SERMON: Mothers (Exodus 1 & 2; 1 Samuel 1 & 2; 1 Kings 17; Matthew 1 & 2)
The importance of the place of women in the church cannot be overstated. Indeed, over the centuries, and even in the pages of the Old Testament, women have had a very important part to play in the life of the worshiping community. Furthermore, in many churches today, where men are conspicuous by their absence, it is only because of women that some of our churches have remained open.
With that in mind, what I’d like to do, today, is to look at four cameos of some of the important women in the bible. And because it’s Mother’s Day, this Sunday, I thought I’d pick four women, all of whom were mothers.
Now some mothers will tell you that it’s not easy bringing up children. After all, there are so many things over which they have no control. And some mothers would suggest that it’s much harder bringing up children now than it’s ever been. But I’m going to suggest, today, that life and motherhood has never been easy. And I think the stories that I’ve chosen demonstrate that all too well.
B. FOUR MOTHERS
1. Jochebed (Exodus 1 & 2)
Now the first mother, is a mother who feared for the life of her new born son. Her name was Jochebed. She lived about three and a half thousand years ago in Egypt. And she not only came from the priestly side of the Jewish race, but she was a devout believer in God too.
Jochebed’s dilemma was that the Israelite population had grown so large, that the Pharaoh at the time considered her race a threat to the existence of the Egyptians. As a consequence, he ordered that all Israelite baby boys be thrown into the River Nile and be drowned.
Now you can imagine what effect that would have had on Jochebed, particularly when her baby was born, and it was a boy. Jochebed would have been frantic. She would have been desperate to preserve the life of her baby in any way she could. And that was precisely what she did.
For three months she kept her baby hidden. She built a papyrus basket and coated it with pitch and tar, and placed it among the reeds of the river. And she gave her daughter, Miriam, the job of keeping watch over her brother—but from a discrete distance.
However, the thing that Jochebed feared most, happened. The baby was spotted, and by Pharaoh’s daughter. But here the story has a twist. Because the princess decided not to have the baby drowned, but to keep it for herself. So the princess named the baby Moses, and sought out among the Israelites someone who would make a suitable nanny. Then, through the devious manipulation of Miriam, Jochebed was summoned to the princess and was asked to nurse the child.
Jochebed, then, a mother who feared for the life of her child, and went to extraordinary lengths in order that her baby could survive. And she was finally blessed with caring for her own child. And, may I add, was paid for the privilege.
2. Hannah (1 Samuel 1 & 2)
The second example is about a mother, who nearly wasn’t a mother at all. She was a woman who was desperate to have a child, but was simply unable to conceive. Her name was Hannah.
Now Hannah lived a little over three thousand years ago, in the hill country of Ephraim. She was one of two wives to a man named Elkanah. And whereas the other wife had produced him children, Hannah was quite barren. A point her rival was only to eager to rub in.
However, Hannah was a woman who was devoted to God, and each year journeyed to Shiloh for the annual sacrifices. One year, however, her rival had provoked her so much, that when she went up to Shiloh, she made a vow to God: “Almighty LORD, if only you would look upon the misery of your handmaid and remember me. Do not forget your handmaid, but give her a son. I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life. No razor will come near his head.” A quite extraordinary, and desperate plea. And yet, as the story goes, God honoured her prayer, and Samuel was born.
Now, after Samuel’s birth, Hannah stayed home and nursed the boy. But when he was three or four years old, she took him to Eli the priest at Shiloh, where he began his service to God, just as she had promised. Then each year, at the time of the annual sacrifices, she went up to Shiloh, having made him some clothing, and visited her son.
Now you may think, with me, that with Samuel being born it would have been hard to give up her son. It would have been very easy to renege on her vow. And maybe it was. But the record shows that Hannah not only willingly gave up her son to Eli, but she rejoiced in God for the privilege. And, what’s more, this Hannah, who was unable to have children, was then blessed by God with another five children—three sons and two daughters.
3. The Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17)
The third example is a mother who struggled with poverty, particularly regarding having enough food to eat. The woman’s name, we don’t know, but she was not an Israelite, and she lived in what we would now call Lebanon. What we do know, is that she was a widow, and that she lived in a coastal town called Zarephath some three thousand years ago. We also know she had one child—a son—and that she had great faith in God.
Now she faced a great predicament in life. Her larder was almost empty, and she had only enough flour and water left for one more meal for herself and her son. After which she expected that they would both starve to death. On top of that, however, she’d been told by God to expect a visitor—Elijah—and that she was to provide a meal for him.
Well, you can imagine her dilemma. She didn’t have enough food for herself and her son, let alone any visitor. And, so when Elijah arrived she told him of her dilemma. But Elijah told her not to worry about her food supply, but to have faith. He told her that if she obeyed God, then her jar of flour would not run out, and her jar of water would not run dry.
Now, that seems to me, to be a pretty hard test. Because it was not just her own welfare she had to consider, she also had that of her son’s. But she was a woman of faith. And having been told by God what was expected of her, and having been reassured by Elijah of the outcome, she did as she’d been asked. And as had been promised, she was blessed with two jars—one of flour and the other of water—that did not run out. Plenty of food for her, her son, and whatever visitors would come their way.
However, if the widow thought her troubles were over, she was very much mistaken. Her son became ill and died. Well, you can imagine the widow was distraught, She’d already lost her husband, and now she had lost her only child. Her son was the only thing she had in life. However, even though we don’t know why he died, a second miracle occurred. Because using Elijah as his instrument, God restored her precious son to life.
The widow then, even in dire poverty, was blessed by God with an abundance of food, and the restoration of her son back to life.
4. Mary (Matthew 1 & 2)
And the final mother, I want to mention today, is someone who seemed to face it all. If anything was going to happen, it would happen to her. Of course, this mother will be the most familiar. Because. it’s Mary the mother of Jesus. But a woman of great faith too.
Now imagine a girl as young as twelve or thirteen being told she was about to become pregnant. Now she wasn’t married, and in the culture of her day she should have been treated as an outcast. It may be surprising, then, that at the news of her pregnancy she rejoiced. She praised God.
Imagine too a very young mother with child—a child who would have been two years old at the most—fleeing to Egypt for the child’s safety, because Herod thought he was a threat to his throne.
Imagine a mother, on the way home from a visit to Jerusalem, realising that her twelve-year-old boy was missing (Luke 2:41-42), only to find that Jesus had been left behind in Jerusalem.
Imagine too, the mother of (a now) grown up son, who couldn’t get near him, let alone talk to him, because of the crowds around him (Luke 8:19-20).
And imagine a mother, standing at the foot of a cross, whilst her own son—her own flesh and blood—was being crucified in front of her very eyes (John 19:25).
Imagine it. Yet Mary was a woman who had been blessed by God. Indeed, she had been only too willing to be used by God as part of his salvation plan. Yes, over the years, she may have wondered precisely what all that meant, and whether she was mistaken. But at the resurrection of her own son she would have been blessed, not only in the salvation that Jesus brought, but in knowing that she had allowed God to use her to bring salvation to the world.
Four cameos, then, of four mothers. Four mothers who would, and did anything for their children. And four mothers who have shown that being a mother, indeed, has not always been easy.
Having said that, however, it seems to me that there at least three common denominators in our four stories today. And common denominators that go outside the norm of being a woman, a mother and raising children.
1. The Importance of Faith
And the first is that each of our cameos was a woman of faith. Each relied on God for guidance and help in their daily struggles. And to be honest I don’t know how any of them would have coped without that.
Without God’s intervention: Moses would have been drowned, Hannah would have remained childless, the widow and her son would have starved to death, and Mary would not have given birth to the saviour of the world. Having faith, then, does make a difference.
Now not all of us are going to be asked by God to do such great things. Nevertheless, leaving aside the importance of faith regarding salvation itself, these four women show us the importance of having faith in a God we can depend on, and who can help us through the traumas of life.
2. Obedience to God
Secondly, each of our cameos shows what it means to live a life of obedience. And just as life in this world, may not always be easy, neither is the life of obedience to God.
When God calls us to a life of obedience, he doesn’t tell us it will be an easy road. Indeed, it may involve much hardship as well.
Jochebed had to go to great pains to make sure her baby was safe. And she had to live with the consequences of being found out. Hannah committed her son to a life of devotion to God—a life which would take him as a very young child away from her constant presence. The widow of Zarephath had to decide who she was going to feed—whether to feed her visitor, or to look after her own, and her son’s, needs. And Mary faced with the prospect of being a single mother—in a culture very hostile to such situations—had to decide whether to obey God, or to take the easier path.
