December 19 – Matthew 2:13-18
For those of you who are meeting this week, we’ll be in Matthew 2:13-18, which picks back up in Jesus’ birth story under the shadow of Herod’s tyranny. An angel comes to Joseph in a dream a second time, warning him to flee to Egypt. Based on 2:16 we know Jesus was about two years old at the time, so you can imagine how difficult the journey must have been for Joseph and Mary. Nevertheless, they get out in time before Herod slaughtered all the little boys of Bethlehem. Being a pretty small town at the time, writers estimate this was about a few dozen children, but think of the loss—in a town that small, everyone knows each other. No one would’ve gone untouched by the horror.
In the past few weeks we’ve seen how often Matthew connects Jesus’ story with ancient prophecies. This week we see two, one from Hosea 11:1, “out of Egypt I called my son,” which matches Jesus’ brief exile in Egypt and eventual departure with Israel’s liberation from slavery in Exodus. The second one is from Jeremiah 31:15, which we’ll go back and read with some context in our discussion. Jeremiah 30-31 is often called the Book of Consolation; smack in the middle of the book of Jeremiah, those two chapters offer a glorious hope in the midst of serious loss. Jeremiah was writing right at the time of exile, and he saw Jerusalem fall to the Babylonians (586 BC). Things got really bad towards the end, and it was clear to many that Judah was doomed.
But right in the middle of all that hopelessness and destruction we find Jeremiah 30-31. It’s worth a read, it goes from God saying, “For I am with you to save you” in 30:11 to the promise of a new covenant in 31:31 and an eternal kingdom in 31:40. No wonder Matthew read in there a connection to Jesus!
Narrowing in on 31:15 we read:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.”
Ramah was a town a few miles north of Jerusalem, on the way to exile. That’s the opposite direction of Bethlehem, but that’s not the point of the passage. Rachel was one of Jacob’s wives, Jacob also being called Israel, so Rachel’s children were quite literally the children of Israel. So Jeremiah, living about 1300 years after Rachel, used vivid language here to describe the weeping that would accompany the exile to Babylon, and after Jeremiah’s time, this verse became emblematic of the exile as a way to mourn the oppression of Israel, particularly when harm befell Hebrew children.
What Matthew observed here was overlapping points of significance. Israel suffered exile due to sin, while all of mankind suffers exile from God’s presence for the same thing. In sin, mankind tries to set up their own kingdom, which will always war against God’s kingdom as long as he patiently allows it. Herod striking out against the children of Israel is merely another brutal but failed attempt of the kingdom of man to supplant the kingdom of God. And where God’s people suffer under sin, either in exile or under brutality, we see that Jesus, “God with us,” is the ultimate answer. At Christmas we might find ourselves preferring to keep everything cheery, but if we can consider what it means to suffer in a sin-broken world, we can find deep encouragement in the birth of Immanuel.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Matthew 2:13-18 for us?
• What stood out to you in this passage?
• What tone does this story set for the rest of Jesus’ life?
• Let’s turn to Jeremiah 31:10-17. Could someone read that for us?
• How does this inform what we just read in Matthew 2?
• Flip back to Matthew 2:13-18. Part of Jesus being “Immanuel, God with us” was him coming to share our sufferings—where do we see that in this passage?
• What’s encouraging to you in this passage?
• How can this passage help us worship Jesus this Advent?