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Motherhood in the Bible: A High Calling

  • Judy Bodmer & Larry Richards, Ph.D. Authors, What's in the Bible for Mothers
  • Updated May 02, 2011
Motherhood in the Bible: A High Calling

Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:3)

The treatment of women in the Middle East has left us with the impression that this is the way women were treated in biblical times. On the nightly news we see pictures of darkly shrouded figures completely covered except for their eyes. We read stories of how some of these women have been forced to abandon their careers and are treated like slaves by their husbands, and we assume that's the way it was in the Old Testament times.

But is this true? Were women treated like this? Were they hidden away, never to be seen or heard from? Let's look at what the Bible has to say.

The Old Testament is full of Scripture commanding the respect of children for both mother and father. In fact, this is such a basic principle that it's one of the Ten Commandments. In the book of Proverbs, the duty of reverence, love, and obedience of sons to their mothers is emphasized over and over.

How Others See It: "Mothering is the most significant, demanding, and underpaid profession around.... We strongly believe that God ordained the specialness and importance of mothering: 'Honor your mother and your father' is a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible." (Henry Cloud and John Townsend) 

Equality in the Garden

Genesis 1:28: God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." ... God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

In the story of the Garden of Eden, Eve is as important as Adam. In fact, the Scripture clearly states that they were given equal responsibility. He didn't give this command only to Adam, but to them, Adam and Eve. Their roles changed after the fall, but their status didn't.

Examples From the Bible

Other examples of prominent women in the Bible are:
  • Sarah (Genesis 12:23): Abraham listened carefully to Sarah's advice in Genesis 16 when she suggested that her maidservant provide him with a son. Later, God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah again, in Genesis 21:11, because she will be the mother of a great nation through Isaac.
  • Rebekah (Genesis 24). Jacob's chief counselor was his mother, Rebekah (Genesis 28:7).
  • Miriam (Exodus 15:20). Moses' sister, Miriam, led the women in Exodus 15:20.
  • Deborah (Judges 4). Judges 4:4 clearly states that Deborah was leading the nation of Israel.
  • Huldah (2 Kings 22:14). God spoke to the leaders of Judah through the prophetess Huldah, even though the prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah were alive.

The biblical stories wouldn't be the same without Leah and Rachel, Delilah, Bathsheba, Ruth and Naomi, Hannah, and Esther.

Women were listed in the lineage of Jesus Christ. This was considered to be the highest honor that could be bestowed upon an Israelite. Another example of the importance placed on women in the Bible.

How Others See It: "Genesis 1:27 says that God 'created' man, but Genesis 2:22 tells us that God 'fashioned' the woman. This word comes from the Hebrew root word meaning 'to build' or 'to design.' God had a special blueprint and design for woman, so he fashioned her into what he wanted her to be. Could it possibly be that God took extra care in making woman, so she could be a fairer sex and a feminine beauty? She was designed to complement the man, not to replace him." (Beverly LaHaye)

"Most women accept the subtle messages the world tells us about what we need to be as women—young, sexy, rich, powerful. Others of us try to measure ourselves by certain roles we see outlined in the Bible—submissive, gentle, hospitable. But there is so much more God wants us to experience as women." (Deborah Newman) 

Ave Maria—A Child Is Born

John 19:26: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Mary wasn't the only woman whom Jesus treated with respect. Throughout the New Testament he is shown visiting women in their homes, forgiving their sins, caring for the widows, and healing women of their ailments.

His final act on the cross was seeing to the care of his mother. He asked one of his disciples, John "the beloved," to take his mother into his home and treat her as if she were his own.

How Others See It: "The birth of Christ lifted motherhood to the highest possible plane and idealized it for all time.... What woman is today, what she is in particular in her motherhood, she owes wholly to the position in which the Scriptures have placed her." (Henry E. Dosker) 

Where Have All the Mothers Gone?

Colossians 2:8: See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

The pressures on mothers have never been greater. Seventy-five percent of us are employed or looking for work, and the percentage is higher for mothers with children age twelve and older. This means most of us are trying to do a good job at work, be a first-class mom, keep a house clean, cook, shop, run errands, maybe do some gardening, and, if we're married, be an excellent wife. When someone gets sick, we're the nurse. When someone needs a ride, we're the chauffeur. When someone needs just about anything, we're it. We're the fixers, the lovers, the counselors, the bill payers. Let's face it, there aren't enough of us to go around. I don't know how many times I've driven to work in the morning with tears running down my face, feeling like a failure at everything.

Everyone else seems to make it look easy. The moms on TV are not only beautiful, but they also solve their problems in half-hour sitcoms that make us laugh. Somehow it wasn't so funny to me when I'd been up all night with a crying baby and then the next day had to take care of customers or employees' problems in a professional manner. The other women I worked with seemed to make a go of it. What was wrong with me?

Then there's the pressure from church. Sometimes it's subtle, but other times it can be blatant. A sermon on the Proverbs 31 woman can leave us feeling like failures. An afternoon with Mrs. Faultless Christian can leave us wondering why we can't find fifteen minutes for a quiet time every morning and why our children aren't perfect like hers.

There were lots of days I dreamed of running away.

Those of us who hang in there and continue to do the best we can need to know we're not alone. There are many mothers who feel the same way we do. We need to let go of some of the man-made pressures and prioritize what's most important.

How Others See It: "If you are sure of God's direction for you in the working world, then your role there is just as sacred, just as important to God, and of just as much service to him as anything else you could do. It is not second best; it is not the alternative for those who have never sensed a call into a public ministry. It is full-time Christian service!" (Mary Whelchel) 

Mother's Day

On the second Sunday of every May, the English-speaking world stops and honors its mothers. Card shops and florists rake in big bucks. Children write poems and make plaster casts of their hands. Breakfast is served to Mom in bed, and someone else, for a change, prepares dinner.

We have Ann Jarvis to thank for coming up with the idea for this special day. After the death of her mother, she brought a group together on the second Sunday of May to honor her memory. The first Mother's Day was celebrated on May 10, 1908, at Andrews Church in Philadelphia. Two years later the governor of West Virginia officially set aside the second Sunday in May to honor all mothers.

Excerpted from: What's in the Bible for Mothers by Judy Bodmer and Larry Richards, Ph.D. Copyright © 2008; ISBN 9780764203855 Published by Bethany House Publishers Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.