The Gospel of Matthew was written to prove that Jesus is Israel’s promised Messiah. Matthew quoted the Old Testament prophets more than any other gospel writer. His purpose was to demonstrate that the prophets’ words were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In Matthew’s narrative of the birth of Jesus Christ, we find this quotation from 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” (Matthew 2:18, ESV).
Matthew 2:16–18 recounts King Herod’s massacre of infant boys in Bethlehem and surrounding towns. Ramah was an Ephraimite town about five miles north of Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s specific prophecy, given about six centuries before the birth of Jesus, concerns the captivity of Judah and the killing of innocent Jewish children during the Babylonian conquest (Jeremiah 31:15). But Matthew, seeing the striking parallel, applied it to the slaughter of babies by Herod the Great as another fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
In Matthew 2, wise men from the East arrive in Jerusalem with news of a newborn “king of the Jews” in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:2, 5). Fearing a threat to his kingship, the ruthless and powerful King Herod orders all male children two years old or under be put to death in the region.
In Scripture, Bethlehem is first mentioned in connection with the death of Rachel, who was Jacob’s favored wife (Genesis 35:16–20). Rachel died giving birth to their son, whom she called Ben-Oni, meaning “son of my sorrow.” Jacob changed the boy’s name to Benjamin, “son of my right hand.” Both names prophetically point to Jesus Christ, who was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3, NLT), and who is now exalted to God’s “own right hand as Prince and Savior” (Acts 5:31, NLT; Hebrews 1:3). Jacob marked Rachel’s grave by setting a pillar near Bethlehem.
“Rachel weeping for her children” represents the countless Jewish mothers grieving the loss of their children. Israel’s time of captivity in Babylon was undoubtedly one of the most sorrowful times in the nation’s history. Thus, Matthew links this Old Testament passage to the time of Jesus’ birth as further evidence that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah in whom Israel can place its hope. In Jeremiah’s prophecy, the Lord promised the nation of Israel, “There is hope for your future” (Jeremiah 31:17). That promise was also fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jacob and Jeremiah associated Bethlehem with death and mourning, but Messiah’s birth transformed it into a symbol of hope and life.
Matthew strategically included statements such as “a voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation” to show that the details of Jesus Christ’s birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection were all in total harmony with the Old Testament. God made His Son’s identity clear. Israel’s Savior was destined to identify with His people’s historical suffering and exile as well as their exodus from slavery (Matthew 2:15). Jesus is explicitly and inseparably tied with the history of His people—not only with the Jews but all believers whose spiritual history and life before salvation involve mourning, exile, and slavery to sin.
“A voice was heard in Ramah” is just one of several hundred biblical prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Matthew’s skillful allusion to some of those prophecies supplied sufficient evidence that Jesus is indeed Israel’s promised Messiah.