“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” – Jeremiah 31:15 (NKJV)
I don’t know why the prophet Jeremiah named Rachel in this passage. She wasn’t the mother of Judah, symbolic of Israel. Leah held that honor (Genesis 29:35). Rachel didn’t die in Ramah either, but in Bethlehem (35:19). King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy (Matthew 2:16-18). Still, this verse has puzzled me for years.
The name “Rachel” is Hebrew for ewe, a sheep. Her marriage to Jacob is prophetic of the relationship between Jesus Christ and his bride the church. After she wept for her barrenness, God gave Rachel two sons – Joseph and Benjamin (Genesis 30:22-24). Dying while giving birth to the second son, Rachel called him Ben-Oni, which means “son of my sorrow” (35:18). Jacob renamed him Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand” (35:18).
Rachel died weeping. She didn’t live to see the joy. Likewise, Jeremiah died weeping for the lost nation of Israel, captive in Babylon. The books of Jeremiah and Lamentations capture his grief. He didn’t live to see the joy of captives returning home. Unlike Rachel, however, Jeremiah had God’s promise that they would: “refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work shall be rewarded” (Jeremiah 31:16). One day, Israel’s children will return “from the land of the enemy” and “come back to their own border” (31:16-17).
After King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, families with dead children wept in sorrow. They didn’t know that baby Jesus had escaped. They didn’t live to see the sorrow of his death and the joy of his resurrection either (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus was a second Ben-Oni on the cross, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3). After his ascension, Jesus was a second Benjamin. The Son of God sat at his Father’s right hand (Mark 16:19, Acts 7:55-56, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).
Now is the time for the church to weep and mourn, not laugh and dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Are we begging Jesus, “Give me children or else I die” (Genesis 30:1)? Are we mourning like Rachel for physical children lost to abortion, infanticide, neglect, and abuse? More importantly, are we mourning for spiritual children lost to sex, drugs, and alcohol – to Satan and this world? Few people weep and pray for these lost children. No one cares for their souls (Psalm 142:4).
God promises us that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Only those who mourn will be comforted (Jeremiah 31:13, Matthew 5:4). Only those who sorrow will experience joy over the new birth of a convert in Christ’s kingdom (John 3:3-5, 16:20-21). Only those who sow the Word in tears will reap the harvest in joy, bringing to Jesus the sheaves of believers (Psalm 126:5-6, Matthew 25:20-23). Too many Christians today are laughing and dancing when they’ve never sown a seed or shed a tear.
It may be the darkest of nights for some parents and grandparents now, but morning is coming. If we weep in prayer, then the prodigals will come home (Luke 15:17-21). The dead will return to life and the lost will be found (17:24, 32). The children we’ll have will tell us, “Give me a place where I may dwell,” even if we feel desolate and alone (Isaiah 49:20-21). Truly, “more are the children of the desolate than [those] of the married woman” (54:1). This is Rachel’s joy.