Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Murder of Innocents, Christmas, Childhood of Jesus
Volume 7 No. 453 December 25, 2017
IV. Featured Articles: The Massacre of Innocents

Jeremiah's Prophecy: Rachel Weeping
Gospel: Matthew 2:16-18

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
(Matthew 2:16-18)

Slaughter was unleashed upon Bethlehem. Herod massacred all the boys two and under. It was a killing spree that filled Bethlehem's residents with immeasurable pain. So immeasurable was it that Matthew quotes Jeremiah's mournful words regarding Israel's pain during the Babylonian Exile.

But why does Matthew say that Jeremiah's words (quoted from Jeremiah 31:15) were fulfilled? You could argue that Bethlehem's pain was similar to Israel's pain during the Babylonian Exile. But isn't that response somewhat unsatisfying? It seems that there must be something more. And there is.

I believe that Matthew is connecting the exile pains in Jeremiah 31:15 with the angel's command to Joseph in Matthew 2:13: "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt".

Jesus, as typified by Hosea, experienced His own, personal exodus. But there's a problem. Jesus needed to meet a requirement in order to experience an exodus: he needed to first experience exile.

The pain experienced during the Babylonian Exile pointed to the pain experienced during the massacre in Bethlehem. The Babylonian Exile itself pointed ahead to Christ's own exile, from Bethlehem into a foreign land.

The verse that appears after Jeremiah 31:15 (the passage Matthew quotes) is especially interesting:

Thus says the Lord:
"Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for your work,
declares the Lord,
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy."
(Jeremiah 31:16)

The exile of Christ began with terror, but hope did not fade. Just as God did not abandon his people after the Babylonian Exile, neither would He abandon His Son. Although Jesus was "forced" into Egypt, God also brought Him back out again.

This must be why Matthew explains, immediately after quoting from Jeremiah, that Christ returned from Egypt to the district of Galilee (specifically, to the town of Nazareth). This event marked the fulfillment of Hosea's words, already quoted in Matthew 2:15: "Out of Egypt I have called My Son".

In the earliest times of Christ's life, God's providential hand was there: guiding, working, and governing all events. Not even the tiniest prophecy about the life of our Saviour went unfulfilled. What a great encouragement that should be! God is always faithful to His word. Let us rejoice in our great God who "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).

Source: Priceless Eternity Blog

A Babe and the Babes of Bethlehem

by James T. Dennison, Jr.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-18

Angels came that night. "Gloria in excelsis!" they sang. And frightened rustics huddled close to shield their faces from the awesome glory of the Lord. Yet with trepidation and expectation, they did the bidding of the heavenly choir and discovered a newborn babe. A life bundled in swaddling cloths–slumbering in a feed trough. "A Savior," they declared; "Messiah!" they proclaimed. So that on their return to the fields, they sang, "Gloria in excelsis!"

O Bethlehem Ephratah . . . .

There was another night in Bethlehem. No angel chorus was heard that evening. No Gloria in excelsis. The air that night was rent with shrieks–shrieks and cries; sobs and tears. A hellish horde had done the bidding–the bidding of a paranoid devil. These thugs search–not for life–but to deal out death. And newborn babes lie bundled in grave cloths–laid to rest–cradled in fresh-turned earth. None to save them; so that the streets of Bethlehem echo–Miserere, miserere!

Poets, painters, commentators have described this incident as "the slaughter of the innocents." Innocents? Yes–innocent of any crime against the person of Herod. Still they die. Death falls upon them; the curse consumes these little ones. Children–infant children–touched by the blighted malediction. This is one of the hard sayings is it not! Newborns–exposed to death. Why, oh why?

You know why, don't you! "The wages of sin is–death." "For as in Adam all die; death spread to all because all sinned" (RSV). Yes, even little infants. How did the New England Primer put it? "In Adam's fall we sinned all." Even our children–even Bethlehem's children. They sinned in Adam and in Adam all die–all in Adam are exposed to death; all in Adam are susceptible to death. Tragically, sadly–truly the children in Bethlehem died because they were sinners. God is not unjust! The soul that sinneth not shall live!

