Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
For Mother’s Day: Honoring Your Mother
by Keith Throop
The Fifth Commandment’s admonition to each one of us is, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12), and King Solomon obviously honored his mother a great deal! Yet bowing before her and seating her on a throne would have meant little or nothing if he did not honor her the rest time and in other ways. But in what other ways did he honor his mother? Exactly how did he honor her the rest of the time? We don’t have to wonder too much about this, since the Holy Spirit who gave Him such great wisdom also inspired him to write some of it down. For this reason, I want us to take a look this morning at the Proverbs of Solomon to better learn from our departed brother, one of the two wisest men who ever lived – Jesus was the wisest! – what it means to honor our mothers.
Perhaps one of the single greatest examples of a man’s honoring of his mother can be found in the account of Solomon honoring his mother:
1st Kings 2:19
- "Bathsheba therefore went unto king Solomon, to speak unto him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a seat to be set for the king's mother; and she sat on his right hand."
The first thing to notice about Solomon’s statement in verse 8 is that it includes the mother alongside to father as the teacher of godly wisdom. Such a prominent place for the role of the mother – or women in general – was unique in ancient times. In his commentary on Proverbs, Derek Kidner speaks of “the fully personal bond taken to exist between husband and wife. The two share the children’s training and are assumed to speak with one voice … This is a far cry from the not uncommon ancient idea of a wife as chattel and childbearer but no companion” (TOTC, Vol. 15, p.49-50). Or as David Hubbard writes, “That both parents are mentioned is a tribute to the prominent role of Israel’s mothers. We find no similar references to mother as teacher in Babylonian or Egyptian wisdom literature” (The Communicator’s Commentary, Vol. 15A, p.49). Indeed, the mother is clearly referred to in this passage as a teacher. For, when Solomon says, “do not forsake the law of your mother,” it is in parallel with the father’s “instruction.” Also, in the Solomon must mean by the phrase “law of your mother” the law of God as taught by your mother. He assumes that your mother has learned the wisdom that comes from the fear of the LORD, which leads her to submit to the instruction of His Word. It is this same fear and instruction that she then passes on to her child. In this context, then, to honor your mother means to place great value on the things of God that she seeks to share with you and to listen to what she says. It means to recognize her as God’s mouthpiece in your life. Now, not all of us have mothers who know the Lord, but that doesn’t mean we cannot seek to honor them for whatever good things they may have to tell us. Even if we may have to look closely to find such things, we should seek them out and then honor our mothers for having the wisdom to share them with us. We should also thank them for whatever good things they may have taught us. And, even more importantly, we should thank God for anything good that has come from our mothers.
- "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
- My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
- For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck."
Solomon refers to himself in two ways here. First, he remembers having been tender when he was little. The Hebrew word is [rak], which refers to the “quality of being soft, weak, [or] tender” (Holladay #7894, BibleWorks).So apparently Solomon was pretty frail as a boy, or at least he is referring to a time in his childhood – probably his early childhood – when he was particularly weak. But his memory of that time is a good memory, because as far back as he can remember his father and mother were teaching him the way of life. And he remembers especially the way his mother treated him. This leads to the second way in which Solomon refers to himself here, and it is striking. Notice how he says that he was “the only one” in the sight of his mother, who we know was Bathsheba. But we also know that Bathsheba would have had at least some love and high regard for David, Solomon’s father. And we also know that David and Bathsheba had three other sons, as 1 Chronicles tells us:
- "For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.
- He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live."
1st Chronicles 3:5
So how is it that, when reflecting back on the earliest days of his childhood that he can remember, Solomon says that he was “the only one” in the sight of his mother (Proverbs 4:3)? Well, perhaps he was treated in a special way because of his frailty, and he remembers with fondness the special care his mother gave him. Or perhaps she just had a way of always making him feel special. Whatever the precise meaning he has in mind, one thing is certain: Solomon never forgot how special he was in the eyes of his mother. And he never forgot how caring she had been to him. No wonder he treated her with such honor later when he became the king. He knew that he owed a great deal to her! This is why celebrating Mother’s Day is such a good idea. It hopefully gives us a chance to think back on even the earliest memories we have of our mothers, to remember them with fondness and to appreciate anew the role they have played in our lives.
