Motherhood is one of humanity’s oldest, most respected — and essential — human institutions, as Moms infuse and shape their children’s emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. Fortunately, there are numerous women in the Bible whose incredible reactions, decisions and overall life trajectories provide important and timeless lessons for humanity.
Here are just five great mothers in the Bible whose stories offer up some important guidance worth exploring and integrating into our own lives:
Jochebed: Sacrificing for Her Son
The Bible tells us that Jochebed, Moses’ mother, went above and beyond to save her little boy’s life. At the time of Moses’ birth, the Egyptian pharaoh demanded that midwives kill every Hebrew boy born in Egypt — something done in an effort to control the Hebrew population.
GotQuestions.org has more about how people reacted to this disturbing decree:
The Hebrew midwives refused to participate in the infanticide and deceived Pharaoh so they could avoid killing the baby boys (Exodus 1:17–19). Moses’ mother Jochebed hide Moses in a basket of bulrushes and set him afloat on the Nile River to preserve his life (Exodus 2:3). Even Pharaoh’s own daughter disobeyed the decree when she found Moses in the basket and took pity on him, adopting him as her own child (Exodus 2:5–10). Moses was raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
Jochebed made the sacrifice not only to ignore the king’s mandate and hide her son for three months, but to then selflessly release him so that he could survive and be cared for by the Pharaoh’s daughter. In an amazing turn of events, Jochebed became Moses’ nurse while Pharaoh’s daughter raised him — an effort that kept her connected to her beloved son.
Exodus 2:9-10 tells us what happened after Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moses in the basket on the Nile and hired Jochebad to nurse the boy:
“Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.’ So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, ‘I drew him out of the water’” (NIV).
Mary: ‘Blessed Among Women’
Mary is, without a doubt, the most well-known and revered woman in the Bible. The scriptures explain that God chose Mary to be Jesus’ mother — granting her one of the most important and transformational roles in human history.
The gospel account in the Book of Luke is quite revealing. It shows the grace with which Mary took the shocking news that she would be Christ’s mother. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, who was a virgin at the time and committed to be married to Joseph. Gabriel told Mary that she was “highly favored” and revealed that she would be expecting.
Mary questioned how pregnancy was possible and was initially troubled by the angel’s appearance. But once she learned of the reason for Gabriel’s visit, she responded to the life-changing news with a heart that was fully open to God’s will.
Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:29-37 sheds more light on what preceded Mary’s open-hearted reaction:
“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘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.’
‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’
The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail’” (NIV).
Mary’s reaction is a lesson in our own lives when we find ourselves faced with a difficult or challenging call from God. In this instance, she chose to trust and obey — setting an example everyone can learn from.
Naomi: The Exemplar Mother-in-Law
Naomi is perhaps the Bible’s most famous mother-in-law — and her stunning qualities of kindness, care for others and sacrifice shouldn't be lost.
Over the course of a decade, this Old Testament figure lost her husband and two sons. Then, when she heard that her homeland, Judah, once again had food and resources (she and her family had left to live in Moab during difficult times), she encouraged her widowed daughters-in-law to stay in their homeland of Moab rather than return to Judah with her. This was a blatantly selfless act, seeing as she was now alone without her sons and husbands.
Ruth 1:8-9 reveals Naomi’s words to her daughters-in-law:
“Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband’” (NIV).
But one of those daughters-in-law, Ruth, refused to leave Naomi’s side, and the two fortified a relationship that took on the form of a mother-daughter dynamic. Over the course of time, Naomi was an excellent example of faithfulness and was a source of strength and advice for Ruth amid a new life in Bethlehem.
Naomi also made it her mission to find Ruth a new husband, prioritizing Ruth’s well-being even as she suffered in the wake of her own loss and loneliness. Naomi offers wonderful lessons when it comes to self-sacrifice and compassion for others, giving us a lens into the importance of looking beyond ourselves to secure goodness and comfort for loved ones.
Elizabeth: The Woman Who Waited
Elizabeth’s story teaches an important lesson about waiting on God. She and her husband, Zechariah, were righteous and devoted to the Lord, yet they suffered in waiting for a child.
Elizabeth was unable to conceive. She and Zechariah were old when Zechariah was in the temple one day and the angel Gabriel appeared to him with a shocking message: Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son.
Gabriel told Zechariah that the birth of their son, John, would come to fruition at the “appointed time,” which it did. Once the pregnancy happened, Elizabeth thanked the Lord. She said the following in Luke 1:25:
“The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people” (NIV).
Elizabeth’s faith and character are again on full display when Mary visits her after learning from Gabriel that she, too, would be with child. Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist at the time. Luke 1:41-45 sheds light on what happened at the moment of their encounter — and how Elizabeth recognized the importance of relishing in God’s promises:
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’” (NIV).
Eve: The First Woman
Eve — the first woman created by God, the wife of Adam and the world’s first mother — also teaches us some important lessons about life and the importance of relying upon God and clinging to His will in our lives.
Most people know that Eve was deceived by the serpent in the Garden of Eden — an act that led to Adam’s deception as well and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from that paradise. The quick recap: God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and warned that they would “die” if they disobeyed. They didn’t listen. Genesis 3:1:2-6 has more:
“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (NIV).
In the end, God expelled them from the garden and the rest is, well, history. Despite making an error in judgment and choice, Eve teaches humanity the importance of listening to God and abiding by His will in our lives. She is the first person to hold the role “mother” — an important note both biblically and historically.