Slaughter of the innocents? Innocent of Adam's fall–No! Innocent of original sin? No! Innocent of offending their Creator in the transgression of their first parent? No! Innocents before God do not die. God does not execute the penalty of the curse against the truly innocent.

But death at the point of a sword? It is brutal. But is death by meningitis, by pneumonia, by spinal bifida–is infant death by these means any easier to explain? Death for any infant–regardless of the means–raises the whys, doesn't it? And any pastor seated by an infant crib–gaze fixed on the anxious eyes of mother and father–will know that when that tiny breast stops heaving–the whys will pour out with tears and sobs.

Matthew's account brings us face to face with these whys–for we must be prepared to face the question of infant death. Do we believe in the sovereignty of God? The funeral of an infant will put our Calvinism to the test. Notice Matthew's narrative: the bold indications of God's design, God's plan, God's direction of the events in chapter 2. In verses 13, 19, 22, the angel of the Lord directs Joseph to act and each of those acts is anchored to an Old Testament prophetic passage. Did God foreordain the flight to Egypt–the exodus from Egypt–the settlement in Nazareth? All these things happened that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. Is the death of Bethlehem's babes any less a part of the divine plan? Verses 17, 18–"then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah . . . Rachel weeping for her children because they were no more."

But beyond the pathos of infant death, Matthew focuses on the life of an infant–an infant spared (at least for a time) from the point of sword or spear. The life of one babe predominates and that life finds itself inseparably meshed with the story of Israel.

You will notice that Matthew's gospel begins with a genealogy which summarizes the major eras in Old Testament Israel's redemptive history: from Abraham to David (14 generations); from David to the Exile (14 generations); from the Exile to Christ (14 generations). Matthew's gospel elaborates this development by way of Messianic fulfillment. Messiah Jesus–is seed of Abraham, seed of David, seed of remnant Israel.

Abraham's seed is conceived in a virgin womb–the angel declaring what God will do in the woman's life. The incredulous husband-to-be is instructed in naming the new born. This son of Abraham–Jesus–becomes a blessing–a Savior. A covenant pledge to father Abraham is sealed–the seed who is benediction is this Emmanuel!

David's seed is visited by eastern seers; guided by a bright and morning star, leading–resting–over Judah's land. A king in Judah hears of a new king. While suppressing his fury, he asks the 'magi' of his court about his competitor. A shepherd-king–David-like–from Bethlehem, city of David. Shepherd-king? Herod was no pastor. Sheep were for driving, or worse–slaughtering. A king to lead his flock? a king to shield his flock? A king to carry his flock? What drivel! Herod was a master of the practical–lie through your teeth, snooker your enemy and eliminate the opposition.

But Matthew presents more to his reader. Great David's greater son is qualified by birthplace–Bethlehem; qualified by role–shepherd-king; qualified by homage–regal gifts bestowed upon the infant God. Jesus is son of David.

Yet in addition to Abrahamic and Davidic themes, Matthew has presented Mosaic themes in his gospel. This is particularly true of chapters 2-4 where the Exodus pattern is explicit.

Notice the drama of the Herod narrative as a parallel to the pharaoh of the Exodus. A hostile king intent upon destroying the Lord's agent of deliverance. A child become the object of a tyrant's wrath and blood-thirsty oppression, yet a child saved from death by God's wonderful intervention. Is Jesus a new Moses? Perhaps. But perhaps the meaning goes deeper–the theological content more fundamental. The exodus motifs in Matthew 2-4 are not strictly chronological; that is, we do not move directly from Egypt to Midian to Egypt to the Red Sea to the Wilderness to the Jordan. But each movement is present in Matthew. The descent into Egypt is there–the ascent from Egypt is there–the passing through the waters is there–the entrance into the wilderness–the 40 day sojourn–the crossing of the Jordan. Matthew's Jesus experiences the drama of the exodus. In fact, Jesus virtually relives the exodus pattern in his own experience. Why? Why has the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to portray Jesus as undergoing the Exodus experience of Old Testament Israel? What is more fundamental than Jesus as a second Moses?

