There are certain passages which are said to be “fulfilled” in Jesus’ day, yet they do not appear to be contextually if one consider the source of the quotation. Let’s take a look…
Refrain from Weeping
“Thus says the LORD: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’ Thus says the LORD:‘Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears. For your work shall be rewarded,’…There is hope in your future…” (Jeremiah 31:15-17).
Matthew claims that this passage was “fulfilled” in Herod’s massacre of male children, two years old and under, in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18). Critics complain that this is a misuse of Jeremiah’s words by Matthew. Jeremiah was speaking of Babylonian captivity. It is clear by the words we omitted by way of ellipses (…), “they shall come back from the land of their enemy…your children shall come back to their own border” (Jeremiah 31:16-17).
Our answer to critics: There are two, perhaps even three ways in which a passage can be said to be “fulfilled”. (1) A passage may have primary, even singular fulfillment. There are certainly passages, for example, which are only fulfilled in Christ. In these passages, Christ, and Christ alone, is in view. Think of: (a) The virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14 cf. Matthew 1:22-23); (b) The birth of one in Bethlehem “whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2 cf. Matthew 2:3-6). (2) A passage may have double fulfillment (possible example: 2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 17). (3) A passage may have an accommodative fulfillment.
Rachel went in to labor with Benjamin somewhere south of Bethel (Note: Ramah was located a short distance south of Bethel). It was a hard labor. She was in pain and ultimately would die in this childbirth. Her midwife comforted her saying, “Do not fear; you shall have this son also.” Benjamin was born. (Genesis 35:16-20).
Jeremiah figuratively pictured Rachel weeping over her children as they went away into Babylonian captivity. Ramah was on the road the captives would travel (Jeremiah 31:15 cf. 40:1). However, comfort was again provided, despite the pain there was hope (Jeremiah 31:16-17).
Matthew used these words from Jeremiah in reference to the massacre of Bethlehem’s male children, two years old and younger (Matthew 2:16-18). Bethlehem and Ramah were not the same place. However, a similar point was being made. Hope was being provided. Despite the pain, something good was to happen. Despite Jesus’ parents departing the land with Jesus, a return was promised (cf. Matthew 2:13-15).
Many see this as a double fulfillment. However, when one reads the original passage in Jeremiah, it seems that wording does not apply directly to Jesus’ day. I see it as an accommodative usage of Jeremiah’s words: illustration: If a man is trying to preach before his relatives, and if his relatives reject his message due to familiarity with him, then he might say in an accommodative usage of scripture, “Thus it is fulfilled ‘a prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house’” (Mark 6:4).
Out of Egypt
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1).
This passage goes back to the Exodus. God preserved Israel by providentially leading them into Egypt (Genesis 37-50). Then, he brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 1-14).
Matthew used these words and applied them to Jesus’ day. Joseph was warned, “Arise take the young child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matthew 2:13-15).
It is language being used accommodatingly of God’s care and provision. Homer Haily commented, “In its context the passage seems to have no direct reference to the Messiah…But as Keil so aptly put it, the passage was quoted by Matthew ‘because the sojourn in Egypt, and return out of the land, had the same significance in relation to the development of the life of Jesus Christ, as it had to the nation of Israel. Just as Israel grew into a nation in Egypt, where it was out of the reach of Cannanitish ways, so was the child Jesus hidden in Egypt from the hostility of Herod’” (A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 172).
There are different types of “fulfillment”. Prophesies which have primary or sole fulfillment in Christ or His church are great for building faith. Prophesies which have only a secondary or accommodative fulfillment in Christ or His church are illustrious in nature, scriptures are not being misused.