Biblical mothers may have faced a different set of cultural challenges than we do. But whether the choices they made were wicked, wise, or both, their stories still offer valuable insight into motherhood today. In this article, Heather Wagner looks at 5 mothers in the Bible: Herodias, Jochedbed, Sarah, Lot’s wife, and Hannah, and shows us how we can draw practical lessons from their stories that impact the way we live our lives and parent our children.
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun, like ‘struggle’.” Mister Rogers
Mr. Rogers may be our favorite neighbor, but his words rubbed uncomfortably against some of the preconceived notions I once held about motherhood. Love isn’t the state of perfect caring? I wish someone would’ve told me that two decades ago.
God’s love is perfect, but mine isn’t. As a new mom, I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to gather information that would help me become the kind of mother that doesn’t exist.
Thankfully, the mothers in the Bible weren’t perfect, either. They were human, just like us. And while their acts of obedience and wild faith inspire us, there’s also valuable insight to be found in their very human responses to the troubles they faced.
Since all of Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training (2 Timothy 3:16), it makes sense to take a closer look at the lives of the moms in the Bible. Even if we struggle to understand the culture in which they lived, we can explore their stories, learn about their backgrounds, and apply the wisdom we find to our lives.
1. HERODIAS: THE MOTHER OF SALOME (MARK 6:14-29, MATTHEW 14:1-12)
When people talk about great mothers in the Bible, Herodias is often noticeably absent from the conversation. Consumed by her desire for revenge, this woman used her daughter to manipulate her husband into murdering John the Baptist. Understandably, she’s often named as one of the most wicked women in the Bible.
What led her down this dark and dangerous road?
Years before Herod Antipas’ infamous birthday party, Herodias looked at her position and decided she’d married the wrong brother. Her first husband, Herod Philip I, was supposed to be the heir of her grandfather, Herod the Great, but he was passed over by the Roman Empire in favor of his half-brother, Herod Antipas.
If that sounds like a whole lot of Herods, it is—and both men were her uncles.
Herodias and Antipas divorced their respective spouses, married each other, and lived in Galilee where Antipas served as tetrarch. Not everyone was happy about their marriage, including John the Baptist. They were breaking Jewish law, and John wasn’t shy about bringing truth to their attention.
Being called to the carpet by someone she saw as a locust-eating wildman was humiliating for Herodias. She couldn’t let it stand. In Mark 6:19, we’re told she “nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him” (NIV). Maybe we’ve never taken a desire to see someone humbled that far, but we’re familiar with indignation. We’ve felt that pull to prove someone wrong. We’ve carried hard feelings for someone who has done us wrong.
What happens when I nurse a grudge? Resentfulness grows. Bitterness takes root. My thoughts are affected, and my behavior follows. Admittedly, being held accountable for our mistakes is never comfortable. It takes humility to accept and apologize for our wrongs, but first we have to acknowledge them. And that’s something Herodias wouldn’t do.
She came from a notorious family who regularly murdered their social and political rivals. She’d heard the old stories, and she knew what power and position could accomplish. In her mind, divorcing Philip, marrying Antipas, asking her daughter to dance for a room full of men, or telling Salmone to demand the head of a prophet on a platter may not have felt like a big deal.
Does her family history and background make her actions okay? Certainly not. But it warns us that pride and the pursuit of revenge are a dangerous combination. She set her heart on evil things, and the consequences of her decisions fell on many shoulders.
2. JOCHEBED: THE MOTHER OF MOSES (EXODUS 2:1-10, 6:20)
As an adopted child, one of my favorite mothers of the Bible is Jochebed, the mother of Moses. Revered for her bravery and faith, she saved her son’s life by placing him in a basket along the banks of the Nile. Because of her selflessness and love, Moses eventually led the Hebrew people out of Egypt.
Before the birth of her son, Jochebed watched as the Egyptians bitterly oppressed her people. A new king had come to power. He feared the Israelite population had grown beyond what could be controlled. Scripture says the Egyptians made the Israelites’ lives bitter with hard labor, and they used them ruthlessly. Despite Pharaoh’s efforts, the Hebrew people continued to grow in number. So he ordered every baby boy born to a Hebrew woman to be thrown into the Nile River.
At first glance, it may seem as though Jochebed prepared a basket, placed Moses in the Nile, and hoped for the best. But a closer look at the Bible story suggests she carefully constructed and followed a plan. She made the basket waterproof. She knew where the royal family bathed, and when they would come down to the river. And she identified a place to position her daughter along the Nile to observe and report what happened to her brother. But before any of those things could take place, there was something else she had to do.
She had to let go.
The self-control and faith it took for her to be still and watch Moses float gently out of her reach floors me. When she did, God did immeasurably more than she could have imagined.
As my son heads off to college, Jochebed’s story reminds me that I can let go, too.
At the end of the day, I know the purpose God has for my son isn’t about me. When I drive away from that campus, I will choose to surrender him fully into God’s care. Like Jochebed, once we’ve worked unto the Lord and done our best to prepare our children for their journeys, we can trust in God’s sovereignty. We can know He’s working to bring about their good and His glory.
3. SARAH: THE MOTHER OF ISAAC (GENESIS 15-17, 21)
One of the most well known women in the Bible is Sarah, the mother of Isaac. In Genesis 15, God promised her husband an heir from his own body and descendants as numerous as the stars. Was she included in this promise? She wasn’t sure. We don’t know if Abraham and Sarah had a marriage contract to stipulate a course of action in the face of infertility. But in ancient times, these contracts were often drawn up to ensure a woman’s barrenness didn’t bring about the end of the family line.