It is sonship. Jesus is the Son of God. But Son of God incarnate. He takes flesh and flesh puts him in the arena of history. And the historical arena in which the incarnate Son lives out the drama of his own history is the arena of Israel. Israel's history and Jesus' history are intertwined–woven together; for you see the history of Israel and the history of Jesus is the history of God's Son. Matthew 2:15–"out of Egypt have I called my Son." Exodus 4:22–"Israel is my first-born son, Let my son go!"

Matthew presents Jesus' Sonship in terms of Exodus era sonship because he wants his Jewish readers to see that sonship for Israel was not a thing in itself. Sonship for Israel was modeled on the relationship between the eternal Father and his eternally begotten Son. The historical declaration of Israel as God's son was based on the already existing relationship between the Father and the Son and all who were in the Son as his elect people. Thus, when the Son of God–Jesus Christ–comes into the world, he makes plain and clear what Sonship in history means. True divine Sonship means: leaving the land of bondage, passing thru the waters of separation–the waters dividing two eras–old and new; true divine Sonship means sojourning–living as a pilgrim in the wilderness–the land in-between; true divine Sonship means crossing over Jordan–entering into the everlasting rest.

Jesus comes as the true Israel–the true Son of God. As such, he embodies the sonship of Israel–embodies and incarnates that sonship even to the point of reliving it. Israel–God's son–went down to Egypt. Jesus–God's son–went down to Egypt "in the fullness of the times." Israel–God's son–comes up out of Egypt. Jesus–God's true Son–comes up out of Egypt "in the fullness of the times." Israel–God's son–passes thru the waters. Why? "to fulfill all righteousness" (Mt. 3:15). Israel–God's son–sojourns in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus–God's true Son–goes to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.

Here is the point! The sonship of Old Testament Israel was not an end in itself. How could it have been when it was such a miserable failure! The exodus was a failure–the passage of the Red Sea was a failure–the sojourn in the wilderness was a failure–the entrance into the land was a failure. Why? Because Israel hardened his heart and showed his nature to be not that of a son, but a bastard. And Israel rejected his Father at the Red Sea–in the desert–and in the land of milk and honey. A Son of righteousness was needed; a Son who would fulfill–fulfill in righteousness the pitiable record of the Israel of old.

The birth of Jesus–God's true Son–is nothing less than a new beginning–a new Exodus–a new crossing of the Sea–a new sojourn in the desert. The birth and life of Jesus–God's true Son–is a testimony to Israel. Here is what sonship means. Sonship means to be sons of God in Christ Jesus the Son. To be free of bondage to sin–because the Son has made us free indeed. To be baptized in the waters which divide–separating old from new–Egypt from Sinai; the life of slavery behind us–drowned; the life of obedient sonship under the law of God before us. Sonship means to be ushered into a land flowing with milk and honey; as Van Til said, "to be blessed possessors."

Matthew tells us Jesus fulfills–fulfills Israel's history by embodying it in his own history. He is the seed of Abraham–fulfilling the promise of the covenant because he is the Savior of the world. He is the son of David fulfilling the promises that a descendant of the house of David would sit on the throne of Israel forever and ever.

But where does the slaughter of the innocents fit into this redemptive-historical pattern? Davidic theme; Exodus theme; patriarchal theme–where does Mt. 2:16-18 fit? I think the answer to that question lies in the genealogy of chapter 1 and the quotation from Jeremiah 31 in Matthew 2:18.

Note first the citation of Jeremiah 31:15. Rachel's weeping in Ramah occurs in Jeremiah in the face of the Exile. Rachel weeps over the destruction and captivity associated with the Babylonian Exile of 586 B.C. Ramah, according to Jeremiah 40:1, was the gathering place for the Judean exiles as they were marched off to Babylon. The poignant representation of the tragic mother in Israel–sobbing at the tragedy of her children–what consolation could quiet her? Jerusalem in flames–captives herded to the point of departure–long lines of Jewish sons and daughters marching to the East. And for the children put to sword in Judah and Jerusalem–what/who would deliver them? As the curtain falls on the nation of Judah, Rachel weeps–for all seems lost and destroyed. When Israel wept for Rachel, she died giving life. Now Rachel weeps for Israel, for the living are dead and the rest are marched off to a grave in a far away land. Indeed, the children to whom she gave life are no more.

