The July heat permeates our small house. The ceiling fan whirls above my head as I settle into the couch. I set an iced coffee on the side table and the cubes clink deliciously. Our 1950’s bungalow doesn’t have air conditioning so the moving air and the cold liquid bring welcome relief. At last, it’s naptime. My 3-year-old twins are quietly sleeping, their energy depleted, leaving me a few precious hours to myself. I’m heavily pregnant with our third child—a girl. This is the time I look forward to all day.
I pull my Bible toward me, along with my notepad and pen. I’ve been studying mothers of the Bible, wondering what I could learn from those who came before me. I read their stories with fresh eyes—a mother’s eye. I put my feet into their dusty sandals. What could Eve teach me about hope in the midst of failure? What could Jochebed impart to me about trusting God when the future is unknown? How could Hannah mentor me in prayer?
I’m eager to learn.
EVE: HOPE IN THE MIDST OF FAILURE
The ground is hard beneath her hips. Sweat pools and every muscle strains. Eve closes her eyes tightly to concentrate as another contraction twists her abdomen, feeling like it will tear her in two.
Her mind recalls the Creator’s curse after she had eaten the forbidden fruit: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16). Was this—the pain that wracked her body right now—what He had meant?
The discomfort is almost unbearable. Fear grips her. She gives a powerful push with all the strength she can summon as another contraction washes over her. She hears a cry.
Eve leans back onto a heap of animal skins, her body relaxing for the first time in hours, while Adam cleans off the residue of birth with water from a hollowed-out wooden basin. Wrapping the infant in an animal skin, he hands him to Eve.
“I have received a son with the help of the Lord,” breathes Eve, looking into her baby son’s dark and squinting eyes for the first time. “Let’s call him Cain,” she whispers, looking up at Adam, who smiles.
No doubt the arrival of baby Cain—and later another son, Abel—brought a newfound joy into the lives of Adam and Eve. But perfect bliss was not to be had this side of Eden.
For when Adam and Eve disregarded God’s instructions and bit into the luscious looking fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, sin—and ultimately death—entered the world. Death that meant spiritual and eternal separation from God. Adam and Eve would experience not only the physical death of old age, but they would also realize the human capacity for evil—to the point that one human would actually choose to end the life of another.
At the hands of jealous Cain, Abel crumpled to a heap in the field in what is the first recorded murder in Scripture. The first death outside of Eden. And so, a mother’s heart ached for the loss of her child at the hands of violence for the first time. The perpetrator was not an unknown assailant, but her very own son. How her heart must have broken—twice.
It might have been easy for Eve to blame herself for one son’s crime and the other’s death: If only I hadn’t listened to the serpent. If only I’d not eaten the fruit. Or perhaps she may have laid the blame elsewhere.
We do not know. But in our last glimpse of her in the Genesis account, we do see hope.
“And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’ To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:25-26).
This hope of new life leads us to a fuller understanding of Eve’s story. Despite the fact it was through her act of disobedience that sin entered the world, life, not death, is her true and ultimate legacy.
Following the fall, she is given her name—derived from the Hebrew word meaning “life” or a related word, “to breathe”. She is the mother of all living and breathing. And this very fact gave the future hope.
Eve was the first life-giver in whose line would come the ultimate life-giver: Jesus. The One who would reverse the curse of death once and for all. Just thinking about this fact gives me hope as well. No matter what mistakes I make as a mother, no matter how I fail or sin, Jesus is my redemption and my hope.
JOCHEBED: BRAVE TRUST
Jochebed double-checks the papyrus basket she’s spent several months weaving, making sure it is watertight—every inch covered in tar. She has kept her infant son, Moses, alive the past few months—hidden despite Pharaoh’s order to put all male Israelite babies to death. But it is getting harder to keep him a secret any longer, and she has to come up with a risky plan.
Jochebed tenderly tucks a blanket around her child, who looks up at her with wide-eyed trust. She has already risked much keeping him alive since birth, but the only chance for Moses to survive is to risk even more! Would she see him alive again? Questions play in her mind as she tearfully pushes the basket into the water, her daughter Miriam watching from a distance.
