Use Comforting Words Cautiously.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 2:16a Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by
the wise men, flew into a rage.
The wise men were to report back to Herod their findings about the kingly child, but being warned in a dream not to, took a different route home. Herod’s rage at them was ultimate hyprocisy. He should have been mad at himself. He was the supreme liar, claiming he wanted to worship the baby when he actually wanted to assassinate Him. We all can be guilty of selective morality. Sins look better in us than they do in others.
Matt. 2:16b He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and
around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping
with the time he had learned from the wise men.
The wise men, who traveled a long way to reach Bethlehem, had evidently told Herod how long it had been since they first saw the star. Herod used this information to determine what babies he would massacre.
Bethlehem maybe had a population of about 300 to 1000. In guessing how many babies died, the number most quoted in my sources is 20. Why would a man kill 20 innocent children? Due to what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, this question is not hypothetical for us in the USA.
I was in my car alone when I received the first report. Our Missions Pastor Vince Blubaugh called with the news. After we hung up, I cried out over and over, “No, God. Please, Jesus. No.” You responded similarly, I’m sure. Before long, questioning began. Why? The debate has raged ever since.
Guns? This war will be waged in our country for years to come. In my extended family, this subject now has to be avoided. It has become volatile.
Violent video games and movies? I was always more worried about sex in movies and on TV than about violence. I fear we have maybe underestimated the extensive damaging effect of acted out violence.
Mental illness? I believe in the healing arts. I grew up in an environment where taking pills for depression was considered a sin, but I wholeheartedly reject that position now, and firmly believe in using meds and talk therapy to help people deal with depression and other mental illnesses. One reason I favor this approach is because meds and talk therapy are all that unbelievers can do to fulfill their praiseworthy desire to help. We need to try every thing we can to help people suffering with mental illnesses.
Why kill 20 children? Maybe all the above contributed, but we Christ-followers know a deeper, more sinister, force is at work. Evil spiritual forces operate in this world. They hate God, hate people, including children, and will do all they can, in whatever channel they can muster, to do ultimate evil.
Herod’s problem was, he sold his soul to Satan. We rightly expect a ruler to protect life, all life, especially innocent life from womb to tomb, but Herod was a demon-man, always bloodthirsty, ever on the warpath against any possible claimant to his throne. Herod was driven by an inner Satanic force that caused him to throw himself against the will of God.
He was a master-assassin, on a par with Hitler and Stalin. The stories of Herod’s murderous perversions are bizarre beyond belief, many are too gross to say aloud. A small sample will show how given to Satan Herod was.
He had 10 wives, his favorite being Mariamne. He murdered her, regretted it, and took her body to his bed till it began to rot. Fearing fallout via her popular family, he killed her grandfather, uncle, father, mother, and two sons. Burning with Hellish envy, five days before he died, Herod killed his heir-apparent son for seeming to presume too early on the upcoming promotion. Caesar Augustus said it was better to be Herod’s sow than son.
Matt. 2:17-19a Then what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet
was fulfilled: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping, and great
mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be
consoled, because they were no more. After Herod died, . . .
This massacre did not catch God by surprise. He foresaw the current event forecast in an ancient tragedy. This quote, from Jeremiah 31:15, was given after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The Babylonians brought prisoners of war to Ramah (JR 40:1), five miles north of Jerusalem. It was a staging area where many were killed, and many were deported into captivity.
Jeremiah experienced this holocaust firsthand. He saw the killing, and families ripped apart. Ramah was in the tribe of Benjamin. Bethlehem, ten miles south, was where Rachel, the ancestress of the Benjamites, was buried.
As Jeremiah writhed in agony, hearing shrill screaming characteristic of ancient Eastern grief, he in essence said, “Listen! You hear that hopeless piercing wail? It’s from Rachel’s grave, ten miles away.” Instead of the children being where they should be, in their mothers’ arms, they were being killed or sent away. Rachel was wailing, but–but!!–in the end, God won.
Despite his conniving, Herod failed. By warning the Magi, God foiled Herod’s first attempt to kill the Baby; now God thwarted the second effort.
Despite his conniving, Herod died. At age 66, on April 4, 4 BC, to be precise. We know this due to a lunar eclipse that happened close to it.
Persecutors always fail and always die, Jesus and His entrourage always live on. “Persecuted saints sometimes live to tread upon the graves of their persecutors” (Henry).
Blessed is the person, especially the ruler, who knows “a Higher Hand is moving the pieces and the pawns on the chess-board of life” (Hendriksen). God mocks the audacity of rulers who dare to vaunt themselves against Him.
“Kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers conspire together against The Lord and His Anointed One: “Let us tear off their chains and free ourselves from their restraints.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; The Lord ridicules them” (Psalm 2:2-4). This is the only place in the Bible where we are told God laughs. It’s not a friendly laugh, as Herod learned.
Herod died screaming for the wife he murdered. His legs swelled up like tree stumps, sores covered his body. Guards and attendants had to be changed often due to the stench rising from his rotting, oozing stomach. Don’t brazenly lift your fist against the Almighty. He always wins.
In this old tired evil world, there are lots of Herods, givers of pain, Ramahs, places of pain, and Rachels, bearers of pain. We don’t have to look far to see the proof that Satan truly is the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4).
We don’t know the reasons for many bad events. Be careful what you tell people in times of sorrow. Many talks suitable for armchair discussions are out of place in the crucible. There are settings where logic does not fit.
It’s not enough to say “This will make you a better person”, or “Others are hurting too”, or “This shall pass”, or “It is God’s will”. These truths are appropriate in academic discussions, but not in the iron furnace of grief.
Avoid saying, “If you need anything, call.” If you are serious about your caring and helping, settle it on the spot. Ask “What can I do for you?”
A personal word. In a very dark season, as I first struggled with my grandson’s autism, three comments helped me. Ed Meyer one day said, “I wish I could reach into your heart, take out some of the pain, and carry it for you.” Ruth told me, “Don’t let the devil get any good out of our pain.” Mike Haynes preached, “Don’t waste your pain. Use it to bless others in pain.”
Glib words, even if true, are often shallow in the trenches of life. Our comfort is; God is, God is love (proved on a cross), God is faithful, God will take us to Heaven. We should memorize these words before trouble hits us.