The Christian walk, then, contrary to what some believe, is not always easy. And it certainly doesn’t guarantee a trouble free life. On the contrary, the things God asks us to do can be very challenging. And they will test us, to whom we truly belong.
3. Rewards of God
And thirdly, each of our cameos demonstrates that not only is God about salvation in the next life, but he is into rewarding the faithful in this life too.
Jochebed was rewarded with a boy who was not drowned like all the others. Indeed she was given him back to care for and bring up. Hannah was rewarded, not only with the birth of Samuel, but with five other children as well. The widow, was given plenty of food for both herself and her son, to cover their future needs. And when the son died, he was returned to her—restored to life. And Mary was rewarded by becoming one of the most important players in God’s salvation plan.
Three things then which reflect that life isn’t easy, that motherhood isn’t easy, and that the life of faith isn’t easy either. But they also reflect the idea that the faith does make a difference. And not only did it make a difference to the lives of our four cameos, but it would then go on and make a difference to other people’s lives too.
As you can see, then, the place of women, including mothers, is very important in the context of a community of faith. And let no one tell you otherwise.
Now, today, we’ve seen four mothers, who in their own ways were all put through the wringer. But four mothers, who came out the other side stronger and better equipped than ever before. And the reason they came out stronger and better equipped was that they were all women of faith. They all had God on their side, leading and encouraging in some of the most difficult of circumstances. And they were all rewarded for their faith.
Whether you’re a mother or not, then, faith in God does make a difference. It may not mean that we’re immune to the things of this world, and all the things that it throws at us. But it does mean that we don’t have to face those things alone.
It also means that we can all make a difference, just like Jochebed, Hannah, the widow of Zarephath, Mary the mother of Jesus … and the many other women of faith, past and present who are too numerous for me to mention now.
Posted: 2nd May 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
BIBLE STUDY: The Laws of Moses for Today. 1. The God of the Exodus (Exodus 3:1-5; 12:3-13; 13:3; Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 18:9-14)
Ask any group of people ‘Who is God?’ and you will get a variety of responses. Some will say that he is real while others will deny that he exists. Even among those who believe in his existence, some will say that he is the creator, redeemer and sanctifier active in the world today, while others will say that he doesn’t really care, having abandoned his creation long ago.
So who is God and what does he say about himself? Why did the Israelites (with friends) abandon their homes in Egypt, to risk a perilous journey into the unknown? And, importantly for us, is this the kind of God in whom we can put our trust?
Group Discussion: Who is God?
Personal Reflection: What does God mean to me?
When God appeared to Moses, he gave him his name, ‘YHWH’ (often translated as LORD or Jehovah). He had heard the plight of the Israelites in Egypt and had come to rescue his people.
Read: Exodus 3:1-15
1. How does God reveal himself to Moses? Why did he approach Moses in this way? (vv. 1-6)
2. What had God come to do, and why? (vv.7-9)
3. What did God expect Moses to do? Comment on Moses’s reaction. (vv. 10-15)
GOD TO THE RESCUE
God sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh in the hope of persuading him to let his people go. And, as an indication of his power, he gave them signs to perform and, later, plagues to inflict. The tenth and final plague was on the firstborn of all Egypt—men and animals alike.
Read: Exodus 12:3-13; 13:3
4. What was involved in the celebration of the Passover? (12:12-11)
5. Why were the instructions for the Passover so detailed? What would have happened if the people had decided to do things their own way?
6. The firstborn Egyptians were to be killed and the firstborn of the Israelites were to be saved. (12:12-13). What opportunities had God given the Egyptians to let the people go?
THE PROMISED LAND
God didn’t just rescue his people from slavery in Egypt. He used Moses to lead his people to Mount Sinai, and eventually to the land he had promised to Abraham and his descendants.
Read: Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 18:9-14
7. What did God command his people to do when they reached Canaan? (7:1-2))
8. Why did God command it, and was it ‘fair’ on the inhabitants on Canaan? (18:9-14)
9. The God of the Old Testament is often criticised as being a God of war. But to what extent do his commands demonstrate the love of a father for his children?
The God of the Exodus is described as a God who cares for and listens to his people, he makes promises and keeps them, he judges unbelievers, and he rescues his people even in the most extraordinary circumstances.
