Massacre of the Innocents
Matt. 2:16 ¶ When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
Matt. 2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
Matt. 2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
Herod was a man who felt insecure in his position and in no way wanted to be threatened. He interpreted the wise men's lack of return as having been “tricked” or “mocked.” He believed that they were up to something suspicious or else they would have come back and told him about this new “king.”
The scripture tells us, “he was infuriated” and his paranoia led him to over-react. He would have every child in and among Jerusalem two or under killed. An ancient writer by the name of Macrobius let’s us in on a dirty little secret regarding this event. Herod may actually have had an infant son being nursed by a woman in Bethlehem at the time. His own son was among those who was sentenced to death because of Herod’s fears. Macrobius goes on to joke that it’s safer to be a hog in Herod’s land than a son, because Herod had professed to be a Jew and would not kill swine, but would order the murder of his own child!
It is then that we are transported to the time of Jeremiah when the Israelites are carried off into captivity. From very near this same location is found Rachel’s tomb and so now, for centuries the mother of these people has wept over the atrocities which have occurred. Barnes tells us, “By a beautiful figure of speech, the prophet introduces the mother weeping over the tribe, her children, and with them weeping over the fallen destiny of Israel, and over the calamities about to come upon the land. Few images could be more striking than thus to introduce a mother, long dead, whose sepulchre was near, weeping bitterly over the terrible calamities that befell her descendants. The language and the image aptly and beautifully expressed the sorrows of the mothers in Bethlehem, when Herod slew their infant children. Under the cruelty of the tyrant, almost every family was a family of tears; and well might there be lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning.” (Barnes, Matthew 2:18)
The innocent had been massacred because of the insecurity and paranoia of the powerful.
There are three ways in which we can examine this scripture. The first is in its historical context and gleaning from it the story of what is happening there in the first century. It’s a terrible story that helps us appreciate the power of the new-born Messiah. Although he comes without all the trappings of human royalty his a threat to the kingdoms of this world. This is a reality and he will usher in a new kingdom that will be transformative! Herod ought to be afraid of losing his power to this baby and ultimately, he does!
We may also see the prophetic nature of this physical response to a perceived threat. Sadly this type of response is being repeated today in the Middle East. Innocent people, adults and children, are being massacred because of what some individuals have conjured up in their own minds as perceived threats. We watch the news and read the stories of the innocents being caught in the middle of epic battles for power among emerging groups of leaders. We are overwhelmed by the images of the mothers who are weeping for their children “are no more.” Here is today’s news from friends of mine in Eurasia where you can read about this continued and on-going massacre of the innocents:
Finally there is a third way, one in which we may find ourselves culpable. The massacre of the innocents isn’t always on a physical level. Let that soak in a minute. There are times when we take out our own lack of self-image and worth, our own paranoia, on the innocents around us. Those who have power have great responsibility to care for those nearby and not to abuse their power. Sadly, power can be corrupted and the innocents may find themselves being emotionally damaged, massacred, by the behaviors of the powerful.
We may write off Herod as one bad guy, but the story continues to unfold to this day. Caring for the innocent is our responsibility, both physically and emotionally. The massacre of the innocents may also be laid directly at our feet if we refuse to speak up and intervene both at home and abroad.
Lord, may we not be responsible for the weeping of Rachel. Amen.