10 Extraordinary Mothers in the Bible:
1. Sarah: The Mother Who Waited
In Genesis 11:30 we learn, “Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.“ This would have grieved both Sarah and Abraham, and in Genesis 15 when the word of the LORD came to Abram he answered, what will you give me LORD since you have not given me an heir? God tells him to look at the stars in the Sky, for that would be the number of his offspring. Abraham and Sarah waited 15 years before God renewed His promise, and 10 more years before the promise was fulfilled and Sarah bore a son, Isaac.
Sarah probably wouldn’t win an award for waiting and she even laughed at the idea that God could do what He promised, but thankfully God’s promise did not rely on the level of Sarah’s faith. God fulfilled His promise according to His plan and Sarah responded in Genesis 21,
“’God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’”
Can you imagine waiting that long for a blessing? Sarah tried to believe the promise, but she had doubts until it finally came to fruition. Then she laughed with joy at what the LORD had done. Isaac would go on to continue the legacy of his father Abraham.
2. Hagar: The Mother Who Endured
Hagar was an Egyptian slave and a maidservant to Sarah, the wife of Abraham; she didn’t have much say about anything and especially not in becoming Abraham’s wife. Though her status changed, she was still secondary to Sarah.
Once Hagar became pregnant with Abraham’s child, a rift developed between her and Sarah. After receiving mistreatment from Sarah, Hagar fled toward her homeland. But she met the angel of the LORD who told her to return, He also promised her numerous descendants through her son whom she was to name Ishmael.
Later, Hagar and her son Ishmael were sent away into the desert, where she believed they would both die. But God is faithful and showed her a well. Genesis 21 tells us, “God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.”
Hagar thought she would get to escape her misery, but God called her to return to it. She obeyed, and He blessed her and her son just as He promised He would.
3. Rebekah: The Mother Who Deceived
Rebekah was a woman of great faith, obeying God when Isaac’s servant told her of the man who wanted to marry her. Genesis 25 tells us that when Rebekah became pregnant she could feel the babies jostling within her. When she asked the LORD why this was happening, He answered her: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” In that time, the older would have never served the younger, and the firstborn son would have inherited the best of everything.
When Isaac was old in age, he told Esau to hunt and prepare food so that he could receive his blessing. But Rebekah overheard this and told Jacob to bring her food so she could prepare it for Isaac first. Jacob was unsure about deceiving his father, but Rebekah responded in Genesis 27, “My son let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” I think it is safe to say that she remembered and took very seriously what God had spoken to her during her pregnancy.
Rebekah risked deception to follow God’s promise, and His plan unfolded exactly as He had told her. Later her son Jacob would wrestle with God and be given a new name, Israel.
4. Leah and Rachel: The Mothers Who Had to Share
When Jacob went to stay with his uncle Laban, he met one of his daughters, Rachel, and loved her. He wanted her for his wife and was willing to work seven years to marry her. But Laban tricked Jacob by giving him his older daughter Leah in marriage instead. Jacob worked another seven years for Rachel, and he loved her more. Leah, knowing that she was unloved, bore Jacob many children to please him, while Rachel remained barren.
Both women ended up giving their maidservants to Jacob, who in turn bore him more children. Genesis 30 tells us, “Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive.” Rachel bore Jacob two sons, Joseph and Benjamin, before she died in childbirth with Benjamin.
Siblings like to compete, but can you imagine having to share a husband with your sister, feeling like you always had to outdo the other. But God blessed both Leah and Rachel with children, continuing his covenant promise with Abraham. Leah and Rachel’s sons would go on to form the 12 tribes of Israel.
5. Jochebed: The Mother with a Plan
A new King in Egypt came to power who was under no obligation to honor Joseph’s deeds in Egypt and keep the special arrangement with the Israelites. He was worried about the Hebrews outnumbering and overtaking the Egyptians, so he made them slaves. He also commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill Hebrew baby boys when they were born, but they did not listen. Then Pharaoh gave another decree in Exodus 1, “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
A Levite woman, Jochebed, gave birth to a son and hid him for 3 months. Exodus 2 tells us that when she could hide him no longer, she coated a papyrus basket with tar and pitch, placed the baby in it, then she set it in the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Jochebed’s daughter, Miriam, watched to see what would happen as Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bath. When Pharaoh’s daughter saw the basket, her servant’s retrieved it for her and inside she found the baby crying and knowing he was a Hebrew child she felt sorry for him.
Miriam then spoke up and asked her if she would like her to fetch a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby; she agreed and Jochebed returned with her daughter to nurse her own baby. Pharaoh’s daughter paid Jochebed to nurse and raise the baby until he was old enough to come live with her. She then adopted him as her son and named him Moses.
Jochebed was determined to find a way to save her son, and God blessed her plan. Not only was her son saved from death, she was able to nurse and raise him until he was old enough to go live with Pharaoh’s daughter. Her son, Moses, went on to free the Hebrew people from Egypt, leading them in the desert toward the Promised Land according to God’s plan.
6. Samson’s Mother: The Mother Who Followed the Rules
She is not mentioned by name in the Book of Judges, although some would say she is the Hazelelponi mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4. We cannot know for sure, so we can deduce that what she did is more important than her name. She was married to a man named Manoah but was unable to conceive. Judges 13 tells us,
“The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, ‘You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.’”
Samson’s mother knew there was something special about the angel of the LORD, and when her husband was afraid they would die for having seen the face of God she became the voice of reason saying He would not have told us these things if He were going to kill us.
She gave birth and named the baby Samson, and the LORD blessed him. Although some of his actions were questionable, the LORD used him mightily in His plan to defeat the Philistines.
7. Naomi: The Mother-in-Law Who Shared Her Faith
Naomi and her family fled to the country of Moab because of a famine in their land. Her husband died, and her two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. After 10 years both of Naomi’s sons passed away, and Naomi heard that the LORD had blessed the land of her people with food again. She told her daughters-in-law that they could return home to find new husbands. Although they both wept at her leaving, one refused to leave Naomi’s side. Orpah returned to her people and her gods, but Ruth said,
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Ruth was already learning from Naomi’s faith even during a time of bitterness. Naomi continued to watch out for Ruth and instruct her wisely in her dealings with Boaz, who became her kinsman redeemer. The LORD blessed Naomi, and she gained a son when Boaz married Ruth. Ruth and Boaz had a child, and the women of the land said to Naomi,
“Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
The child was named Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David who would be king. -Ruth 4:17.
8. Hannah: The Mother Who Kept Her Promise
Hannah was married to a man who loved her very much, but he also had another wife. This wife was able to bear children, but in 1 Samuel 1:5-6 we learn that the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb. The rival wife provoked Hannah continually, but Hannah would go to the house of the LORD to pray. Her husband tried to console her saying, “Don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?” in 1 Sam. 1:8. Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly; she made a vow saying,
“LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
In fact, she was praying so hard that her lips were moving but no sound came out so that the priest, Eli, thought she was drunk. The LORD blessed Hannah, and she gave birth to a son and named him Samuel, “saying, ‘Because I asked the LORD for him.’” -1 Sam. 1:20
She did just as she had promised, and when the boy was old enough she took him to the house of the LORD and presented him to Eli. Hannah then prayed,
“My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.” And her beautiful prayer continues in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.
Samuel lived a life dedicated to the LORD, and he would go on to lead the people of Israel, anointing Israel’s first and second kings—Saul and David.
9. Elizabeth: The Mother Who Believed in Miracles
Elizabeth was married to a priest named Zechariah, and Luke 1 tells us that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous before God, observing all of His commands. But Elizabeth was childless, and they were both old in age. Similar to people in Job’s day, people would have thought that sin prevented Elizabeth from bearing a child. This would have been very hard to face, especially being a wife of a priest.
When Zechariah was serving in the temple, an angel of the Lord, Gabriel, approached him and said,
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” –Luke 1:13-14
Zechariah still questioned how this would be possible and because he doubted he was struck mute for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Elizabeth was overjoyed at this blessing of life and said, “The Lord has done this for me… In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” –Luke 1:25
When Mary, the mother of Jesus, came to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the baby leapt in Elizabeth’s womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She took great joy in Mary’s pregnancy and blessing from the Lord. And when it came time for Elizabeth to give birth, she named her son John. When neighbors went to confirm this with Zechariah he wrote the same name and his mouth was opened; everyone wondered at what the child would be since his birth was miraculous.
John would go on to baptize people from their sins with water. He would prepare the way for the Messiah.
10. Mary: The Mother Who is Blessed among Women
Mary, a virgin pledged to a man named Joseph, was also visited by the angel Gabriel. He said to her in Luke 1:31,
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Mary wondered at how this would be possible, and the angel told her, “The Holy Sprit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Mary embraced these words in faith. When she visited her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth proclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Mary believed God would fulfill His promise.
An angel of the Lord also visited Joseph, who put him at ease with Mary’s pregnancy. As we read in Matthew 1, Joseph took Mary to be his wife, but they did not consummate the marriage until after she had given birth. Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for a census, where she gave birth in the humblest of environments.
Mary treasured up many things in her heart as she raised Jesus, but she also had to endure the greatest sacrifice of all time—her son was the Son of God and He had come to give Himself up as a sacrifice, the one and only sacrifice that could be made for mankind. She had to watch Him suffer, be tortured and mocked, and die a cruel death on a cross by crucifixion.
John 19 tells us,
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
Even while He was dying, Jesus cared for His mother and gave her a new son to love her. Mary was blessed among women, for she was chosen by God to bear His Son and raise Him. Though there was death there was yet joy for Mary, as her son did not stay dead. He rose again from the grave, securing eternity for her and all who would believe.
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.
Publication date: April 28, 2016