Matthew 2:13-23 (4 BC)
I can’t begin to imagine the fear and anxiety in parents, with their first child still a toddler, in fear for his life and theirs.
Joseph and Mary knew that not only did King Herod want them dead, but everyone around them was a potential betrayer. Two to three years earlier when they were just getting the news of Mary’s pending miraculous pregnancy, it wouldn’t have entered their heads to find themselves in this situation, trekking possibly 100 or more miles to safety and an unknown future.
The main comfort for them was that it was God who – directly – warned them to run, and promised that he would let them know when it was safe to return. That may only have been months later, but they didn’t know that at the time – all they knew is that they couldn’t go home, and they had no means of support where they were going. But what did they do? They ran. And they stayed away. Just like God told them.
How often do we have the wisdom and the faith to run from those things that threaten our relationship with God? From temptations, situations, people and attitudes that don’t help us but to which we cling, if only from familiarity and a fear of the unknown.
How often do have the humility to, day by day, accept God as the Lord of our lives and the centre of our existence? How much of the time, instead, do we try and erase him from our thoughts entirely, scared what might happen to us or our lives if we open the door to his kingship over us? That’s not to trivialise what Herod did, or pretend any of us are truly like him. But the attitude that drove him to those barbaric acts, is the same one that has roots somewhere in you. And only in God’s strength can we keep pulling up that weed.
This entire story is rejected by almost all modern historians as being myth, due in large part to the lack of corroborating, non-Scriptural historical evidence to back it up. The great historian Josephus, for example, doesn’t mention it, though he does mention Herod killing three of his own sons. It is also well-known that Herod slaughtered many people in the later years of his reign.
So why no mention of this tragedy?
Because – contrary to the grossly inflated accounts of early legend. Greek liturgy spoke of 14,000 murders, and some medieval ‘historians’ even put the number at 144,000 (riffing, no doubt, of the numbers of the saved in the apocryphal vision of Revelation). If there were in fact that many baby boys killed, then OBVIOUSLY Josephus – and every other non-Christian, even anti-Christian historian would have mentioned it.
But those numbers are total nonsense, designed to symbolism and effect. In reality, Bethlehem most likely had population of about 300. Statistically therefore, the likely number of boys under the age of two would have been somewhere between half a dozen and 20. And those numbers were not high enough for any non-Christian historian to take note of, because there were many other people being murdered, often in greater numbers.
It was vile, murderous, a tragedy, and caused “weeping and great mourning” (v.18) among many. But the tragedy lies more in the age of the victims than their number.