There have been times as I read a prophecy book that I come across some phrasing that makes me shake my head. I’ll read something to the effect of, “There can only be one fulfillment of a prophecy.” My thought is, “Oh really? Where in the scripture did you find that principle?” Some people just make up the rules as they go along, as if prophecy can be contained by a set of rules. Now to be fair, there are many instances where a prophecy will only be fulfilled one time. For instance, the prophecy of the virgin birth: Christ will only be born of a virgin one time; Christ’s death on the cross: Christ will only die once for the sins of the world. These prophecies have only one fulfillment.
However, there are prophecies of another nature. Some have an ongoing type of fulfillment. Understanding the meaning of the Greek word used here will help. The word has the idea of making full or brought to an overflowing. Some people mistakenly think that fulfillment means completion, and that is not the case. When a prophecy is fulfilled, it is made full, as in, it is brought to the point of overflowing off the pages of scripture into the present time and space where one is standing. When the virgin birth was fulfilled, it was brought off the pages of Isaiah’s prophecy into the very lives of Mary and Joseph. When something is fulfilled, there can be no denying that it is occurring. Other uses of the term include being filled with the Holy Spirit, Acts2:2, filling Jerusalem with a certain doctrine, Acts 5:28, Satan filling someone’s heart, Acts 5:3. It is obvious that these examples can have more than one fulfillment. It is with that mindset that we look at our next selection in the Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy.
Matthew 2:16 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. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “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.”
If you read Jeremiah 31:15 by itself, you would be at a loss at to comprehend why Matthew chose this one verse out of the entire prophets as being fulfilled when Herod slaughtered these baby boys. However, if you examine Jeremiah 30-31 in its entirety, it becomes all too obvious. Jeremiah foresees the coming time of Jacob’s trouble which will be characterized by foreign rule instead of having their own king. Yet in spite of this, God will deliver them out of it, and instead of serving foreign rulers, they will serve the Davidic Messiah, see Jeremiah 30:6-9. This period of time begins with the Babylonian captivity especially with the slaying of King Zedekiah and ends with the reign of the Messiah over Israel. The entire oracle of Jeremiah 30-31 explains this theme repeatedly revealing additional details, such as returning from captivity and dispersion, 30:10, 18, 31:8; a return to autonomous theocracy, 30:21-22; the correction and repentance of the nation of Israel, 31:18-19; even entering into a new covenant relationship with the LORD, 31:31-34. With this in mind, let’s examine the portion of Jeremiah 31 that Matthew quotes as being fulfilled in the days of wicked King Herod.
Thus says the LORD:
“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.”
16 Thus says the LORD:
“Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for your work,
declares the LORD,
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
17 There is hope for your future,
declares the LORD,
and your children shall come back to their own country.
I am following the KJV in regards to the division of the passage which marks verses 15-17 as belonging to one paragraph, but following the ESV for translation and poetic line division. Each translation seems to have their own ideas as to how the passage should be divided. In looking at the language, it seems that verses 15-17 belong together because the weeping of verse 15 carries over to verse 16 and the children slain in verse 15 are returning in verse 17. Jeremiah’s vision for the future based on verses 15-17 is as follows. The time of Jacob’s trouble will be characterized by the senseless slaughter of the children of Israel. Rachel here is metaphoric for all the mothers in Israel, she being one of the chief matriarchs, [much like Israel and Jacob are metaphoric for the entire nation even though they are the names of one man]. Rachel is heard weeping and refuses to be comforted during this time because there is no comfort. It is an ongoing period of persecution and trouble against the children of Israel for which there is no way out except at the extreme end when Israel enters into that new covenant relationship with the LORD. Verse 16 shows that one day the LORD will command the weeping to cease when the children of Israel are gathered out from the captivity and dispersion back into their homeland. Verse 17 shows there is hope in the future of the nation of Israel when they come again within their own borders. Yet for this period of time when Rachel is found weeping in verse 15, there is no comfort.
Matthew’s quotation of this passage does not mean that this is the only place of fulfillment for this prophecy. Many times throughout Israel’s history have been characterized by unnecessary slaughter of the children of Israel. Here in Matthew’s passage it is so stark and poignant that he cannot help but quote the prophecy as being fulfilled. Here the prophecy is overflowing off the pages of scripture right into the hearts of the mothers in Bethlehem and surrounding areas. There was no comfort for these mothers whose children were mercilessly slaughtered. Yet it would not be inappropriate to cite this same prophecy as applying to the days when Nebuchadnezzar slaughtered the Israelites in his day, or when Antiochus the IV did so, or even during the holocaust of World War II. There is even coming a worse time in Israel’s future when the powers of this world will gather together against Jerusalem and attempt to wipe out Israel from being a nation. Again, there will be no comfort for these mothers until Israel repents, enters into that new covenant relationship with the LORD, and the Davidic Messiah begins to reign.
Matthew did not cherry pick Jeremiah 31:15 to fit his purpose. Matthew had an understanding of the entire prophecy and we should as well. Jeremiah and Matthew had the privilege of seeing a future for the nation of Israel when the LORD will command them to stop weeping because there is hope in their future. For our study here, we would do well not to limit prophecy by making a set of rules that cannot apply uniformly to all situations. To say that prophecy has only one fulfillment is to ignore this passage and others like it where there is an ongoing fulfillment meant to be brought to an overflowing over an extended period of time. Further, to say that this passage is completely fulfilled will be to miss the future great tribulation which will include the nation of Israel and further weeping of Rachel as she cries for her children who will simply not be found.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S. More information on Jeremiah 30-33 can be found at this link here.