Thus said the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping…
Undoubtedly it seems strange, that one of the earliest consequences of the incarnation of Him, who afterwards declared that He came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them, should thus have been the murder of so many unoffending little ones. A few days ago we assembled around the cradle of the newborn King, and now the ground round about us is strewed with the bodies of the young ones, slaughtered, as it were, in His stead. Well might He afterwards declare, that He came not to send peace, but a sword upon the earth; seeing that, while yet a nursling in His mother's arms, He is the occasion of the sword being fleshed in numbers who least deserved to die. And the thing most remarkable in this transaction appears to us to be, that the permission of the slaughter was in no sense requisite to the safety of Christ. Joseph, and Mary, and the Child had departed for Egypt, before the fury of Herod was allowed to break out. How easy does it seem that Herod should have been informed of the flight, and thus taught the utter uselessness of his cruel decree. Let us see whether there be really anything in the facts now commemorated at variance with the known mercy of God. If, indeed, we were unable to discover that the slaughter of the innocents was a means to ensure wise ends, we shall be confident, from the known attributes of God, that there was such an end, though not to be ascertained by our limited faculties. This, however, is not the ease. And they who think at all carefully will find enough to remove all surprise that Herod was not withheld from the slaughter. Let it be first observed, that prophecy had fixed Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Christ, and had determined, with considerable precision, the time of the nativity. It were easy, therefore, to prove that no one could be the Messiah who had not been born at Bethlehem, and about the period when the Virgin became a mother. How wonderfully, then, did the slaughter of the innocents corroborate the pretensions of Jesus. If no one could be Messiah unless born at Bethlehem, and at a certain time, why, the sword of Herod did almost demonstrate that Jesus was the Christ; for removing, perhaps, every other who could have answered to the test of time and place of birth, there seems only Jesus remaining in whom the prophecy could be fulfilled. Besides, it should be carefully marked, that Jesus was to live in comparative obscurity, until thirty years of age; He was then to burst suddenly upon the world, and to amaze it by displays of omnipotence. But, brought up as He had been at Nazareth, it was very natural that when He emerged from long seclusion, He should have been regarded as a Nazarene. Accordingly we find so completely had His birthplace been forgotten, that many objected His being of Nazareth, against the possibility of His being the Messiah. They argued rightly, that no one could be the Christ who had not been born at Bethlehem; but then they rashly concluded, that Jesus wanted this sign of Messiahship, because they knew Him to have been brought up in Galilee. And what made them inexcusable? Why, the slaughter of the innocents. They could not have been uninformed of this event; bereaved parents were still living who would be sure to tell the story of their wrongs; and this event marked as with a line of blood the period at which the Christ was supposed to have been born. A moment's inquiry would have proved to them that Jesus was this Child, and removed the doubt which attached to Him as a supposed Galilean. And, therefore, not in vain was the mother stirred from her sepulchre by the cry of her infant offspring; the echo of her lament might still be heard in the land, and those who listened not to the witness of the birthplace of Jesus stood self-condemned, while rejecting Him on the plea, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" There are yet more obvious reasons why God should have allowed this act of cruelty. We may believe that God was leaving Herod to fill up the measure of his guilt. Add to all this, that God was unquestionably disciplining the parents by the slaughter of the children. There was at this time a great and general expectation of the Messiah, and the Jewish mothers must have more than ever hoped for the honour of giving birth to the Deliverer: but of course such a hope must have been stronger in Bethlehem than in any other town, seeing that prophecy was supposed to mark it. as the birthplace. Hence we may readily believe that the infants of Bethlehem were objects of extraordinary interest to their parents — objects in which their ambition centred, as well as their affection. And, if so, we can understand that these fathers and mothers stood in special need of that discipline which God administers to parents through the death of their children; so that there was a suitableness in the dispensation as allotted to Bethlehem, which might not have been discoverable had another town been its subject. Now all this reasoning would be shaken, if it could be shown that a real and everlasting injury were done to the innocents themselves. Let us now, then, consider the consequences of the massacre, so far as the innocents themselves were concerned. There is much here to require and repay your careful examination. We have an unhesitating belief in respect of all children, admitted into God's Church, and dying before they know evil from good, that they are saved by the virtues of Christ's propitiation. We never hesitate to tell parents sorrowing for their dead children, who had been old enough to endear themselves by the smile and the prattle, but not old enough to know moral good from moral evil, that they have a right to feel such assurance of the salvation of their offspring, as the best tokens could scarcely have afforded had they died in riper years. And however melancholy the thought, that so many of our fellow-men live without God, and therefore die without hope, it is cheering to believe, that perhaps a yet greater number are saved through the sacrifice of Christ. For as a large proportion of our population die before old enough for moral accountableness; how many of the Christian community are safely housed ere exposed to the blight and tumult of the world! Oh, the "magnificent possession" would not want inhabitants if all, who could choose for themselves, chose death, and not life; heaven would still gather within its capacious bosom, a shining multitude, who just descended to earth that they might there be grafted into the body of Christ, and then flew back to enjoy all the privileges of membership. And we may believe of this multitude that it would be headed by the slaughtered little ones of Bethlehem — those who, dying, we might almost say, for the Saviour, won something like the martyr's crown, which shall, through eternity, sparkle on their foreheads. Who, then, shall say that Herod was permitted to do a real injury to those innocents, and that thus their death is an impeachment either of the justice or the mercy of God? We may be assured that they escaped many cares, difficulties, and troubles, with which a long life must have been charged; for, had the sword of Herod not hewn them down, they might have remained on earth till Judah's desolation began, and have shared in the worst woes which ever fell on a land. The innocents of Bethlehem have always been reckoned by the Church amongst the martyrs; for, though incapable of making choice, God, we may believe, supplied the defect of their will by His own entertainment of their death. And it is beautiful to think, that as the spirits of the martyred little ones soared toward heaven, they may have been taught to look on the Infant in whose stead they had died; to feel that He for whom they had been sacrificed was about to be sacrificed for them; and that they were mounting to glory on the merits of that defenceless Babe (as He seemed then), hurrying as an outcast into Egypt.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.