Commentaries
English
Matthew
  
16Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.17Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:18"A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." (Jeremiah31:15; Genesis35:19)


Herod thought that the wise men feared him and honored him and would return to him directly after visiting the newborn child. When he saw that they ignored him he became exceedingly angry. They did not return to tell him who Christ was nor where he lived. He was outraged as he had frequently been in his past.
Herod was an Edomite and enmity toward Israel was bred in his bones. Little children have always been taken under the special protection of human laws as well as human nature, but these were sacrificed to the rage of this tyrant. Herod was then about seventy years old, so a child under two years old would not likely ever threaten his reign. Under Nero, Herod's authority, innocence was no guarantee for security. Throughout his reign, Herod was a bloody man. Not long before this massacre, he destroyed the whole Sanhedrin. Neither was he fond of his own children or their advancement, having formerly slain two of his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, and later, his son Antipater just five days before he himself died. It was purely to gratify his own brutish lusts of pride and cruelty that he did this. Blood to the bloodthirsty is like water to those with dropsy; the more they get, the more they desire.
Macrobius, a heathen historian, states that when Augustus Caesar heard Herod killed his own son among the boys two years old and under that he ordered to be slain, he spoke this jest upon him—that "it was better to be Herod’s swine than his son." The custom of the region forbade him to slay a swine, but nothing could restrain him from slaying his son.
Some believe this grief of the Bethlehemites to be a judgment upon them for their contempt of Christ. They that would not rejoice at the birth of the Son of God, are justly made to weep for the death of their own sons. All we read about the Bethlehemites is that they only "wondered" at the tidings the shepherds brought them, but did not "welcome" them.
In verse 18, Matthew sites a prophecy from Jeremiah 31:15 which, during Jeremiah's time, applied to his people being taken captive and exiled to Babylon. Notice in verse 17 that Matthew introduces the prophecy, this time referring to the slaughter of innocent children in Bethlehem, not by saying, "to fulfill" but "was fulfilled." The difference between the two phrases is of great importance. If scripture says an incident was "to fulfill" what was spoken in a prophecy, it means that the incident is the sole objective of the said prophecy; but if scripture says "was fulfilled" what was spoken in a prophecy, as Matthew did, it means the incident is not the sole objective, but that the prophecy applies to more than one incident.
Jeremiah depicts Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife who was buried near Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19), as a figure weeping from her grave, asking about her children or descendants, and when she did not find them, she refused to be comforted for they were not in their land but were scattered because of the oppression of their enemies. God revealed to Matthew the fulfillment of this prophecy when the true heir, Christ, fled the oppression and the enemy King Herod, put to death Rachel's descendants, all boys two years old and under.
The strange thing is that the Bethlehemites did not believe the news of the shepherds and wise men and took no interest in the child Jesus. They did not come to worship him. Because they did not believe, in spite of the remarkable testimonies, God’s strong hand fell upon them by allowing the murder of their children.
This prophecy of lamentation and sad providence might serve to invite an objection which some would make against Christ. These objectors may ask, "Can the Messiah, who is to be the Consolation of Israel, be introduced with all this lamentation?" Yes, it was foretold and the scripture must be accomplished. Although, if we look at the following verses of this prophecy, we find further fulfillment when "the bitter weeping" in Ramah will end and Rachel will be comforted when, "Your work shall be rewarded . . . and there is hope in your end" (Jeremiah 31:16-17). Unto them the Messiah was born, sufficient to repair their losses.
God’s judgment on Bethlehem was the plague of love from their Lord that they might turn to God, repent, and believe in the Christ child, Jesus.
Thus it becomes clear that Matthew takes up the subject of comparing the Lord Jesus in his childhood with the Jews in the beginning of their formation as a nation. Jesus will come out of Egypt as they did; but Christ came to succeed where the Jewish nation formerly failed due to their lack of faith. The Evangelist Matthew ends his presentation of the events of Christ’s childhood, emphasizing again the global orientation of Christ. He refers to Nazareth, his first residence, which was located in Galilee on an international line. It was full of Gentiles and commercial activity that was often accompanied with expressions of immorality and idolatry. Consequently, the land of Judea looked with contempt at those from Galilee in general, and at those from Nazareth in particular, that the Scripture may be fulfilled: "they despised him."

Prayer
O Holy God, you are just and you do not punish without a reason. I deserve to be cut off for I have neglected your greatness, despised the poor, and did not consider your prophecies. Have mercy upon me and upon my nation because our sins are known in heaven. Create in us sorrow for our lawless deeds. Guide us into the knowledge of our wickedness. Lead us into repentance and change of mind. Open our eyes to the propitiation of Christ, and fill us with your love, that we may be delivered from your revealed and coming judgment.
Question
What is the last goal of God’s punishments?