The scripture about Rachel weeping for her children is mentioned in the New Testament with reference to Herod slaying all the babies in Bethlehem age two and younger.
I think it is instructive to see where this comes from and see its context to learn more about it. It is from Jeremiah 31:15, but verses 16-17 have some things to say that might startle us.
15 ¶Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.
16 Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
17 And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border. (Jeremiah 31:15-17)
Right along with the prophecy that there would be weeping and why, there also comes instructions about how that grief can be overcome. And I think it can also be applied to mean several things.
Concerning the slaughter of the innocents, the rest of the verses give comfort that the work these mothers have done to nurture them would still be rewarded. None of it would be for nothing. Also, the promise that their children would come again from the land of the enemy is essentially speaking of a future resurrection when they would receive those children back again. They could live in hope for that day.
Another way to read these verses is as prophecy of the coming destruction and scattering of the people. This is Jeremiah speaking, after all.
And yet, in the very next verse comes that comfort from the Lord that the children of Israel would come back again from the land of the enemy (Babylon), and for those who were killed, resurrection from death. Further, there was still hope that they would repent, even in the spirit world.
Now, this isn’t the only cool part of the chapter. Verses 18-20 have things to say about Ephraim. Keep in mind that at the time Jeremiah wrote this, Ephraim (part of the northern 10 tribes) had already been carried captive by Assyria some 100 years before because of stubborn wickedness.
18 ¶I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God.
19 Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.
20 Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:18-20)
Note the characteristics of Ephraim as described in these verses:
1. He realizes he has been chastised by God. (He’s acquired quite a lot of spiritual discernment about how the Lord is at work in his life.)
2. He realizes he is like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. (He has acquired the ability to see the truth about himself, rather than remaining in blind pride.)
3. He requests the help of God is being turned from his sins. (This shows he knows he can’t depend upon his own strength and wisdom, and he trusts in Christ’s atoning power to change and cleanse him.)
4. He has come to know the Lord and is trying to follow Him.
5. He is aware of the consequences of his actions and the stages of repentance, as well as knowledge of the spiritual history of his people, which hasn’t been all stellar.
As I look at those characteristics of Ephraim, I can’t see how any of that can happen unless they’ve been converted to the restored gospel and restored to their spiritual blessings of being part of Israel. None else but the humble followers of Christ have such humility, such true vision of their state, such dependence on the Lord, such a repentant heart.
In v20, Jeremiah speaks on behalf of the Lord, declaring the Lord remembers Ephraim as a dear son and will have mercy on him. Clearly that mercy can only be brought about through Ephraim’s sincere repentance.
So, to sum up, Jeremiah prophesied that the lost (killed or captive) children of Israel would be returned (resurrected or gathered). He also prophesied that the people of Ephraim would be restored to the truth of the gospel and would become a humble and repentant people (completely opposite from what they were when they were carried away). Those of us who are Ephraimites can take satisfaction in knowing that we are part of the fulfillment of this scripture. It also gives us yet another way to measure ourselves. How well do our lives fit the characteristics of Ephraim described by Jeremiah?
· Do we understand when the Lord is chastising us for our sins?
· Do we recognize how we are unaccustomed to the yoke of discipleship?
· Do we ask for the Lord’s help to change when we repent?
· Do we consider the Lord our God to the extent that we worship Him and follow Him?
· Do we repent? Do we allow ourselves to be instructed? Are we ashamed of our sins?