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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Matthew 2:7) would extend naturally, as far as Jerusalem was concerned, to its execution.Matthew 2:16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men — The word ενεπαιχθη, here rendered, was mocked, “properly signifies was played with, and well expresses the view in which the pride of Herod taught him to regard this action, as if it were intended to expose him to the derision of his subjects, and to treat him as a child, rather than as a prince of so great experience and renown.” Dr. Campbell reads, deceived, observing, that, “in the Jewish style, any treatment which appeared disrespectful, came under the general appellation of mockery. Thus, Potiphar’s wife, in the false accusation she preferred against Joseph, of making an attempt upon her chastity, says, that he came in to mock her, Genesis 39:17;” where the same word is employed by the LXX. which is here used. “Balaam accused his ass of mocking him, when she would not yield to his direction, Numbers 22:29. And Delilah said to Samson, Jdg 16:10, Thou hast mocked (i.e., deceived) me, and told me lies. As one who deceived them appeared to treat them contemptuously, they were naturally led to express the former by the latter.” Was exceeding wroth — Very highly incensed and enraged; and in order to make the destruction of this unknown infant as pure as possible, sent forth — Not immediately, it seems, but a little time after the departure of the wise men, a party of soldiers, and slew all the children — The male children, as τους παιδας properly signifies. From two years old and under — Or, as the words απο διετους και κατωτερω are rendered by the last-mentioned writer, From those entering the second year, down to the time whereof he had procured exact information from the magians. “There can be no doubt,” as the doctor observes, “that in this direction, Herod intended to specify both the age above which and the age under which infants were not to be involved in this massacre. But there is some scope for inquiry into the import of the description given. Were those of the second year included or excluded by it? By the common translation they are included, by the other excluded. Plausible things may be advanced on each side.” Dr. Campbell, however, for divers reasons, which he assigns, adopts the latter, and thinks that the import of the direction was, “that they should kill none above twelve months old, or under six.” It is probable that Herod, in his passion, ordered the slaughter of the infants as soon as he perceived that he was disappointed in his expectation of the return of the wise men, lest otherwise the child he was so jealous of should be removed. Some have inferred from hence, that it was not till some considerable time after the birth of Christ, that he was visited by the wise men. But there is little account to be given of the actions of a tyrant who slew three of his own sons, and who, it is reasonable to suppose, would wish to make sure work in this case, and therefore would, no doubt, extend the slaughter to those born before the first appearance of the star, thinking, perhaps, that it might not appear immediately upon the conception or birth of the child, but some time after. Accordingly, though the scribes told him the child was to be born in Bethlehem, he is not content to slay the infants there, but added thereto the slaughter of those in all the coasts. Who can avoid reflecting here on the horrible wickedness manifested in slaying these infants, who could neither hurt others nor defend themselves, and whom the king, as the guardian of the laws, was bound to have defended against the injuries of all lawless persons? But the wrath of wicked princes is usually extravagant and destructive. Thus Saul, when David had escaped, not only commanded Abimelech, with eighty-five priests, to be slaughtered, but also all the people of the city, not excepting even the women and children. This action of Herod was no less impious than unjust and cruel; for, to endeavour to make void the counsel of the Almighty God, declared by prophecies, by the appearance of a star, and by the consent of scribes and priests; what was it else but directly and designedly to oppose and fight against God? What cause we have to be “thankful that we are not under the arbitrary power of a tyrant, whose sallies of distracted fury might spread desolation through houses and provinces. Let us not say, Where was the great Regent of the universe when such horrible butchery was transacted? His all-wise counsels knew how to bring good out of all the evil of it. The agony of a few moments transmitted these oppressed innocents to peace and joy, while the impotent rage of Herod only heaped on his own head guilt, infamy, and horror.” — Doddridge.
Exceeding wroth - Very angry. He had been disappointed and deceived. He expected to send an executioner and kill Jesus alone. But, since he was disappointed in this, he thought he would accomplish the same thing, and be sure to destroy him, if he sent forth and put all the children in the place to death. This is an illustration of the power of anger. It stops at nothing. If it cannot accomplish just what it wishes, it does not hesitate to go much further, and accomplish much more evil than it at first designed. He that has a wicked heart, and indulges in anger, knows not where it will end, and will commonly commit far more evil than he at first intended.
Slew all the children - That is, all the male children. This is implied in the original. The design of Herod was to cut off him that had been born king of the Jews. His purpose, therefore, did not require that he should slay the female children; and though he was cruel, yet we have no right to think that he attempted anything except what he thought to be for his own safety, and to secure himself from a rival.
In all the coasts thereof - The word "coast" is commonly applied now to the regions around the sea, as the seacoast. Here it means the adjacent places, the settlements or hamlets around Bethlehem - all that were in that neighborhood. We do not know how large a place Bethlehem was, nor, of course, how many were slain; but it was never a large town, and the number could not be very great. It is not probable that it contained more than one or two thousand inhabitants, and in this case the number of children killed was not over twenty or thirty.
From two years old and under - Some writers have said that this does not mean, in the original, that they had completed two years; but that they had entered on the second year, or had completed about one year, and entered on the second. But the meaning of the word is doubtful. It is quite probable that they would not be particular about the exact age, but killed all that were about that age.
According to the time ... - He had endeavored to ascertain of the wise men the exact time of his birth. He supposed he knew the age of Jesus. He slew, therefore, all that were of his age; that is, all that were born about the time when the star appeared - perhaps from six months old to two years. There is no reason to think that he would command those to be slain who had been born after the star appeared.
This destruction of the infants of Bethlehem is not mentioned by Josephus, but for this omission three reasons may be given:
1. Josephus, a Jewish historian and a Jew, would not be likely to record anything that would appear to confirm the truth of Christianity.
2. This act of Herod was really so small, compared with his other crimes, that the historian might not think it worthy of record. Bethlehem was a small and obscure village, and the other crimes of Herod were so great and so public, that it is not to be wondered at that the Jewish historian has passed over this.
3. The order was probably given in secret, and might not have been known to Josephus. It pertained to the Christian history; and if the evangelists had not recorded it, it might have been unknown or forgotten. Besides, no argument can be drawn from the silence of the Jewish historian. No reason can be given why Matthew should not be considered to be as fully entitled to credit as Josephus. Yet there is no improbability in the account given by Matthew.
Herod was an odious and bloody tyrant, and the facts of his reign prove that he was abundantly capable of this wickedness. The following bloody deeds will show that the slaying of the infants was in perfect accordance with his character. The account is taken from Josephus, as arranged by Dr. Lardner. Aristobulus, brother of his wife Mariamne, was murdered by his direction at eighteen years of age, because the people of Jerusalem had shown some affection for his person. In the seventh year of his reign, he put to death Hyrcanus, grandfather of Mariamne, then 80 years of age, and who had formerly saved Herod's life; a man who had, in every revolution of fortune, shown a mild and peaceable disposition. His beloved and beautiful wife, Mariamne, had a public execution, and her mother Alexandra followed soon after - Alexander and Aristobulus, his two sons by Mariamne, were strangled in prison by his orders upon groundless suspicions, as it seems, when they were at man's estate, were married, and had children.
In his last sickness, a little before he died, he sent orders throughout Judea requiring the presence of all the chief men of the nation at Jericho. His orders were obeyed, for they were enforced with no less penalty than that of death. When they were come to Jericho he had them all shut up in the circus, and calling for his sister Salome and her husband Alexis, he said to them, "My life now is short, I know the Jewish people, and nothing will please them better than my death. You have them now in your custody. As soon as the breath is out of my body, and before my death can be known, do you let in the soldiers upon them and kill them. All Judea, then, and every family, will, though unwillingly, mourn at my death." No, Josephus says that with tears in his eyes he conjured them, by their love to him and their fidelity to God, not to fail of doing him this honor. What objection, after this account, can there be to the account of his murdering the infants at Bethlehem? Surely there could be no cruelty, barbarity, or horrid crime which such a man was not capable of perpetrating.
when he saw that he was mocked—was trifled with.
of the wise men—No, Herod, thou art not mocked of the wise men, but of a Higher than they. He that sitteth in the heavens doth laugh at thee; the Lord hath thee in derision. He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong (Ps 2:4; Job 5:12, 13). That blessed Babe shall die indeed, but not by thy hand. As He afterwards told that son of thine—as cunning and as unscrupulous as thyself—when the Pharisees warned Him to depart, for Herod would seek to kill Him—"Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to-day, and to-morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Lu 13:32, 33). Bitter satire!
