Studi biblici/Matteo 2:13-23/Matthew 2:13-23
Murder cannot frustrate God’s Purposes
The Massacre of the Innocents
The stories contained in the New Testament and and many of its expressions have greatly influenced on our culture, even beyond the explicit profession of the Christian faith. One of these is the expression "the massacre of the innocents.
"The Massacre of the Innocents  is an episode which we find only in the Gospel according to Matthew, where Herod the Great, king of Judea at that time, ordered a massacre of children in order to kill Jesus, whose birth in Bethlehem was announced by the magi. He feared, that, in fact, Jesus would one day replace him and his dynasty with the legitimate Davidic line. According to the Gospel narrative, Jesus escaped the massacre only because an angel warned Joseph in a dream, telling him to flee to Egypt until after Herod's death. Joseph would eventually return go back to Israel, with his family, settling in Nazareth, Galilee which was a client kingdom, under the Romans.
In the Christian tradition, this story has resulted in many artistic representations as a symbol of the many innocent children who die violently, unwitting victims of a ruthless hatred against those who get in the way of plans for power and domination. The history of mankind is, in fact, full of "slaughters of innocents." We think of the millions of children who, although conceived, are prevented from coming to seeing the light because of calculations of different types, which is now the scourge of abortion, even legalized. Not being able to defend themselves, they are denied all rights and human dignity itself.
Views of these are that “They are not wanted, not needed, not useful, not cheap and even 'are bad'" ... This is a refrain that also justifies the neglect and then the elimination of countless human beings: the disabled, the sick, the elderly leading to the "ethnic cleansing" of human groups deemed inferior.
This is a testimony that we prefer not to notice and pretend that it is not there. But it affects corrupts the spiritual life of every human being. Ressonsibility affects not only the most “pragmatic”, ruthless and unscrupulous people, but everyone potentially. We are in fact, "capable of anything." Only God's providence bridles humanity which, left to itself, it would already be long extinct through violence. Corruption of the human being can be defeated through the moral and spiritual regeneration that takes place through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Accepting Jesus into your life as your Saviour and Lord leads human beings to “renovate” their heart and values , to realign themselves with God and His purpose creative.
The Biblical Text
The biblical text that speaks of the "massacre of the innocents" also leads us to consider how ruthless, but also how vain the opposition that the world offers to God, to his Christ and to his purposes for human redemption. Jesus enters a world both evil and corrupt, but will be triumphant. Let's read the text in Matthew 2:13-23 and then we will examine it point by point.
- The Escape to Egypt. "After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he became enraged. He sent men to kill all the children in Bethlehem n and throughout the surrounding region from the age of two and under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud wailing, it is Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were gone.” After Herod had died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” So he got up and took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:13-23)
The first two chapters of Matthew are a sketchy description of the childhood of Jesus. His character serves selective author as a prologue to the themes that develop later.
When it's time to escape
"After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.”' (13).
Matthew here describes Jesus' childhood from the perspective of Joseph. An angel appears to him in a dream, a second time. These appearances mark a moment of particular and unusual importance in the history of redemption. Joseph sleeps but Satan and his servants do not sleep. They will stop at nothing to hinder the accomplishment of God's purposes. God had said to the prophet Jeremiah: "They will attack you but they will not be able to overcome you, for I will be with you to rescue you,” says the Lord "(Jeremiah 1:9).
Even the "ordinary" believer must always be on guard. Not for nothing does the Scripture warns us: "Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8).
The helpless, vulnerable baby Jesus had to be protected. Notice how the angel says, "The child and his mother." This is an unusual expression. Normally, the parent would have been mentioned the first. This indicates how the central protagonist of the story is Jesus. Mary is always in the background. Having performed the task she had been entrusted with, bringing up her child, she gradually disappears altogether from the story.
God commands Joseph and Mary to flee. Fleeing and avoiding unnecessary risks is not always negative. The early Christians facing persecution fled, and so too did the Waldensians and other Protestant groups, if they were able to. Fleeing can be an option for the believer. Simply going somewhere else and carrying on there. You need to ask the Lord for wisdom to evaluate when it is necessary to resist and fight, as well as when it is best to flee. Fleeing in the face of persecution has been a tool to spread the Christian movement further. At that time, Egypt was a natural place of refuge, although its nearest town to the southwest of Bethlehem was about 300 km far. Herod would have had no influence or authority in Egypt. The Jewish residents in Egypt were already many and they had even built a substitute for the temple of Jerusalem. They had translated the Scriptures into Greek, the Septuagint. Joseph and Mary probably had relatives there and they would have been welcome, accommodated and supported, probably in Alexandria.
