The Scriptorium

Unpitying Portent

Herod's wrath continues even in our day. Matthew 2.16-18

Matthew 2: A King is Born (5)

Pray Psalm 10.1-3.
Why do You stand afar off, O LORD?
Why do You hide in times of trouble?
The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor;
Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire;
He blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord.

Sing contemplatively Psalm 10.1-3.
(Aberystwyth: Jesus, Lover of My Soul)
Why stand off, O Lord, afar? Why in times of trouble hide?
Wicked men in foolish pride seek Your precious flock to harm.
Many plots do they devise; catch them in their wicked schemes!
Greed and lust fill all their dreams, while they curse You, God most wise.

Read Matthew 2.1-18. Meditate on verses 16-18.

1. Why did Herod order this terrible slaughter?

2. How did Matthew link even this tragedy to Old Testament prophecy?

It is simply not possible for us to get our minds around the horror of this scene. Herod, furious at the Magi’s having snubbed him, sent a contingent of Roman soldiers to Bethlehem, where they murdered every male child under the age of two. Herod calculated two as the outside age, based on what he had learned from the Magi about the time of the star’s appearing. He included two kinds of buffer room in his wretched deed – one of age and the other of extent (Bethlehem and “all its districts”) – just to make sure. But what difference did it make to him? He could have slaughtered the entire town and not felt a twinge of guilt.

Sixteenth-century painter Peter Bruegel the Elder captured the chaos, confusion, and horror of this scene, by setting it in a contemporary context in his painting, “Massacre of the Innocents.” Parents beg for mercy, soldiers kick down doors, children are torn from their mother’s arms to be slaughtered like geese or pigs, and the looming presence of armed soldiers turns a peaceful village into a scene of terror.

Those faithful people of God who endured this tragedy and loss would have been comforted by the remainder of the passage from Jeremiah 31, which Matthew begins to quote here (Jer. 31.15):

Thus says the LORD:
“Refrain your voice from weeping,
And your eyes from tears;
For your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD,
And they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There is hope in your future, says the LORD,
That your children shall come back to their own border. (Jer. 31.16, 17)

These verses remind us of David’s confidence in the Lord at the death of his own son, how he expected one day to go to where his son was, although he knew there was no bringing his son back from the dead (2 Sam. 12.15-23). There would have been great sorrow and weeping in Bethlehem, but the Word of God would have brought sweet comfort to those who knew to trust Him, come what may.In the face of horrors, tragedies, losses, and persecution, true believers weep and mourn. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4.13). We have the comfort of God’s Word, and the assurance that He does all things well and for our good. That may not make sense to unbelievers, but we know it to be true, and thus, through our weeping and sorrow, we cling to this promise in the joy of the Lord.

Herod hated Jesus, and he didn’t even know Him. And that’s part of the reason why people hate Jesus around the world, and why they persecute those who do. They don’t know Him. They don’t understand that His suffering – here portended by the slaughter of the innocents – is the only way through death to true and eternal life.

1. Why do people today persecute believers in Jesus Christ?  

2. Should we come under persecution, where should we turn in Scripture to comfort one another?

3. How should we pray for those who suffer loss, tragedy, setbacks, or persecution?
Ramah was Saul’s city. Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was the son of Rachel, whose memorial was near Bethlehem, where these wicked deeds were done. Therefore, since the babies were killed in Bethlehem, where there is a monument to Rachel, this is why Rachel is described as weeping. Anonymous (no date), Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 2

Lord of life and every good thing, give me grace to endure and to serve you, even when…

Pray Psalm 10.12-18.
Pray today for Christians who are suffering for the Name of Jesus in various parts of the world. Call on God to help them, and to enable them to keep focused on Him as Savior and King.

Sing Psalm 10.11-18.
Psalm 10.11-18 (Aberystwyth: Jesus, Lover of My Soul)
“Where, oh where, is God?” they say. “He has hidden out of sight!”
Rise up, Lord, in all Your might! Rescue those who You obey.
Wicked men Your judgment scorn; You observe their sinful ways.
Be our refuge, be our stay! Break the oppressor’s evil arm.

Evermore, Lord, You will reign! Nations perish from Your land.
You will with Your people stand; hear our cries of woe and pain!
Strengthen now our hearts, O Lord; vindicate Your people dear.
Drive away our every fear; help and preserve us by Your Word.

T. M. Moore

The Gospel of Matthew will help us grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Two companion books can supplement our study of Matthew. To Know Him examines what it means to belong to Jesus and to love and serve Him (click here), while Be Thou My Vision enables us to gain an even larger perspective on Jesus (click here).If you value Scriptorium as a free resource for your walk with the Lord, please consider supporting our work with your gifts and offerings. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button  at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore