Why is Rachel Weeping at Ramah?
In Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, he points to specific events as the "fulfillment" of several Old Testament "prophecies." For the past several weeks, I've been exposing my Sunday School class to these Old Testament passages in their original context to show how Matthew's narrative is much more nuanced and profound than most of us realize. I wrote about doing this with the Immanuel prophecy in a previous post. This past Sunday, I talked about how Matthew saw the slaughter of the innocents as the fulfillment of Jeremiah's imagery of Rachel weeping at Ramah.
The subject of Sunday's lesson was all too painfully illustrated by the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and I hesitate to discuss it for that reason. While the wanton killing of small children is always shocking, it is, sadly, nothing new. It wasn't new in Matthew's day, either, and he tapped into the memory of a still more ancient infanticide to make his point.
I began by asking my class why Rachel would be weeping at Ramah over the slaughter of children at Bethlehem. Are these two towns close to each other?
To answer that question, I selected "Ramah" in Matthew 2:18 and chose my favorite Map background (Light Browns) from the Map submenu of the Amplify toolbar icon. This opened a map with two sites named Ramah highlighted in red. I didn't bother pointing out the northern Ramah, but quickly zoomed in on the one between Bethel and Jerusalem.
I then pointed out that Ramah and Bethlehem are not all that close. Ramah is north of Jerusalem, while Bethlehem is south of it. There are about 11 miles between them—a fact I just happened to mention, but I could easily have shown my class by option-dragging from one site to the other and pointing out how the distance is shown in the Instant Details panel. (See the image above.)
If these were not neighboring towns, why would Rachel weeping at Ramah have anything to do with the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem? To explain the connection between these two towns, I presented several seemingly disconnected passages. First, we looked at Genesis 35:16–20, in which Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin somewhere along the road from Bethel to Bethlehem. In her suffering, she is comforted with the news that she is having another son.
Genesis 35 says that Rachel was buried on the way to Bethlehem, and tradition locates her tomb about a mile north of Bethlehem. I even showed my class a photo from the PhotoGuide of Rachel's Tomb. But then I explained that there are reasons to believe that Rachel was not quite so close to Bethlehem when she died. I had my class turn to 1 Samuel 7:17, which describes Ramah as the center of Samuel's prophetic activity. Then we looked at 1 Samuel 10:2, in which Samuel tells Saul that he will meet two men at Rachel's Tomb shortly after he leaves the town (of Ramah). This would seem to indicate that Rachel actually died in the vicinity of Ramah.
If true, that would certainly explain the connection Matthew saw between Ramah and Bethlehem: Rachel died near the one while traveling toward the other. Thus, she weeps at Ramah because she is buried there, and she weeps over what is happening in Bethlehem because it's as if she is still looking in that direction.
There's still more to this story, but I'll have to finish it in another post. In my next post, we'll look at why Jeremiah spoke of Rachel weeping at Ramah. In the process, I'll show you several little-known tricks to using the Accordance Bible Atlas.