The church is at present in the midst of the season of Epiphany, which begins on January 6 and extends until the day before Lent. Epiphany means manifestation or appearance. Thus, it is a time to consider the implications of the appearance of Christ, the Son of God, in our world.
The first event usually contemplated during Epiphany is the coming of the magi to worship Jesus in Matthew 2:1-12. This year, however, I was drawn to reflect on the aftermath of this event described in Matthew 2:13-18.
Earlier in Matthew 2, when Herod hears that the magi are searching for the king of the Jews in order to worship him, Herod was “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (v. 3). After ascertaining from the chief priests and the scribes that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, Herod says to the magi, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (v. 8). But after finding Jesus and worshiping him, the magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod (v. 12).
Though Herod was clearly plotting the destruction of Jesus, his attempt is foiled when the magi journey home by another way and do not go back to report to Herod.
So, all seems well.
But suddenly an angel is warning Joseph to take his family and escape to Egypt because Herod is “about to search for the child, to destroy him” (v. 13). And in fact, Herod is infuriated when he realizes the magi aren’t coming back.
In retaliation, he has all the male children two years old and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding region killed. Matthew describes the reaction to Herod’s cruelty as weeping, loud lamentation, and a refusal to be comforted—unimaginable depths of despair.
A brief examination of Herod’s life shows that this action is characteristic of his behavior. Herod dedicated his life to protecting his position as king of the Jews, no matter what the cost. He executed his wife, her mother, and his three oldest sons in pursuit of this goal. When his own death was imminent, he ordered a number of beloved Jewish leaders to be captured and killed upon his death to ensure there would be mourning in Israel at the time of his death (though this order was not carried out). In light of his history, Herod’s actions toward these children in Bethlehem recorded in Matthew 2 are not surprising, but they are certainly abhorrent, monstrous, and deeply grievous.
Herod lived in fear that he would lose his position and prestige.
His insecurities were mammoth, and any perceived threat to his status was dealt with as thoroughly and quickly as possible. Keeping his own power secure was paramount, no matter the cost. In this case, in order to remain king of the Jews, Herod was willing to commit a horrific atrocity.
Yet all his machinations were in vain; the Father’s hand of protection was on his Son. Herod could not thwart the plan of God and Herod’s perceived power was laughable in the face of God’s overwhelming might.
Even in light of the ultimate victory of God, the stark horror of Herod’s actions remains. It is not glossed over here. Instead, it stands as a reminder to each of us that our desires to hold on to power and position—to live as if we are in control of our destiny—are dangerous.
We, too, can allow our fears to dictate our actions. The result of our efforts to maintain control and enhance our position can ultimately bring pain, suffering, and grief to others. And in the end they are futile.
Questions for Thought:
Are there desires for power and prestige in any area of your life that you are afraid to let go of?
Are there areas of your life where you prefer to handle things yourself and are unwilling to relinquish control to the Lord?
Are there others who are being adversely affected by these choices?