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5 Mothers in the Bible and What We Can Learn From Them

Photo of Daniel McCoyDaniel McCoy | Bio

Daniel McCoy

Daniel is happily married to Susanna, and they have 3 daughters and 2 sons. He is the editorial director for Renew.org as well as an online adjunct instructor for Ozark Christian College. He has a bachelor’s in theology (Ozark Christian College), master of arts in apologetics (Veritas International University), and PhD in theology (North-West University, South Africa). His books include the Popular Handbook of World Religions (general editor), Real Life Theology: Fuel for Effective and Faithful Disciple Making (co-general editor), Mirage: 5 Things People Want From God That Don't Exist, and The Atheist's Fatal Flaw (co-authored with Norman Geisler).

Mothers in the Bible range from saintly to seriously scary. In this article, we’ll narrate the stories of 5 mothers in the Bible and explore what we can learn from their lives.

My guess is you’ll will find this article relevant to you if . . .

A. You are a mother

B. You will someday be a mother

C. You have/had a mother

D. You need to write a sermon for Mother’s Day

As for D, can we just admit that there’s usually a huge difference between Mother’s Day sermons and Father’s Day sermons? When Father’s Day comes around, we let the guys have it. “C’mon, men! You call yourself a man? Well, then step up! Man up! You’re not doing half the things that godly fathers are called to do. And the things you are doing? Well, you’re doing them the wrong way! And uh . . . Happy Father’s Day.”

On Mother’s Day, we typically talk about how amazing mothers are and give them flowers.

Hmm.

Now, let me hasten to add that my life is incredibly enriched by the presence of faithful mothers—my mother, my wife’s mother, and of course, my wife who is an amazing mother to our five kids.

But the truth is, not everyone has a mom whom they are grateful to have around. It is possible for moms to make some pretty big mistakes too. Not every problem is always the dad’s fault. Moms can do a great job, and moms can do a lousy job. If the mother is human, then she will need grace, just like everybody else.


“If the mother is human, then she will need grace.”


With that said, we’re going to look at five mothers in the Bible. If you happen to be a mother, then you might ask yourself, “Which one am I?”

Mothers in the Bible Example #1

“I want success.”

There was a line of Hebrew kings going all the way back to King David. They were the kings of the southern kingdom called “Judah.” In this line of kings was a queen mother whose son (King Ahaziah) was assassinated by a northern king. You can read her story in 2 Kings 11.

Rather than taking this opportunity to mourn the passing of her son, Athaliah saw this as an opportunity to become queen, not just queen mother.

To make this happen, Athaliah killed the rest of the royal family (her kids and grandkids). One baby grandson was rescued from the slaughter, and years later, he went on to overthrow Grandma.

If Mrs. Athaliah had a life slogan, it would have been this: “I want success.” She wanted success at all costs. It didn’t matter whom she had to plow over to get it. Didn’t even matter if she had to plow over her own kids and grandkids. She wanted success.


“She wanted success at all costs. It didn’t matter whom she had to plow over to get it.”


That was some 3,000 years ago. It’s a good thing there aren’t mothers like that anymore. Right??

The truth is, there are mothers today who want success so badly that they’ll plow over their own kids to get it. It’s very possible to choose personal success over what’s best for one’s own kids. It’s actually a very common temptation.

But it shouldn’t be an option for Christian parents.

Mothers in the Bible Example #2

“I want success through my child.”

Here’s a mother who’s only slightly less unlikable than the previous mother. Whereas Mrs. Athaliah wanted success, Mrs. Herodias wanted success through her child.

Herodias was married to one of the infamous Herod boys. However, one of her husband’s brothers (another Herod) came to visit. She fell in love with the brother, and they got married. Herodias brought into the new marriage her daughter Salome.

A prophet named John (John the Baptist) called Herod and Herodias out for their sin. “You don’t marry your brother’s wife.” Herodias never forgot John’s rebuke. Her murderous hatred of the holy man grew and grew until the day when she was finally able to get her revenge.


“Her murderous hatred of the holy man grew and grew until the day when she was finally able to get her revenge.”


She had John thrown in prison. But that made her feel only slightly better. So she decided to have him killed. Here’s how: One evening, when Herod was throwing a drunken party, Herodias sent her daughter Salome in to dance for Herod. Herod was overwhelmingly pleased with the dance and told Salome that he would give her whatever she asked for.

Salome asked her mother what she should ask for. “The head of John the Baptist on a platter,” her mother said. Wish granted.

“I want success through my child.” Not at all uncommon, but it’s definitely not the kind of mother you want your kids to remember.

Mothers in the Bible Example #3

“I want success for my child.”

Do you remember the Old Testament couple Isaac and Rebecca? They seemed happy enough in their marriage. But there was a major flaw in their parenting which caused a ton of heartache in the family. It was called “favoritism.”

They had two boys, and each parent loved one of the boys more. Isaac loved their firstborn Esau more, for he was outdoorsy and manly. Rebecca loved their younger son Jacob more, for he was quick-witted, charming, and liked to help in the kitchen.

When it came time for Isaac to die, Rebecca really wanted Jacob to get Isaac’s fatherly blessing, even though that was meant for the firstborn. So Rebecca thought up a plan to have Jacob dress up like Esau and pretend to be him so that the weak-sighted Isaac would bless Jacob when Esau wasn’t around.

Guess what? It worked!

And because it worked, the family imploded. Esau swore to kill Jacob, and Jacob had to run away, never to see his parents again.


“Because it worked, the family imploded.”


Wanting success for your child isn’t going to help that child nearly as much as wanting character for your child. His “success” came within an inch of ruining him.

Mothers in the Bible Example #4

“I want success for my children.”

A far more likable mother is the mother of two of Jesus’ apostles, James and John. She came to Jesus to ask that these two children of hers could be given special positions of prominence in Jesus’ kingdom.

She wasn’t thinking of herself; she was thinking of her two boys. And it wasn’t favoritism; she wanted equal success for both her sons.


“It wasn’t favoritism; she wanted equal success for both her sons.”


Yet even still, Jesus was not impressed with her mothering. What she hoped for was a favorable answer. What she and all the disciples got was a lesson in Christian leadership.

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

More than anything else, most moms typically want for their children things like greatness and success. They want their kids to have good jobs and plenty of money.

So, if the goal of good motherhood isn’t American-dream-type success, then what is it?

Mothers in the Bible Example #5…

This one isn’t exactly fair. We’re picking Mary. Why? Well, because one of her sons turned out to be perfect.

Here’s why we end with Mary: the way that Mary parented Jesus presents an ideal (and surprisingly attainable) model of motherhood for mothers today.

Luke 2 tells us about an episode in Jesus’ life at the age of 12 when His parents accidentally left Him at the temple in Jerusalem. Couldn’t find Him for 3 days! Luke 2:51-52 tells us that when they found Him, He “went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”


“Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”


Under their parenting, Jesus grew in four areas:

  1. He grew in wisdom (“in wisdom”)
  2. He grew in strength (“in stature”)
  3. He grew in spirituality (“favor with God”)
  4. He grew in relationships (“favor with man”)

As a mother, what are your ultimate goals for your children?

If your goal is for your children to grow in wisdom, strength, spirituality, and relationships, then you won’t be settling. For, if your children grow in wisdom, strength, spirituality, and relationships, then your children will grow up to be more like Jesus.

That’s a great checklist for moms. Christlikeness is the greatest goal a mom could ever have for her children.