Mothers in Scripture


A Mothers’ Day Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – May 9, 2010

  1. Today is mother’s day. How can we make this a chance to give proper honour to the use of motherhood, rather than make it a “Hallmark” holiday full of clichés?
  2. “The first of the church” is the life of charity[1] We learn about relationships, and the way to bring charity to life, through our mothers.
  3. There are a lot of stories about mothers in scripture. Our focus on motherhood today seems to be a good time to see what the Lord has to say about mothers and motherhood in the Word.
  4. Rather than go through chronologically, I’m going to jump around a bit and group the stories by the kind of mother that is being presented.
  5. We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up.
  6. First, Examples of bad mothers.
  7. The bad mother in the Solomon story
  8. (1 KI 3:16-28) Now two women who were harlots came to the king, and stood before him. {17} And one woman said, “O my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. {18} “Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house. {19} “And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. {20} “So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.

    {24} Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. {25} And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.” {26} Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!” But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.” {27} So the king answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.” {28} And all Israel heard of the judgement which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.

  9. Jezebel (2KI 9) – leading everyone into idolatry.
  10. When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal heirs. (2KI 11:1)
  11. Herodias, wife of Herod, who forced her daughter Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist in revenge for John calling attention to her murder and adultery.

III. Examples of pushy mothers

  1. Rebecca
  2. Isaac’s wife, mother of Esau and Jacob.
  3. There are all kinds of reasons for this story to work in the internal sense. It illustrates the difficulty of defining the relationship between good and truth and how truth is first in time, but good is first in end.
  4. But in the letter we have Rebecca encouraging and helping Jacob to deceive his father and receive a blessing that was not rightfully his.
  5. Bathsheba
  6. The child she conceived in adultery with David died in infancy. After she married David she gave birth to Solomon.
  7. As David neared the end of his life he refused to name an heir, preferring that his sons fight it out amongst themselves in the time-honoured way.
  8. Bathsheba conspired with Nathan the Prophet to trick David into naming Solomon as his heir.
  9. The mother of the disciples James and John.
  10. (Mat 20:20-21) Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. {21} And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.”
  11. She didn’t know what she was asking. Right hand means heaven, left hand means hell!
  12. It made the other ten angry.

IV.Examples of good mothers

  1. Moses’ mother who managed to protect her son from the law that all male children were to be killed – and got paid for it!
  2. Hannah who gave Samuel away – and in giving away that which she desired the most, received many more blessings.
  3. (1 Sam 1) …{4} And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. {5} But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb.
  4. {8} Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
  5. {10} And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish. {11} Then she made a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” {12} And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth. {13} Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. {14} So Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!” {15} And Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. {16} “Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.” {17} Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.” {18} And she said, “Let your maidservant find favour in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
  6. {19} Then they rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD, and returned and came to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. {20} So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from the LORD.”
  7. {24} Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD in Shiloh. And the child was young. {25} Then they slaughtered a bull, and brought the child to Eli. {26} And she said, “O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to the LORD. {27} “For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. {28} “Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD.” So they worshiped the LORD there.
  8. After this she had three more sons and two daughters.
  9. The good mother in the Solomon story.
  10. Who would rather see the child taken from her and live than continue the argument and have the child divided.
  11. The Shunammite woman who provided housing for Elisha, but had no son. He promises that she will conceive a son with her husband, and it happens, to their huge delight.
  12. (2 KI 4:18-24) And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers. {19} And he said to his father, “My head, my head!” So he said to a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” {20} When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.
  13. {21} And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door upon him, and went out. {22} Then she called to her husband, and said, “Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back.” {23} So he said, “Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath.” And she said, “It is well.” {24} Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.”
  14. She would not stop until she found Elisha, and until he had come with her to the home.
  15. Elisha raised the boy from the dead.
  16. Joseph was a foster father, but Mary was a real mother. She bore the Lord under her heart, and gave birth to Him.
  17. Mary “pondering” in her heart
  18. Mary and the 12 year-old Jesus.
  19. (Luke 2:40-49) {42} And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. {43} When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; {44} but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. {45} So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
  20. !!!
  21. {46} Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. {47} And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. {48} So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”
  22. She’s not impressed that He’s teaching the masters – she had lost her child for 3 days. She’s been badly frightened and is not afraid to show it.
  23. He went back to Nazareth with them, and “was subject” to them.
  24. Sometimes it’s okay for parents to show that they are frightened and angry.
  25. Mary and the first miracle – rebuked, but still supportive as in the Children’s talk.
  26. What part did Mary play here?
  27. Is she the affection in the church that enables the truth to be done?
  28. The Lord as “mother”
  29. (ISA 66:13) As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
  30. (JER 50:12) Your mother shall be deeply ashamed; She who bore you shall be ashamed. Behold, the least of the nations shall be a wilderness, A dry land and a desert.