But death does not have the final word. Exile is not the end of the story. God has other plans. A remnant will return–an elect and chosen remnant will be preserved and will come back to the land. The kingdom of darkness conspires to destroy the son of God–to chain him and bind him and carry him captive to Babylon–to Babel, citadel of the prince of darkness. But God says–Babylon the great will not crush my son. For God has destined–yes, God has predestined–the return of his son from exile. Israel shall return to Canaan.

So, when Herod vents his fury against the Son of God, God preserves his remnant by sending him into exile in Egypt. Rachel weeps over her children who have perished in Bethlehem–she refuses to be consoled because the sons of Jacob are no more. And from her perspective, the embodiment of anti-Christ–Herod the Great–has destroyed the chosen seed. But God has saved his elect one–the true Son of God is delivered thru exile so that on his return to the land, the true Son of God may fulfill his destiny.

At the death of many in Jerusalem, some are spared thru exile. At the death of many in Bethlehem, one is spared thru flight to Egypt. God's true Son–the definitive elect remnant–God's Son relives the exile experience of the history of Israel. Sent away–recalled!

Now you see why Matthew structures his genealogies around the three great eras: age of Abraham, age of David, age of the Exile. Jesus–God's true Son–fulfills each.

Wonderfully conceived in the womb of his mother (even as Isaac was)–he is the benediction to the covenant with Abraham: he saves his people from their sins.

Lion out of the tribe of Judah–he is the shepherd-king envisioned by Isaiah. The gentle king who feeds his flocks like a shepherd and gathers the lambs in his bosom. The protector of his people–even to the point of laying down his life for his sheep.

Remnant child of Bethlehem–he is the exile who leaves the land only to return. The remnant preserved by exile and return–the returning exile who rebuilds the house of God (even as Zerubbabel).

Jesus sums up the history of Israel from the time of Abraham–from the time of David–from the time of the Exile. He is the final (last) Jew–he is the final (last) David–he is the final (eschatological) remnant.

Yes in the fullness of time, God's Son comes–the seed of Abraham, the seed of David, the seed of remnant Israel.

In him–in this true Son of God–we become the children of Abraham–we become a nation of kings–we become the remnant according to the election of grace.

On another day, the daughters of Jerusalem–the daughters of Rachel–wept; wept and mourned as a lone figure–whipped and scourged–with bloodied head–trudged wearily before a wooden cross–up a hill to Golgotha. Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for this remnant Son! What he does this day shall enable you to sing–Gloria in excelsis!

Westminster Theological Seminary
Escondido, California

The Weeping of Rachel

by Klaas Schilder (translated by Stuart Jones)

Gospel: Matthew 2:17,18

Christmas is the festival of the revolution. Rather, it is that of the divine revolution. The old is past. All is new. The old relationships are altered. The rich are sent away empty, but the poor are filled with good things. All is revolution.

The revolution has pervaded the life of Israel as a nation. The fleshly Israel is supplanted; the spiritual Israel is raised. This is what we see this morning.

The murder of children at Bethlehem can be viewed from various perspectives; for example, the meaning it has for Herod, for the mothers, which children are killed and so forth. Today we view it as a symbol. It is the revolution of God. That is noteworthy because the people love revolution–except when God makes revolution. Then they are all together "anti-revolutionary."

Rachel will not be comforted. But there is comfort here for us: the beginning of the holy dominion. We must understand that clearly. We are not here this morning to dwell on the person of Rachel, Jacob's wife. After all, you know that Rachel herself does not weep. The dead know not of earthly things.

Even less may we pronounce a verdict concerning the lot of the children. Rome speaks here about the baptism of blood; others about the martyrs; we leave it with God. This is something different.

Fulfillment of Rachel's Weeping

Rachel mourned for her children. That weeping is fulfilled here and that has occurred right after the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. But that word is also prophetic because we find it in Jeremiah. How does Jeremiah come to this word? In order to understand that, we must return to Genesis.

