Herod’s Great Atrocity: Matthew 1:16-18
“16) Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17) Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18) “A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more.”” Matthew‬ ‭2:16-18‬
We now come to Herod’s Great Atrocity. When he realized he had been tricked by the magi, he became enraged and issued a decree that all male babies from two years old and under in Bethlehem and its surrounding area should be rounded up and put to death.
The anguish, agony and pain must have been horrendous as babies were stripped from their parents arms and slaughtered before their eyes. The injunction most likely carried an offer of clemency; “Give up the baby Messiah and your child lives!”
It is reasonable to assume with the public spectacle surrounding the nativity story, the identity of Jesus was common knowledge. At this point in the narrative, it appears that Mary and Joseph had moved from the manger to a house. They may have taken up residence in Bethlehem. (See Matthew 2:11)
But to everyone’s dismay; Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus had suddenly vanished. They had secretly fled to Egypt. It is probable in this night of horror that Jesus would have been betrayed by numerous parents in an effort to save their own babies.
We now have the first irony of Jesus. Had He died at the hands of Herod, many other babies would have been saved. This serves as a foretaste of His eventual mission as Savior. But His calling was to die to redeem all of humanity and not merely this localized group. Yet this tragic episode marked His life with a destiny that eventually ended on the cross.
It is not unreasonable to assume that some of these bewildered parents may have been in the crowd years later during at that fateful Passover crying out; “crucify Him!” Animosity often lingers for decades. They represented one group that may have added a passionate voice to the chorus.
Note the prophecy from Jeremiah 31:15 quoted in Matthew 2:18 stresses that, “she refused to be comforted for her children, because they were no more.” I admit this is application may be a stretch, but it is well within the realm of human nature.
Herein may be another reason why Joseph and Mary opted to settle far north in Nazareth rather than near Bethlehem upon their return from Egypt. It appears they had roots in both locations but the obscurity of Nazareth suddenly became very inviting. It allowed them to slip into community and live under the radar.
I would be remiss if I did not point out the evil bent of Herod in these verses. It is hard for me to comprehend the full scope of this atrocity. Human depravity and the evil god of this world often become willing bedfellows.
There is no limit to the potential evil in this present world. Blame must never be placed on God! It was man’s rebellion against God and constant allegiance to Satan that was and is the root cause of all corruption and suffering in the world.
When humanity runs from God it automatically runs into the arms of the devil. He feeds on death, destruction and human misery. The same holds true in every generation and for every individual.
Jesus came as light into this dark and fallen world. He indeed came to save His people from their sin. (Matthew 1:21) He is the solution and not the problem. Turning to Him in simple but sincere faith is the first step to a new life.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global