When the magi came from the East seeking the recently born “King of the Jews,” King Herod of Jerusalem, a puppet king of Rome, apparently hadn’t gotten the memo.
He understood the question of the wisemen to be a reference to the long- awaited Messiah, but no news of any such birth had reached his ears. So Herod inquired of the chief priests and scribes of the people where the scriptures indicated the Messiah would be born.
Soon the magi were on the road to Bethlehem, while Herod contemplated how to destroy this latest threat to his power (Matthew 2:13).
Soon Bethlehem would become the heart-rending scene prophesied by 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.”
After the magi departed to their own country, Herod had every boy in Bethlehem, two years of age and younger – slaughtered.
Jeremiah’s original audience was comprised of those living with him in Jerusalem when the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the Babylonian empire, repeatedly attacked their city.
Jeremiah, also known as the weeping prophet, used the expression, “Rachel weeping for her children” to represent the mothers of Israel seeing their people, their children, deported in waves (597 BC, 586 BC, 582 BC), being led off into exile.
In 586 BC the major siege of Jerusalem came to an end with thousands of citizens in the city dying of starvation, pestilence and sword. Survivors were either taken captive or left behind to shepherd the remaining ruins. The end had seemingly come upon them.
Rachel was not a contemporary of Jeremiah. Her story dates to the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 29). It is a story of passionate, yet tender love, grievous family conflict, and a life cut short.
Jacob had been living in his own exile with his Uncle Laban for 20-some years, having fled his home (Isaac, Rebekah, and Esau) in the promised land due to family strife. He had garnered such hatred from his own brother, Esau, that Esau purposed to kill him.
Now years later, he was returning home to dad with all his family and his possessions - and a very pregnant Rachel. Esau did come out to meet him on the way and their reunion was a testimony to God’s protecting mercy. Now Jacob and company were drawing near to Bethlehem when Rachel went into labor.
This would be her second child, a child for which she had hoped and prayed. Indeed, she had named her first son, “Joseph.” Joseph’s name had two connotations: God has “taken away” my reproach and “may he add (another son).”
As Rachel was giving birth something went amiss and she experienced great fear thinking her child might die. Upon delivery, her midwife said to her, “Do not fear, you have another son.” As her own soul was departing, she named her child, “Ben-oni,” meaning either “son of my sorrow,” or “son of my strength.”
Jacob (also bearing the name at this point of “Israel”) quickly resolved any lingering ambiguity by immediately renaming him, “Benjamin,” meaning, “Son of my right hand,” suggesting a status of unusual authority and power. Perhaps he was wanting his
Rachel, the wife he deeply loved, to be certain all would be well. It is what a husband would do. Jacob buried her there along the road to Bethlehem. He set up a pillar over her tomb, his own tears likely blurring his gaze of this scene as he set out again with this new born child and his older eleven brothers and one sister.
One can connect the dots from Rachel’s tears to that line in the Christmas Carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “the hopes and fears of all the years – are met in thee tonight.”
For on the night of the birth of Jesus, God brought forth his own son through the womb of the virgin Mary, just outside of Bethlehem. He would indeed be the source of a great sorrow for Mary, as later she would see him die on the cross.
But His heavenly Father would raise this “man of sorrows” to His own right hand.
Through the death of Jesus Christ, sinners like you and me, who trust in him, come to know the cessation of tears and death, and God’s word tells us that we have been raised together with Jesus Christ, united with him in his death, resurrection and ascension unto everlasting joy!
The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews says this: “He (Christ) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high!” Jesus reigns! The road to Bethlehem leads us to “another son,” Jesus the Christ! All must be well!