10. Is this the kind of God that you believe in?
11. When you call out to be rescued by God, to what lengths do you expect God to go?
12. How obedient are you to the God who loves you? How much should we be expected to live with consequences of our mistakes?
Posted 18th September 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis
DEVOTION: Spreading the Load (Exodus 18: 1, 5, 15-27)
And yet, when we read the story of Moses in Exodus, we learn that even someone like Moses—who tried to be there for everyone—just couldn’t do it. Not only that, it was obvious he couldn’t do it. And even his father in law, within twenty-four hours of his arrival, could see that. Which is why Jethro suggested a way forward that was not only in Moses’s interests, but in the people’s interests too.
And what Jethro suggested was to create a sort of pyramid of carers. With Moses at the top, others underneath, and even more underneath them, and so on.
Now it’s interesting that these days “experts” tell us that one person cannot care properly for any more than eight to twelve people. And, yet, the formula that Jethro came up with, was that there should be “officials appointed over the people of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” In other words, there should be one person appointed for every ten people.
Now this passage talks only in terms of people being appointed judges, to settle disputes. But if that kind of formula is required for the appointment of judges, then to expect one person to care for more than ten people—as well as doing a lot of other things besides—really doesn’t make sense. And, of course, that has great implications for the way we model our churches today.
So, what should our model be of the church? Well, we too may well need more people who are prepared to care for the people. We too may well need more people to ease the burden of the leaders of the church. And we too may well need more people to put their hands up, and say, “Yes I am willing to help.”
Fortunately for Moses, he got that help, and because of that he could take the people on a journey that might not otherwise have been possible. But have we got the people who are willing to help too?
Posted: 7th April 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
BIBLE STUDY: The Laws of Moses for Today. 2. Other Gods (Exodus 23:23-24, 32-33; 34:15-16; Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 6:4, 14-15; 12:29-31; 29:16-18)
The people of this world worship many gods—some local, and others worldwide (and beyond). But are all gods equal? Most main-line religions are exclusive—including Christianity—but even Christians have ‘conversations’ and mix with people of other beliefs. Furthermore, the adoption of practices associated with other religions is widespread.
Indeed, I have known Yoga to be taught in a rectory (with all the division that that caused in the church). I have also known someone who progressed through the ranks of ‘secular’ Karate to explore its more spiritual side.
But in the church, should this be so? Indeed, in the context of living in a secular society, what demands of our Old Testament God should we be applying to our Christian lives today?
Group Discussion: What should a Christian’s attitude be to other religions and practices today?
Personal Reflection: Am I involved in practices associated with other religions?
The world in which the Israelites lived was full of other gods. Indeed, it was not unusual for the master of the house to have a cupboard or niche in which his ‘household gods’ were placed. But God was determined that was not the way for the Israelites.
Read: Exodus 23:23-24; 32-33
1. What did God command the Israelites to do (or not to do)? (23-24)
2. Why was God so opposed to the gods of the Canaanites? (33)
3. What snares do we face living amongst peoples of other faiths?
There was a reason for God opposing the worship of other gods. It would turn people away from him.
Read: Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 6:4, 14-15
4. God commanded that his people should not make idols etc., (or more properly, ‘worthless’ idols). What was he suggesting that the idols could or couldn’t do? (Leviticus 26:1)
5. God described himself as ‘one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4). What does that suggest?
6. God is often described in the Old Testament as being a ‘jealous’ God (Deuteronomy 6:15). What do you understand by the term ‘jealous’?
Despite excluding other beliefs, many people still see the merit of adopting practices that are (or have been) associated with other religions. Yet God was very clear in his instructions to the Israelites.
Read: Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 12:29-31; 29:16-18
7. Why did God warn of the dangers of associating with people of other beliefs? (Exodus 34:15-16)
8. The worship of other gods may be wrong, but does that mean that we cannot use their practices in our own worship of God? (Deuteronomy 12:29-31)
9. God required the expulsion—and even the death penalty—for those who engaged in other beliefs and their associated practices (Deuteronomy 29:16-18). Why did God demand such a severe punishment?
Living in a secular country means that Christians are surrounded by beliefs which are described in Old Testament terms as abominations to God.
10. What beliefs and practices associated (or previously associated) with those beliefs are you aware of today?
11. Can it be said that any former religious practice has been totally divorced from its religious origins?
12. What steps do you take to ensure your faith (and the faith of your church) is free from the influence of other religions?
Posted 25th September 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis