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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Matthew 2

Verses 1-2

DISCOURSE: 1279
THE WISE MEN SEEKING CHRIST

Matthew 2:1-2. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judζa, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

THE humiliation of our blessed Lord was attended with many circumstances tending to counteract its influence on the minds of men. To see him born in a stable, and laid in a manger, was doubtless a stumbling-block in the way of many: but the birth by the voice of angels—the restoration of a spirit of prophecy after an interval of four hundred years—and the pointing him out to the Eastern Magi by a new-created star—were abundantly sufficient to remove the offence which his apparent meanness might occasion. This last event, the visit of the Magi to him, will occupy our attention at this time. We shall,

I.

Make some general observations upon the visit—

That we may not go forward without some kind of order, we shall notice,

1.

Who they were—

[The term by which they are designated, means magicians. But we are not to understand by this, that they were persons practising enchantments; we are rather to conceive of them as philosophers, who were attentive observers of nature, and ‘probably’ proficients in astronomy. They came from the East; but whether from Persia or Arabia, we cannot say. All that is affirmed of them more than this, is vain conjecture, or foolish superstition.]

2.

How they came to think of the Lord Jesus Christ—

[God, who is sovereign in the distribution of his favours, chose them, as he did the shepherds, to be the objects of his peculiar favour. He sent a star, or meteor, to attract their attention; and then revealed to them, that the star was intended to announce to them the birth of Him who was to be the King of the Jews. Whether they had heard of Balaam’s prophecy, ‘that a star should come out of Jacob, and a sceptre rise out of Israel,’ we do not know [Note: Numbers 24:17.]: ‘the expectation of a ruler to spring out of Israel was certainly far extended through the world:) but, however the first conjecture might arise in the minds of the Wise Men, they could have known nothing certain but from revelation.]

3.

What means they used in order to find him out—

[Being informed of the design of the star, they proceeded to visit this new-born King, and to pay him their profoundest homage. They pursued their journey to Jerusalem, and began to inquire, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” But they could hear nothing respecting him: their inquiries tended only to spread consternation through the whole city. Herod was alarmed, lest his throne should be endangered; and the Jews were terrified, lest that suspicious and cruel tyrant should make this report an occasion of inflicting on them some heavy calamities. To get some light into the matter, Herod summoned a council of all the chief priests and scribes; and inquired of them where Christ should be born. They readily informed him, from the prophecies, that Bethlehem was the place destined to that honour. This information being given to the Wise Men, they instantly proceeded thither; and, as soon as they went forth, the star, which had at first appeared to them in the East, became visible to them again, and went and “stood over the very house where the young child was.” God withheld the miraculous appearance of the star when it was not necessary; and renewed it only when it was wanted to confirm the faith of the Wise Men, (which the indifference of the Jews might have caused to waver,) and to point out infallibly the house where the child abode.]

4.

How they conducted themselves towards him when they had found him—

[Filled with holy awe and reverence, they no sooner beheld him, than they prostrated themselves before him; and presented to him the offerings which they had brought with them for that purpose. It is possible, that their worship was only such as it was customary to pay to kings; and that their presents were only such as were the produce of their own country, without any thing mysterious in their import. Still, however, we read not of their paying any such regard to Herod; and therefore we may conclude, that at least they considered Jesus as excelling all other kings in dignity and glory.]
We shall now,

II.

Call your particular attention to the Wise Men—

They may be regarded by us in a three-fold view:

1.

As witnesses to confirm our faith—

[Does the indifference of the Jews respecting their new-born King appear to weaken the evidence of his birth? Let us hear the testimony of the Magi respecting him: ‘We beheld a new-formed star, and were instructed by Jehovah in the reason of its formation. We went to see the child whose birth it announced, and we saw him with our eyes, and paid to him the homage which was due from us. We know that we found the very child that was referred to, because that miraculous star pointed him out to us; and when we had honoured him to the best of our ability, Jehovah appeared to us again, revealed to us the purpose which Herod had conceived, and directed us to return to our own country without informing Herod, that so the parents of the child might have time to remove him to a land of safety.’
Must we not in all this acknowledge the hand of God? and would God thus set his seal to a falsehood, and thus countenance an impostor?]

