Lessons from a Maccabean Mother

I still remember exactly where I was sitting when I first heard the story of the Maccabean mother.  While I’ve listened to countless sermons and sermon illustrations, there are only a few that I think about at least weekly, if not more.  The account of one  resurrection-hoping momma from a stormy season in Ancient Jewish history is one of them.

If ever there was an ideal time for raising seven sons, the time of the Maccabees was most assuredly not it. God’s chosen people were up against intense persecution if they  chose the path of obedience to the Torah.

Although the First and Second Book of Maccabees are considered apocryphal or deuterocanonical by Protestants, they are trusted sources of Jewish history which give account for the challenging years of Jewish existence under the reigns of Antiochus Epiphanes. As such, they offer a unique perspective on the notion of resurrection and life after death in the Jewish faith.

In the Second Book of Maccabees, the writer chronicles a harrowing account of a momma made brave and bold through great faith and hope in her God.

In adherence to the dietary laws of the Torah, her seven sons refused to taste pork. Their stand enraged Antiochus and his cronies. One by one, publicly, the sons were tortured with cruelties unimaginable as the mother and brothers watched. Yet, as each son was horribly mutilated, the mother shouted encouragements to them.

“The Lord God is watching and certainly feels sorry for us, as Moses declared in his song, which clearly states that ‘he will take pity on his servants’.”

As she watched her last remaining son experience torture, the distraught mother only further proved her faith that God would make things right in a coming day of mercy, in a life after death.

She said to him, “I implore you, my child, look at the earth  and sky and everything in them, and consider how God made them out of what did not exist, and that human beings come into being the same way. Do not fear this executioner, but prove yourself worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that I may receive you back with them in the day of mercy.”

Then, she had the honor of following her sons directly into the presence of God.


Even in the early Christian churches, the Maccabean mother was remembered and celebrated as a model of martyrdom. One can easily understand why. For, on the timeline of redemptive history, she stood to the left of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Yet, even with the fuzziest of knowledge of an after life, this mother was utterly convinced that Yahweh would take care of His people, bringing justice and mercy, if not clearly in this life, in the life to come.

This is not the stuff of Hallmark cards. It is hard to even type such atrocities. My eyes literally tear up every time I think about this mother speaking truth to her sons who stood strong in their faith in Yahweh under the worst imaginable situation. I could not even look when one my little guys had to get stitches. Watching him hurt nearly killed me.

Yet, when I think of motherhood, I think of her.

We stand on the right side (directionally speaking, of course) of the timeline of redemptive history. In Christ, we see clearly what the Maccabean mother only saw as a nebulous hope. We have prophetic words made more certain (2 Peter 1:19).

Considering this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
1 Peter 1: 10-12. 

If she had hope to give completely the children she loved most completely, then how much more should our living hope in the living Christ embolden our faith and our motherhood?

When I pray for my sons and my mothering of them, I pray (with great trembling) that we would be Maccabean-momma-certain of our Christ and the glory that is to be revealed in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

As we approach Mother’s Day, I long for my mothering to have a speck or a sliver of her confidence in God. I long that my mothering would be informed by the Man of Sorrows now sitting in glory.

(Story as retold by Thomas Cahill in The Desire of the Everlasting Hills).

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