Herod’s slaying of the children of Bethlehem foretold (Jeremiah 31:15)

Jeremiah 31:15, "Thus saith the Lord, A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachael is weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted on account of her children, because they are not to be found."

The Christians adduce this passage as a prophecy relating to their creed, and as if Jeremiah had here predicted the slaying of the children in Bethlehem, decreed by King Herod. For that king is said to have learnt that in Bethlehem of Judah a child had been born that was intended to be in future a king of the Jews, and as he could not ascertain who the future pretender was and where to be found, he ordered all the children under the age of two years, in and about Bethlehem, to be massacred. To this event the words quoted above refer, as the reader will find by examining Matthew 2.

Refutation.—We have, on a former occasion, shown that the Christians support the doctrine of their religion by sentences dissevered from their contexts and connection, without regard to the concurrence of the entire paragraph from which their quotations are taken. If, according to their suppositions, Rachel, was weeping for the ruthless slaughter committed among the children of Bethlehem Judah, the question arises, why was not Leah represented as the grieving mother, since it was from her that those victims of the tyranny of Herod were descended? Another question arises: what connection has the bereavement there spoken of with the consoling promises given by the Lord? (Jeremiah 31:16-17), "And they shall return from the land of their enemy, and the children shall return to the boundary." The following explanation of the passage will, however, produce conviction:—The prophet speaks here allegorically. The children alluded to here are the ten tribes in exile. These ten tribes are comprised under the designation of Ephraim (the tribe descended from Rachel); therefore she is weeping for her children who are banished from their country by the kings of Assyria. The ten tribes were called Ephraim, because their first king, after their defection from the King of Judah, was Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, from the tribe of Ephraim. This is confirmed by the Prediction in Jeremiah 7:15, "And I shall cast you away from my presence, as I have cast away all your brethren, the whole seed of Ephraim."

The last Hebrew word in the verse cited in the beginning of this chapter (Jeremiah 31:15), is אֵינֶנּוּ which in reality, does not mean they are not (to be found); but he (or it, is not to be found), because the singular relates here to the word עָם (people), which is implied; for when the tribes of Judah and Benjamin returned from the Babylonian captivity, the ten tribes did not return with them, nor was the place of their settlement fully known; for this reason the whole number of the missing children (or people) is expressed in the singular. Alluding to the restoration of the whole people in the days of the Messiah, the prophet Jeremiah continues, in the name of God (Ibid. 31:16-17), "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 their enemies. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border." These verses, which are all connected with one another, give the most intelligible proof that the prophet did not allude to the death of the children of his people, but to their dispersion. By this interpretation we can make sense of the 18th verse of the same chapter, "I have heard Ephraim lonely bemoaning himself thus: Thou hast chastised me, yea, I was chastised as a young bullock untrained to the yoke." Again, Ibid. verse 20, "Is Ephraim my dear son, is he my darling child?" And again, Ibid. verse 21, "Set thee up waymarks, make unto thee high heaps, set thine heart towards the highway, even the way towards which thou wentest; turn again, O Virgin of Israel, turn again towards thy cities." These words refer to the return of the captives of Israel. The ultimate and complete return of the tribes of Israel was also predicted by Ezekiel 37:19, "Thus saith the Lord God, I will take the stick of Joseph which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand." This chapter points out the gathering of the ten tribes, and their re-union with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, as also their subordination under one king in the days of the Messiah.

We have already, in a former part of this work, noticed that the restoration of the ten tribes was not intended to happen at the return from the captivity of Babylon, and that altogether only 42,000 went back to the Holy Land.

Certain Christians have asserted that the name of Israel, mentioned in particular parts of Scripture which relate to the restoration, is restricted to the ten tribes; but this is not true, for it is written, that Israel shall be remembered by the tribe of Judah. See Jeremiah chapter 30:18, "And I shall bring back the captivity of Jacob’s tents;" And in the same book, chapter 23:6, we find, "In his days shall Judah be saved and Israel shall dwell in safety." Amos 2, speaks first of the three transgressions of Israel, and then of those of Judah, meaning by those of Israel, the ten tribes. But when the name, Israel, alone occurs, it includes also the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, it being the collective name of the whole people.

 
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