Jesus—in being called back from Egypt, through the waters of baptism and through the temptations in the wilderness—reveals that he is the true and better Israel. He not only fulfills their Messianic hope, but he fulfills Rachel’s weeping as well.
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. Matthew 2:18
In the 1830’s the United States passed “the Indian removal act” which forced 125,000 Indians to move from Michigan, Georgia, and Florida to land west of the Mississippi. The Supreme Court of the United States at one point tried to step in and declared the Indian Removal Act to be unconstitutional. This was the case that prompted President Jackson to infamously quip: “the Supreme Court has made their decision, now let’s see them enforce it.”
By some accounts over one-third of the Indians died on the journey. Today that circuitous route—for some it would have been nearly 2,000 miles, is remembered as “the trail of tears.”
This American landmark helps us understand a similar trail of tears in the Bible. It weaves its way from outside of Jerusalem, to Egypt, then back again. It stretches from the mountains of Ephraim, to the hills of Benjamin, passing through Ramah, and terminating in Bethlehem. This trail is also passes through the pages of Scripture. It begins with the patriarchs in Genesis, goes through Judges and Jeremiah, ending in Matthew 2.
Ultimately this trail points to Jesus, and serves as more evidence that he was indeed the Messiah.
When you look at Rachel’s trail of tears, there are specific markers on it that are repeated throughout the Bible, ultimately leading to the birth of Christ. Here are four of those mileposts:
Rachel was an idolater. Jacob married her precisely because he didn’t want to marry a Caananite, so he married into his mother’s family. Nevertheless, her father Laban worshiped idols, and when Jacob left Laban with Leah, Rachel, and perhaps an inordinate amount of Laban’s herds, Rachel absconded with Laban’s idols (Genesis 31:19).
Laben was disappointed to lose his livestock, and surprised to lose his daughters, but he would not abide losing his idols. He tracked Jacob’s band down, and ransacked his tents hunting for them. For her part, Rachel hid the idols in her camel bags, then sat on top of the camel telling her father, “I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me” (Genesis 31:35).
Thus Israel was birthed with idolatry, and this idol worship would become her besetting sin. From Aaron and the golden calf to Solomon’s foreign wives and their idols, this form of worship has always found a home within the 12 tribes. It is the sin that eventually would lead them to exile.
The Desire for Children
Rachel is known as the mother of Israel. She was Jacob’s second wife, but she was the one whom he loved. Despite her status as Jacob’s favorite, of Jacob’s thirteen children (from four different mothers), Rachel only had two, and the first of her children came after Jacob fathered sons with Leah, Leah’s slave, then Rachel’s slave.
Rachel, if you remember, was bitter about this. More than anything she wanted children. After Leah had given Jacob four sons, Rachel plead with him, “Give me children or I die!” (Genesis 30:1). After she had her first child, Joseph, she immediately prayed for more.
Her life ended when this prayer was answered. She died giving birth to her second son, whom she named Benoni, which means “son of my tears” (Genesis 35:18). Jacob promptly renamed him Benjamin. Benjamin quickly became Jacob’s favorite son—his second favorite was Joseph, the other son of Rachel.