- "And these were born unto him in Jerusalem; Shimea, and Shobab, and Nathan, and Solomon, four, of Bathshua the daughter of Ammiel:"
Here again we have an admonition not to forsake “the law of your mother.” But the idea here is emphasized by the reference to her godly teaching as something to be continually bound in your heart and tied, as it were, around your neck. This means that we should keep constantly in mind the things that our mothers have taught us. If we do this, we are told, then wherever we go and whatever we do, our mother’s teaching will guide us. You might say, based on this verse, that in a sense every day ought to be a Mother’s Day! Is there any better way to honor your mother?
- "My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
- Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.
- When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee."
It is not hard to see what we can learn from this proverb about honoring our mothers. All we have to do is avoid the kind of foolishness that will cause them grief. But it is important to remember that terms like “wise” and “foolish” are primarily moral rather than intellectual terms. Thus, a wise person is a person who has spiritual understanding, and a foolish person is one who is spiritually daft. What Solomon has in mind here is that we should avoid bringing grief to our mothers by living in ungodly ways and making bad moral decisions. Of course, he again assumes that one has a godly mother who will care about such things in the first place. Yet not all of us have been blessed with such a godly mother. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to apply this proverb. For example, my mother did not know the Lord when I was growing up, and I still don’t know that she is a believer. But I have often found comfort in a teaching of Jesus, in which He promises that He will give His disciples other people in the Church to replace their lost parents:
- "The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.
I can testify that Jesus has indeed given me a number of women over the years who have been like spiritual mothers to me. So, for example, I might want to avoid behaving in any way that I know would bring grief to Eunice Campbell, an older woman who – along with her husband Irvin – had a formative influence on me when I was a young Christian. Or, for a more recent example, I can tell you that I would never want to exhibit the king of foolishness that would grieve Lena Drye or Diane Luhn. You see, even though some of us do not have a godly mother to honor in this way, God has still given us spiritual mothers to honor. But, as I pointed out earlier, we can still also try to honor our own biological mothers in this way to the degree that they wish truly good and honorable things for us.
- "Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
- And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,
- But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."
This proverb is much like the last one, but it states things in a bit stronger way. For here Solomon says that a foolish son that grieves his mother acts as though he hates her! To reject her godly counsel and to live in a way that brings her continual grief is hateful and does not honor her! Conversely, then, to follow the wisdom she seeks to instill from God’s Word is to show her love and to honor her as God desires. I wonder how many men, women, and children claim to love their mothers but act as though they really hate them because they constantly reject what they have been taught by them. Young people and children, don’t be deceived by such hypocrisy. To continually disobey your mother is to act as though you despise her. If you want to honor her as God tells you to do, then you will want to obey her. Remember that the Apostle Paul stresses that obedience is the primary thing that God had in mind when He gave the 5th Commandment:
- "A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother.
One of the chief ways we honor our mothers is by obeying what they have taught us. And this means that we will live by what they have taught us for the rest of our lives, even when we are no longer living with them under their direct authority.
- "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
- Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;)
David Hubbard sums up this proverb nicely when he writes that: “wasteth” suggests violence, even destruction. “Chaseth away,” literally “causes to flee,” pictures a son old enough and strong enough to commandeer the parents’ household and physically eject them. The New Testament son took his share and played the fool by abandoning his family and squandering his resources (Luke 15). This Old Testament fool is much more to be censured; he has confiscated his parents holdings and cruelly sent them packing. Their inward pain is amplified by horrible “shame” and “reproach” (see 27:11), since the whole affair has been placarded in their community. (The Communicator’s Commentary, Vol. 15A, p.258) Granted, this is an extreme case of dishonoring one’s mother, although such things do still happen. But there are other more subtle ways in which one’s mother can be chased away. As John Gill observes, it may just involve that fact that, through his foolish and sinful behavior, the son “causeth her to avoid and abhor his presence and society” (Exposition of the Whole Bible, e-Sword). So, at the very least, we can each honor our mother by being the kind of person she really wants to be around.
