Jeremiah 31:15-16

15. Thus saith the Lord, A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.

15. Sic dicit Jehova, Vox in excelso audita est, lamentatio, fietus amaritudinum, Rachel plorans super filiis suis noluit (renuit, vel, non admisit) ad consolandum (hoc est, non admisit consolationum super filiis suis) quia non ipsi, (hoc est, quia non sunt)

16. Thus saith the Lord, 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 the enemy.

16. Sic dicit Jehova, Prohibe vocem tuam a fletu et oculos tuos a lachrymis, quia erit merces operi tuo, dicit Jehova, et revertentur e terra hostis.


Here, in the first place, the Prophet describes the desolation of the land, when deprived of all its inhabitants; and, in the second place, he adds a comfort, -- that God would restore the captives from exile, that the land might again be inhabited. But there is here what they call a personification, that is, an imaginary person introduced: for the Prophet raises up Rachel from the grave, and represents her as lamenting. She had been long dead, and her body had been reduced to ashes; but the discourse has more force when lamentation is ascribed to a dead woman than if the Prophet had said, that the land would present a sad and a mournful appearance, because it would be waste and desolate; for rhetoricians mention personification among the highest excellencies, and Cicero, when treating of the highest ornament of an oration, says, that nothing touches an audience so much as when the dead are raised up from below. The Prophet, then, though not taught in the school of rhetoricians, thus adorned his discourse through the impulse ot God's Spirit, that he might more effectually penetrate into the hearts of the people.

And this personification introduces a scene, for it brings before us the Jews and the other Israelites; nor does it only represent to them the calamity that was at hand, and what had already in part happened, but it also sets before their eyes the vengeance of God which had taken place in the destruction of the kingdom of Israel, when first four tribes were driven into exile, and afterwards the whole kingdom was destroyed, and it also sets forth what the Jews little thought of and did not fear, even the extreme calamity and ruin of the kingdom of Judah, and of the holy city.

Hence he says, Thus saith Jehovah, A voice on the height is heard, even lamentation, the weeping of bitterness, he introduces God as the speaker; for the Jews, though they had seen the dreadful scattering of their brethren, were yet remaining secure; and hence another Prophet complains, that no one laid to heart the calamity of Joseph. (Amos 6:6) They saw that the whole land was almost consumed by God's vengeance, as though a fire had raged everywhere; and yet they followed their own gratifications, as Isaiah also accuses them. (Isaiah 22) This is the reason why God is made to speak here: he had to do with men altogether torpid and heedless. That the Prophet then might awaken them from their torpor, he introduces God as making the announcement, A voice then is heard, -- whose voice? of Rachel.

Interpreters think that Rachel is mentioned, because she was buried in Bethlehem: but as to Joseph, that is, his posterity, this region had come by lot, it seems to me probable that the Prophet here refers not to the grave of Rachel, but to her offspring; for that part which they who descended from her son Benjamin had obtained, was laid waste; hence he introduces Rachel as the mother of that part of the country; and it is well known that under the tribe of Ephraim is included the other ten tribes: but the reference to her burial is without meaning. Rachel, then, weeping for her children, refused consolation, because they were not;1 that is, she could not receive consolation, for a reason was wanting, as her posterity were destroyed, and were become extinct in the land.

This passage is quoted by Matthew, (Matthew 2:18) where he gives an account of the infants under two years old, who had been slain by the command of Herod: then he says, that this prophecy was fulfilled, even that Rachel again wept for her children. But the explanation of this is attended with no difficulty; for Matthew meant no other thing than that the same thing happened at the coming of Christ as had taken place before, when the whole country was reduced to desolation; for it was the Evangelist's object to remove an offense arising from novelty, as we know that men's minds feel a dread when anything new, unexpected, and never heard of before happens. Hence, the Evangelists often direct their attention to this point, so that what happened in the time of Christ might not terrify or disturb the minds of men as a thing new and unexpected, inasmuch as the fathers formerly had experienced the same. To no purpose then do interpreters torture themselves by explaining this passage allegorically; for Matthew did not intend to lessen the authority of ancient history, for he knew in what sense this had been formerly said; but his only object was to remind the Jews that there was no cause for them to be greatly astonished at that slaughter, for that region had formerly been laid waste and bereaved of all its inhabitants, as though a mother, having had a large family, were to lose all her children.2

We now then see how Matthew accommodated to his own purpose this passage. He retains the proper name, "Ramah," and there was a place so called; but the appellative is preferable here, "A voice is heard on the height," as we had yesterday, "on the height of Zion." Then a high place is what Jeremiah has mentioned here, because lamentation was to be heard through all parts of the country, for a voice sent forth from a high place sounds afar off.3 Now, also, we perceive the meaning of this sentence, -- that the country possessed by the sons of Benjamin had been reduced to desolation, so that the mother, as one bereaved of her children, pined away in her lamentation, as nothing could afford her comfort, because her whole offspring had been cut off.