Joseph learns that Egypt would not be a permanent residence, but that they would have to stay there until the time appointed by God himself. In its time they would be shown when to come back. Again, highlighted here is the sovereignty of God. God gives precise instructions and the righteous people, as Joseph and Mary were to obey without question. In obeying this command of God, and other commands, the righteousness of Joseph stands out even more as compared with the wickedness of Herod. An authentic faith involves obedience. this is "the obedience of faith." 
Egypt: A Temporary Residence
"Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: “I called my Son out of Egypt." (14 -15).
In many ways, thed story of Jesus encapsulates up the life and experiences of Moses. Moses had been the object of a strong opposition by the powerful of his day who had tried to destroy him when Pharoah ordered the other Jewish male children had to be suppressed. Apparently, somehow Matthew wants his readers to see Jesus both as “a second Moses” and as the true Israel. John writes: "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. " (John 1:17).
Herod died in 4 BC. Historian Josephus wrote that he died a horrible death, consumed by gangrene and worms. His grandson, Herod Agrippa, later suffer a similar fate. The book Acts says: "Immediately an angel of the Lord struck Herod down because he did not give the glory to God, and he was eaten by worms and died" (Acts 12:23).
Matthew makes frequent use of prophecies from the Old Testament in order to show how Jesus is the Messiah. Here, we have another fulfillment, that of Hosea 11:1 .Fulfillment of prophecy does not necessarily mean the accomplishment of a verbal prediction. This text is prophetic in the sense that it describes the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as the departure of the son of God , namely Israel itself. Israel was frequently called the "son of God". "Fulfill" means "to make whole." or complete.
Prophecy is often made out of historical events that extend over long periods of time. History itself should be interpreted as “a message”. The sequence of events that concern the people of God often follows a common pattern. Even the very history of mankind, and in the lives of believers, can be seen according to a repeated pattern, which is namely “Creation, Fall, and Restoration”. The "message" is implied in understanding these patterns and drawing the lessons they imply. It is a common to say that humanity never learns the lessons of history. The people of God are called to learn from their history. These are "event-messages" and they are called “prophecy” too.
There were certainly similarities between the nation Israel and Jesus, the Son of God. Israel is the "son" of God by adoption . Jesus as the Messiah is the authentic eternal Son of God. Israel was son of God and as such it prefigured, anticipatingthe Son of God, par excellence .One can thus say that Jesus becomes a "typological recapitulation of Israel."
Even today, those who are called to be in communion with Christ in the purposes of salvation, are considered adopted children of God. John writes: "... He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children – children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God." (John 1:11-13)
In the case of Israel and of Jesus, the descent into Egypt was designed in order to escape from the danger that would have prevented their mission. Their return, too, is providentially important for the history of God's people. God made use of a heathen nation in order to protect those who belonged to Him, but the world is not the permanent home of God’s people. The world must necessarily be theatre of Christian witness, but we know that it will not be our permanent home. Our vision extends beyond this world.
Herod kills innocent children
"When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he became enraged. He sent men to kill all the children in Bethlehem n and throughout the surrounding region from the age of two and under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud wailing, it is Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were gone." (16-18).
Considering the threat to his power and dynasty, Herod, with an action that he believes preventive, thinks of securing his power and dynasty by getting rid, without any scruples of any potential riva or opponent. This procedure is rather common to the tyrants of every age who do not hesitate to condemn to death even their own mothers, brothers or relatives. It happened recently with the young North Korean dictator who did kill his uncle, his potential opponent. In any case, he seems to be ready to eliminate, with summary executions, anyone whom he considers an obstacle to his ambitions.
Many modern scholars deny the historicity of this Biblical episode because of lack of documentation about it outside of the Gospel of Matthew . Other scholars, nevertheless, accept its historicity, as this episode fits perfectly with the character and mode of governing that Herod commonly practiced. Herod was, in fact, a cruel and bloodthirsty man . Sensing the threat of usurpation he did not hesitate to kill on several occasions. The murdered his wife, three-in-laws, a mother-in-law, three sons and a few hundreds of opponents .
According to a historical biblical scholar, the number of children born in Bethlehem at that time, being about 1,000 adult residents of the village of Bethlehem, could be around 60 (from two years old and under). Assuming a birth rate similar to that of the early twentieth century, about 30 births per year. Herod ordered the slaughter of the male children: they must have been only roughly about 30 babies and, considering that the infant mortality rate was very high in the Near East, the number shrinks to about 20. This episode, therefore, would not have been significant enough to be of interest to the historians of the time. It is limited both by the number of victims and what for them was the insignificant rural population. Moreover, if the news had come to Rome, there would have been no reason for a political reaction from the emperor, who was not averse to smother in blood possible revolts .
