Weeping in Ramah (Matthew 2:16-18)

This morning, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light the fourth candle commonly called the “Angels Candle”.  This candle is lit to remind us of the peace granted to us through Jesus Christ.  You may think it strange to entitle a sermon “Weeping in Ramah” on the morning that we are lighting a candle that symbolizes peace; but, as we shall see, this peace is not provided in absence of conflict but as an answer to conflict. Matthew 2:16-18 says:

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet 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.

The Context

Chapter 2 begins with wise men from the east coming to Jerusalem to inquire about the recent birth of the king of the Jews. Herod, the current king, upon hearing this became troubled.  He sent the wise men to Bethlehem to search and report back.  He told them he wanted to worship this newborn king, but obviously he had other intentions.

The wise men found Jesus, worshipped Him, and were then warned in a dream not to return to Herod.  Joseph was also warned in a dream to flee to Egypt because Herod wants to kill Jesus.  Herod, furious about being tricked by the wise men, sent his soldiers to Bethlehem and had them kill all the male children two years and under.

Our passage this morning serves as a reminder of the conflict that rages all around us and shall help us learn about the role of God’s peace in the midst of conflict.  Namely, God’s peace is not the absence of conflict but the answer for conflict.

Not the Absence of Conflict

We are told in our passage that there is “weeping and loud lamentation” by Rachel in Ramah.  Here Matthew is quoting Jeremiah 31:15.  Ramah was a city located five miles north of Jerusalem on the border between the OT kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  Jeremiah spoke of Rachel (the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin) weeping to symbolize all the Jewish mothers who were weeping over their children being taken away in the Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C.  Matthew quotes this passage to speak of all the Jewish mothers around Bethlehem who are weeping over their children being taken away from them in death by Herod.

This passage reminds us that it is impossible to avoid the spiritual conflict raging around us.  These Jewish boys did not deserve to die at the hands of a madman, but were murdered nonetheless by his soldiers because he desperately tried to destroy Jesus.  In one sense this was the work of a king who wanted to destroy a potential rival, but in another sense this was the work of Satan who wanted to destroy God’s Son.

We are told in Revelation 12 that Herod was carrying out the commands of Satan.  In Revelation 12, Satan is described as a dragon that is desperate to destroy the coming Child “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev 12:5).  In Revelation 12:4, we read that “the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.”  Satan was working through Herod to try to devour (kill) Jesus at His birth.  By the grace of God Jesus was not killed, but (tragically) many young Jewish boys were killed that day.

What this shows us is that there are many who shall suffer at the hands of the devil in his war against God.  This also shows us that God never promises to spare us from the wrath of the devil in this world.  In fact, Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12 (from a Roman prison), “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  So does God leave us to fend for ourselves?  Not at all.

The Answer for Conflict

God is not silent or busy or uncaring; on the contrary God provides peace to the follower of Christ during the conflict.  The enemy shall rage, there shall be weeping, there shall be chaos, there shall be tribulation, it will go from bad to worse, but through it all Jesus will guard His children with peace.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:7, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  The peace of God is given to the Christ-follower in the midst of conflict, sadness, and anxiety.  Before writing Phil 4:7, Paul wrote that two women in the church should stop fighting and “agree in the Lord” (4:2).  Paul told the church to not be filled with sadness but “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (4:4).  Paul told them not to be anxious but rather “let your requests be made known to God” (4:6).  God knows the enemy rages and there will be times of weeping.  It is in response to this that Jesus appeared “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8) and “through death…destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

Rachel was weeping in Jeremiah 31:15 but look what the Lord says in verse 16, “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work.”  In verse 17 the Lord declares, “There is hope for your future.”  And in verses 31 through 34, we have the Lord providing the answer for our sorrows when He says, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

In Conclusion

God’s peace is provided through Jesus Christ to help us endure the chaos of our present world.  God’s peace is not the absence of conflict but the answer for conflict.  Remember the words of our Lord when He said, “In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).