Understanding the history behind geographic locations is often key to understanding a prophecy.
This post has been a bit delayed, in part because of the elections (which I’ve commented on elsewhere, but don’t intend to on this blog), and in part because it’s taken me a while to figure out how best to attack 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.” (quoting Jer. 31:15)
There’s a bit of an incongruity in this passage: Ramah is about 5 miles north of Jerusalem, while Rachel’s tomb is in Bethlehem, about 6 miles south of Jerusalem. As a result, commentaries on Jeremiah generally assume that this passage refers to the Rachel weeping for the captives of Jerusalem as they were marched north, past Ramah, on their way to Babylon (see for example Longenecker’s Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, pp. 128). An alternative explanation is that Rachel’s voice, emanating from Benjamin, in the southern kingdom, spoke in mourning for the northern tribes that were taken away by the Assyrians (Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 14). It therefore seems odd that Matthew would take this as a Messianic prophecy.
Or perhaps not. Let’s look at this passage in light of the principles that we’ve already discovered.
First Principle: “That which has been fulfilled in spirit may be fulfilled again in both spirit and letter in the Messiah.” As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the Sinaic covenant as written in Deuteronomy is very specific that Israel would suffer not one, but two distinct exiles. Nearly all of the NT writers at least allude to this coming judgment. Matthew sees Herod’s slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem as a precursor to this second exile.
Second Principle: “The context of a prophecy may be thematic rather than chronological.” If we look just a few verses over, we come to Jeremiah 31:31-34, the key proclamation that there would be a New Covenant (and quoted as such in Hebrews 8). And the verses leading up to it speak of Israel’s restoration. Matthew undoubtedly had this in mind when he tied verse 15 into Yeshua’s life.
Third Principle: “Prophecies which apply to Israel apply equally to Israel’s King, and vice-versa. Yeshua redeems Israel’s history.” Longenecker combines our first and third principles together as follows:
For Matthew, however, who thought as a Jew in terms of corporate solidarity and typological correspondences in history–and who was convinced as a Christian concerning eschatological fulfillment and messianic presence in the person and work of Jesus Christ–the lament of God for his people of old finds its fullest expression and can be legitimately applied to Herod’s murder of the infant boys in Bethlehem at the time of of Jesus’ birth. (ibid., pp. 128f).
In short, Matthew 2:16-18 provides a confirmation and expansion on the principles discovered in his first three quotes.
Next, we’ll tackle the prophecies of John the Immerser all together. I’m not sure yet if that will be one post, or several. Until then,