Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth…
This is one of the most heartrending scenes in all history. The questions which it suggests are mysterious, and some of them quite unanswerable.
I. HEROD'S CRIME. People have said, "This is impossible!" But Herod's character, as painted by the secular historian, shows him to be gloomy and morose in his later days and capable of almost any cruelty. We execrate the enemies of Christ as monsters of wickedness. Herod and Judas are names that make us shudder, and we think of their owners as half-demons. Yet the wickedness of their crimes is not unapproached in our own day. The slow murder of young children by starvation and ill treatment, simply to escape the cost and trouble of keeping them, or because their death will be a source of gain to their guardians, is worse than Herod's crime, because it is committed in cold blood and without the provocation of terror at the appearance of a dangerous rival which excited the jealous passions of the Idumaean prince. Then there is a slaughter of the souls of young children, which in the sight of God is more cruel and deadly than the killing of their bodies. When fair young lives are blighted and innocent characters stained by vicious examples, a fate worse than death has overtaken them, and those who exercised the baleful influence have a very heavy account to answer for.
II. THE CHILDREN'S FATE. The death of young children is always a mystery. We cannot understand why innocent infants should be permitted to suffer great pain. It is a piteous sight to observe a baby-face drawn and pinched with agony. This is a very acute phase of the great mystery of suffering. It may be that greater evil in the future is thereby avoided. But even in that case the method of saving the children is terribly perplexing. Two points of light, however, emerge in the midst of the darkness of this mystery.
1. The suffering of the innocent is vicarious. These babes of Bethlehem have been regarded by a fond fancy as early martyrs for Christ. It was in his cause that they were slain. They died for Christ, as Christ afterwards died for men.
2. The suffering of Christ s children is but the door to blessedness. The hope of a future life lights much of the gloom of this scene. Holman Hunt's wonderful picture represents the murdered children just awakening to a new life as they are drawn after the infant Jesus with Mary and Joseph on their flight to Egypt - like a trail of rosy clouds.
III. THE DIVINE DESTINY. The murder of the children at Bethlehem was foreseen by God. It accomplished an ancient prophecy. This does not mean that God ordered it, but it shows that it could not frustrate God's purposes - purposes which were laid down in full knowledge of Herod's attempt to nullify them. Therefore Herod was doomed to failure. His guilt was not the less because his crime was useless, but his power as an enemy of Christ is thus shown to be quite futile. Nothing can ultimately frustrate God s great designs. Christ has come to conquer, and he will win the victory in spite of his foes. The first Herod was not allowed to touch him when it was essential to God's plan that he should live. The second Herod was permitted to have a hand in his death, but only when his time had come, and when the Divine destiny was fulfilled by means of. the crime of slaying Christ. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
WEB: Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out, and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men.