This is what the LORD says:
“A cry is heard in Ramah—
deep anguish and bitter weeping.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted—
for her children are gone.”
But now this is what the LORD says:
“Do not weep any longer,
for I will reward you,” says the LORD.
“Your children will come back to you
from the distant land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future,” says the LORD.
“Your children will come again to their own land.
I have heard Israel saying,
‘You disciplined me severely,
like a calf that needs training for the yoke.
Turn me again to you and restore me,
for you alone are the LORD my God.
I turned away from God,
but then I was sorry.
I kicked myself for my stupidity!
I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.’ (Jeremiah 31:15-19)
Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome, once made a wry comment about Herod the Great, the man he had made into the king of Judea. He said, “it is better to be Herod’s pigs than Herod’s sons.” Pigs were not kosher, so he wouldn’t touch them. But Herod’s family? He was paranoid and killed more than one of his offspring and an inconvenient wife whom he had feared might be plotting against him. When wise men from Persia showed up looking for a royal son that had supposedly been born to him, Herod was panic stricken. None of his wives had recently given birth. And he was a king in Judea only because Augustus Caesar had made him king. He was not descended from David and had no legitimacy. If a new king had been born as these wise men suggested, that was very bad news for Herod indeed: he had a rival, someone who had a legitimate right to the throne he was occupying. So he found out where the child was to be born, according to the prophets, and when the wise men didn’t come back, he just took care of things in his own inimitable style: he simply slaughtered all the babies in Bethlehem who might be even close to the right age. No sense in being too careful.
God’s prophesy of Rachel weeping because her children were no more was taken by Matthew and applied to Herod’s slaughter. But Jeremiah’s original intent was to prophesy about the deportation of the Jews to Babylon. “Rachel” of course, was Jacob’s—Israel’s—true love, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Metaphorically, she came to stand in as a poetic reference to the nation of Israel. Unlike the infants slaughtered by Herod, God reassured the Rachel of Jeremiah’s day, the people of Israel, that those taken from them would one day return again. And even for those slaughtered by Herod, the resurrection is coming. Those lost to us now, will be with us forever someday. The most bitter of tears will be wiped away.