of John and James, was only trying to ensure the very best life for her two boys when she asked Yeshua a favour:
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.”
But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”
They said to Him, “We are able.”
He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Although Biblical mothers weren’t perfect, many were great caretakers of God’s children. Perhaps their most important role was as tireless supporters and promoters YHWH and His Kingdom. They were missionaries in their own families, leading generations upon generations of children towards the open arms of YHWH and reuniting children with their Creator.
Timothy certainly wouldn’t have been the man he would become, without the faith and teaching of his mother and grandmother:
2 Timothy 1:5-7
Paul to Timothy: For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
Matthew 12:46-50 (see also Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21, )
While He [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
For all you mothers out there who love YHWH and follow Him, who have a relationship with Him and who strive to do His will… you are an advocating mother on behalf of YHWH and a comforter to His people.
YHWH like a Mother
Mother’s have an incredible role as teachers and encouragers and comforters; it’s no wonder that YHWH compared Himself to a mother:
For thus says YHWH, “Behold, I extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you will be nursed, you will be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees. As one whom his mother [eemmow] comforts, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem.”
We have to remember… mothers are caretakers to nurture God’s children. These children are not our own. It is an incredible responsibility YHWH has bestowed upon us!
Happy Mother’s Day to all the women out there who have mothered anyone in their time of need. May you be the comfort and blessing that every soul seeks, for you are an advocate of God on this planet.
Next week: Thunder & Lightning