Matthew 2, CJB (click the link for the full text)
This is a very thought-provoking passage, although I don’t think I’ve ever viewed it that way — it’s such a familiar story that I guess I never slow down. Writing it out longhand forces me to do just that, and to ponder every word. It’s a series of events presented so factually and succinctly, yet it is a profound picture of God’s sovereignty in politics, in human suffering, and in people’s personal lives. I’ve known this story for as long as I can remember, yet I don’t recall ever being personally affected by it. We’re afforded an omniscient point of view here, yet none of the characters were.
Herod is in great fear of a political threat, and he seeks not God, but His prophecies, and that only enough to take measures to protect himself. He tries to use the Magi as spies, but has to take a different approach when he realizes he’s been deceived. He’s so desperate that he takes a desperate stand.
Mary and Joseph are tending to their infant when unexpected visitors come to worship him. Jesus’ parents had no idea the danger they were in should the Magi obey Herod.
The Magi themselves, Gentile philosophers, never seem to commit to Herod’s plan, and certainly decide to renege when they (all?) receive a warning in a dream. They may have suspected evil, but had no idea what was at stake.
The ones who have my heart, though, are the families of Bethlehem whose homes were invaded and whose infant sons were murdered by Roman soldiers. Surely all they were told was that it was by order of King Herod — how many tried desperately to shush and hide crying babies? How many lied, swearing it was a baby girl, only to have the soldier push them aside, tear back the cloths to reveal the gender, and pierce the baby’s bare chest? Blood and cries and screams. Desperate weeping and angry laments, asking Yahweh, “Why?” Yet it was prophesied.
These little ones murdered for a reason.
A reason I still don’t understand — couldn’t we still have done the whole Messiah thing without this? Yet I overstep — God intended it so. Suffering — the most intense sort of suffering I can imagine as a mother of a one-year-old boy — ordained by God for a purpose I can only begin to reason through. I quickly come to a point where I must say that I do not understand why God would let all these babies die. And then I think of abortion in our day. All these babies are dying, because the supreme liar goes on lying. Why does God allow this? Why don’t these babies get a chance? Yet there must be a purpose.
I wonder how Mary reacted when they found out what happened in Bethlehem after they escaped. Joseph’s dream told them Jesus’ life was in danger, but could she have ever imagined so many little ones would die in His place? Would she have comprehended the devastating irony? And how could she help but feel a sense of guilt that her Son was spared — that they had been warned to escape — just days or perhaps hours before other baby sons were ripped from their mothers’ arms, only to be taken up again lifeless and slick with blood? What a heavy image of horror for Mary to hold in her heart. Yet this is still just the beginning for this young mother.
And what of the young soldiers in Bethlehem following orders? Sure, these Romans often looked at the Hebrews with disdain and disgust, but what horrifying orders to receive! It is one thing to kill a man, even if he is a private citizen, but to silence a screaming infant with the tip of your sword as other soldiers hold back his clawing and terrified parents looking on? Perhaps some disobeyed, showed mercy, passed on, whispered warnings such as Joseph received from God. Sweet stories of survival in the face of certain annihilation. I hope.
Lord, the evil is so hard to bear.