LivingWeb Library >> Projects >> Gospel Harmony  >>  Birth & Childhood of Jesus  >> Herod's Murder of the Innocents >>  Current Week

Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt



Herod's Murder of the Innocents

   Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.  Matthew 2:16



















Quotes & Notes on:    Matthew 2:16

  • John Wesley's Notes:
    Then Herod, seeing that he was deluded by the wise men-So did his pride teach him to regard this action, as if it were intended to expose him to the derision of his subjects.

    Sending forth-a party of soldiers:

    In all the confines thereof-In all the neighbouring places, of which Rama was one.

  • Treasury of Scripture Knowledge:

    • * when. Ge 39:14,17; Nu 22:29; 24:10; Jg 16:10; Job 12:4
      * was exceeding. Pr 27:3,4; Da 3:13,19,20
      * and slew. Ge 49:7; 2Ki 8:12; Pr 28:15,17; Isa 26:21; 59:7; Ho 10:14; Re 17:6
      * according. Mt 2:7

  • Adam Clarke's Commentary:

    • Slew all the children] This cruelty of Herod seems alluded to in very decisive terms by Macrobius, who flourished toward the conclusion of the fourth Century. In his chapter De jocis Augusti in alios, et aliorum rursus in ipsum, he says, Cum audisset inter pueros, quos in Syria Herodes, rex Judeorum, intra bimatum jussit interfici, filium quoque ejus occisum, ait, Melius est Herodis PORCUM esse, quam FILIUM. "When he heard that among those male infants about two years old, which Herod, the king of the Jews, ordered to be slain in Syria, one of his sons was also murdered, he said: 'It is better to be Herod's HOG than his SON.'" Saturn. lib. ii. c. 4. The point of this saying consists in this, that Herod, professing Judaism, his religion forbade his killing swine, or having any thing to do with their flesh; therefore his hog would have been safe, where his son lost his life.

  • Family Bible Notes:

    • Had diligently inquired; Herod, supposing that the time of the appearance of the star, which he had accurately learned from the Magi, must agree with the age of Jesus, determined to destroy all the children in Bethlehem whose age could possibly come within that of the young child whose life he sought. The efforts of men to prevent the fulfilment of the word of God are unavailing.

  • 1599 Geneva Bible Notes:
      (No comment on this verse)

  • People's New Testament Commentary:

    • Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked. He had directed the wise men to report to him after their visit to Bethlehem. Their return to their own country without complying with his wishes seemed to Herod a mockery of his authority, and excited his rage.

      Sent forth, and slew. A band of his murderous satellites were sent, and not only slew the male children of Bethlehem, but those of that vicinity.

  • Robertson's Word Pictures:
     Slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem (aneilen pantas tous paidas tous en Bęthleem). The flight of Joseph was justified, for Herod was violently enraged (ethumôthę lian) that he had been mocked by the Magi, deluded in fact (enepaichthę). Vulgate illusus esset. Herod did not know, of course, how old the child was, but he took no chances and included all the little boys (tous paidas, masculine article) in Bethlehem two years old and under, perhaps fifteen or twenty. It is no surprise that Josephus makes no note of this small item in Herod's chamber of horrors. It was another fulfilment of the prophecy in Jer 31:15. The quotation (Mt 2:18) seems to be from the Septuagint. It was originally written of the Babylonian captivity but it has a striking illustration in this case also. Macrobius (Sat. II. iv. II) notes that Augustus said that it was better to be Herod's sow (hus) than his son (huios), for the sow had a better chance of life.

  • Albert Barnes' Commentary:

    • Mocked of the wise men. When he saw that he had been deceived by them; that is, that they did not return as he had expected. It does not mean that they did it for the purpose of mocking or deriding him; but that he was disappointed in their not returning.

      Exceeding wroth. Very angry. He had been disappointed and deceived. He expected to send an executioner and kill Jesus alone. But since he was disappointed in this, he thought he would accomplish the same thing, and be sure to destroy him, if he sent forth and put all the children in the place to death. This is an illustration of the power of anger. It stops at nothing. If it cannot accomplish just what it wishes, it does not hesitate to go much farther, and accomplish much more evil than it at first designed. He that has a wicked heart, and indulges in anger, knows not where it will end, and will commonly commit far more evil than he at first intended.

      Slew all the children. That is, all the male children. This is implied in the original. The design of Herod was to cut off him that had been born King of the Jews. His purpose, therefore, did not require that he should slay all the female children; and though he was cruel, yet we have no right to think that he attempted here anything except what he thought to be for his own safety, and to secure himself from a rival.

      In all the coasts thereof. The word coast is commonly applied now to the regions around the sea, as the sea coast. Here it means the adjacent places, the settlements or hamlets around Bethlehem--all that were in that neighbourhood. We do not know how large a place Bethlehem was; nor, of course, how many were slain. But it was not a large place, and the number could not be very great. It is not probable that it contained more than one or two thousand inhabitants; and in this case the number of children slain was not probably over twenty or thirty.

