Slaughter of the Holy Innocents 


Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

Though modern people like to read into the scriptural narrative of Christ’s birth a great deal of sentimentality and nostalgia, Matthew’s Gospel presents rather a more dramatic, even traumatic story complete with chase scene, murders and grief. It is a hostile world, a world awash in violence, into which the Savior enters at great risk to Himself. Biblical scholar Dale Allison comments on the parallels between the biblical narratives of Pharoah’s order to kill all male Jewish babies, and Herod’s order to slaughter the male infants around Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth:


“In chapter 2 [Matthew’s Gospel] Herod’s order to do away with the male infants of Bethlehem (2:16-18) is like Pharaoh’s order to do away with every male Hebrew child (Exodus 1).  And if Herod orders the slaughter of Hebrew infants because he has learned of the birth of Israel’s liberator (2:2-18), in Jewish tradition Pharaoh slaughters the Hebrew children because he has learned the very same thing (Josephus, Antiquities 2.205-9; Targum Ps-Jonathan on Ex 1:15).  Further, whereas Herod hears of the coming liberator from chief priests, scribes, and magi (2:1-12), Josephus (Antiquities 2.205 and 234) has Pharaoh learn of Israel’s deliverer from scribes, while the Jerusalem Targum on Exodus 1:15 says that Pharaoh’s chief magicians (Jannes and Jambres, the sons of Balaam) were the sources of his information.  The quotation of Hos 11:1 in Matt 2:15 further evokes thought of the exodus, for in its original context ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’ concerns Israel.


And then there is 2:19-22, which borrows the language of Exodus 4:19-20:  just as Moses, after being told to go back to Egypt because all those seeking his life have died, takes his wife and children and returns to the land of his birth, so too with Jesus:  Joseph after being told to go back to Israel because all those seeking the life of his son have died, takes his wife and child and returns to the land of his son’s birth.” (Sermon on the Mount:  Inspiring the Moral Imagination, pgs 17-18)

Christ is born!  Glorify Him!