What is the Massacre of the Innocents?

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Matthew records the Massacre of the Innocents

The Massacre of the Innocents is recorded in Matthew 2:16–18: “Herod . . . gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’”

King Herod and the Magi

The Magi that came from the east were searching in Jerusalem for the new born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2). A star led them to Jerusalem and they interpreted this unusual phenomenon as the fulfillment of Balaam’s prophecy of “A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).

When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled. So, he gathered all the chief priests and scribes and asked them where the Christ was to be born. And they replied, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel’” (Matthew 2:6).

Herod orders the Massacre of the Innocents

Then, King Herod secretly called the wise men and asked them about time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also” (Matthew 2:8).

The Magi departed; and the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over the house where the Jesus was. There, they worshiped Jesus and offered Him their gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2: 11). But that night the Lord warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. So, they departed to their own country in another way.

When Herod saw that he was deceived by the wise men, he got exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. And his commanders executed the Massacre of the Innocents.

Then, was fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18). The Massacre of the Innocents was Satan’s attempt through Herod to thwart the plan of God’s salvation. But no power on earth can stand against the will of God (2 Chronicles 20:6).

The prophecy of Jeremiah

Matthew, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, applied Jeremiah 31:15 to Herod’s Massacre of the Innocent of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:18). “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).

This prophecy mainly refers to the Israelites exiles from captivity. And secondarily it points to that time when restoration will be perpetual, the time of the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) at the second coming of Christ. Thus, the promise of Jeremiah 31 may well give comfort to any modern Rachel in Israel, that if she is true to God, her little children who have died will be resurrected at end of time.

Bible Critics

Critics of Bible say that the Massacre of the Innocents didn’t take place because Josephus failed to record it. However, it has been calculated that in a small town with the population of about 2,000, there would have been only about 30 male infants. So, Josephus might have seen the incident as a minor one when compared with the great atrocious crimes of Herod.

In addition, if Josephus recorded that evil act, he would be expected to account for it. For this might necessitate a study of the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth, a subject which, as a Jews, he would do anything to avoid. Also, he would avoid giving any details that might incriminate Rome. For these reasons, he purposely didn’t write about the Massacre of the Innocents.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

This post is also available in: हिन्दी (Hindi)

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