It occurred to me the other day, in preparing for a Mother’s Day sermon, that the story of the Bible (the story of God redeeming his people) could be told almost entirely in categories of motherhood. So I thought I’d give it a shot.
In Creation & Fall
God created and ordered the world — and it was good. But one thing was not good: Man was alone. So God created the helper suitable for him who would be not only his wife, but the ‘mother of all the living’ even before she had children (Gen 3.20). Once this ‘mother’ was created and given to her husband, creation was ‘very good.’
Of course, the downfall of humanity came when the one who was created to be mother took on a different role, was deceived, and led her family into transgression.
But God was not done with this woman and was not content to leave motherhood unredeemed. Rather, in the very context of pronouncing his judgement on motherhood (Gen 3.16) he also pronounced that the role of motherhood was going to be blessed with the privilege of redeeming all of humanity and all of creation (Gen 3.15). Through this mother would come the one who brings true life to all those who will truly live.
In the Old Testament Narrative
The narrative of Genesis unfolds as a fulfilling of the blessings and curses of God as the seed of the woman is forever opposed by the seed of the serpent. The climax of the stories in Genesis surround the wives of the patriarchs and their inability to bear children. If the women can’t become mothers, the whole plan of God falls apart. But each time God intervenes and gives children to the mothers so that his plan of redeeming the world continues through them.
Midway through the Old Testament, in Psalm 131, the psalmist reflects on God’s dealings with his people in order to call his people to ‘hope in God both now and forevermore.’ Do you know what he appeals to? The best image he can think of to display the trustworthiness of God is the image of a weaned child with his mother. As a weaned child has learned to trust and to hope, so the people of God should trust and hope in their God (Ps 131.1-3).
Similarly, as Isaiah reflects on God’s purposes in judgement and redemption and calls God’s people to trust in his good will and the deliverance he will bring, he compares God’s care for his people with that of a mother for her children. ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you’ (Is 49.15). They can know that God will have mercy and remember to redeem his people because his compassion for them exceeds that of a mother for her children (the highest earthly example).
Jesus would bring this theme to light again when he is about to come to the end of his earthly ministry. In Matthew 23.37 Jesus stands looking out over Jerusalem and declares, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’ Here again, the compassion of God for his people Israel is compared to that of a mother caring for her children.
In the Coming of the Deliverer
In the opening two chapters of Luke’s gospel there is a strong emphasis placed on the theme of the barren woman miraculously giving birth to a child of promise: first Elizabeth with John and then Mary with Jesus. The reason is simple: we have reached the climax of this particular theme through Scripture, so its fulfillment must be highlighted. Paul reminds us of this very thing in Galatians 4.4 when he tells that Jesus, the Saviour, was ‘born of a woman.’ He is the promised deliverer, the seed of the woman, come to crush the seed of the serpent.
At the end of the Bible, in Revelation 12, John reflects on all God’s working in history through his people Israel and how Satan has opposed them and now continues to oppose the church. What is the picture that John chooses to use? The messianic people are pictured as a mother, with the entirety of redemptive history up until Christ as her period of travail in labour. Woman (together with man!) has been saved through childbearing (1 Tim 2:15), as Jesus, the promised one, miraculously conceived, is finally born to save his people from their sins.
And that is the story of the Bible, through the lens of motherhood.