But when Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the small babe amongst the reeds and decides to keep him, Miriam does some quick thinking and goes to fetch a nurse for Moses. Of course, it’s Jochebed.
Jochebed is a woman of brave trust. Her actions are carefully planned and wise, exhibiting bravery in the face of Pharaoh’s orders. But ultimately, she had to trust God for the outcome. Moses was now literally and figuratively out of her hands.
Jochebed teaches me how to trust God when the outcome of the future is unknown. When wisdom and planning are exhausted, all that’s left is brave trust in God, who oversees the situation, no matter how difficult. Whether I have a learning disability I can’t fix, or a rebellious teenager who scoffs at my instruction, there comes a point when I’ve done all I can do. I must wait and see what God will do.
HANNAH: PRAYING THROUGH EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE
Desperate to be alone, away from the provoking and cruel words of Peninnah, Hannah rushes to the Tabernacle to pour her heart out to the Lord in prayer.
It is like this every year, when they travel as a family to worship and offer sacrifices at Shiloh. Peninnah—the second wife of Hannah’s husband Elkanah—takes her verbal attacks up a notch, until Hannah can’t endure it anymore. So upset she can’t even eat, all she wants to do is cry. Something has to change.
“Lord, if You will give me a son, I will give him back to You for all the days of his life,” she chokes out through tears. One son. And then she’d give him up. I don’t know if I could make a vow like that. Could you?
Suddenly, Hannah’s fervent concentration is broken by a harsh voice.“How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you!” It was Eli, the High Priest. Even in the Temple she is not left alone but falsely accused and misunderstood. Eli’s words reveal the depraved state the Tabernacle was in under his leadership—he doesn’t even recognize private prayer when he sees it. But despite his slander, Hannah responds with grace, explaining that she is “troubled in spirit” and is praying.
“Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him,” Eli responds.
Hannah dries her eyes and leaves the Temple. Breathing deeply, she knows she must face Penninah again, but she doesn’t dread it anymore. She finds herself ravenous and goes back to her tent to eat, leaving the matter with the Lord.
Eventually, Hannah conceives a son. Can you imagine her joy as she felt the first kick? Her gratitude as her belly became swollen with the son of her prayers?
Samuel is born, and how Hannah must have relished each moment with him as he grew from a baby to toddler. It wasn’t until he was weaned that she took him to the Tabernacle to dedicate him to the Lord and leave him in Eli’s care.
This act exemplifies Hannah’s trust and faith in God. Eli had already raised two sons who were uncontrollably corrupt. Could he be a good father to her precious son? But she knew God heard her prayers. And as she dedicated Samuel to the Lord’s service, she prayed one of the most beautiful prayers in all of Scripture, foreshadowing Mary’s Magnificat. A prayer that no doubt echoed in her heart in the years to come, as she sewed each little robe to give to her son when they visited the Tabernacle. With each stitch a prayer for him would be on her lips.
God’s blessings did not end with Samuel. Hannah would go on to bear three more sons and two daughters. She would no longer be the childless subject of Pennanah’s insults.
Prayer characterized Hannah’s life. In two short chapters in the Bible, Hannah prayed with such raw emotion and joy that one can only imagine the depth of her love for the Lord. She turned to the Lord in her darkest hour, and once that hour had passed, she turned again to the Lord in her deepest joy.
My prayers seem to pale in comparison to Hannah’s. They seem lame and tepid. I could learn from Hannah’s specific and bold example in prayer. I long to pray and praise as fervently as she did, not only remembering, but acting on the promise that the prayers of a righteous person have the power to accomplish great things (James 5:16).
Like Eve, we’ve tasted the bitterness of failure. Like Jochebed, we’ve struggled to bravely trust God in the midst of an uncertain future. Like Hannah, we’ve come to Him with our prayers of pain and joy. Like the mothers in the Bible before us, being a mother allows us to encounter God in the midst of the mess and know Him in a way we did not know Him before.
I hear my twins stirring from the other room. Naptime is over. I feel a kick in my ribs as my daughter does a somersault. I close my Bible but know I will carry Eve, Jochebed, and Hannah’s stories with me into my own motherhood journey—now and in the years to come.
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