2.

As types to animate our hope—

[We are taught to believe that the day shall come, when all nations of the earth shall be converted to God, and the fulness of the Gentiles shall be brought into the Church of Christ. The conversion of these Wise Men was, as it were, the first fruits, which assure to us the complete harvest. Does the event appear incredible? It was no difficulty to God to convince, and encourage them: nor will it be difficult with him to effect the universal change, whenever his time is come. The same thing shall then take place on an extended scale [Note: Isaiah 60:5-6.]; and “the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of the Lord and his Christ.”]

3.

As patterns to direct our conduct—

[Much may we learn from those heathen philosophers. First, let us learn to improve our studies or pursuits, whatever they may be, for our spiritual advantage. Do we behold strange phenomena in nature? Let them lead us to the God of nature: and whatever light we obtain from him, let us use it as the means of obtaining more light.

Next, let us not regard any scoffs, or difficulties, or dangers that we may have to encounter in the way of our duty. Doubtless, the sages found many obstacles in their way; but they persisted to the end; and never ceased from their labour, till they had found Him whom they sought. Thus, let us resolutely seek the Lord Jesus, till we have found him. He is pointed out to us, not by a star, but by “the more sure word of the Gospel.” True enough, we may inquire after him of many who might well be expected to give us all needful information; and, after all, find them even more ignorant than ourselves. Our very solicitude about him may even provoke their enmity; but we must go on without weariness, and without fear; and still prosecute our inquiries after him, till we can say, “I have found Him whom my soul loveth.”

Lastly, having found Jesus, let us present to him all that we are, and all that we have. Let our body, soul, and spirit be consecrated to him. Let us confess him as “King of kings, and Lord of lords;” let us devote to him our silver and our gold: and let us glorify him with our body and our spirit, which are his. This is our reasonable service: and if we be backward to render it unto him, surely these heathen converts will rise up in judgment against us: for, if they so honoured him, when they saw him only as a babe, wrapt in swaddling-clothes, much more should we, who view him seated on his throne of glory.]


Verse 10

DISCOURSE: 1280
THE JOY OF THE MAGI

Matthew 2:10. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

IN so concise a history as that of our blessed Lord, the events of whose life and death were so numerous, that, if circumstantially related, they would occupy too many volumes to be read by the world at large, it must of necessity be found, that there is much omitted which we should have been glad to know. But the Scriptures were not written to gratify a vain curiosity: the inspired writers had a far higher object in view: they were content to record so much only as was necessary for our instruction, and to give us such brief hints as would set before our eyes one continuous and comprehensive whole. In the account of the wise men, who came from the East to worship the new-born Jesus, there is much left to mere conjecture. We know not who they were, nor whence they came, except that it was to the eastward of Judζa; nor how long it was after the birth of Christ; whether a few weeks, or several months. What the star was, we know not. It could not be a common star; but only a meteor, resembling one. How they came to regard it as intimating the birth of any one, and especially of one who should be the King of the Jews, we know not. It is probable that they were astronomers; and that, seeing this new star over the land of Judζa, they concluded it to be ominous of some great event: and, having heard of the general report, that there was expected to arise, about that time, in Judζa, one who should govern the whole earth, they might suppose the star to be an indication of his birth. Yet, on the whole, I think it more probable, that the same Almighty and gracious God, who sent this star to guide them to Judζa, revealed to them the occasion of its appearance, and the wonderful event of which they themselves were to be the favoured witnesses. The inquiry which they make on reaching Jerusalem seems indeed to place this matter beyond a doubt: for they do not ask whether some great personage were born: they express no doubt whatever respecting the fact; but only inquire where the new-born infant was; “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?; for we have seen his star, and are come to worship him.” The Jews themselves, it seems, were unconscious of any remarkable occurrence, till the confident inquiry of these strangers drew their attention to it: and then both Herod the king, and all the people at Jerusalem, were filled with consternation. Herod, a remarkably jealous prince, summoned the chiefs of the Jewish nation, that he might learn from them where their Messiah, according to the Scriptures, should be born. They, from a well-known prophecy, informed him, that Bethlehem was the highly-favoured city for which this honour was reserved: and he, on receiving this information, directed the Magi thither, with an express command, that, when they should have found him, they would come back to him, and communicate all that they should have learned respecting him. Thither the Magi now directed their steps. But no sooner had they re-commenced their journey, than the star, which they had seen in the East, and which had for some time disappeared, came again; and guided them, not to the city only, but to the house where Jesus was; thus pointing out, with infallible precision, the very child whom they desired to find. On this occasion it is said, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Now, the terms in which their joy is here spoken of are so strong, as to be incapable of being translated literally into our language. Their general import, however, is sufficiently conveyed in the words before us: “They rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

In speaking of this their joy, we shall find it profitable to inquire, What it indicated in relation to them.
From this interesting portion of divine history we may learn,

I.

The magnitude of the object which they pursued—

They sought to behold and to honour the new-born King. This was an object worthy of pursuit:

As viewed by them, it was of great moment—

[Supposing them only to conceive of him as born to a kingdom, yet, taking into consideration the miracle with which his birth was announced, and the prophetic declarations relative to the place of his birth, they might well regard him as worthy to be served and honoured. And in proportion as we suppose their views of his character and office to have been enlarged, the importance of their object must, of course, have been magnified in their minds.]

With the additional light which we enjoy, it was an object the most important that any creature could pursue—

[We know that infant to have been “Emmanuel, God with us.” Yes, he was “God manifest in human flesh:” and not a king of one nation only, but of the whole earth, even “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
To behold him in this his humbled state; to worship him, and glorify him; what could the highest archangel desire more? This was an object worthy of ambition to every child of man: nor could any labour, any privation, any suffering, be too great to be encountered willingly, and sustained cheerfully, in the pursuit of it.]
In their labours, we behold also,

II.

The ardour of mind with which it should be pursued—

Their journey, whether from Arabia or any other country, was long and arduous—
[Their setting out from their own country, and prosecuting their journey to Judζa, argued no little zeal: but to persevere when the star had disappeared, and when so much difficulty and uncertainty must, in all probability, attend their future exertions, required a zeal more than ordinarily intense and ardent: and we admire their steady perseverance in so great a work.]

What, then, should ever damp our ardour in the service of our Lord?
[Methinks, this is a labour in which our whole lives should be occupied. We need not, indeed, leave our homes in order to behold his face, since he is here in the midst of us: but we must be ready to part with all, if called to it: and, whatever difficulties may obstruct our way, we should determine, with God’s help, to surmount them all — — — Nor should we take with us a portion only of our property; but go and offer to him all that we are, and all that we have. Our whole selves, body, soul, and spirit, must be consecrated to his service, that he may be glorified in all — — —]

In them we may yet further see,

III.

The blessedness that shall crown our labours—

“They rejoiced with exceeding great joy”—
[They, even before they had fully attained their object, rejoiced: what joy, then, must have filled their souls, when they were introduced into the very presence of this infant, and had the honour of presenting to him their gifts of gold, and frankincense and myrrh!]
But the believer’s joy at finding the Saviour, is incomparably more exalted—
[It is truly said to be a “joy unspeakable and glorified.” O how richly are the labours of a whole life repaid by one glimpse of the Saviour’s glory! And what prospects does it open to him in the eternal world! — — — Truly, no languagecan express the joy that he feels, nor any heart conceive the blessedness that awaits him — — —]

Address—
1.

The nominal Christian—

[Though not truly interested in the Saviour, you are highly privileged: because you have an infinitely better guide than ever the Magi had, even the word of God, which will he a light to your feet, and a lantern to your paths; and will infallibly, if duly followed, lead you to the Saviour’s presence. Improve, then, your privileges; and let them remind you of your obligations also: for if your light be more clear than theirs, so should your surrender of yourselves to Christ be more entire.]