      From two years old and under. Some writers have said that this does not mean, in the principal, that they had completed two years; but that they had entered in the second year, or had completed about one year, and entered on the second. But the meaning of the word is doubtful. It is quite probable that they would not be particular about the exact age, but slew all that were about that age.

      According to the time, etc. He had endeavoured to ascertain of the wise men the exact time of his birth. He supposed he knew the age of Jesus. He slew, therefore, all that were of his age; that is, all that were born about the time when the star appeared, perhaps from six months old to two years. There is no reason to think that he would command those to be slain who had been born after the star appeared.

      This destruction of the infants is not mentioned by Josephus, but for this omission three reasons may be given:

      (1.) Josephus, a Jewish historian, and a Jew, would not be likely to record anything that would appear to confirm the truth of Christianity.

      (2.) This act of Herod was really so small compared with his other crimes, that the historian might not think it worthy of record. Bethlehem was a small and obscure village, and the other crimes of Herod were so great and so public, that it is not to be wondered at that the Jewish historian has passed over this.

      (3.) The order was probably given in secret, and might not have been known to Josephus. It pertained to the Christian history; and if the evangelists had not written, it might have been unknown or forgotten. Besides, no argument can be drawn from the silence of the Jewish historian. No reason can be given why Matthew should not be considered to be as fully entitled to credit as Josephus. Yet there is no improbability in the account given by Matthew. Herod was an odious and bloody tyrant, and the facts of his reign prove that he was abundantly capable or this wickedness. The following bloody deeds will show that the slaying of the infants was in perfect accordance with his character. The account is taken from Josephus, as arranged by Dr. Lardnet. Aristobulus, brother of his wife Marianne, was murdered by his direction at eighteen years of age, because the people of Jerusalem had shown some affection for his person. In the seventh year of his reign he put to death Hyreanus, grandfather of Mariamne, then eighty years of age, and who had formerly saved Herod's life; a man who had, ill every revolution of fortune, shown a mild and peaceable disposition. His beloved and beautiful wife, Mariamnne, had a public execution, and her mother Alexandra followed soon after. Alexander and Aristobulus, his two sons by Mariamne were strangled in prison by his orders upon groundless suspicions, as it seems, when they were at man's estate, were married, and had children. In his last sickness, a little before he died, he sent orders throughout Judea, requiring the presence of all the chief men of the nation at Jericho. His orders were obeyed, for they were enforced with no less penalty than that of death. When they were come to Jericho, he had them all shut up in the circus; and calling for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexis, he told them--" My life is now short. I know the Jewish people, and nothing will please them better than my death. You have them now in your custody. As soon as the breath is out of my body, and before my death can be known, do you let in the soldiers upon them, and kill them. All Judea, then, and every family, will, though unwillingly, mourn at my death." Nay, Josephus says, that with tears in his eyes he conjured them, by their love to him and their fidelity to God, not to fail of doing him this honour. What objection, after this account, can there be to the account of his murdering the infants at Bethlehem? Surely there could be no cruelty, barbarity, and horrid crime, which such a man was not capable of perpetrating.


  • Jamieson-Faussett Brown:

    • Then Herod, &c.--As Deborah sang of the mother of Sisera: "She looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots? Have they not sped?" so Herod wonders that his messengers, with pious zeal, are not hastening with the news that all is ready to receive him as a worshipper. What can be keeping them? Have they missed their way? Has any disaster befallen them? At length his patience is exhausted. He makes his inquiries and finds they are already far beyond his reach on their way home.

      when he saw that he was mocked--was trifled with.

      of the wise men--No, Herod, thou art not mocked of the wise men, but of a Higher than they. He that sitteth in the heavens doth laugh at thee; the Lord hath thee in derision. He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong (Ps 2:4; Job 5:12,13). That blessed Babe shall die indeed, but not by thy hand. As He afterwards told that son of thine--as cunning and as unscrupulous as thyself--when the Pharisees warned Him to depart, for Herod would seek to kill Him--"Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to-day, and to-morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Lu 13:32,33). Bitter satire!

      was exceeding wroth--To be made a fool of is what none like, and proud kings cannot stand. Herod burns with rage and is like a wild bull in a net. So he

      sent forth--a band of hired murderers.

      and slew all the children--male children.

      that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof--environs.

      from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently--carefully.

      inquired of the wise men--In this ferocious step Herod was like himself--as crafty as cruel. He takes a large sweep, not to miss his mark. He thinks this will surely embrace his victim. And so it had, if He had been there. But He is gone. Heaven and earth shall sooner pass away than thou shalt have that Babe into thy hands. Therefore, Herod, thou must be content to want Him: to fill up the cup of thy bitter mortifications, already full enough--until thou die not less of a broken heart than of a loathsome and excruciating disease. Why, ask skeptics and skeptical critics, is not this massacre, if it really occurred, recorded by JOSEPHUS, who is minute enough in detailing the cruelties of Herod? To this the answer is not difficult. If we consider how small a town Bethlehem was, it is not likely there would be many male children in it from two years old and under; and when we think of the number of fouler atrocities which JOSEPHUS has recorded of him, it is unreasonable to make anything of his silence on this.

