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The gospel of Matthew is known for creative usage of the Hebrew Bible and finds numerous fulfillments of prophecy in Jesus’s life. Matthew’s fourth fulfillment citation occurs after the slaughter of innocents:

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matt. 2:17–18)

This is quoting Jeremiah 31:15, which in context refers to the deportation of the Israelites to Babylon.

What is the connection between Ramah and Bethlehem? What is the connection between the Israelite deportation and the slaughter of the innocents?

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In brief, the connection is supposed to be that Rachel herself was buried in Bethlehem, and she too had lost children.

I say “supposed” because there are variant traditions about the place where Rachel was buried. The occasion of her death was the birth of Benjamin, so it makes sense that her tomb should have been near Ramah, in Benjamin’s territory (Genesis ch35 vv16-19.) The story of Saul places her tomb in Zelzah, which may be a location close to the better-known Ramah (1 Samuel ch10 v2). The Genesis account adds that she was buried “on the way to Bethlehem”, and later traditions have moved the tomb closer to Bethlehem itself.

The connection is also weakened by the fact that the innocents of Bethlehem were not really Rachel’s children. To the extent that they belonged to the tribe of Judah, they were Leah’s children.

As you observed, Rachel’s children in the Jeremiah quotation were chiefly the members of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh who had been taken into exile by the Assyrians (by which time Benjamin had been taken over by the southern kingdom).

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  • + 1 -- Sometimes the fulfillment of prophecy is in the eye of the beholder. Apr 12 at 20:34
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The example that the OP cites (Matt 2:17, 18 vs Jer 31:15) is one of many cases where an OT prophecy is repurposed under divine inspiration for a secondary application. Here is a slightly longer (but far from exhaustive) list:

  1. Matt 24:3 - While Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will (a) these things happen, and (b) what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” Thus, Jesus combined the destruction of Jerusalem with the end of the world when He would return. This includes the “abomination of desolation”.
  2. Isa 7:14 - Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel. This was a prophecy about Isaiah's wife but was also applied to Mary and Jesus as per Matt 1:23.
  3. Joel 2:28-32 is an example of a prophecy that was fulfilled at Pentecost in Acts 2 but which appears to be capable of eschatological fulfillment again in the period before Jesus returns
  4. Hos 10:8 is about the wicked asking to be destroyed by rocks and mountains is a prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem; but it also receives a dual application by Rev 6:15-17 at the end of time when Jesus returns.
  5. The prophecy about Gog and Magog in Eze 38 concerns the punishment meted out to these pagan nations in OT times. However, it is given a second impetus in Rev 20:8 in the time after the 1000 years.
  6. Mal 4:5 predicts the arrival of Elijah the prophet before the “Day of the Lord” and the NT claims fulfilment in places like Matt 11:13, 14, 17:11-14, Mark 9:12, 13, Luke 1:17 as John the Baptist. However, the “great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal 4:5) clearly also has eschatological fulfilment and confirmed by the indirect allusions to Elijah in the book of Revelation.
  7. Ps 22 is about the loneliness and isolation of David as were many of his psalms. However, it has been correctly understood by many, including Jesus Himself, as Messianic, as conformed by Matt 27:43, 46, Mark 15:34. Many Jewish interpreters (see note below) also understood this Psalm as messianic.
  8. Jer 31:15 is a prophecy about the looming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon; however, it was re-purposed in Matt 2:17, 18 about the slaughter of the innocents under Herod.

Note that in all these cases (this is not an exhaustive list), the second application can only be claimed where such is explicit in the Bible text itself and NOT simply due to the over-active imagination of the exegete.

APPENDIX - Note on Ps 22 being Messianic

A number of Jewish interpreters understand that Ps 22 is a messianic psalm. For example, * http://www.halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Sukkah.pdf, “The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), ‘Ask of me anything, and I will give it to thee’, as it is said, I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance,” (Sukkah 52a).

  • Rabbi H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, Midrash Rabbah: Translated into English with Notes, Glossary, and Indices: Volume 1 – Rabba Genesis (Stephen Austin and Sons, LTD 1939) 365-366 http://archive.org/stream/RabbaGenesis/midrashrabbahgen027557mbp#page/n357/mode/2up “Three persons were bidden ‘ask’, viz.: Solomon, Ahaz, and the King Messiah. Solomon: Ask what I shall give thee (1 Kings III, 5). Ahaz: Ask thee a sign (Isa. VII, 11). The King Messiah: Ask of Me, etc. (Ps. II, 8),” (Midrash Rabbah Genesis, Chapter XLIV, Section 8
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  • I don’t see anything answering the question about how does a cry in ramah have a connection to the slaughter of innocents in Bethlehem Apr 14 at 9:33
  • @AviAvraham - my answer attempted to say that the original incident had nothing to do the slaughter of the innocents. However, the NT inspired writers took the language of the OT and repurposed it to apply to this case also in the NT.
    – Dottard
    Apr 14 at 10:01

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