Matthew 2:13-23

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

How are we to understand and tell this story that is so violent in the season of Christmas?First of all, Matthew is making connections with the stories of Moses and the prophets.The beginning of the story of Moses has a similar motif. On the orders of Pharaoh, the Egyptians slaughtered the male children of Israel (Exodus 1). Moses was delivered from death by his mother’s courage and the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter. The deliverance of Israel from slavery was initiated by God’s deliverance of Moses from the brutality of Pharaoh. Here the deliverance of Israel from the powers of evil is initiated by God’s deliverance of Jesus from the brutality of Herod.

The implication of Herod’s decision to kill all the male children two and under was that Herod had determined from the wise men’s story that they had first seen the star about two years before their arrival in Jerusalem. Herod concluded that the new king must have been born about two years ago. A further implication is then that Jesus was almost two years old at the time of the wise men’s visit.

The prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer. 31:15) is a vision of Rachel, Jacob’s wife and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, weeping over her children as they were taken into exile in Babylon. Rachel is here described as the ancient matriarch of the nation weeping over the fate of her children centuries later in the era of the Babylonian conquest (587 BCE), the exile, and the life of Jeremiah. For Matthew this prophecy is a sign that this tragedy was foreseen by Jeremiah and was within the foreknowledge of God. Thus, while tragic, and an indication of God’s limited power to determine human events, it will be reversed by God’s determination to save and liberate Israel by the birth of the Messiah, Jesus.

The story of this action by Herod was also congruent with the history of the reign of Herod the Great. Herod was extremely paranoid about plots against his life especially in the last years of his life. As an old man, Herod suspected, probably rightly, that various people in his family were plotting to assassinate him and take the throne. In 7 BCE he executed his two sons, Alexander and Aristobolus. Three years later, only five days before he died, Herod executed his firstborn son and heir apparent to the throne, Antipater.

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