Sarah’s decision to build a family through her servant Hagar wouldn’t have been shocking in their time. And the animosity that developed between the two women likely doesn’t shock us today. If we read beyond the part of the story where Sarah laughs at the thought of bearing a child in her old age, and past God’s fulfillment of that promise through the birth of her son Isaac, we read about the great feast.
Like a sweet sixteen or a quinceanera, the feast Abraham and Sarah prepared for Isaac marked an important milestone in the life of their son. He survived the perils of infancy, and he would likely grow up and reach adulthood. But in the midst of their celebration, and in front of all their guests, Sarah sees Hagar’s son, Ishmael, mocking her son. It undoes her, and she turns to her husband with a demand.
“Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:10, NIV).
Oh, Sarah. I understand your anger. When someone treats our children unkindly, it hurts our hearts. Sometimes we handle it well, and sometimes we don’t. The term ‘mama bear’ exists for good reason.
Like Sarah, maybe we’ve used, or wanted to use, whatever power or position we have to dispense justice in a way that feels fair and right from our own perspective. God gets it. He understands our deep desire to help, protect, and advocate for our babies. He knows how it feels to see a loved son mistreated and rejected.
There have been times I’ve failed to respond to conflict with faith and grace. I wonder if you’ve been there before. Can you remember a time when a friend, teacher, coach, or neighbor did something that hurt or embarrassed your child and you reacted in a way that didn’t honor God? I can, too. This part of Sarah’s story reminds us that even mothers of great faith and favor make mistakes. Yet, when our pride gets the best of us or we sin out of anger, He is faithful to forgive us and see us through the consequences of our poor choices.
4. LOT’S WIFE (GENESIS 19:15-16, LUKE 17:32)
Lot’s wife is one of the mothers from the Bible we remember the most and understand the least. She looks back toward the burning city of Sodom and turns into a pillar of salt.
Under the guidance and protection of his uncle, her husband becomes so wealthy and successful that the land can no longer support the flocks and herds of both men. Before things get ugly, Lot and Abram decide to part ways. With his uncle’s blessing, Lot selects the best land available. Unfortunately, it’s located close to Sodom, a city marked by immorality and apathy.
It’s in this city that Lot’s wife makes her home and raises her daughters. If the couple wasn’t aware of the wickedness that operated within Sodom when they arrived, they found out quickly. The New Testament tells us Lot was greatly distressed by the evil he saw as he lived among them day after day (2 Peter 2:7-8). Lot’s wife had to see it, too!
So much of their story is difficult to digest, and I’m left with the same questions I had as a child in Sunday school: Why would they go there? Why would they stay? Why did she look back?
After 20 years as a military wife, I craved stability, security, and community. With my husband’s retirement in view, we bought our first home and made plans to settle down. When that plan was interrupted and we were called to move again, I wept. As the moving van pulled away, I stood in our empty living room and mourned the life I’d dreamed of. I looked back. First with my eyes, and later with my heart.
Maybe that’s why Lot’s wife looked back. As the wife of a herdsman, she’d known a transient life. Perhaps she convinced herself the home she’d built in Sodom was better than a life spent in a tent in the countryside.
Could her longing for a home explain why she turned a blind eye to the wickedness of the town? Or how she was able to pretend it wasn’t affecting her family? One look at her daughters’ behavior after they escaped the city proves that Sodom corrupted them too. We don’t know for sure, but as fire rained down from heaven and the smell of sulfur filled the air, something made her turn around for one last look.
Sometimes God asks us to leave a place we’ve grown comfortable. And when we don’t know what’s ahead, it’s tempting to long for what’s behind. Even as mothers of faith, we’re not immune to being influenced by the culture of the community in which we live or the content we consume. We’re called to be in the world, but not of it. But we can’t do that without God’s help.
In Luke 17:28-32, Jesus offers insight into Sodom and the people who lived there before it was destroyed. He tells the Pharisees to remember Lot’s wife. And we would be wise to do the same.
5. HANNAH: THE MOTHER OF SAMUEL (1 SAMUEL 1-2)
For good reason, Hannah is often named as one of the most godly mothers in the Bible. When the Lord answered her prayers and blessed Hannah with a son, she honored the promise she’d made before God. When the time arrived, she brought Samuel to serve under Eli the priest at the house of the Lord at Shiloh. Her obedience brought blessings, and her faith and follow-through still inspire us today.
One of the things that touched me the most about Hannah’s story is the way she continued to love and support her son as he grew up. Though he was far from home, she found a way to both honor his path and communicate her love for him.
“Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice” (1 Samuel 2:19, NIV).
The clothing worn by the Hebrew people of ancient times wasn’t just functional. It was also symbolic. We use clothing to communicate too. We wear team jerseys and college hoodies. Often we buy faith-based t-shirts, jewelry, and accessories that send visual messages about who we are and what we believe. Identity and connection: Hannah’s yearly gift to her son served both purposes.
Did she, like the skilled craftsmen who were appointed to make priestly clothes for Aaron and his sons, carefully embroider Samuel’s little robes with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet yarn? Did she pray for God to direct her son’s steps as she crafted each piece? When he put on the robe each day, did he think of his mom and feel known and loved?
Hannah’s commitment to make her son a robe every year prompts me to consider how I might encourage my children as they grow and travel along the paths God sets before them. How might we, as mothers, find creative ways to communicate our love and support of our children and their callings?
WISDOM FROM THE BIBLICAL MOTHERS
Biblical mothers may have faced a different set of cultural challenges than we do. But their stories still offer valuable insight into motherhood today. Whether the choices they made were wicked, wise, or both, we can draw practical lessons that impact the way we live our lives and parent our children. Praise God that His Word never returns void.
Which biblical mother’s story do you resonate most with? Which story did you draw the most wisdom or encouragement from? Share your take-aways with us in the comments below!
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