What is the significance of Ramah in the Bible?Ramah means "high, lofty place" or "the height" in Hebrew. Because high places are easily defended and make good lookouts, Ramah also means "military stronghold or watchtower." There are four towns in the Bible with this name. When the tribes of Israel received their inheritance, the tribe of Benjamin received a town called Ramah that was five miles north of Jerusalem on the edge of their territory along the border with Ephraim (Joshua 18:25). The tribe of Simeon received a town called Ramah in the south known as Ramah of the Negev (Joshua 19:8). Both Asher and Naphtali also received a town named Ramah, although it is possible those Ramahs may have been the same town on the border the two tribes shared (Joshua 19:29, 36). It is the Ramah of Benjamin in the hill country of Ephraim that plays a significant role in Scripture.
Israel's female judge Deborah "used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment" (Judges 4:5). Israel's final judge, Samuel, also came from Ramah. "He would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the LORD" (1 Samuel 7:17). When David had to flee from King Saul, "David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth" (1 Samuel 19:18). So Samuel's home in Ramah became a temporary refuge for David. When this last judge of Israel died, "all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city" (1 Samuel 28:3). Thus, Ramah in Benjamin is a city known for its two ruling judges.
Being a fortified city on the border, Ramah in Benjamin was also the site of some military battles. King Baasha of the northern kingdom of Israel had gained control of Ramah and planned to harass King Asa and the people of the southern kingdom of Judah by building up Ramah into a sizable military fortress. King Asa was able to convince the king of Syria to withdraw his alliance with Israel and ally himself with Judah instead. "And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah, and he lived in Tirzah" (1 Kings 15:21). King Asa then had the excess stones and timber in Ramah carried off to fortify his other towns of Geba and Mizpah. Generations later, King Joram of Judah fought the king of Syria at Ramah where he was badly wounded (2 Kings 8:29; 2 Chronicles 22:6). More generations later, when the Babylonians overtook Judah and selected captives to exile in Babylon, they held those captives in Ramah for a time. Among those captives was the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 40:1 records, "The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he took him bound in chains along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon." In these ways, Ramah of Benjamin was a city of military significance.
Ramah was also known and remembered as a town in the Promised Land where God's chosen people made their home. When their time of exile ended and the people were allowed to return to Judah, Ramah is one of the cities listed as being resettled (Ezra 2:26; Nehemiah 7:30). Jesus was born only eleven miles away in Bethlehem. When Herod killed all the baby boys under two years of age, the gospel writer Matthew stated, "Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: '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 2:17–18).
As with many cities, Ramah is remembered for both positive and negative events. The slaughtering of children and the many battles bring bleak images to mind, but the blessing of two righteous judges (one who provided refuge for King David) made Ramah worthy of being resettled and remembered as part of the home God gave to His chosen people.
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