2.

The inquiring Christian—

[You, like the Magi, may feel discouragement in your journey heavenward; and, through the withdrawment of light from your soul, be ready to doubt whether you shall ever attain the object of your desires. But hold on, in the midst of all discouragements; and doubt not but that your labour shall be crowned with success at last: for God’s promise to you is, “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord. His goings forth are prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto you as the rain, as the former and as the latter rain upon the earth [Note: Hosea 6:3.].”]

3.

The assured Christian—

[You have found the Saviour, and presented yourselves to him. Now, then, shew yourselves worthy of this high privilege. A sad indifference exists in relation to him, even amongst those who from their office and their general information ought to be most forward in calling the attention of others to him. And, from the reports which we have of his reception in heathen lands, even amongst the most barbarous Africans and Hottentots, we may all blush for our coldness and ingratitude. However, if you have been led to the Saviour, take care to honour him in the midst of an ungodly world, and labour to make him known to all around you.]


Verse 16

DISCOURSE: 1281
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INFANTS

Matthew 2:16; Matthew 2:18. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

WHILST ungodly men are perpetrating every species of wickedness, the language of their hearts, as interpreted by God himself, is this: “The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth [Note: Ezekiel 8:12; Ezekiel 9:9.].” A similar thought is apt to arise in the heart, when our trials are multiplied, and relief is not speedily afforded us. It was in this way that the Israelites at Massah, when destitute of water, vented their murmurs: this was their atheistical inquiry; “Is the Lord amongst us or not [Note: Exodus 7:7.]?” Even godly persons, under violent temptation, are sometimes ready to ask, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies [Note: Psalms 77:9.]?” But a diligent attention to the Scriptures will fortify us against any such absurd conclusions. From them we shall learn, that however inattentive God may appear to be to the concerns of men, he directs, limits, and overrules all their actions, for the promotion of his own glory. Scarcely on any occasion should we have expected his interposition, more than for the prevention of that murderous edict, whereby all the infants of Bethlehem and the adjacent country were destroyed. Yet God saw fit to permit it; and interfered no further than was necessary for the fulfilling of his own word, and the accomplishing of his own eternal purpose.

Let us contemplate,

I.

The fact recorded—

A more strange occurrence can scarcely be conceived. We wonder that any human being should be invested with such power, as to cause, by his own arbitrary mandate, the slaughter of so many innocent persons. We wonder still more, that, supposing this authority to be delegated to any one, there should be found agents to carry such an inhuman edict into execution. But most of all do we wonder, that a creature endued with reason should be capable of issuing such an order as Herod did on this occasion. But let us trace this action to its source: let us inquire into the principle from which this unparalleled barbarity proceeded

[The murderous purpose originated in jealousy. Herod possibly had heard of the birth of Jesus, previous to the arrival of the Wise Men: but that was the circumstance which put him upon making inquiries into the pretensions of this newborn infant. From them he learned, that a star or meteor had appeared to them in the East, and that they, either from revelation or from the traditionary prophecy of Balaam, had been led to interpret the appearance of that star as an intimation, that He who was to reign over the Jews was now born into the world. He was also informed by them, that they had come on purpose to pay him the homage which was due to such an exalted character. Upon this, Herod summoned all the chief priests and scribes, that he might learn from them what the prophets had declared respecting the place of their Messiah’s nativity: and on understanding that Bethlehem was the place destined to that honour, he sent the Wise Men thither, and ordered them, when they had found the child, to come and give him information respecting him. This order he grounded upon a pretended desire to honour Christ; but with a secret determination to destroy him: for he concluded, that Christ was to have a temporal dominion; and that, if suffered to live, he would wrest the kingdom out of his hands. But such a rival he could not endure: and hence arose the secret purpose to destroy him.

But though jealousy first prompted him to form the murderous purpose, with respect to his supposed rival, it was offended pride that caused it to be extended to all the children around Bethlehem. The Wise Men, being warned by God of Herod’s purpose, returned no more to him: at this Herod was indignant: he conceived himself slighted and despised; but he was determined not to be disappointed of his desire; and therefore, to secure his object, he gave order’s that all infants near the age of Jesus, and within the neighbourhood of the place where he was born, should be massacred without distinction.

What an amazing ascendant must these principles have over the heart of man! Well may it be said, that “jealousy is cruel as the grave [Note: Song of Solomon 8:6.]:” nor indeed is pride less cruel, when its wounded feelings have scope for exercise. This we see in the two sons of Jacob, who, on account of their sister having been defiled by the Prince of Shechem, slew every male in the city: and, when reproved for their cruelty, they shewed, in their vindication of themselves, from whence that cruelty had proceeded: “Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot [Note: Genesis 34:31.]?;”

Happy would it have been for the world, if such dispositions and conduct had been altogether banished by the Gospel of Christ: but the human heart is the same in every age and place: we still see that the love of power is a predominant principle in the mind of man; that where it is suffered to gain an ascendency, it will leave no means untried for the accomplishment of its ends; and that, if the more lenient methods of deceit and treachery will not succeed, it will wade through seas of blood to the attainment of its object: the cries of thousands and tens of thousands will not divert it from its purpose: nor will any thing but the utter extinction of a rival satisfy its blood-thirsty appetite [Note: Written in Feb. 1809, when the British army had been forced to leave Spain under the merciless dominion of Buonaparte.].

We must not however forget, that the same evil principles are in our own hearts: and, if we will only call to mind the irritation which we have felt on some particular occasions, we shall see reason to be thankful to God, who has kept us from carrying into execution all that our offended pride might have prompted us to effect.]
Before we proceed to make any practical remarks upon this fact, it will be proper to notice,

II.

The prophecy accomplished by it—

The New Testament writers sometimes appeal to the prophecies of the Old Testament, as direct proofs of what they assert, and sometimes in a more lax way of accommodation only. It is in this latter way, we apprehend, that the prophecy before us is adduced [Note: Jeremiah 31:15-17.]? In its primary meaning, it represented the Jews as collected at Rama, for the purpose of being carried into captivity to Babylon [Note: Jeremiah 40:1.]; and Rachel (who had about eleven hundred years before been buried near that place [Note: Genesis 35:19.]) as weeping over the disconsolate state of her posterity. The Evangelist beautifully applies the same figure to the slaughter of the children which took place at Bethlehem, which also was near to Rachel’s tomb; and, in this view, he speaks of the prophecy as again accomplished. This he might well do: for who can conceive the distress which that event occasioned?

[The murderous bands could not stop to see, whether, in every instance, the wounds they had inflicted had actually destroyed life: they must proceed rapidly in their work, lest any of the children should be carried off or concealed: and what anguish must the cries of so many children, (probably some thousands,) writhing in the agonies of death, in agonies protracted by the kind solicitude of their parents, have produced in the bosoms of their bereaved mothers! No language can paint, no imagination conceive, the horrors of that day. We may use the terms, “lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning;” but we cannot affix to them any adequate ideas, or realize, in any just degree, that awful scene — — —]

We cannot but see from hence,
1.

How early our Lord’s sufferings began—

[Scarcely was he born, before his life was sought, and he was forced to be carried an exile to the country which of all others had been most hostile to his progenitors. And, after the death of Herod, he was forced, for his security, to take up his abode in a town which fixed a stigma upon him to his latest hour [Note: John 1:46; John 7:52.]. These were, indeed, only “the beginnings of his sorrows:” but they may well reconcile his followers to any privations or reproaches which they may be called to endure for his sake. If for us he became “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” let us cheerfully bear our cross for him, and willingly “suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together” — — —]

2.

