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Picking up the Prophecy

16 When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

18 [a]“A voice was heard in Ramah,

sobbing and loud lamentation;

Rachel weeping for her children,

and she would not be consoled,

since they were no more. Matthew 2:16-18 Matthew’s use of the prophets in association with the events surrounding Jesus’ birth has always been confusing to me. I had been taught that Matthew is using these texts as some kind of proof that Jesus is Divine. The prophets were treated as long-range predictors of future events. However, I’m afraid that explanation doesn’t really help me understand Matthew at all. In the example text above, Matthew says that Herod’s slaughtering of all the male children in Bethlehem “fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet.” What does this mean? Was Jeremiah predicting the actions of Herod? If we are to consider this prophecy in Jeremiah to be some kind of long-range predictor of precise events, it is doubly confusing because it refers to an event which never literally happened in the first place. Jeremiah spoke figuratively about Rachel weeping for her children in references to the Judeans being exiled into Babylon (Jeremiah 31:15). The land where Rachel was buried was weeping because of the terrible events taking place in it. But of course, Rachel was not alive when this happened. What’s even more confusing is the fact that Rachel didn’t outlive either of her sons, Joseph or Benjamin, and so she never wept for the loss of her children at all, unless you consider her weeping BEFORE she had children since the Lord did not open her womb until later in her marriage to Jacob. Regardless, trying to understand this prophecy in terms of a flat, literal, prediction of events in the future seems to me to be a perfectly fruitless venture (no pun intended). Since, in its’ original context, this prophecy was to be understood metaphorically, it is hard to conceive that Jeremiah was making a long-range prediction of specific, literal, events. The fact that the mothers of Bethlehem (i.e. “Rachel”) were weeping because of the murder of their sons is no coincidental event. It is the fulfillment of prophecy, but not in the sense of a flat literal fulfillment of predicted events. I think what Matthew wants us to see is that Jesus is stepping right into the middle of Israel’ story, not going around the sadness and suffering, but stepping right into its’ very heart and soul. Jesus is beginning to walk through the long and sad history of Israel in order to pick her up and bring her to her intended destination. It is mainly in that sense that Jesus is “fulfilling prophecy”. Jesus is getting right into the middle of the story, picking it up, and taking it where it needed to go. This is the beginning of the story of the Good Shepherd who picks up his sheep and carries them on His shoulders. As the prophet Isaiah also said,

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore,

And our sorrows He carried;” Isaiah 54:3

Picking Up the Prophecy

The Christmas story is about Jesus confronting pain and sorrow and evil, not about Him going around it or escaping it. Jesus, from the very beginning of His life, shared in the suffering of His people in order to bring them through it and finally to bring them into the Promised Land. This is Christmastime, when we remember the announcement of the birth of a new King. And this is only the beginning of the really good news of the Gospel. Jesus is Lord and He lowers Himself to share in our suffering and to lead us into victory. Will you trust Him today?

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