Rachel Weeping; The Pediatric Bloodbath of The Christmas Story
“Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.” – Matthew 2:16
The passage above is a rather bloody and brutal text, and it does not neatly fit in with traditional themes of Christmas such as “peace on earth” and “good will toward men.” Yet it is still part of the Christmas story and therefore cannot be ignored.
It paints a very dark scene. An insecure king orders the death of all baby boys two years and younger residing in the village of Bethlehem. Warned by an angel, Mary and Joseph packed up their belongings along with their son, and traveled to Egypt. I imagine the sound of galloping horses as Roman soldiers seek out to murder every male infant and toddler. With no regard for human life, these soldiers ravage an otherwise a quiet and peaceful village. I can hear the screams and cries of mothers as boys are pierced by the sword and slaughtered in a swift act of heinous brutality.
Some liberal scholars suggest that this event never even occurred, simply because there are no other records of it occurring. Yet we believe it to be true because we believe and embrace the accuracy of the Bible. Worth noting is the fact that the behavior of Herod certainly lines up with his track record. Josephus, first century historian, wrote about the severity of the brutality demonstrated by Herod. He once had one of his sons murdered because He felt the son was trying to overtake the throne. His brutality was magnified all the more when he orchestrated multiple deaths across the land on the day of his own death. He ordered that on the day he died, one member of each family was to be slaughtered. This was done to make sure that a genuine sense of mourning would ricochet throughout the land.
Yet with all of its ugliness, how do we approach this pediatric bloodbath?
To begin with, we must see that it is a message of hope; at least, from a certain point of view. As Matthew pens this event, he points his audience to Jeremiah. He says, “Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:17-18). This is from Jeremiah 31 which records the events surrounding God’s people during the Babylonian captivity. They too experienced the overwhelming emotion of losing children. Yet the passage goes on to express the hope that could be found in almighty God. Thus says the Lord, “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord…there is hope for your future…” (Jeremiah 31:16-17). God’s message to His people in Babylonian captivity – There is hope! And so it is in Matthew 2 – Matthew is telling his audience that in the midst of the suffering and tears, there is hope!
Secondly, it reminds us that life is filled with suffering and grief. The seasons of life will ebb and flow with difficulties. And one thing is certain; Difficulties and disaster will happen. Yet paired with this certainty is the certainty that God is with His children, and that His everlasting love and providential care never changes.
Finally, God guides those who seek Him. Mary and Joseph obeyed the Lord and sought His guidance in their flight to Egypt. And in the midst of their chaotic departure from the Bethlehem and the surrounding region, God led them each step of the way. And when we diligently seek Him, He will do the same for us (Proverbs 3:5-6). We can count on God’s permeating presence and His providential care to guide us when we trust in Him.
Ponder these truths today. I pray you see this difficult scene in the birth narrative of our Lord in a fresh new way.
– Pastor Eric