How vain are any attempts of man to counteract the designs of God—

[Herod foolishly thought to defeat the purposes of heaven; but “God held him in derision, and laughed him to scorn [Note: Psalms 2:1-6.].” God knew his murderous plans, and warned the parents of our Lord to escape his fury; yea, and provided too for their journey and support in Egypt, by the offerings which the Wise Men had just before presented to the new-born King. Herod, to secure his purpose, ordered, not the children of Bethlehem only, but of all the neighbouring country; and not of one year old only, but all under two years old, to be massacred: but his attempts were vain; and instead of frustrating the designs of Heaven, he unwittingly fulfilled them; occasioning, by this very act, no less than three prophecies to be accomplished [Note: ver. 15, 17, 23. He still further confirmed the Messiahship of Jesus, by leading all the Jewish Sanhedrim to declare, that Bethlehem was to be the place of his nativity, ver. 4–6.]. Thus it is with all who set themselves against God: they may shew their malignity, but they cannot counteract his gracious designs. “Many are the devices in men’s hearts; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand [Note: Proverbs 19:21.].” “The wrath of man ‘as far as it is permitted to be exercised’ shall praise him; and the remainder of that wrath shall he restrain [Note: Psalms 76:10.].” We never need, therefore, to be afraid of man; for, if we commit our way unto the Lord, “he will be our shield and buckler;” and, “if He be for us,” we may triumphantly ask, “Who can be against us [Note: Romans 8:31.]?”]

3.

How certainly will there be a day of future retribution—

[Can it be, that such an inhuman monster should never meet with any just recompence for his deeds? The mind revolts at the idea. If there be a God that governs the world, there must be a period when the present inequalities of his government shall be done away, and the equity of his dispensations be made apparent. Hence the day of judgment is in Scripture called, “The day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God [Note: Romans 2:5.]:” and we are told, that “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble us: and to us who are troubled, rest [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7.].” Let us then act in reference to that day: whether exalted and at ease, or depressed and persecuted, let us look to that day, when our happiness or misery shall be for ever fixed. Let us dread prosperity, if it divert our attention from a future state; and let us welcome adversity, if it be the means of bringing us nearer unto God. The infants now have no cause to regret that they were called to such early martyrdom: and it is highly probable, that many of their parents have since found reason to give thanks to God for the weight of sorrow that then oppressed them. But the proud oppressor,— who can reflect on his state without shuddering? how will he feel, when he shall stand at the tribunal of that very Jesus, whom, with such hypocrisy and cruelty, he laboured to destroy? O that, whenever tempted to sin, we may think of the account which we must one day give; and, whenever called to suffer, may “look with Moses to the recompence of the reward!”]


Verse 18

DISCOURSE: 1281
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INFANTS

Matthew 2:16; Matthew 2:18. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

WHILST ungodly men are perpetrating every species of wickedness, the language of their hearts, as interpreted by God himself, is this: “The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth [Note: Ezekiel 8:12; Ezekiel 9:9.].” A similar thought is apt to arise in the heart, when our trials are multiplied, and relief is not speedily afforded us. It was in this way that the Israelites at Massah, when destitute of water, vented their murmurs: this was their atheistical inquiry; “Is the Lord amongst us or not [Note: Exodus 7:7.]?” Even godly persons, under violent temptation, are sometimes ready to ask, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies [Note: Psalms 77:9.]?” But a diligent attention to the Scriptures will fortify us against any such absurd conclusions. From them we shall learn, that however inattentive God may appear to be to the concerns of men, he directs, limits, and overrules all their actions, for the promotion of his own glory. Scarcely on any occasion should we have expected his interposition, more than for the prevention of that murderous edict, whereby all the infants of Bethlehem and the adjacent country were destroyed. Yet God saw fit to permit it; and interfered no further than was necessary for the fulfilling of his own word, and the accomplishing of his own eternal purpose.

Let us contemplate,

I.