Three times in Scripture, Rachel's tears are mentioned: in Genesis, in Jeremiah and in Matthew. It is not by chance that Rachel is also spoken of in Matthew chapter two. It must have meaning.

Rachel's tears form a section of history. Rachel's tears begin with the Old Testament (Genesis) and they end with the New Testament (Matthew). Rachel's tears first flowed when the promise of the seed of Abraham was given. Rachel's tears are last noted when the promise to Abraham's seed was fulfilled.

First of all, we shall trace the history. Genesis first mentions Rachel's sorrow. Rachel is the wife of Jacob–the wife of his love. Jacob has gone into exile, served seven years with Laban and has served yet another seven. In point of fact, he did not render service for Leah. Rather it was for Rachel that seven years were duplicated. And when Rachel came into Jacob's tent for the first time, he thought, "Now the sunshine has entered." But in an irony of history, it was just through this that he further felt the visiting hand of God. Rachel's entry is the beginning of Jacob's troubles. Ever since the woman he loved came to live in his house, a continual somber threat–a cloud of misery–hung over his dwelling.

Rachel is the weeping wife. She knew this: "I am Jacob's chosen. I am exalted above Leah because he loves me." She has a strong compulsion to grin and gloat over her sister. She shall avenge the deceit. However God acted differently. He withheld the child-blessing from her. Rachel remained childless.

It remained so for a time. Leah became a fortunate mother. Rachel did not. Her daily life passes in adversity. Presently the fire of jealousy is kindled. Then an unholy competition commenced between the two sisters. Rachel wrings her hands in despair. She comes storming into Jacob's tent with unreasonable demands. She takes recourse to a deed of desperation and gives her slave Bilhah to Jacob. All these wrestlings characterize Rachel's sorrow: Leah the mother with the proud smile; Rachel the wife with tears. The youngest, the prettiest and his well-beloved, that appeared to be a beautiful adventure–a victory over the sister. But the beautiful dream was cruelly disturbed. Rachel proposes; God disposes.

Once Rachel is humbled long enough, God gives her a son also–Joseph. In a moment, Rachel's stream of tears appears to dry up. She now has a child herself. In a moment, the still laughter is allowed to come upon her for the son is her son. But the joy does not last long. Joseph is born at the end of Jacob's sojourn in Paddan-aram. Jacob breaks camp. He journeys to Canaan. Already Rachel dreams of a beautiful life. She shall see her child–and others as they are born–in the land of promise.

But no! Before the end of the trip, Rachel shall die! As the caravan of Jacob comes between Bethel and Ephrata, she dies.

Again, a child is born to her. A second son! How she has longed for this greeting and expectation. Her opprobrium is removed. She dreams, "More sons shall follow." Rachel proposes; God disposes.

Rachel must die! And as her soul departs, she beholds the little child. Her weak mouth lisps something. Someone asks her what she wants to say. Listen! She stammers out the name of the child: "Ben-Oni!" Son of my sorrow.

That word is the summary of Rachel's death statement. Her sorrow completely fills her in her death. She has desired children in order to glory in them. And now–now she may scarcely present her sons next to Leah's, and she has to leave. "Thus I have suffered in vain! Ben-Oni. I have yet to see the land of promise–yet to see the growth of my sons. Now I have children, but what have I next? I have joy, but must now relinquish it. Ben-Oni. My sorrow embodies itself in this son!"

Thus Rachel dies—not with the smile of faith, but with the tears of a disillusioned life. This is the last word that we know of her. Rachel's tears! How great they are! What a tragedy. Who understands them? Not her children–they are too young; not Leah; not Jacob apparently. After all, he even alters her last will. He changes the name to Benjamin. Jacob will not crystallize the tears of Rachel.

Then do her tears go with her to the grave? The tears of Rachel make an impression on us who read about the situation. Ben-Oni–that is not a confession of faith, but a confession of pain. For those who read it, the power of the tragedy goes away.

Rachel is the first mother in Scripture who dies giving birth to her child. Her deathbed is soaked in tears. She remains standing in Israel as a salt pillar of the spirit. One who considers Rachel's grave considers Rachel's tears. Is this why Israel is so carefully concerned with Rachel's grave?

