In the sixth century BC God’s people were led into Babylonian captivity after much devastation had come upon them. The losses they suffered were almost unbearable. Freedom had been replaced with slavery; prosperity with impoverishment; family togetherness had been shattered by the deaths of little children. Looking back on the heart-ache of the people the prophet Jeremiah lamented: “This what the Lord says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15). We do not need to be reminded that whether one child or twenty children are taken from us there is no greater sorrow to bear. Ask any funeral director; he will tell us the death of a child is the most difficult funeral to prepare for, the hardest to go through, the saddest to endure. Parents in Jeremiah’s day wept with “great weeping.” Their children were no more.
Hundreds of years later an evil and jealous king decided to massacre innocent children in Bethlehem. King Herod’s decision to put them to death was the face of evil at its ugliest. There was no way to justify what he did; there was no way to excuse his dastardly deeds. He did not act out of mental illness or insanity. His was a cold-blooded calculated murder. His decision was based on lust for power. How many little ones in Bethlehem and its vicinity died we may never know, but without a doubt parents, grandparents and friends refused to be comforted because all boy children two years of age and under had been murdered by the king’s sword. Matthew thought about the passage in Jeremiah and deemed it appropriate to apply it to the awful tragedy of his day: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18).
Now we grieve over the killing of innocent first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut. Our spirits are in shock that such a tragedy could happen; our hearts are broken; our eyes are red with weeping. The sorrow extends beyond one community and one state –– it is felt all over the nation, indeed all across the globe. One does not need to know someone personally who lost a child to feel the pain of what has happened; we pray for those we have never met. Our nightly rest is disrupted by the horrors described by those in the midst of grief. It will be a long time until we come to terms with this terrible tragedy.
What we need is a word from the Lord. He is the Almighty God whose wisdom understands what we cannot fathom and whose power is able to sustain us. It would help us to read Jeremiah 31:15 in its context and to learn three timeless lessons.
GOD WILL LOVE US. The ancient Israelites needed to know that in spite of all their troubles and heart-aches, there is a God in heaven who knew what they are going through and loved them deeply. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness” (Jeremiah 31:2). Although we live in a very imperfect world where the power of evil is present at every turn, there is nothing hidden from the eyes of God. Evil men will go from bad to worse, but the sustaining power of God’s love is constant and true. We are not beyond His love. In the words of the poet, Frank Graeff: “Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth and song? As the burdens press, and the cares distress, and the way grows weary and long? O yes, He cares; I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief; When the days are weary, the long-nights dreary, I know my Savior cares.”
GOD WILL PROVIDE FOR US. As the returning captives made their way back to their homeland in Palestine God promised to lead them “beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble” (Jeremiah 31:9). We, too, can draw strength from the daily providence of God who takes care of us. God does not always see fit to preserve us from tragedy, but He always sees fit to comfort His people as we walk the road less travelled, along paths we have not walked before.
GOD WILL REWARD US. Listen to these encouraging words from God: “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow….’Your work will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord….’So there is hope for your future’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:13-17). When we must lose our innocent children, God has promised to reward the work we have done, even if we only had a few years with them. Little children pass from this life to the presence of God. He welcomes them into His everlasting kingdom. Jesus said: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). They are safe there. No one will harm them by day or by night (there is no night there!). They will forever be spared the struggles with sin and evil we must face here on earth. They will never have to know the heart-aches that hurt us so much. God Himself embraces them and protects them. He will love them for all eternity.
May we seek the life of innocence and purity our little children have shown us, so that when the time comes for us to leave this world, we too will know the never-ending love, peace and holiness of a heavenly reward for our work here on earth. Truly, there is hope for our future.