When Herod saw that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was filled with rage. Sending orders, he put to death all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, according to the time he had learned from the Magi.
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.
Slew all the children.
I. Christ the terror of the tyrant even when a helpless babe.
II. The tyrant's utmost endeavours are all in vain against the child.
III. Our richest blessings are often baptized with blood.
IV. The children of Bethlehem were unconscious martyrs for Christ.
V. The holy innocents died for Christ's sake.
(S. Mease, D. D.)
I. How strongly the scene of our Lord's nativity WAS GUARDED.
1. From the gusts of popular commotion, which were above all things to be prevented, in order that full scope might be left for the gradual development of the Redeemer's ministry with its attendant evidences, all which would have been hindered and disturbed by any sudden tumult excited in the body of the Jewish people.
2. It was guarded also by securing to it such decisive and indubitable marks of the certainty of that which was transacted, as never could be brought in question, or disputed. These points discover to us in the plainest character the wisdom and control of Providence in all the work which was effected. The first stone laid was thus deeply placed and immovably fixed where it stands to this day.
II. THREE SORTS OF HANDS WERE EMPLOYED ON EARTH TO SET THEIR SEAL to that witness which was borne from heaven, and to commend it to perpetual regard.
1. Friends. The shepherds of Judaea were of all persons the fittest from their solitary and sequestered lives to bear that part which belongs to friends, and to become the first-called witnesses of the truth of those events which took place at our Lord's nativity. They raised no clamour. They possessed no influence. And yet a simple heart and unsuspected tongue form no inconsiderable properties in any witness whose word is to be taken for the truth and reality of what is seen and done.
2. Strangers. Men clear of just suspicion. They came from afar and took their first measures in concert, not with friends, but with those who were soon to fill the place of foes and to stand forth as virulent opponents.
3. Enemies. Herod. He laid traps to ensnare the strangers, causing them to depart the land by another course. The word of prophecy was exactly brought to pass by the cruel stratagem which he devised and executed. By his relentless act of mingled cowardice and cruelty he lent his own hand, polluted as it was, to the confirmation of the truth. Herod's cruelty at Bethlehem stands recorded both by friends and foes. Not only is it related in the sacred page, but it is also transmitted to us by writers of that age, whose undisputed works confirm the truth.
(Archdeacon Pott.)1. We may notice in connection with this transaction very great opportunities, and very satisfactory information, very perversely employed.
2. What a treacherous thing is the indulgence of malignant passion and self-seeking.
3. We are reminded of the estate of Christ and of those who come within His circle, in relation to the present world. (I) Learn not to be unduly alarmed for the ark of the Lord. Jesus in His cradle is mightier than Herod. on his throne.(2) Not to be unduly grieved at our losses and sufferings for Christ's sake. The cause is safe.(3) Learn the importance of having our children in close relation to Christ.
(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
I. It is not necessary to the vindication of God's dealings that we should always be able to give reasons for their every part. There are reasons which will tend to remove surprise that Herod was not restrained from murder.
1. This murder would fix Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Christ. Prophecy had announced this. Herod's sword corroborated this.
2. This murder would enable Jesus to live in obscurity until thirty years of age. Brought up at Nazareth, He was regarded as a Nazarite. The slaughter of the innocents would prove His birth at Bethlehem. Herod supposed his object gained, so the infant Christ was allowed to rest in obscurity.
3. God was leaving Herod to fill up the measure of his sin.
4. God was unquestionably disciplining the parents by the slaughter of their children.
II. The consequences of the slaughter as far as the innocents themselves were concerned. Dying before they knew evil from good, they were saved by the virtue of Christ's propitiation. Not best to die in infancy; better to win the victory than be spared the fight. They are reckoned amongst the martyrs of the church. Teaching for those who bury their children.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)2 Kings 10:1-14). The history of Abyssinia furnishes an instance of a tyrant ordering the destruction of about 400 children. Niebuhr mentions an Arabian prince who murdered all the remotest descendants of his predecessors he heard of; and Sir Thomas Roe states, that a king of Pegu, in order to destroy a nephew of his own, whose claims interfered with his possession of the crown, and who was secreted by his partizans among a vast multitude of the children of the grandees, commanded the whole to be slaughtered, to the number of 4,000 — a massacre much more terrible than Herod's, in which it is thought that not more than fifty infants fell a prey to the tyrant's jealousy.
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