The weeping Rachel must needs address weeping people. Hence, the prophet Jeremiah will not let the story of Rachel escape the mind. Jeremiah and Rachel–the prophet of tears and the mother of tears. Not unjustly have people named Jeremiah the prophet of tears in the dominion of tears. For example, we read, "I am broken with the breaking of the daughter of my people" (Jer. 8:21). "Oh that my head was water; my eye a fountain of tears; thus I might weep day and night for those of my people who are slain" (Jer. 9:1). We read again (9:l7bff.): "Call the women mourners; they must commence wailing . . . that our eyes may run down with tears and our eyelids may spout water." And in Jeremiah 13:17, it states: "If you do not hearken, then my soul shall weep in hidden places; my eye shall weep bitter tears; yea, tears shall run down." To conclude with one more, we read in Jeremiah 14:17: "My eyes shall run down with tears day and night, and not cease." Jeremiah has written the songs of Lamentations–one song of tears in which he curses his birthday. Is it any wonder then that Jeremiah thinks about Rachel?

Laughter forgets laughter, but tears do not forget tears. So it is that Jeremiah speaks about Rachel's tears. The words of Jeremiah are now quoted by Matthew. One finds in Jeremiah 31:15: "There is a voice in Ramah; a lamentation; a very bitter cry; Rachel is weeping over her children; she refuses to be comforted about her children because they are not."

What will Jeremiah say here? It is a high literary image. He pictures the misery. The ten tribes–the dominion of Ephraim–have been transported. Ephraim is the foremost tribe. All ten tribes are named after him and Ephraim is a son of Joseph. Furthermore, Joseph is a son of Rachel. Consequently, Rachel's children are those being transported.

The writer puts matters as if Rachel rose again from the grave. She cries on high, with louder voice. She sees her children gone into exile–her children. Even now, she has no portion in Israel. So she has borne children in vain. In her life, she has wept over Benjamin, Ben-Oni. Presently Benjamin is bound with Judah and still not exiled. But that shall very quickly come to pass also.

Yet presently, Joseph's offspring are transplanted–Joseph of whom she was so proud. Her deathbed pain lives again. Not once, but twice it is true: "Ben-Oni"–"son of my sorrow." Everything is now sorrow. She has suffered, fought and borne children in vain. For the second time Rachel's tears are mentioned. Yet it does not end.

Rachel's tears are named a third time–in Matthew. Rachel's affliction is then fulfilled: "Then is fulfilled, that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 'Rachel mourns her children and would not be comforted.'" Her pain is made full. Her despair has risen to the top.

The occasion is famous! It is a gruesome story–the murder of children in Bethlehem.

Herod's rage . . .

He tries to destroy the innocent
By the murder of innocent souls;
And causes weeping in town and country:
In Bethlehem and on the field;
And awakens the spirit of Rachel
Which haunts through field and pasture.

Then to the west, then to the east;
Who shall comfort that sad mother,
Now that she misses her dear children?
Now she who sees them suffocate in blood;
They perish who hardly have been born–
And so many swords colored with crimson.

She sees the milk on the tips
Of the deadly pale and whitened lips,
Wrenched freshly from mother's breast,
She sees little tears hang
As dew and drops on the cheeks;
She sees them filthy, in blood besoiled.

Who can describe the misery and distress,
And count so many young flowers
Who withered early, before they even
Had their fresh leaves open;
And smell sweet for everyone
And in the morning dream of breast-milk?

–"Rey van Klaerissen," from Gysbrecht
van Amstel by Joost vanden Vondel

Weeping mothers in Bethlehem! "Well now," says Matthew, "Don't you see it? If Rachel saw it, she would cry again. Just as the pain of Rachel lived again in Jeremiah's days and inflicted itself newly on the prophet, so it does at present."

The disappointment of Rachel with her death is also present. The same pain which Rachel lived through is present. By her death, she has borne children in vain. In Jeremiah's day, she bore children in vain. In Bethlehem's fields, she has borne children in vain.