The fact recorded—

A more strange occurrence can scarcely be conceived. We wonder that any human being should be invested with such power, as to cause, by his own arbitrary mandate, the slaughter of so many innocent persons. We wonder still more, that, supposing this authority to be delegated to any one, there should be found agents to carry such an inhuman edict into execution. But most of all do we wonder, that a creature endued with reason should be capable of issuing such an order as Herod did on this occasion. But let us trace this action to its source: let us inquire into the principle from which this unparalleled barbarity proceeded

[The murderous purpose originated in jealousy. Herod possibly had heard of the birth of Jesus, previous to the arrival of the Wise Men: but that was the circumstance which put him upon making inquiries into the pretensions of this newborn infant. From them he learned, that a star or meteor had appeared to them in the East, and that they, either from revelation or from the traditionary prophecy of Balaam, had been led to interpret the appearance of that star as an intimation, that He who was to reign over the Jews was now born into the world. He was also informed by them, that they had come on purpose to pay him the homage which was due to such an exalted character. Upon this, Herod summoned all the chief priests and scribes, that he might learn from them what the prophets had declared respecting the place of their Messiah’s nativity: and on understanding that Bethlehem was the place destined to that honour, he sent the Wise Men thither, and ordered them, when they had found the child, to come and give him information respecting him. This order he grounded upon a pretended desire to honour Christ; but with a secret determination to destroy him: for he concluded, that Christ was to have a temporal dominion; and that, if suffered to live, he would wrest the kingdom out of his hands. But such a rival he could not endure: and hence arose the secret purpose to destroy him.

But though jealousy first prompted him to form the murderous purpose, with respect to his supposed rival, it was offended pride that caused it to be extended to all the children around Bethlehem. The Wise Men, being warned by God of Herod’s purpose, returned no more to him: at this Herod was indignant: he conceived himself slighted and despised; but he was determined not to be disappointed of his desire; and therefore, to secure his object, he gave order’s that all infants near the age of Jesus, and within the neighbourhood of the place where he was born, should be massacred without distinction.

What an amazing ascendant must these principles have over the heart of man! Well may it be said, that “jealousy is cruel as the grave [Note: Song of Solomon 8:6.]:” nor indeed is pride less cruel, when its wounded feelings have scope for exercise. This we see in the two sons of Jacob, who, on account of their sister having been defiled by the Prince of Shechem, slew every male in the city: and, when reproved for their cruelty, they shewed, in their vindication of themselves, from whence that cruelty had proceeded: “Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot [Note: Genesis 34:31.]?;”

Happy would it have been for the world, if such dispositions and conduct had been altogether banished by the Gospel of Christ: but the human heart is the same in every age and place: we still see that the love of power is a predominant principle in the mind of man; that where it is suffered to gain an ascendency, it will leave no means untried for the accomplishment of its ends; and that, if the more lenient methods of deceit and treachery will not succeed, it will wade through seas of blood to the attainment of its object: the cries of thousands and tens of thousands will not divert it from its purpose: nor will any thing but the utter extinction of a rival satisfy its blood-thirsty appetite [Note: Written in Feb. 1809, when the British army had been forced to leave Spain under the merciless dominion of Buonaparte.].

We must not however forget, that the same evil principles are in our own hearts: and, if we will only call to mind the irritation which we have felt on some particular occasions, we shall see reason to be thankful to God, who has kept us from carrying into execution all that our offended pride might have prompted us to effect.]
Before we proceed to make any practical remarks upon this fact, it will be proper to notice,

II.

The prophecy accomplished by it—

The New Testament writers sometimes appeal to the prophecies of the Old Testament, as direct proofs of what they assert, and sometimes in a more lax way of accommodation only. It is in this latter way, we apprehend, that the prophecy before us is adduced [Note: Jeremiah 31:15-17.]? In its primary meaning, it represented the Jews as collected at Rama, for the purpose of being carried into captivity to Babylon [Note: Jeremiah 40:1.]; and Rachel (who had about eleven hundred years before been buried near that place [Note: Genesis 35:19.]) as weeping over the disconsolate state of her posterity. The Evangelist beautifully applies the same figure to the slaughter of the children which took place at Bethlehem, which also was near to Rachel’s tomb; and, in this view, he speaks of the prophecy as again accomplished. This he might well do: for who can conceive the distress which that event occasioned?

