Tragedy and Hope: Rachel’s death at Bethlehem

Tonight I was reading in the book of Genesis and I was touched by the sad story of Rachel’s death. Rachel, mother of several of the tribes of Israel, died while giving birth to her final son:

Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.

19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb. (Genesis 35:16-20 NIV).

Jacob recounts this painful story again twelve chapters later:

As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). (Genesis 48:7)

“Ephrath” or “Bethlehem” as it is better known these days, has witnessed many tragedies over the years. Many centuries after this dozens if not hundreds of Jewish babies were murdered in this town by a wicked King. No doubt some of these unfortunate children were the descendants of Rachel:

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” (Matthew 1:16-18 NIV)

This scene of Rachel weeping for her children is a poignant one. It is sad to think that she was unable to escape the pain of a difficult death, and her descendants many centuries later died in anguish in the same city. Passages like these remind us of all the suffering that goes on in the world.

But there is hope. Even in this lowly city, of Bethlehem, the city where so much suffering had happened, God came revealed Himself in a very special way, coming into the world as a baby, as had been prophesied:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

And indeed, a great “ruler” whose “origins are from old,” was born in Bethlehem. He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, savior of the Earth. Here was a man, finally, that had the power to defeat death, to raise true believers from corruption, so that they can have a eternal, sinless, relationship with God. His name is Jesus Christ.

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