The Origin of Rachel's Weeping

But there is a peculiar difficulty. Is it actually Rachel that must weep? What about Leah? In fact, the children of Bethlehem are children of Leah. Judah is a son of Leah.

Thus we allow that Rachel is not concerned here as the mother of these mothers who cry with her. That is impossible. We must seek another explanation. The question is only resolved in the judgment that Matthew himself gives. Matthew actually refers us back to Jeremiah. Jeremiah points out the symbolism that he is in the patriarchal tent. Everything has a typical character! Thus Paul places over against each other Sarah and Hagar as types of the Jerusalem above and the Jerusalem below.

What is Rachel's weeping, properly speaking? It is a weeping from self-interest. She weeps concerning children. She wants children for children's sake; not to establish God's will. Rachel has committed a great sin. She has resisted the advent-notion in the patriarchal tent. She is the spiritual seed; the spiritual blessing is past.

So we come to our second thought–the origin of the weeping. She weeps about children. She mourns children. Children! that is everything to her. In this way Rachel is a type. That is apparent already in Genesis.

Was it wrong, that longing for children? Surely it is exactly in the children-blessing that the power of the promise is found. Children were promised by God. But why? For Christ's desire. "In you shall all the families of the earth be blessed," God told Abraham. God spoke about the spiritual seed. Hence the children were God's honor. All those born in Jacob's tent must serve God. As his promise is fulfilled, all proceeds well.

But Rachel does not know this. She has no eye for Christ in the tent. Unworthily, she serves her own self, as in the game with the household images. The children are for Rachel's sake and her own honor is at the center. "Wrestlings of God," she says in the naming of Naphtali. But it is wrestling with the Devil.

Every mother with awareness knows: "In eternity I cannot love my children as such. Children are thus not the ultimate end. Hence, I must love eternity through the children."

There was even greater rationale in Jacob's tent. It serves to be a blessing for all people–so sounds the promise. The child here is more than the mother. It serves for a spiritual childhood. In reality, Rachel has only a view to the fleshly childhood. Rachel has a temporal love in her children. In them, she has a self-love. She buries the advent-notion under feminine greed and envy. She weeps as the temporal perishes. She has no eye for the eternal.

It is true with her deathbed. It is true in Jeremiah's days. It is true here. The child-slaughter in Bethlehem is a portent of the falling of fleshly Israel and the rising of spiritual Israel.

The children themselves surely stand outside the center. But God sees that Israel as a fleshly people exists for Christ's sake; that those in Jacob's tent bear children, not for Jacob, not for Rachel, but only for Christ. And that is the notion that Rachel does not accept. Rachel is a symbol–a symbol of Israel who will not spare her own glory. One cannot find that in their purpose as a people. It is forgotten that the purpose only exists in servitude to Christ.

See, Rachel must needs have been able to die joyfully. She was allowed to have served God's counsel. She was allowed to have borne children. God's purpose was disposed. She could then depart.

So it was that Israel must needs be able to die. She had the possibility of serving God's counsel. She had the possibility of serving the Son. God's purpose was disposed. But neither Rachel nor Israel understood that.

I said to the Lord, "Thou art my God;
Give ear, O Lord, to the voice of my supplications.
As for the head of those who surround me,
May the mischief of their lips cover them."

–Ps. 140:6,9

The Passion of Rachel's Weeping

We finally see the passion of her tears: "She will not be comforted." The weeping mothers in Bethlehem–the passionate wailing: it is prophecy and immediate fulfillment. Fulfilling Rachel's passion, they are also incapable of comfort. The prophecy of Judaism weeping; Judaism shall repeat the angel's song. Peace on earth: that is their grief. Peace in Palestine: that had been better; under the people of well-being; under the Jews of well-being. Thus they had wished.

Therefore the honor of their God is not sounded this day; rather a bitter lamentation. That is portrayed in the weeping of the mothers.

Leah's tears can be dried. She also did not weep in Jeremiah's days, for with the temporal perishing, the spiritual comfort abides. But who shall comfort Rachel? Further than the flesh she said nothing. Thus her purpose is given with the purpose of the temporal blessings. The heart of the matter is the sin of appropriating to ourselves the fruits of religious life instead of appropriating them for God; ourselves the purpose instead of God.

