Rachel Weeping for Her Children by James R. Coggins

In his Gospel, Matthew stated that Herod’s slaughter of the young children in Bethlehem following the birth of Jesus was a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy: “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’” (Matthew 2:17-18 NIV). The history behind this reference is complex.

When the patriarch Jacob returned to Palestine, he was living at Bethel in the central part of Palestine and decided to move south to Ephrathah (Bethlehem). He and his wives and children and servants had only traveled a little way when his wife Rachel went into labor. She produced a son, whom she called Ben-Oni (Son of My Trouble) but whom Jacob called Benjamin (Son of My Right Hand). Rachel was in great pain as a result of the difficult birth (she was an older woman by then) and was not comforted by the fact that she had given birth to a son after many disappointments. She died, and Jacob buried her at a place called Ramah, a little north of Jerusalem (Genesis 35:16-20).

Several centuries later, when the Israelites moved into the Promised Land, the tribe of Benjamin was given the land around Ramah, perhaps because Rachel was buried there. (Ephraim and Manasseh, the tribes descended from Joseph, Rachel’s other son, were given land just north of Benjamin.)

The passage that Matthew quoted was from Jeremiah 35:15. Jeremiah had prophesied that Judah would be taken into exile by the Babylonians. He pictured Rachel crying as the exiles passed by her tomb on their way to Babylon. This is perhaps an extension from the idea that Rachel was crying in pain and bitterness as she died. However, in the next two verses, Jeremiah counseled Rachel and the Jews to cease crying because God would restore the Jews to the Holy Land (“Your children will return to their own land”). Later in the chapter, God promised that He would establish “a new covenant” with those who returned (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15 was fulfilled when the Babylonian army assembled the survivors from Jerusalem at Ramah, just north of the shattered city; from there they would begin their long journey into exile (Jeremiah 40:1). But the rest of Jeremiah’s prophecy was also fulfilled. The Jews did return from exile in Babylon. And, with the coming of Jesus, God was now in the process of establishing the “new covenant” which He had promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Bethlehem is in the territory of Judah, so the children killed there by Herod were not Rachel’s direct descendants. However, it is significant Rachel died while on the way to Bethlehem. Her tomb and the prophecies around it are like a signpost pointing the way to the destination that she never reached, a prophecy that another baby would be born in Bethlehem who would bring an end to her tears and bring salvation to her and all of her children. Echoing the names given to Benjamin, He would be a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3 KJV) who would later sit down at the “right hand” of God (Matthew 22:44, 26:64, Acts 2:22-36, 7:55-56, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3,13, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22).

About jrcoggins

James R. Coggins is a professional writer and editor based in British Columbia, Canada. He wrote his first novel in high school, but, fortunately for his later reputation as a writer, it was never published. He briefly served as a Christian magazine editor (for just over 20 years). He has written everything from scholarly and encyclopedia articles to jokes in Reader’s Digest (the jokes paid better). His six and a half published books include four John Smyth murder mysteries and one other, stand-alone novel. In his spare time, he operates Mill Lake Books, a small publishing imprint. His website is www.coggins.ca
This entry was posted in James R. Coggins and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.