Now follows a promise which moderates the grievousness of the calamity. And the two verses ought to be read as opposite the one to the other, "Though Rachel, weeping for her children, has no ground for consolation for a time, yet God will console her." And thus the Prophet, in the former verse, exhorts the Jews to repentance, but in the latter to hope: for it was necessary that the Jews should be forewarned of their dreadful calamity, that they might acknowledge God's judgment; and it was also necessary for them to have their minds inspired with hope. Now, then, the Prophet bids them to be comforted; for Rachel, having long bewailed her children without any consolation, would at length obtain God's mercy. God then would console Rachel after her long lamentation.

Refrain, he says, thy voice from weeping. The word is hkb beke: as he had mentioned this word before in the second place, "lamentation, the weeping of bitterness," so he now repeats the same here, "Refrain thy voice from weeping," that is, cease to complain and to bewail the death of thy children, and thine eyes from tears. The meaning is, that the lamentation of Rachel would not be perpetual. We have said that a dead woman is introduced, but that this is done for the sake of solemnity and effect, so that the Jews, having the matter set as it were before their eyes, might be more touched and moved. But if we wish to understand the meaning of the Prophet without a figure it is this, -- that the lamentation would not be perpetual, because the exiles would return, and that the land that had fallen to the lot of the children of Benjamin and of Joseph would again be inhabited.

And he says, for reward shall be to thy work. He means that the sorrow of Rachel would at length happily come to an end, so as to produce some benefit. While the faithful, according to Isaiah, were complaining that they were oppressed with grief without hope, they said, "We have been in travail, and brought forth wind:" by these words they meant that they had experienced the heaviest troubles; and then they added, "without fruit," as though a woman were in travail and suffered the greatest pain and anguish, and brought forth no living, but a dead child, which is sometimes the case. Now a woman who gives birth to a living child rejoices, as Christ says, because a man is born, (John 16:21) but when a woman after long pains brings forth a dead lump or something monstrous, it is an increase of sorrow. So the Prophet says, that the labor of Rachel, that is, of her country, would not be without fruit: there shall then be a reward to thy work. The Scripture uses the same way of speaking in 2 Chronicles 15:7, where the Prophet Azariah speaks to the King Asa,

"Act manfully, and let not your hands be weakened, for there shall be a reward to your work."

Then by work is to be understood trouble or sorrow, and by reward a joyful and prosperous issue. The meaning is, that though the whole country mourned miserably for a time, being deserted and bereaved of its inhabitants, yet the issue would be joyful, for the Lord would restore the exiles, so that the land would be like a mother having a numerous family, and delighting in her children, or in her offspring.

Now, were any one to apply this to satisfactions, he would be doing what is very absurd, as the Papists do, who say that by the punishment which we suffer we are redeemed from eternal death, and that then the vengeance of God is pacified, and satisfaction is made to his justice. But when the Prophet declares that there would be reward to the work, he does not commend the fruits of the punishment by which God chastised his people, as though they were, as they say, satisfactions; but he simply reminds them that their troubles and sorrows would not be useless, for a happier issue than the Jews hoped for would take place. But it is God's gratuitous gift that there is a reward to our work, that is, when the miseries and calamities which he inflicts on us are made aids to our salvation. For doubtless whatever evils we suffer, they are tokens of God's wrath; poverty, cold, famine, sterility, disease, and all other evils, are so many curses inflicted by God. When, therefore, there is a reward to our troubles and sorrows, that is, when they produce some benefit or fruit, it is as though God turned darkness into light; for naturally, as I have said, all these punishments are curses. But God promises that he will bless us, so that all these punishments shall turn out for our good and salvation, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:28.

Then he adds, they shall return from the land of the enemy. By these words he refers to the restoration of the people, so that Rachel would again see her posterity inheriting the promised land. But there is no reason refinedly to dispute here, whether Rachel rejoiced at the return of her offspring, or whether that calamity was lamented by her; for the Prophet's object was not to shew whether or not the dead are conscious of our affairs; but he speaks figuratively in order to render what he said more striking and forcible. It follows, --

1 "To be not," according to the usage of the Scripture, means either dead or absent. See Genesis 42:36. Joseph was not, he being dead; and Simeon was not, he being absent in Egypt. To be not here refers to the absent, those driven into exile; but the passage, as quoted by Matthew, refers to such as were dead. The similarity was only in part, that is, as to the weeping. -- Ed.

2 The quotation in Matthew is neither from the Hebrew nor from the Sept. It is substantially correct, but not verbally; the sense and not the words, seems to have been chiefly regarded by the Apostles. -- Ed.

3 "Ramah" is found in the Sept., the Syr., and the Targ.; but "on the height," or, on high, is the Vulg. It seems better to retain the proper name, "Ramah." -- Ed.


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