Rachel's trail of tears is not ended. It is frequently retraced. We naturally think about mothers who have lost a child. How do you assess this? It is still not the main thought of the text. On the contrary, it is only a slight application. The chief matter is the sin of preserving and cherishing our flesh when God comes to crucify it.

Rachel's pain is yet in the world. It lives in Judaism. It cannot forgive Jesus that the children are dead for the sake of his will. Many also outside of Judaism cry Rachel's tears. If Jesus takes something away, they cry and stamp their feet. Rachel's pain is a crisis for many because we all suffer with Rachel's illness. But a crisis yields to either good or evil.

As it goes for evil, men will refuse to be comforted. Note well–we do not refuse to comfort ourselves; rather we refuse to be comforted. We are thankful to be angry.

As it goes for good, we shall indeed be comforted. We cry to God. We can be far from Christ and yet suffer on account of him–in our self–in our families. It is Rachel's pain. Are you not acquainted with it? Do not deceive yourself. Jesus Christ comes to tear up your fleshly well-being, and that requires sacrifice. That costs pain and pain is not that of arguing away a text. Christ asks the sacrifice. If you push yourself to the forefront, he puts you to the side. He does that when you hold to the flesh rather than the Spirit.

Rachel had an obligation to serve God in child-bearing. But she made her calling a right for Rachel herself. Religion, that is, God-service, must serve her. So it is with many people. They will gladly serve God, but only for their own sake. Such religion overtakes us as well.

Do you know Rachel's sorrow? Because you recognize Rachel's sin as your own? How is the crisis in your life? Has it humbled you or hardened you? Do you remain in Rachel's sorrow? Rachel will not be comforted. She will not relinquish her own honor. At this point, punishment is sealed and it gets worse.

In Genesis, we see Rachel die and her children live. Our joy makes the sting possible. In Jeremiah we read that Rachel's children go into exile. Our joy departs from us. In Matthew, it happens that our joy dies.

God shall wipe all tears from the eyes–except Rachel's tears. She does not want that. She dies in sin. Do you conquer Rachel's sorrow? Do you allow yourself comforting? If you see God's counsel in Christ, put the spiritual over the material, serving God and not your own honor.

In Jeremiah it states: "Control your tears." Jeremiah says, "The sadness is great, yet gladness shall come out of it." There is an expectation for descendants. It is present here as well. Even as Rachel is incapable of comforting, still it is said, "Control your tears." There is expectation. It is the spiritual Israel.

A dread travels through history. Often we come upon the same performance. We find the tears of Rachel through the ages. We also find the tears of Rachel in our days–the loss of the material for the gain of spiritual salvation in Christ. The tears of Rachel become crucifixion tears. Rachel is crucified on Christ [i.e., in stumbling over the cross of Christ]–Jesus Christ is not crucified for her. Rachel is presently regarded as a symbol, not an individual.

There is still something else in the history: the laughter of Sarah. Not the unbelieving laughter, but the believing laughter. The Lord has made me laugh. There was melancholy and laughter; a quiet tear and a happy laugh. From this, Christ is born! The two intersect in Mary.

Mary! She is the anti-image of the non-comforted Rachel. Rachel weeps and weeps and weeps. She cannot stand comfort-preaching because she does not want to receive comfort. But Mary is able to elicit the word of comfort for us because she desires to be comforted. And those who are able to understand Mary's tears are able because they have understood the tears of her great Son. The ministry of comfort is heard from her mouth. The same ministry she heard from her Son; the same which she directs on behalf of this Son to the later family–also of weeping mothers: Sorrowing mothers, mark this truly:

Sorrowing mothers, mark this truly:
Your children die martyrs,
And first fruits of the seed,
That from your blood begins to grow,
And shall bloom gloriously to God's honor,
And not perish by tyranny.



Preached December 25, 1918 at Vlaardingen, The Netherlands.
Translated from Preken I, K. Schilder Verzamelde Werken (1957). The translation of the poems has been revised and improved by Nicolaas Van Dam of Fallbrook, California


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