  • Spurgeon Commentary:

    • Herod, with all his craftiness, misses his mark. He considers that he is made a fool of, though the wise men had no such intention. Proud men are quick to imaging insults. He is furious: he must kill this newborn King lest he claim his crown; and therefore he orders the death of every two-year-old child in Bethlehem, taking good margin, that none might escape through
      error in the age. What mattered it to him if a few babes were needlessly slain? He must make sure that the little King is made an end of; and he imagines that a speedy and indiscriminate slaughter of all who have reached their second year will put him beyond all fear of this reputed rival. Men will do anything to be rid of Jesus. They care not how many children, or men, or women, are destroyed, so that they can but resist his kingdom, and crush his holy cause in its infancy. Yet vain is their rage: the holy child is beyond their jurisdiction and their sword.

  • William Burkitt's Notes:

    • Observe here, How Herod, having played the fox before, acts the lion now; his secret policy not succeeding, he breaks out into open and inhuman cruelty.

      Learn, That when fraud and subtilty fail the enemies of the church, then thay fall to open rage, and barbarous inhumanity. Thus here these holy innocents fall as a sacrifice of Herod's rage, and die for Christ, who came to die for them; and so were martyrs in deed, though not in will. Some affirm that Herod did not spare his own child, then at nurse in the coasts of Bethlehem; which made Augustus say he had rather be Herod's hog, than herod's child; because the Jews, did never ear swine's flesh. And Herod, in compliance with the Jews, abstained from it also.

  • Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary:

    • Herod killed all the male children, not only in Bethlehem, but in all the villages of that city. Unbridled wrath, armed with an unlawful power, often carries men to absurd cruelties. It was no unrighteous thing with God to permit this; every life is forfeited to his justice as soon as it begins. The diseases and deaths of little children are proofs of original sin. But the murder of these infants was their martyrdom. How early did persecution against Christ and his kingdom begin! Herod now thought that he had baffled the Old Testament prophecies, and the efforts of the wise men in finding Christ; but whatever crafty, cruel devices are in men's hearts, the counsel of the Lord shall stand.

  • The Fourfold Gospel:

    • Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise-men. The magi, no doubt, intended to return to Herod, and would have done so but for the dream, but when they failed to return, they seemed to Herod to have taken pleasure in deceiving him, and the very honesty of their conduct passed for the lowest depth of cunning.

      Was exceeding wroth. Wroth at being made sport of, and doubly wroth because of the serious matter as to which they presumed to jest.

      And sent forth. Murderers, suddenly.

      And slew. Thus early did persecution attend those associated with Christ (Mt 10:24,25). This brutality was in keeping with Herod's character. Jealousy as to his authority led him to murder two high priests, his uncle Joseph, his wife, and three of his own sons, besides many other innocent persons. Fearing lest the people should rejoice at his departure, he summoned the leading citizens of all the cities of his realm, and, shutting them up in the circus grounds at Jericho, ordered his sister Salome and her husband to have them all put to death at the moment when he died, that the land might mourn at his death.

      All the male children that were in Bethlehem. As Bethlehem was not a large place, the number of martyrs could not have been large. It is variously estimated that from twelve to fifty were slain. Had the parents of Bethlehem known that Jesus was on the way to Egypt, they might have saved their own children by giving information as to the whereabouts of the right child; that is, if we may assume that they were being butchered.

      And in all the borders thereof. Adjacent places; settlements or houses around Bethlehem. The present population of the town is fully five thousand; it was probably even larger in Christ's time.

      From two years old and under. According to Jewish reckoning this would mean all children from birth up to between twelve and thirteen months old, all past one year old being counted as two years old.

      According to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men. That is, he used their date as a basis for his calculations. It is likely that six months had elapsed since the star appeared, and that Herod doubled the months to make doubly sure of destroying the rival claimant. Not knowing whether the child was born before or after the appearing of the star, he included all the children of that full year in which the star came.





Sidebar Study:  Childhood Through Early Manhood of Jesus


Updated:   Wednesday, March 06, 2013 at 03:51 AM



Status of Gospel Harmony Project

  • Preparing study notes on a weekly basis for the current 6 pm Sunday Eve. Bible Study at Mt. Carmel UMC

  • Section groupings are complete until linking to individual event pages is finished

  • Setting up event pages and linking the section groupings to them

  • Several sections of events have pages with notes from previous preaching occasions



LivingWeb® Library



[Note:  Links with problems are removed.  Please see Link Verification Policy for more info.]


©1996-2015 William Lawson -- All Rights Reserved

View Stats


Alphabetical Subject Listing



Custom Search









Free Sitemap Generator