VI.“Motherhood” in each one of us:

  1. (Mat 12:46-50) While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. {47} Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” {48} But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” {49} And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! {50} “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

VII.The church is the mother of all:

  1. AE 9:5: When Jesus therefore seeth His mother, and the disciple standing by whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son. Then He saith to the disciple, Behold thy mother. And from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home (John 19:26, 27).
    By “mother” and by “woman” is here meant the church, and by “John” the good of charity; and by the things here said, that the church will be where the good of charity is.

VIII.The point is the incredible richness of the Word; how something so familiar and so essential to life in the natural world as motherhood can be used to illustrate so many different kinds of spiritual concepts.

  1. Perhaps that’s the spiritual reason for there being so many aspects to natural motherhood.
  2. Let’s leave church today – many of us to go celebrate with mothers, grandmothers, and mothers-in-law – reflecting on the many ways that each of us relates to that concept.
  3. Giving birth to ideas.
  4. Protecting what is good and innocent while providing for growth
  5. Caring for the natural, emotional, and spiritual needs of others.
  6. Giving life – through the instrumentality of the church – to the truth of the Word in the world, providing for the Lord’s living presence among all people everywhere. Amen.


Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson:  EXO 2:1-10

And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi. {2} So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months. {3} But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. {4} And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him. {5} Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. {6} And when she had opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” {7} 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?” {8} And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. {9} 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. {10} And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  Luke 2:15-20

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” {16} And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. {17} Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. {18} And all those who heard it marvelled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. {19} But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. {20} Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. Amen.

Third Lesson:  CL 396:1-2

…if parents did not receive that influx also in their souls and in the inmost levels of their minds, the innocence of their little children would fail to affect them. An equivalent and comparable element must exist in another for communication to take place, and to bring about reception, affection, and so conjunction. Otherwise it would be like a tender seed falling on flint, or like a lamb thrown to a wolf.

That, now, is the reason for the statement, that innocence flowing into the souls of parents joins itself with the innocence of little children.

[2] The fact that this conjunction is occasioned in parents through the instrumentality of the physical senses, but especially through that of touch, is something we can know from experience. As for example, that the vision is inmostly delighted by the sight of them, the hearing by their speech, and the sense of smell by their fragrance.

Evidence that the communication and thus conjunction of innocent states is occasioned especially through the instrumentality of touch is clearly seen from the gratification of carrying them in one’s arms, and from their hugs and kisses – especially in the case of mothers, who are delighted by the resting of their mouth and face upon their bosoms, and at the same time then by the touch of their hands there; in general, by their suckling at their breasts and nursing; and in addition, by the patting of their naked body, and by their untiring work of diapering them and washing them upon their knees. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.



[1]AC 1091

Living Courageously – Week 7

A Contemporary Service Talk by

The Rev. James P. Cooper

I.       Review Previous weeks.

A.   A drought throughout Samaria caused by Ahab and Jezebel’s idolatry – Elijah was miraculously fed by ravens

1.     Idolatry is not just worshipping statues of made-up gods, something that happened a long time ago. We have idols too:  money, success (in sports or business), expensive toys (for grown-ups and children), bossing other people around – and so forth.

2.     When your mind is focussed on these kinds of things, things from the Lord and the Word are blocked out. These truths are represented by water, so our selfish idolatrous states are represented by a drought.

a.     But even then, the Lord loves us and sustains us with little truths, small blessings:  the morsels of food brought to Elijah by ravens.

B.   Famine that results from the drought – and the Widow’s obedience that provides her with oil and flour that do not run out.

