“Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.’ ” Matthew 2:18
This Old Testament quote by Matthew, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is drawn from Jeremiah 31:15. The NAS version of this verse reads, “Thus says the LORD, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’ ”
As we are aware (hopefully), this is the chapter in the book of Jeremiah that spoke of the promised New Covenant that the LORD was going to make with the house of Israel (aka, Jacob). However, it would serve us well to backtrack a bit and look at this passage from Jeremiah in a fuller context. Jeremiah had begun in chapter thirty to prophecy about the restoration of things concerning Israel and Judah after the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. The promised restoration focused upon the nation desiring to “serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” Jer. 30:9b This king who was to come would be “their leader” and “one of them”, he “shall come forth from their midst”; and the LORD said through Jeremiah, “I will bring him near, and he shall approach me; for who would dare to risk his life to approach Me?” (Jer. 30:21) Only priests could come near and approach the LORD. We have here a somewhat veiled prophecy of the coming kingly priest (which was also later confirmed as prophesied in Zechariah, 6:12-13). Properly understood, this would only be possible with a changing of the law, i. e., by means of the New Covenant. Logically then, we can see why, after the information introduced in chapter thirty, the prophesied New Covenant is spoken of in chapter thirty-one. In the midst of all the merriment, hope and consolation delivered in the first fourteen verses of chapter 31, our passage above appears. Though Rachel would have wept bitterly for her children (descendents) who would die or be exiled off the land because of the Babylonians, yet Jeremiah spoke, ‘Restrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded,” declares the LORD, “And they shall return from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future,” declares the LORD, “and your children shall return to their own territory.” (Jer 31:16-17) Matthew here helps the reader to understand the proper interpretation of this statement as originally uttered by Jeremiah in light of things pertaining to the fast approaching New Covenant in the days of Jesus’ birth. As James Smith, a restoration movement commentator notes in his book, Old Testament Survey Series, ‘He (Matthew) saw here a reference to the lamentation of the mothers of Bethlehem over the slaughter of their infants by Herod. The Bethlehem mothers were the first to suffer great loss for the sake of Christ. Their labor in bearing children, however, would not be in vain. They could have hope for the future. In the resurrection those children would return from the land of the enemy (death) to inherit their own territory. The inheritance here is no doubt the New Heaves and New Earth of which Old Testament Canaan was a pledge and guarantee.’ (C.f. Heb. 11:14-16; 12:22-24) Now, think of the first century Christians and the persecution they and their children underwent at the hands of the Romans. Many children were killed by Roman soldiers by dropping their babies into the sea to be beaten to death by the ships oars, or if able to escape that grisly death, to drown. All this because their parents refused to confess Caesar as lord, rather than Christ. How could they do it? Hope in the resurrection and the inheritance in heaven where once more they would see their children and be with them for an eternity. What about if our time comes when some worldly king is enraged because we refuse to acknowledge him as lord of all, rather than Christ. Is your faith sufficient to allow your children to be sacrificed knowing you’ll receive them back in our promised inheritance in heaven?