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. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:Slaughter was unleashed upon Bethlehem. Herod massacred all the boys two and under. It was a killing spree that filled Bethlehem's residents with immeasurable pain. So immeasurable was it that Matthew quotes Jeremiah's mournful words regarding Israel's pain during the Babylonian Exile.
"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."
But why does Matthew say that Jeremiah's words (quoted from Jeremiah 31:15) were fulfilled? You could argue that Bethlehem's pain was similar to Israel's pain during the Babylonian Exile. But isn't that response somewhat unsatisfying? It seems that there must be something more. And there is.
I believe that Matthew is connecting the exile pains in Jeremiah 31:15 with the angel's command to Joseph in Matthew 2:13: "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt".
Jesus, as typified by Hosea, experienced His own, personal exodus. But there's a problem. Jesus needed to meet a requirement in order to experience an exodus: he needed to first experience exile.
The pain experienced during the Babylonian Exile pointed to the pain experienced during the massacre in Bethlehem. The Babylonian Exile itself pointed ahead to Christ's own exile, from Bethlehem into a foreign land.
The verse that appears after Jeremiah 31:15 (the passage Matthew quotes) is especially interesting:
Thus says the Lord:The exile of Christ began with terror, but hope did not fade. Just as God did not abandon his people after the Babylonian Exile, neither would He abandon His Son. Although Jesus was "forced" into Egypt, God also brought Him back out again.
"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."
This must be why Matthew explains, immediately after quoting from Jeremiah, that Christ returned from Egypt to the district of Galilee (specifically, to the town of Nazareth). This event marked the fulfillment of Hosea's words, already quoted in Matthew 2:15: "Out of Egypt I have called My Son".
In the earliest times of Christ's life, God's providential hand was there: guiding, working, and governing all events. Not even the tiniest prophecy about the life of our Saviour went unfulfilled. What a great encouragement that should be! God is always faithful to His word. Let us rejoice in our great God who "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).