We all know the famous, dark side of Christmas:

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 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 2:16-18 NIV)

However, when I read this today I could not understand one thing. Why does Rachel weep for Bethlehem? Isn't Bethlehem part of Judah? Why does Rachel mourn for Leah's children?

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    Hello and welcome. I'm a little puzzled by the way this is framed ("Why does Rachel...?"). Are you wondering about this from the perspective of Matthew or Jeremiah? I'm having a hard time getting my head around thinking about it from the perspective of Rachel, which seems to be requested. ? – Susan Feb 4 '16 at 6:05
  • Not sure if this is connected, but there is debate whether Rachel died and was buried near Bethlehem in Judah, Gen 35:19, or just on the road on the way to Ephrath and is buried in Benjamin land near Ramah, 1 Samuel 10:2. – Joshua Feb 4 '16 at 13:33
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    @Susan To be honest, I didn't put much thought into it; it was just a question that popped into my head as I read Matthew. But is there a difference in the perspective of Matthew and Jeremiah concerning Rachel? If so, I would like to hear about both of the perspectives. – PseudoJD Feb 4 '16 at 21:49

A close examination of scripture reveals Rachael's death and burial location as falling short of reaching Ephrath. Jacob made mention of this:

Gen 48:7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died beside me in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to come to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (also called Bethlehem).” (WEB)

A more precise location of Rachael's burial grounds is found in 1 Sam 10:2. Samuel told young Saul (after his anointing) he would meet men near Rachael's tomb, on the border of Benjamin at Zelzah: Zelah being a few miles southwest of Jerusalem.

1Sa 10:2 When you have departed from me today, then you will find two men by Rachel’s tomb, on the border of Benjamin at Zelzah. They will tell you, ‘The donkeys which you went to look for have been found; and behold, your father has stopped caring about the donkeys, and is anxious for you, saying, “What shall I do for my son".

Why did Jeremiah ascribe weeping to Rachael?

First, we must go back to the context of Gen 35:16-19. Here we find Rachael in the hard labor that would lead to her death. There are two interesting events that transpire during this time. One, Rachael was comforted by her handmaiden with these words: “Don’t be afraid, for now you will have another son.” Gen 35:17.

Two, Rachel names her son Benomi, which means "son of my pain/sorrow".

For Rachael the source of her physical pain and her hope rested in giving birth to a child. As with other biblical women, the hope of bearing children was linked to the birth of the savior (Gen 3:15).

The prophet Jeremiah figuratively describes a weeping Rachael when the residents of Judah (which contained a large element of tribal Benjamin) are gathered at Ramah by the Babylonian army and deported to Babylon.

But notice the words of consolation that are given to the weeping Rachael in Jer 31.

Jer 31:16 Yahweh says: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work will be rewarded,” says Yahweh. “They will come again from the land of the enemy".

It's from Yahweh. God assures Rachael that the deported children will return to the land. The evil Nebuchadnezzar seemingly ended the Promise of Israel, but God promises a return of His nation.

Matthew, under the inspiration of God, picked up on Rachael's weeping theme to describe her sorrow of the killing of the innocents in Matt 2:18 (arguably some of her physical descendants). Here again, her offspring being the subject of sorrow and promise. Although no consolation is given Rachael in this passage as previously done, Matthew subsequently chronicled the exiled Jesus and return from Egypt to prove how the life of young Jesus fulfilled key historical aspects of national Israel's history. In other words, although there was sorrow and pain throughout Judea, true consolation had arrived via the birth of the Savior.

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