One more mad man in History – Feast of the Holy Innocents – Matthew 2:13-18
Joy at the birth of Christ is short-lived. After the stoning of Stephen there is more violence in this octave of Christmas. This is a painful gospel. What difficult news the angel brings: Joseph and his tiny family have to become refugees and go by night to a foreign land to say nothing of the slaughter of innocent children. The massacre of the innocents was the first clash of religion and politics in Christian history. Herod made the mistake of thinking that Jesus the King was a threat to his kingdom.
History records many evil men. You would be able to compile a list of their names as easily as I can, and your list would probably have some of the same names; Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Sadam Hussein, Mussolini, Stalin and Herod, just to name a few. All of these men were mass murders. Herod as you will see was one of the worst, because children were his victims.
In 43 BC Herod’s father was assassinated by a threatened family member, and Herod and his brother were captured. After being captured, the brother committed suicide, but Herod managed to escape and flee to Rome. Then in 37 BC the Roman Senate appointed him “King of the Jews.” So, Herod returned to Palestine, raised up an army, and defeated his father’s assassin in battle. Herod’s rule of 33 years was a turbulent one.
Herod was an extremely jealous ruler and his paranoia was legendary. One of his ten wives had a brother who was the high priest. Herod felt threatened by this brother-in-law of his, so he murdered him. Then he killed his wife, too. At one point, he was afraid of a plot against him by two of his sons, so he murdered both of them. He was a brutal, merciless man. So, it’s no wonder that Matthew tells us that Herod was “deeply disturbed” when he learned that a child had been born who was being called “King of the Jews.”
Jeremiah the prophet spoke about Herod’s great atrocity hundreds of years before it happened, “This is what the Lord says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:15). Bethlehem was not the only target. Ramah is about as far north of Jerusalem as Bethlehem is south, about 25 miles. You can imagine Herod commanding the solders to kill all the boys that are two years old and younger. When the solders asked, “Where do you want us to begin,” Herod may have said, “Just draw a circle around Jerusalem with a radius that goes as far south as Bethlehem and as far north as Ramah.” He was a madman. The cross looms from the outset. Jesus is a hunted child. Mary, Joseph and Jesus must flee the wrath and brutal response of a cruel ruler who has been duped by the Magi.