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Mothers in the Bible (And Why They Matter)

Posted May 8, 2024

Mothers play a unique role in the world. They nurture life. They create homes. They shape futures. So, too, in the Scriptures, we see mothers used by God to bring about, not only his special plans for those who walk the pages of the Bible, but also his grand narrative of redemption and eternal life.

Eve: Mother of All Living

If you’ve grown up in the Western world, you know that Eve often gets a bad rap. Created by God from the side of Adam (Gen. 2:21–22), Eve is the first to be tempted and deceived in the garden (Gen. 3:1–6, 1 Tim. 2:14). She is often seen as dubious, naive, or even overly ambitious. Indeed, when we think of humanity’s first woman, we tend to think more about her failings than anything else.

And yet, Eve’s story extends beyond eating the forbidden fruit.

After God uncovers the sin of Adam and Eve, he curses the serpent and establishes the spiritual war between those who will follow Satan and those who will be true offspring of the woman—spoiler: the seed of the woman will win in the end (Gen. 3:15).

And though the woman is condemned to the consequences of her sin with increased labor pains, she is promised that children will come. Adam responds to this in faith and names his wife Eve, “because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).

By God’s grace and because of his promises, Eve’s legacy in Scripture is not eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but rather mothering the Promised Seed that would become the vine of our salvation.

Hannah: The Woman Who Longed To Be A Mother

Perhaps no one draws more sympathy in the Bible than Hannah. She is beloved by her husband, but the Lord has closed her womb (1 Sam. 1:2, 5). Her husband has sons and daughters by his second wife, who mocks Hannah ceaselessly for not having children of her own.

This alone, for a woman grieving her want of a child, would be unbearably painful. But Hannah’s barrenness in an Old Testament context signifies more than just personal sorrow. God’s promises to his people—to establish their name in the Promised Land and to one day send the Promised Seed of Eve—depended on bearing offspring. Both inheritance and salvation were a family matter.

In despair, Hannah weeps in the temple and makes a vow to God, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Sam. 1:11).

We are told later that God remembered Hannah’s prayer and blessed her with a son—Samuel, who would become a great prophet of the Lord.

But her story doesn’t end here. What makes Hannah such a beautiful example of a godly mother is not just her recognition of God’s promises through childbearing and her faithful petition to him, but her offering of thanks. She returns her son to God, as she vowed, and dedicates him to service at the temple (1 Sam. 1:21–28).

Though few women today become mothers in such a dramatic narrative, all parents must rely on the faithfulness of God to give them children, for God alone gives life, and—in the end—those children aren’t ours to keep.

Oh, that we would—with the faith of Hannah—raise them to be returned to the service of the Lord, whatever his plans for them may look like!

Rufus’ Mother: A Model of the New Mother

Mentioned without name, and taking up space in less than half a verse of Scripture, the mother of Rufus is a beautiful testament to the new family created in Christ. Paul writes his personal greetings at the end of his letter to the Romans, and mentions this woman: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well” (Rom. 16:13).

With the advent of Christ, barrenness is no longer a curse. Christ is that Promised Seed and he has already come and secured our inheritance. This inheritance is not a physical land, but a spiritual one—the same one the faithful men and women of the Old Testament had longed for: “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16).

Inheritance and salvation are still a family matter, but that family has changed. Jesus instituted a new family order: the church (Matt. 12:48–50). This is sweet comfort to women who, like Hannah, long for children that do not come. It is also precious for every woman in the church who can extend her arms in hospitality, her hands in prayer, and her heart or home in kindness and welcome. Like Rufus’ mother, who was a mother to the apostle Paul on his travels, every woman in the church can be a spiritual mother in the body of Christ to those who need one.

These mothers in the church, then, are a critical part of the life of the Christian—encouraging and discipling (Titus 2:4–8), caring for those who are in need (1 Tim. 5:10), and using their various gifts for the nurturing of the whole body (1 Cor. 12). What an honor!

As we consider our lives of faith, let us praise God for all the mothers he has given to us and rejoice as he gives us opportunities to care for his people, the family of God.

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Mary Van Weelden

Mary Van Weelden is a writer and a journalist, and is currently working on a double M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies at Westminster Seminary California. She and her husband are actively searching for the best taco place in Escondido, CA. Come talk to her about practical theology and comma placements on Twitter at @agirlnamedmary.