Matthew 2:16-18

Why was Herod angry?

He believed he had been tricked by the magi. The word that Matthew uses means to “make fun of”. This reaction might be associated with someone who has paranoia issues or afflicted with severe sinful pride as evidenced in Herod’s reaction to the magi’s perceived slight.

Why did Herod want to kill the male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem?

The magi referred to the one they sought as “king of the Jews”. History tells us Herod would do anything to maintain and expand his power as a king including murdering innocents that are perceived as threats. This is the nature of the world with respect to righteousness and holiness. In order for the world to maintain its prescribed nature of happiness (hedonism, secularism, humanism) it must do away with any measure that brings about conviction of their actions. This could be in the form of exterminating the threat or convincing the threat to conform to some degree of tolerance of the world while being repressed. E.g. “keep your Christian beliefs to yourself”.

What did Matthew mean by the wording, “according to the time which he had determined from the magi”?

This is recognizing the timeline of the story. The magi made an initial appearance before Herod and then went on to find “the King of the Jews”. Herod, when realizing the magi were not honoring his request to make a follow-up visit to give the details of the location of the child, determined the time that had lapsed since the initial visit. This is how he determined to kill all boys of two years of age and under.

The population of Bethlehem at this time is numbered at about 300 people in total. If the age distribution for that area of Judea resembled the typical age distribution of a community in the United States in the year 2000, then the male children aged 4 years and under would be about 3.5% of the total population.

Performing a simple calculation of 3.5% x 300 = 10.5 children indicates that the total number of male children likely murdered to satisfy Herod’s paranoia would have been under 20 children. Byzantine liturgy places the number at about 14,000 and Syrian traditions puts the number at 64,000. These are more than grossly exaggerated and more along a line of fantastical. Especially given the population of Judea at this time was about 500,000-600,000 people.

What scripture from Jeremiah is Matthew quoting in Verse 18?

Jeremiah 31:15  So says Jehovah, A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing, bitter weeping: Rachel weeping for her sons; she refuses to be comforted for her sons for they are not. 

Who is the Rachel Jeremiah/Matthew is speaking of?

This is the wife of Jacob (Israel) who gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin.

Why is Rachel weeping for her children?

If we look to Jeremiah 40, we can see another reference to Ramah. This concerns the deportations of the children of Israel of the people the Babylonians viewed as useful. There was a Babylonian there on assignment referred to as Nebuzaradan, the chief of the executioners. His duties may have resembled an officer/judge of a military style court. In this court is yielded the fate of the individuals captured by the army, Jeremiah being one. Nebuzaradan, new who Jeremiah was somehow, and knew of the prophecies preached by Jeremiah prior to this point. He actually honors Jeremiah in Ramah by giving Jeremiah the choice of living where ever he chose. Jeremiah chose to leave there and go to Gedeliah, the appointed governor by Nebuchadnezzar, in Mizpah. It was in Ramah, evidently that those who survived immediate combat were selected to be sent into exile, appointed to serve Gedeliah (usually poor people who weren’t worth taking to Babylon and didn’t pose much of a threat for uprisings), or simply executed.

Who were Rachel’s children?

Joseph and Benjamin by literal birth. Rachel dying at the birth of Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest. This may relate the motivation of Jacob’s mourning when he thought he had lost one of Rachel’s sons, Joseph, to death. But in the context of Jeremiah 31 and Matthew 2, all the decedents of Israel are under consideration.

Why were Rachel’s children no more?

Sin. Sin on the part of the evil one who seeks to destroy the Christ and all that follows the ways of the ruler of this world (John 12:31, Ephesians 2:2). But, also the sin of those that were supposed to know the law of God and neglected it so as to fall away.

Where was Ramah?

Due north of Jerusalem about 4 miles. That is the opposite side of Jerusalem from Bethlehem.

What was Rachel’s relationship to Ramah?

This is generally understood as the vicinity of the burial place for Rachel after she died in giving birth to Benjamin. This is referred to in 1 Samuel 10:2 as the first waypoint for Saul as Samuel is giving instructions to Saul for a trip to Gilgal for offerings. Genesis 35 gives us the account of Rachel’s death. It says Jacob was pulling out of Bethel (north of Jerusalem) and going to Ephrath, also known as Bethlehem (south of Jerusalem), and Rachel died on the way near Ramah.

The verse from Jeremiah seems very depressing. Is all of Jeremiah 31 a sad text?

No. The chapter is actually a promise of the reinstatement of the nation of Israel. But the question becomes “What does Rachel have to do with this?”.  See the following questions below.

What does the Lord promise Rachel concerning her children?

The children of Israel will be removed from the land of the enemy and restored to their own land of inheritance (Verse 17).

What is the expectation for the children of Rachel in order to be rewarded as described in Verse 16 of Chapter 31?

In verses 18 and 19, there is a description of true repentance. This is required of all that will turn away from evil and be renewed to God. Repentance is an action motivated by faith. Salvation can not be realized without repentance (Luke 13:1-5, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:30, Acts 26:20, Romans 2:4, 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, Hebrews 12:17, 2 Peter 3:9)

How is Matthew relating the mourning of Rachel to the situation involving Herod and the killing of the children in the Bethlehem area?

To answer the last question, remember why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem (census). Judah was the son of Israel through which the lineage of Abraham came to Jesus on Joseph’s side. Judah, where Bethlehem is located, was born of Leah, not Rachel. But, the context of Jeremiah is the scattering of the decedents of Jacob and the repentance to the Messiah. If all the male descendants of Judah from Bethlehem in the day of Herod is in the vicinity of Bethlehem and are killed based on the likely age of the “new born king” according to the magi, then what becomes of the lineage of Abraham as given by Matthew in Chapter 1? Rachel mourns because there are no children to represent the lineage of her husband if the children are truly ended, but the Lord reassures her this is not the case. So not only is there reason for mourning because of the perceptions of failed prophecies but Matthew is also saying the Lord will preserve the repentant if they will turn to Him and His appointed Redeemer for salvation.

It may be recalled that Rachel was found to be infertile until God blessed her and Jacob with two sons which were Joseph and Benjamin. The problem that Rachel created, as others before her, was her lack of dependence on God. She decided to try and have children by Jacob through her maid-servant Bilhah. This resulted in the births of Dan and Naphtali (Genesis 30). Then Leah did the same thing. The loss of the children can be understood as living children but also the lack of the birth of children. The mourning results in a cry to God concerning the sustaining of the family (Genesis 30:6). The problem is looking to the wisdom of man instead of the wisdom and guidance of God in order to accomplish this well-being. Much consternation results in our devising, especially when it involves hate (Genesis 29:31). As Rachel conspired with hate, so did the nations of Israel and Judah against each other. The sons of Israel hated each other, the kings hated each other, and so did the nations, even to the days of Jesus. On account of this deviance from the Law of Moses (Matthew 12:34-40) the people were judged by God. Jeremiah speaks of the sorrow of the loss of the genealogy of Rachel. If our cry and dependence for life does not go to God then we dwell in death. Even in times when it seems our children are in the grasp and control for the enemy (satanas), our cry of mourning should be to God. Hearing our appeal from faith, God will restore (James 5:13-15, 1 Peter 3:11-12) those who hear the spirit unto repentance, despite any evil that has come upon us. This is the point of Rachel crying out. The lineage must be maintained as God has promised. If the lineage of Rachel is cutoff, then what possibility is there for the Branch of David (Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15)? Don’t forget Jeremiah 31:17:

And there is hope for your end, says Jehovah, that your sons will come again to their own territory.