[The murderous bands could not stop to see, whether, in every instance, the wounds they had inflicted had actually destroyed life: they must proceed rapidly in their work, lest any of the children should be carried off or concealed: and what anguish must the cries of so many children, (probably some thousands,) writhing in the agonies of death, in agonies protracted by the kind solicitude of their parents, have produced in the bosoms of their bereaved mothers! No language can paint, no imagination conceive, the horrors of that day. We may use the terms, “lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning;” but we cannot affix to them any adequate ideas, or realize, in any just degree, that awful scene — — —]

We cannot but see from hence,
1.

How early our Lord’s sufferings began—

[Scarcely was he born, before his life was sought, and he was forced to be carried an exile to the country which of all others had been most hostile to his progenitors. And, after the death of Herod, he was forced, for his security, to take up his abode in a town which fixed a stigma upon him to his latest hour [Note: John 1:46; John 7:52.]. These were, indeed, only “the beginnings of his sorrows:” but they may well reconcile his followers to any privations or reproaches which they may be called to endure for his sake. If for us he became “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” let us cheerfully bear our cross for him, and willingly “suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together” — — —]

2.

How vain are any attempts of man to counteract the designs of God—

[Herod foolishly thought to defeat the purposes of heaven; but “God held him in derision, and laughed him to scorn [Note: Psalms 2:1-6.].” God knew his murderous plans, and warned the parents of our Lord to escape his fury; yea, and provided too for their journey and support in Egypt, by the offerings which the Wise Men had just before presented to the new-born King. Herod, to secure his purpose, ordered, not the children of Bethlehem only, but of all the neighbouring country; and not of one year old only, but all under two years old, to be massacred: but his attempts were vain; and instead of frustrating the designs of Heaven, he unwittingly fulfilled them; occasioning, by this very act, no less than three prophecies to be accomplished [Note: ver. 15, 17, 23. He still further confirmed the Messiahship of Jesus, by leading all the Jewish Sanhedrim to declare, that Bethlehem was to be the place of his nativity, ver. 4–6.]. Thus it is with all who set themselves against God: they may shew their malignity, but they cannot counteract his gracious designs. “Many are the devices in men’s hearts; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand [Note: Proverbs 19:21.].” “The wrath of man ‘as far as it is permitted to be exercised’ shall praise him; and the remainder of that wrath shall he restrain [Note: Psalms 76:10.].” We never need, therefore, to be afraid of man; for, if we commit our way unto the Lord, “he will be our shield and buckler;” and, “if He be for us,” we may triumphantly ask, “Who can be against us [Note: Romans 8:31.]?”]

3.

How certainly will there be a day of future retribution—

[Can it be, that such an inhuman monster should never meet with any just recompence for his deeds? The mind revolts at the idea. If there be a God that governs the world, there must be a period when the present inequalities of his government shall be done away, and the equity of his dispensations be made apparent. Hence the day of judgment is in Scripture called, “The day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God [Note: Romans 2:5.]:” and we are told, that “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble us: and to us who are troubled, rest [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7.].” Let us then act in reference to that day: whether exalted and at ease, or depressed and persecuted, let us look to that day, when our happiness or misery shall be for ever fixed. Let us dread prosperity, if it divert our attention from a future state; and let us welcome adversity, if it be the means of bringing us nearer unto God. The infants now have no cause to regret that they were called to such early martyrdom: and it is highly probable, that many of their parents have since found reason to give thanks to God for the weight of sorrow that then oppressed them. But the proud oppressor,— who can reflect on his state without shuddering? how will he feel, when he shall stand at the tribunal of that very Jesus, whom, with such hypocrisy and cruelty, he laboured to destroy? O that, whenever tempted to sin, we may think of the account which we must one day give; and, whenever called to suffer, may “look with Moses to the recompence of the reward!”]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 2". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/matthew-2.html. 1832.