- "He that wasteth his father, and chaseth away his mother, is a son that causeth shame, and bringeth reproach."
Today most people think of cursing as simply saying a bad word and thus may think that we should avoid swearing at our parents. Well, I definitely agree that we should avoid such disrespectful behavior. But this isn’t really what the Old Testament idea of cursing involved. The concept has to be understood within the Old Testament context of covenant blessings and curses. David Hubbard is again helpful and quite correct when he asserts that, “’Cursing’ implies the wish and the threat that all blessings be cut off, all mercy withdrawn, and all harm invoked upon them [the parents]” (The Communicator’s Commentary, Vol. 15A, p.258). No matter what his or her mother may have done, a Christian should never be so hateful as to wish her cut off from God! And the person who desires such a thing can be assured that it is he himself who will be judged by God, for this is what it means when the text says that “his lamp will be put out in deep darkness.” It means that his own dark demise will one day come upon him. But, conversely, to honor you mother would mean to wish wish her every blessing from God. And this is one of the very best things we can do to honor our mothers. It will involve telling them that we wish God’s best for them, as well as praying that he will indeed bless them in every way.
- "Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness."
This proverb is easy enough to understand. The older your mother gets, the harder it may become to be around her, the more difficult it may become to take care of her, and the easier it may become to hate having her around. It will be easy to start thinking of her as hopelessly out of touch with the times and as having nothing good left to say. But, Solomon reminds us, to start to think this way is, in fact, hateful. Conversely, to take an interest in what she has to say, to genuinely care about her point of view, is a good way to honor her.
- "Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old."
This repeats some of the same concerns as a few of the proverbs we have already considered. If you want to honor your mother, then seek to make her life a joy because of the way you are living a wise and righteous life. This is one of the greatest joys a godly mother will ever receive from her children.
- "The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him.
- Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice."
This proverb refers to the person who wastes his parents money and goods and thinks it is no problem. As David Hubbard observes: The person who “robs” his parents may claim “‘It is no transgression‘” (Heb. Pesha means “insubordination,” almost “mutiny”) by arguing that the money or the property will come to him anyway at the death of the “mother” or “father.” The wise rightly branded the argument as specious and pinpointed the viciously cruel conduct of one who broke faith with those who gave him life and burdened their later years with regrets about their son’s behavior and anxiety about their means of sustenance. (The Communicator’s Commentary, Vol. 15A, p.258) Jesus addressed this same attitude and behavior in His confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes:
- "Whoso robbeth his father or his mother, and saith, It is no transgression; the same is the companion of a destroyer."
So, if you want to honor your mother, then take care of her when she gets older and can no longer look after herself. And don’t make excuses – however spiritual they may sound – for avoiding this responsibility.
- "And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
- For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:
- But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
- And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
- Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye."
This proverb points out how good discipline is for a child. And it warns that a mother who doesn’t want to discipline her child will not instill the wisdom she desires him or her to have. And – as a general rule – the child will just become a disappointment in the future. But the converse is also true, namely that a well disciplined child will – as a general rule – be a source of pride to his mother rather than shame. And this means that, if you want to honor your mothers, children, you will appreciate the discipline they administer to you, whether by way of the rod (spanking) or rebuke. I know it may sound strange to you now, but it is God’s will for you! And it is good for you!
- "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."
Conclusion: Well, I hope I have given you all – no matter how young or old – plenty of food for thought today. I hope I have helped you to see from the wisdom of Solomon how you may better honor your mother on Mother’s Day … and every day. But remember that in doing so, it is really God that you seek to honor, for it is He Himself who has commanded you, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).
Keith Throop is the current primary teaching elder of Immanuel Baptist Church in Bloomington, Illinois, where he has been since 1993. His fellow-elders are George Drye, Brent Flint, and Ben Murphy, each of whom also resides in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. He received his B.A. in Biblical Studies from Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) in Columbia, South Carolina. And received his M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.