was exceeding wroth—To be made a fool of is what none like, and proud kings cannot stand. Herod burns with rage and is like a wild bull in a net. So he
sent forth—a band of hired murderers.
and slew all the children—male children.
that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof—environs.
from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently—carefully.
inquired of the wise men—In this ferocious step Herod was like himself—as crafty as cruel. He takes a large sweep, not to miss his mark. He thinks this will surely embrace his victim. And so it had, if He had been there. But He is gone. Heaven and earth shall sooner pass away than thou shalt have that Babe into thy hands. Therefore, Herod, thou must be content to want Him: to fill up the cup of thy bitter mortifications, already full enough—until thou die not less of a broken heart than of a loathsome and excruciating disease. Why, ask skeptics and skeptical critics, is not this massacre, if it really occurred, recorded by Josephus, who is minute enough in detailing the cruelties of Herod? To this the answer is not difficult. If we consider how small a town Bethlehem was, it is not likely there would be many male children in it from two years old and under; and when we think of the number of fouler atrocities which Josephus has recorded of him, it is unreasonable to make anything of his silence on this.Matthew 2:8.
When he saw that he was mocked, &c; really mocked by their coming no more to him; not that they used any mocking language, or designed by their actions to deceive him, but probably intended to have gone back according to his desire, but that they were otherwise admonished by God in a dream.
He was exceeding wroth, as great persons used to be when they see any great design they have frustrated by their inferiors,
and sent forth, and slew all the children in Bethlehem, and in the coasts thereof, from two years old and under: he sent forth soldiers, or executioners, and slew all the children. There is a tradition that amongst them he slew his own son, and that Augustus Caesar, hearing it, should say, "It was better to be Herod’s hog than his child, because the Jews will eat no swine’s flesh." Others say this is but a fable, for his son died very few days before himself.
From two years old and under: if we take these words as they seem to sound, they would incline us to think that Christ was near two years old before the wise men came; but some very learned men think they came within a year or little more, and that the term we translate "two years old," signifieth persons that had never so little entered upon the second year of their age: so as if a child were but a year and a week old, he was properly enough called diethv one of two years old, that is, who had began his second year. Hence they think that the star appeared some little matter above a year before they came to Bethlehem; and considering at how great distance some parts in Arabia were from Jerusalem, they think that a year might well be ran out in their deliberations about, and preparations for, and despatch of their journey. Thus they interpret the next words,
according to the time he had diligently inquired of the wise men, that they had told them that it was something above a year since the star appeared first. This is now a middle way between those who (very improbably) think that they came within thirteen days, too short a time doubtless for such a journey, and those that think they came not till near two years, which to some seemeth as much too long. I leave it to the reader’s judgment.
Herod was exceeding wroth; partly at the usage he met with from the wise men, who according to his apprehension had put a trick upon him; and chiefly because his scheme was broke, which was by them to come at the knowledge and sight of the young child, and privately dispatch him: and now he might fear, which increased his wrath, that the child would escape his hands, and in time be set up for king, to the prejudice of him and his family; wherefore, to prevent this, if possible, he
sent forth his officers and soldiers, of his own will, without any show of law or justice, acting herein as an absolute and tyrannical prince,
and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under. A most cruel and barbarous action, and agrees with the character given of him, that he was in the beginning of his reign, and it seems too in the latter end of it, , "a bloody and deceitful man" (n): he slew, or ordered to be slain, "children", infants who had done him no injury, nor were capable of doing any, and whose parents also had not disobliged him; he slew the infants at Bethlehem, because this was the place of the Messiah's birth, the knowledge of which he had got from the chief priests and scribes; he slew all of them, that there might be no possibility of the young child's escaping: and lest it should by any means escape to a neighbouring town or village, he slew all the children
in all the coasts thereof, in all the territories of Bethlehem, in all the towns and villages around it, as many as were
from two years old and under: for of such an age he supposed the newborn king to be; he knew he must be near that age, but could not exceed it,
according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men; of the appearing of the star to them, and when they concluded this great and famous prince was born. This cruel murder of the infants seems to be hinted at by Josephus (o), where he says, that "many slaughters followed the prediction of a new king"; and is more manifestly referred to by Macrobins, a Heathen author, though the story is mixed and confounded with other things; who reports (p), that
"when Augustus heard, that among the children under two years of age, whom Herod king of the Jews ordered to be slain in Syria, that his son was also killed, said, it was better to be Herod's hog than his son.''