1.     When you turn away from the Lord’s truth, you don’t know how to do what is good, how to be charitable. This is represented by a famine.

2.     But, when the Widow obeys Elijah’s request to give him bread, when she is obedient to the Word in the small way that she is able, she is rewarded with a never-ending supply of flour and oil, representing the Lord’s nourishing love and care.

C.   When the Widow’s son dies – Elijah restores him with the breath of life.

1.     As we move through our life there are struggles; things that we love may even seem to die, but when we turn to the Lord in His Word, He will breath new life into our activities and uses.

D.   Elijah versus the prophets of Baal.

1.     A contest to prove once and for all that Jehovah was God, and that the various idols were nothing and had no power.

2.     There will always be challenges, questions. Our faith in the Lord will be tested because there are so many other people out there who want us to do things their way.

3.     But who really knows what is best for us? A person who worships idols (wealth, power, his own intelligence) or the Creator God who made us to live forever with Him in heaven?

a.     There’s no contest, is there.

E.    Finding Courage – out of the cave.

1.     Frightened by Jezebel’s promise to kill him, Elijah flees into the wilderness where he hides in a cave until the Lord can calm him and draw him out.

2.     Again, the Lord reminds us that the road to spiritual life can be bumpy with surprising turns. Just when we think we’ve accomplished something great, the evil spirits attack and we feel weak again.

3.     And in the story the Lord shows us that what draws us out, what brings us back into spiritual health, is being useful to others.

F.    Convicted by Conscience – Ahab and Naboth.

1.     In this part of the story, Ahab represents our spiritual state, and how we sometime want things that we should not have. When Elijah confronts him, it shows us how we need to constantly evaluate the things we do, to look at them from the Lord’s point of view, to be guided by a conscience that is built up of truths that we know from the Word.

G.   This week we come to the end of the series as Elijah goes to heaven in a whirlwind after passing his mantle to Elisha.

1.     (Picture:  Lesson 7, Level A or B, page 4)

II.    (2 KI 2:1-18)

A.    On the day that Elijah was to enter heaven, it was well known among the prophets. As Elijah and Elisha travelled to Bethel, the sons of the prophets kept asking Elisha if he knew that Elijah was leaving; and he repeatedly refused to stay behind but stayed with Elijah until they reached the banks of the Jordan River.

B.    {8} Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. {9} And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” {10} So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” {11} Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. {12} And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. {13} He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. {14} Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over. {15} Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him.

1.     The mantle is an important element of the story, a sign of Divine power and authority.

a.     And it is important to understand that the power is in the mantle, not the person who holds it.

b.     You can see this represented in the fact that our ministers wear a “mantle” when conducting worship. We call it a “stole” but it is given and worn as a reminder of the Lord’s presence in this work.

c.      But we don’t need to have a piece of cloth to have the power.

i.       Each one of us who reads the Lord’s Word with affection and delight is covered with a mantle of truth that connects us with the Lord and at the same time protects us from the evil spirits.

ii.     As we go through life and learn more things from the Word, the mantle grows in its power to protect us and guide us not just when things are going well, but in the difficult times as well.

III. There will be times when we think and feel that things are not going so well for us, when we are not sure about what to do. But that is when the Lord is closest.

A.   We are never more free than when we are using our own rational minds to make choices, and the most important choices are made in temptation.

B.   We can also learn from the story of Elijah’s temptation that our Heavenly Father has infinite patience with us. He never gives up. He leads us gently, constantly by giving us just those things that we genuinely need, and when we need and ask for them. He sent an angel, a messenger, to feed and care for Elijah in the wilderness, and then, when Elijah was ready, called him to the cave in Horeb, and then from the cave to the entrance. Little by little, giving exactly what Elijah needed, and only when he was ready to receive it in freedom, the Lord led him out of his states of despair.

C.   Let us then remember to ask ourselves, when we struggle in temptation and feel like we are totally alone, to ask ourselves, as the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing?”

D.   When we hear those words in our head, let’s remember Elijah in the cave, and how the Lord drew him out and back into a life of use through His tender care.

1.     And remember that this story is His promise to each one of us that He will care for us in the same way. Amen.