Slaughter of the Innocents

Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents

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Slaughter of the Innocents
MATTHEW CHAPTER 2 COMMENTARY

Matthew 2:16-21 Slaughter of the Innocents

MATTHEW 2:16  16 Then Herod, when he realized that he had been outfoxed by the wise men, was furious; and he sent forth and slaughtered all the boys who were in Bethlehem and in all of its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

Why were boys “two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16) slaughtered?
The wise men may have told King Herod that the star had first appeared in the east two years prior, which he and/or they interpreted as the time of Jesus’ conception or birth.

How many innocent boys did Herod slaughter?
The population of Bethlehem is estimated to have been a few hundred, perhaps as high as a thousand, during this era. If the latter, 500 would have been male. Assuming an average life expectancy of 60 years and even age distribution, there would have been 16.7 boys 2 year and under. But both birth and mortality rates were high back then, so there were more boys than old men. If the number 16.7 is increased by 100%, Herod slaughtered as many as 33 innocent boys.

MATTHEW 2:17-18  17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more.”

Who was “Rachel” (Matthew 2:18)?
Even though Jacob, whose descendants became the nation of Israel, had four wives, Rachel was the only one he loved and chose as his wife. Leah, the sister of Rachel, had been forced upon him by her father, who was determined to marry off his oldest daughter first, while Zilpah and Bilhah, the maids of Leah and Rachel, respectively, had been pushed upon him by their mistresses, who were competing to produce sons. Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin, her second son, and was buried near Bethlehem: “And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath - that is, Bethlehem.” (Genesis 48:7) Even though Rachel bore only two of Jacob’s twelve sons, she was Jacob’s wife of choice and represents the mothers of Israel in the passage above, which quotes from Jeremiah 31:15.

Where is “Ramah” (Matthew 2:18)?
Located about 10 kilometers (6 miles) northwest of Jerusalem and about 14 kilometers (9 miles) from Bethlehem of Judea, Ramah was a small town in the land given to the tribe of Benjamin, who descended from Rachel’s second son with Jacob.

How was the prophecy of Jeremiah fulfilled?
Jeremiah spoke to express the anguish of the mothers of Israel, both when the Babylonians conquered Israel in the 6th century BC and killed or carried off their children into exile in Babylon, and when Herod slaughtered the boys in Bethlehem in the 1st century BC. God’s word often has more than one application (see Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53).

MATTHEW 2:19-21  19 But after Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 So he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.

How did Joseph, Mary and Jesus manage in Egypt?
Egypt at the time had a large Jewish population, into which they would have blended in easily. In fact, the world’s largest urban Jewish population at that time was in Alexandria, the large Egyptian city on the Mediterranean Sea, not in Jerusalem. They were spiritually protected and financially provided for by the gold, frankincense and myrrh that were brought by the wise men.

In what year did Joseph, Mary and Jesus return to Israel?
See When was Jesus born?

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