Providence in Evil
Matthew 2:16-18
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth…

Josephus does not mention this massacre. The event occurred ninety-four years before he wrote; it was but one of the many frightful atrocities of Herod, and, not being apparently connected with any political event, was easily passed over by him. Lardner, however, cites Macrobius, a heathen author of the fourth century, who refers to it thus: "When he [Augustus Caesar] heard that among those male infants above two years old which Herod, the King of the Jews, ordered to be slain in Syria, one of his sons was also murdered, he said, ' It is better to be Herod's hog than his son.'" The event is also thus noticed in a rabbinical work called 'Toldath Jesu:' "And the king gave orders for putting to death every infant to be found in Bethlehem." The history cannot be doubted, but we are now concerned with its lessons. It teaches -


1. It cannot be ordained of God.

(1) That would be to approve what his goodness must abhor. Given his infinity, he must be infinitely good. Infinitely evil he cannot be, for ample proofs of his goodness surround us. Partially good he cannot be, for then where would be his infinity?

(2) His abhorrence of the atrocity of Herod is graphically set forth in the prophetic description of Rachel's wailing (Jeremiah 31:15-17). Ramah was one of the "borders" of Bethlehem - perhaps marked the limit or radius of the tragedy. It belonged to Benjamin (Joshua 18:25). Rachel, the mother of Benjamin, and ancestress of many of these bereaved mothers, was buried in the hill overlooking the area of the slaughter (Genesis 35:19, 20; Genesis 48:7), yet within the "border of Benjamin" (1 Samuel 10:2). She is here finely represented as moved with horror in her very tomb, and rising thence, coming forth and wailing in the wailing of her daughters. Her "voice," in theirs, is also "heard," viz. by the God of judgment (cf. James 5:4). Note: The connection of the spiritual world with this is intimate. If there be joy in the presence of the angels of God over a sinner repenting, may there not be grief amongst departed spirits over the evil deeds of men (cf. Hebrews 12:1)?

2. Moral evil is the work of evil moral agents.

(1) Moral agency the actors must possess to constitute their actions evil in the moral sense. Physical evil is quite another thing, essentially different.

(2) Such a moral agent was Herod. "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise Men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew," etc. Note:

(a) Wicked men are never so gratified as when they can make wisdom subservient to their ends. Absalom, in his unnatural rebellion, sent for Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:12).

(b) They are "exceeding wroth" when the wise elude their grasp or disappoint them of their prey.

(c) They do not see that they are "mocked" of God (cf. Psalm 2:4; Psalm 37:13).

(3) Such agents were the murderers Herod employed. He was moved by blood thirst and jealousy; they were moved by love of gain and fear of the tyrant's resentment.

(4) Such an agent is Satan. He is "the evil one," viz. whose spirit is wholly evil. He was here especially active in his uncivil "enmity" against the "Seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15).

3. God is not necessarily chargeable with what he permits.

(1) That God permits the existence of moral evil is indisputable. The fact of its existence proves this. Omnipotence could instantly annihilate every evil being. For the permitting of evil God is therefore responsible, viz. to himself.

(2) But whether the permitting be good or evil must be determined by the reasons for it. If the reasons be good, then the permitting, even of moral evil, must be good.

(3) Of the quality of these reasons God is himself the best judge. Some of his reasons he has disclosed. Thus without such permission there could be no scope for moral freedom. Other reasons he reserves to be revealed in due time.

(4) Since God is responsible only to himself, and since his ways to us are past finding out, it is alike foolish and impious in us to attempt to judge him or cherish hard thoughts of him.


1. It is permitted to afflict the morally innocent.

(1) The babes murdered by Herod suffered without any provocation on their part given. God never ordained or commanded that they should thus suffer. But he permitted it; for he could have hindered it. He that interposed to save Christ might also have saved the lives of the infants that perished for his sake. He might have cut short Herod's life by two years, for he died within two years of this massacre. God is not wanting in resources.

(2) "Then was fulfilled." This is the note of permission. In cases where God actively interfered, or gave effect to an ordination, the phrase is, "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord," etc. (Matthew 1:22; Matthew 2:23).

2. It is ordained for the punishment of sin.

(1) God has constituted the physical and moral in the universe to act and react each on the other. Thus the body and soul stand mutually related for action and reaction. And through the body the soul acts upon the outer world and suffers its reactions.

(2) The reactions of moral goodness are physically beneficial, while those of moral evil are correspondingly injurious. So by natural sequence sin is physically punished.

3. It is ordained as a warning against sin. To this end physical evil is made emblematical of the moral.

(1) Injuries and privations of the body represent corresponding injuries and privations of the soul - mutilations, lameness, blindness, deafness, etc.

(2) Diseases of the body represent corresponding diseases of the soul - leprosy, palsy, fever, etc.

(3) Diseases of the mind represent maladies of the heart - demoniacal possession, insanity, idiocy.


1. Good was ordained in the creation of moral beings.

(1) Angels had a "first estate," which was good; for it is contrasted with the evil estate into which some of them fell.

(2) So man was made "upright." God himself pronounced this work of his creation "very good."

(3) These as moral beings had freedom. This also was good. For without this moral freedom what would they have been? Machines, vegetables, animals, imbeciles.

(4) This freedom did not necessitate the moral evil which it rendered possible. Angels might all have kept their first estate, as some did. Our first parents might have resisted their tempter.

(5) The sinner, therefore, is responsible for his sin.

2. Good was ordained in the redemption of simmers.

(1) To this good end Jesus was born, was preserved from the fury of Herod, offered himself as a sin Sacrifice. Sinners are justified through faith in his blood. So evil is made subservient to good.

(2) To this end the Holy Spirit is given, by whose gracious working believers are sealed and sanctified. So further good comes out of evil.

(3) To this end also Jesus is enthroned in heaven. Having triumphed over all forces of evil, powers of darkness, in his cross, and over death in his grave, he is able to destroy Satan in us and deliver us from the last enemy, that we may rise and reign with him in glory.

3. The subserviency of evil to good will appear in the issues of the judgment.

(1) Innocent sufferers will then be compensated. We have heard the wailing of Rachel; let us now listen to the words of her consolation: "Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy [the ]and of death]. And there is hope in thine end [the Ahareth, or last period of the nation], that thy children shall come again to their own border" (Jeremiah 31:16, 17). In the resurrection they shall receive the martyr's compensation, the inheritance and the crown.

(2) Incorrigible sinners will come forth to their doom. Herod and his myrmidons will be confronted by the innocents. In their punishment God will vindicate his justice, and it will be a moral to the universe. Note: There is no hope for the sinner out of Christ. - J.A.M.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

Instances of Infantile Murder
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