Killing of infants as soon as born, or while in their cradles, is by the Jews ascribed to one Lilith, which, R. Elias (q) says, is the name of a devil, which kills children; and indeed such an action is truly a diabolical one.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 enquired of the wise men.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 2:16. Ἐνεπαίχθη] mocked, made a fool of. Sophocles, Ant. 794; Lucian, Trag. 331; Jacobs, ad Anthol. XI. p. 108; Luke 18:32; and frequently in N. T., LXX., and Apocrypha. The words are from Herod’s point of view.
ἀπὸ διετοῦς] Whether this is to be taken as masculine, a bienni, from two years onwards (Syr., Ar., Erasmus, Beza, Bengel, Fritzsche, Bleek), or as neuter, a bimatu, from the age of two years (Vulg., Castalio, Calvin, Er. Schmid, Rosenmüller, Gratz), is not determined by the similar passages, Numbers 1:3; Numbers 20:29; Numbers 3 Esdr. Matthew 8:1; 1 Chronicles 27:23; 2 Chronicles 31:16. It is in favour, however, of the latter view, that although several are spoken of, yet the singular always stands (not ἀπὸ διετῶν); so likewise the analogy of ἐπὶ διετές, Dem. 1135. 4; Aesch. in Ctes. 122; ἐπὶ τριετές, Arist. H. A. v. 14. Comp. likewise Arist. H. A. ii. 1, and ἀπὸ τριετοῦς, Plat. Legg. vii. p. 794 A.
καὶ κατωτέρω] (beginning) from two years old and (continuing) downwards. The opposite expression is: καὶ ἐπάνω (Numbers 1:3; 2 Chronicles 31:16). The boys of two years old and younger, in order the more unfailingly to attain his purpose.
ἠκρίβωσε] he had obtained precise knowledge (Matthew 2:7). He had therefore ascertained from the Magi that, agreeably to the time of the appearance of the star, the child could not be more than two years old at the most.
ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ὁρίοις αὐτ.] The houses and courts outside of Bethlehem which yet belonged to its borders.Matthew 2:16-18. The massacre. Τότε: ominous then. When he was certain that the Magi were not going to come back to report what they had found at Bethlehem, Herod was enraged as one who had been befooled (ἐνεπαίχθη). Maddened with anger, he resolves on more truculent measures than he at first intended: kill all of a certain age to make sure of the one—such is his savage order to his obsequious hirelings. Incredible? Anything is credible of the man who murdered his own wife and sons. This deed shocks Christians; but it was a small affair in Herod’s career, and in contemporary history.—ἐν Βηθ. καὶ ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ὁρίοις αὐτής, in Bethlehem, and around in the neighbourhood, to make quite sure.—ἀπὸ διετοῦς καὶ κατωτέρω: the meaning is clear—all children from an hour to two years old. But διετοῦς may be taken either as masculine, agreeing with παιδός understood = from a two-year-old child, or as a neuter adjective used as a noun = from the age of two years, a bimatu as in Vulg There are good authorities on both sides. For a similar phrase, vide 1 Chronicles 27:23, ἀπὸ εἰκοσαετοῦς. Herod made his net wide enough; two years ensured an ample margin.—κατὰ τ. χ.… μάγων. Euthy. Zig. insists that these words must be connected, not with διετοῦς, but with κατωτέρω, putting a comma after the former word, and not after the latter. If, he argues, Herod had definitely ascertained from the Magi that the child must be two years old, he would not have killed those younger. They made Mary’s child younger; Herod kept their time and added a margin: πλάτος ἔτερον αὐτὸς προσέθηκε. It does not seem to matter very much. Herod would not be very scrupulous. He was likely to add a margin in either case; below if they made the age two years, above if they made it less.
 Vulgate (Jerome’s revision of old Latin version).16–18. The Slaying of the Children at Bethlehem
16. and sent forth, and slew] i. e. he sent assassins to slay.
all the children] Lit. all the male children.
coasts] i. e. borders or neighbourhood.
from two years old and under] If we adopt the hypothesis regarding the star mentioned above, a satisfactory explanation is given for Herod’s directions, which otherwise it is difficult to explain. Even if the above theory is not the true one, the two years mentioned in the text are clearly connected with the astronomical appearances described by the Magi, in answer to Herod’s “diligent inquiries.”
Profane history passes over this atrocity in silence. But Josephus may well have found his pages unequal to contain a complete record of all the cruel deeds of a tyrant like Herod. Macaulay relates that the massacre of Glencoe is not even alluded to in the pages of Evelyn, a most diligent recorder of passing political events. Besides, the crime was executed with secrecy, the number of children slain was probably very inconsiderable, for Bethlehem was but a small town; and though it was possibly crowded at the time (Luke 2:7), the number of very young children would not have been considerably augmented by those strangers.
The whole scene must have been very different from that which is presented to us on the canvas of the great mediæval artists.Matthew 2:16. Ἐνεπαίχθη, was mocked) Such was the king’s impression, entirely at variance with the spirit of the Magi. They did, however, hold the royal authority at nought in comparison with the Divine. Herod did not know what might be doing [and he, therefore, became anxious and infuriated].—ἀποστείλας, having sent) sc. murderers, and that suddenly.—ἀνεῖλε, he slew) This was a sin crying to Heaven for vengeance; cf. Matthew 2:18.—πάντας, all) “Of whom,” says Feu-Ardent on Irenæu . 3:18,—“Christ, whilst yet Himself a child, consecrated fourteen thousand as martyrs, by the unutterable cruelty of Herod, as the Ethiopians record in the Liturgy left to them by St Matthew, and the Greeks preserve in their calendar.”—τοὺς παῖδας, the boys) not girls; cf. Exodus 1:16.—ἀπὸ διετοῦς, from two years old) The adjective is put in the masculine, as τριετοῦς in 2 Chronicles 31:16; cf. the Hebrew original. κατὰ τὸν χρόνον, κ.τ.λ., according to the time, etc.) The time indicated by the Magi was, perhaps, a little beyond a year: and Herod laid down, therefore, two years as the limit of massacre.
 FRANCOIS FEU-ARDENT, a Cordelier, was born at Coutance in 1541, became Doctor of the Sorbonne in 1576, and died at Bayeux in 1610. He published an edition of Irenæus, with an original commentary, in 1575.—(I. B.)
 renæus (of Lyons, in Gaul: born about 130 A.D., and died about the end of the second century). The Editio Renati Massueti, Parisinæ, a. 1710.Verses 16-18. - The slaughter of the innocents. Verse 16. - Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked (ὅτι ἐνεπαίχθη). The verb which in the New Testament occurs only in the synoptists, and always in the strict sense of "mock" ( e.g. Matthew 20:19; Matthew 27:29, 31, 41), represents Herod's feelings, and perhaps his language, at his treatment by the Magi. It was more than deception; they had trifled with him. Of the Wise Men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children; Revised Version, male children ( τοὺς παῖδας, not τὰ τέκρα). That were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts (Revised Version, borders) thereof. Not merely the districts legally belonging to the city, but the neighbourhood generally. From two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired (ver. 7, note) of the Wise Men. Had he made further inquiries, he might have aroused suspicion, so he made sure of his prey by allowing a wide margin both in time and space. "'On Augustus being informed,' says Macrobius ['Saturn.,' 2:4], 'that among the boys under two years of age whom Herod ordered to be slain in Syria, his own son also lind been slain, "It is better," said he, "to be Herod's pig (ϋν) than his son (υἱὸν)." Although Macrobius is a late writer [circ. 400]. and made the mistake of supposing that Herod's son Antipater, who was put to death about the same time as the massacre of the innocents, had actually perished in that massacre, it is clear that the form in which he narrates the bon mot of Augustus points to some dim reminiscence of this cruel slaughter" (Farrar, 'Life,' etc., p. 34, illust. edit.; cf. also Ellicott, 'Lectures,' p. 78). Farrar (and Edersheim accepts his calculation) reckons that not more than twenty children were killed. Thus failed the first attempt to destroy Christ, Revelation 12:4 (Nosgen).
Male children, as is indicated by the masculine form of the article, and so Rev.
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