ESV - 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
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This verse from Matthew is a quotation of Jeremiah 31:15, which spoke of the sorrow caused by the conquest of Israel by Babylon, and the subsequent exile of the Israelites there. However, it was also a prophetic reference to the slaughter of children in the area around Bethlehem that was ordered by Herod the Great after learning that Bethlehem was the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah (Micah 5:2), whom Herod perceived as a threat to his rule. Rachel is mentioned in this connection because she was Jacob's favorite wife (as well as the mother of Joseph (who had enabled Israel to survive in Egypt prior to the exodus) and of Benjamin), who had died in childbirth near Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19), and was buried there, thus becoming associated with that region, with its inhabitants regarded as her figurative "children".
Seldom does Rachel get noticed after Genesis. She is only mentioned in Ruth 4:11, I Samuel 10:2, Jeremiah 31:15 and Matthew 2:18. In this last reference, Matthew uses the quote from Jeremiah. The context of Jeremiah’s passage is God’s promise to restore Israel, including the northern kingdom that Assyria took into captivity. Two of the tribes who made up most of that kingdom were Ephraim and Manasseh, sons of Joseph and grandsons of Jacob and Rachel. Benjamin, the son of Jacob and Rachel, was also a tribe of that kingdom. As the “mother” of that region, Rachel symbolized the mothers who mourned the loss of their children going into captivity and were as dead. When Matthew selected the reference of Jeremiah, there was no thought that this was a prophecy, even though he quotes a prophet. It was not a fulfilling in the futuristic sense. Likewise, when Jeremiah penned these words of the Lord, it was not a prophecy but a poetic statement. Jeremiah does not specifically mention Bethlehem (but Ramah), babies, or death (but captivity). One difficulty is not realizing that Matthew’s use of “fulfilled” here is not a prophetic fulfillment as some references may be. “Fulfilled” has a wider definition which can also mean a historical reference, which is found a number of times as in Matthew 2:15, 8:16-17, 27:9. This reference by Matthew to Jeremiah is definitely a historic one. This gives reason to think the formula used by Matthew, “that it might be fulfilled,” was not intended to be a futuristic or predictive fulfillment. Instead, citations from the Old Testament complete a thought and contribute to the record in the life of Christ. Matthew does not describe the result which would be expected but knowing the tragic loss and sorrow by Herod’s slaughter of innocent children, he resorts to the familiar words of the Lord through Jeremiah. The bitter weeping and lamentations of Rachel would best express that immense sorrow. These words aptly fulfilled what had happened. It has been noted that Rachel was a woman of sorrow. She yearned to have children and died with sorrow when she gave birth to Benjamin, who she had called “Ben-oni” meaning “son of my sorrow,” Genesis 35:18, 19. Concerning the mention of Ramah, Genesis 35:19 indicates Rachel died when giving birth to Benjamin. This occurred on the journey from Bethel to Ephrath (the other name for Bethlehem). Traditionally, the burial of Rachel is said to be in Bethlehem, but this verse explicitly says it was on the way to Bethlehem. Also, I Samuel 10:2 places Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin. Jacob also states that Rachel died “when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath,” Genesis 48:7. So, the Lord may have identified Ramah, which is about halfway between Bethel and Jerusalem, as the location of where Rachel was buried. By citing the Jeremiah passage about Rachel, Matthew expertly fills in a detail in the life story of Jesus and authenticates history.
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