Today marks Childermas, the remembrance of Herod the Great’s massacre of the male babies of Bethlehem:
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
This was not the first massacre of Hebrew boys; Herod hearkens back to the Pharaoh of the Exodus:
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” (Exodus 1:15-16)
And as we have previously considered, Matthew’s linking this to Hosea 11:1 is a subtle accusation that Herod has in fact become Pharaoh, and Israel has become Egypt.
Both Herod and Pharaoh were serpents trying to cut off the promised seed of Genesis 3:15. Blood shed unjustly calls for a blood avenger, and in each case God brought a redeemer (Moses, Jesus) through this shadow of death, and through that redeemer brought about the end of the tyrant who had sought a blood sacrifice for himself (through the ruin of Egypt, and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70). While Jesus himself is the sacrifice that gives us life, it is interesting to consider that there were babies who were a kind of sacrifice that gave Jesus life. It is reassuring that God is not blind to the wrath of tyrants. He hears spilled blood crying from the ground, and he hears the patient prayers of his church for deliverance from the tyrant, and he answers: Pharaoh and the Herods were brought low.
Herod and Pharaoh were right to fear the coming seed, who “visit[s] the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18). Jesus truly reigns here and now, and not just over the time to come. It is deeply reassuring to know that no suffering, no cry for help, is unseen or unheard by him, nor does it go to waste. Rightly does the church proclaim to kings and rulers:
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve Yahweh with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10-12)
This of course has application for the church today experiencing various kinds of tyranny and persecution around the world, a world that has murdered more than a billion babies over the past generation. In spite of all this, because of all this, Jesus is coming. Make ready by taking refuge in him.