WHAT DID JESUS REALLY SAY

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NEW TESTAMENT CRITICAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

CHAPTER TWO

Part V

Verses 17-18: This helped people better understand what God was saying through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A sound was heard in Ramah—bitter crying and great sadness. Rachel cries for her children, and she cannot be comforted, because her children are gone.’

Here Matthew picks up on Jeremiah’s words: “This is what the Lord says: ‘A sound is heard in Ramah – bitter crying and great sadness. Rachel cries for her children, and she refuses to be comforted, because her children are gone.’1 Matthew does not say that this was written about these innocent boys being murdered as a result of King Herod’s rage. Jeremiah was speaking about so many Israelites being lost to foreign armies. However, Rachel’s mourning over them could not have been any worse than the wailing now heard over all these murdered boys. As believers, we can also see some similarities in the life of Jesus. His first coming fulfilled prophecy and brought joy and singing; His departure brought the fulfillment of prophecy but weeping and wailing was heard. His second coming to resurrect those who died in the faith and transform those who are living will be a repeat of the sounds of joy, while His immediate departure with the saints will bring on wailing and sadness. Dr. Lightfoot feels strongly that clarification is needed here to clear up some misunderstanding of the location of Ramah. This we find in early church father writings: “Therefore, on account of the voice which would be heard from Rama, i.e., from Arabia (for there is in Arabia at this very time a place called Ramah), wailing would come from the place where Rachel the wife of Jacob called Israel, the holy patriarch, has been buried, i.e., near Bethlehem; while the women weep for their own slaughtered children, and have no consolation by reason of what has happened to them.2 Dr. Lightfoot’s clarification on “Ramah” and how it applies to what happened to the innocents in Bethlehem:

In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are no more. The prophecy referred to is in Jeremiah,3 which, upon examination, will appear to be a literal prophecy relating to this fact, and this only; for it cannot be understood about the Babylonian captivity, and of the mourning of the Jewish women upon that account, is evident, if these be considered: 1) That in such a general calamity the mourning is general, as undoubtedly that was, and not confined to mothers only, as this is. 2) That there is no reason to believe that the mourning for the captivity was confined to a particular place, much less that Ramah should be that place, since there is no manner of evidence that the captives were gathered together there, and deplored their miserable condition. Besides, 3) The cause of this mourning is not captivity,but death; Rachel is introduced weeping for her children, not because they were carried captive, but because they are no more; which is a phrase by which death is frequently expressed,4 but everything well agrees with the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem,and there are several things in the context, as well as in the text, which serve to confirm this sense. First: The preceding verses manifestly speak of the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom, and of the joy and comfort which his people should partake of; but lest any should imagine that that dispensation should be entirely free from the usual sorrows, distresses, and afflictions of life, it is declared, that the people of God would at some times, not only be met with distress in their own consciences for sin, and the chastisements of God upon them for the same reason, as in verses 18, 19, but also with bitter persecutions from the world, and that, even almost as soon as the Messiah was born, Satan would begin to exert his rage, and the most tragic and barbarous action be committed, that ever was heard of, which is expressed in the prophecy under consideration. Secondly: The tender and sorrowful mothers mourning over their slaughtered infants, in and about Bethlehem, may very well be represented by Rachel; not only because Bethlehem was the place of her sepulcher,5 but because of her eager desire and overmuch fondness of having children,6 and therefore a very fit person to represent tender and affectionate mothers bewailing the death of their children; and though Bethlehem was in the tribe of Judah, where Leah’s, and not Rachel’s children lived, yet Ramah was in the tribe of Benjamin, who was Rachel’s child; which two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, bordering on each other, the prophecy well agrees with the evangelist’s account of this matter; for though Bethlehem of Judah was the principal seat of this tragic action, yet it was not confined there, but was extended to all the coasts thereof; so that the voice of lamentation was heard in Ramah of Benjamin: Thus the objection of the Jews against the citation of this prophecy in Matthew, and its application to Jesus, is made void.”7

In Matthew’s mind, what Jeremiah’s reference to God’s children having been scattered and lost among the nations was a time for grief among the Jews. And that those who passed by Rachel’s grave might hear her crying for them much like she cried for her own. But they were to be comforted because He would bring them back. This weeping and grieving over those who were lost, Matthew likened to the weeping and grieving taking place in Bethlehem after the merciless murder of these sons who would never come back.

Verses 19-20: While Joseph was in Egypt, Herod died. An angel from the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up! Take the child with his mother and go to Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are now dead.’

Here Matthew picks up the story of Joseph and Mary in Egypt. By now, Joseph must have been use to an angel giving him advice and direction. So there would be little hesitation for him to obey. It must be noted, that the angel did not tell Joseph to go back to Bethlehem, or even Judea. Rather, he was to return to Israel. This was the northern part of the country where the city of Nazareth was located. We have no record that Jesus ever visited Bethlehem again. For the rest of His life He would be tied to Nazareth, even while living in Capernaum. Jewish historian Josephus reminds us again that king Herod died while visiting Jericho. After his mass infanticide following the magi’s departure, there is no reason to have pity for him. Josephus says,But now Herod’s distemper greatly increased upon him after a severe manner, and this by God’s judgment upon him for his sins; for a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly, as it augmented his pains inwardly; for it brought upon him a vehement appetite to eating, which he could not avoid to supply with one sort of food or other. His entrails were also ex-ulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his colon; an aqueous and transparent liquor also had settled itself about his feet, and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly”.8 According to historical records, Archelaus succeeded his father Herod the Great in 4 BC, and reigned until 6 AD according to the Christian calendar. These dates have given some Bible historians the notion that when the current calendar was formulated, the original date tied to Jesus’ birth was off as many as 4 to 6 years. In any case, when we look at the Jewish Scroll of Fasts, which was composed very early in the first century AD, we find a list of memorable days in Jewish history, which were kept as special days in the calendar, when fasting was not permitted. Most of the entries refer to events which happened between the second century BC and the first century AD. They are arranged in twelve sections, according to the Jewish month in which they occurred. The list was written in Aramaic, and it was later greatly amplified by a Hebrew commentary written in about the 7th century AD. On the 7th day of the ninth month, Kislev, (our November) there is a holiday. According to the Jewish Teachers, this day commemorates the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC. This has led some Christian scholars to adjust the Christian calendar to recognize that Jesus was born anywhere from 6 to 4 BC. We do not know how long, but sometime after Herod’s horrible yet deserving death, an angel appeared to Joseph down in Egypt in a dream. Some scholars believe it was the same angel who told Joseph to go down into Egypt in the first place. This means that Joseph was not be afraid of this angel and be willing to accept his message. We do not know how long Joseph waited after Herod died to return to Nazareth. But one thing for sure, it was not without concern because he may not have known who took over from Herod as king. As it would turn out, King Herod Agrippa would take the throne, and Jesus would meet him later toward the end of His life.

1 Jeremiah 31:15,

2 Justin Martyr, Dialog with Typhro, Ch. 78

3 Jeremiah 31:15

4 Genesis 37:30 and 42:3

5 Genesis 35:19-20

6 Ibid. 30:1

7 The Prophecies Respecting the Messiah, Chap. VII

8 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17, Chap. 6:5

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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