Matthew again, as it happens, sees here the fulfillment of prophecies. He is the only writer of the New Testament to mention by name the prophet Jeremiah. Matthew compares the pain of the mothers of Bethlehem to the Israelite mothers who see their children taken in captivity by the Babylonians in 586 BC, children whom they would no longer see or know. Poetically, the prophet represents “Rachel” as the idealized mother of the Jews, afflicted because of her children. Given that Jeremiah’s grave is in Ramah, near Bethlehem, mentioning it connects well with the events of the birth of Jesus. Matthew evidently makes use of the text of Jeremiah because it presents to the Israelites the hope that Israel will return to its homeland, even if he laments its demise. The context of Jeremiah's words is that of hope: the hope that the tears of the mothers of Bethlehem, anticipate the Messiah, having escaped from Herod, eventually returning to reign. Tears are for those children of Israel who are being massacred, but they will be wiped out. Jesus had to go to exile and the Davidic dynasty was thus ousted. The tears of Jeremiah's time and those of the mothers of Bethlehem will cease. The heir to the throne of David had come: the exile is over. The true Son of God has come and has inaugurated the new Covenant promised by Jeremiah. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4).
In despised Nazareth there is "something good”!
"After Herod had died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” So he got up and took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene”"(19-23).
A selective Matthew concludes his account of the events related to the childhood of Jesus with His return to Israel . This information is considered relevant by Matthew in order to prove Jesus’s Messiahship.
The sovereign initiative of God is still the focus of the story of Matthew. Not Joseph is the one who decides on the fate of his family, not Mary. They engage themselves in attentive listening to the God who speaks to them again, through a dream. Again a dream signals extraordinary revelations. Nowadays, we have at our disposal the Holy Scriptures. For us, they are central to any revelation of His will which God appointed for us. We do not have to expect dreams and visions anymore. The Westminster Confession of Faith states: "It pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manner, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased." 
The expression "the land of Israel" occurs in the New Testament only here and recalls the promises and blessings that God had given to Jacob and his descendants, centered on the Promised Land and not elsewhere.
Joseph obeys the Lord's command. Before he could undetake it, though, the news reaches him that Archelaus, the grandson of Herod the Great, had begun to reign as ethnarch on Judea, Samaria and Idumea. The rest of the dominion of Herod the Great goes to his son Antipas, Tetrarch who governs how over Galilee and Perea . The title "ethnarch" was more important than "tetrarch", because it meant ruling over a people. It was, however, lower than that of the king. One of the first acts of Archelaus was the massacre of nearly 3,000 people in the Temple, who were attempting to celebrate some martyrs put to death by Herod. Like father, like son !
Evidently then, God warned Joseph not to return to the territory of Archelaus, so Joseph went to Nazareth, in Galilee. He is driven by God to Nazareth, which was already the home of Joseph and Mary before the birth of Jesus . Matthew sees this move as another fulfillment of prophecy. In this regard, Matthew cites it as the fulfillment of what had been "told" by the "prophets" - without specifying which ones were they. Of such an explicit prophecy, however, there is no trace in the Old Testament but surely it has something to do with the fact that in that time Nazareth was a particularly despised town. They said "Can anything good out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46) and several Old Testament prophecies speak with contempt of the Messiah. Isaiah says: "He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him" (Isaiah 53:3). Matthew often returns to the theme of contempt for Jesus and "Nazarene" was the expression of it. Jesus is the King Messiah, the Son of God and Son of David, but he is coming out as a scion from the root of Jesse (Isaiah 61:1). Matthew seems to say: Jesus did not introduce his kingdom with an outward show and pomp, like an earthly monarch, but as the Servant of the Lord, who was despised, rejected by the Jews. So, He will turn to the Gentiles and the programme with the “Jews of the kingdom” will be left until last.
Our world is characterized by recurrent massacres. The strong and powerful do not hesitate to eliminate anyone who wants to or could even potentially, thwart their ambitions. Injustices at all levels and consequent suffering and tears, are the inevitable results. The moral and spiritual progress of humanity is nothing but a pathetic illusion. Often "progress" will only mean devising more refined and technological ways to express cruelty, barbarism and control.
If you are surprised, if you wonder how humanity has been able to survive all this, we have only to thank the providence of God which puts a limit to the ambitions of murderers. Nothing and no one, however, is able to hinder and frustrate the purposes of redemption that God has arranged through the Person and work of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The events that the evangelists Matthew and Luke tell about the events that took place before and after the birth of Jesus are meant to show us that God's purposes cannot be frustrated. Jesus, King and Messiah has done, does and will do this for which it was sent.
The message that God communicates to us through the stories that we have examined today is a message of great comfort. It gives us the certainty that evil will not prevail, but the Saviour's work will be carried out exactly as it was planned. This is one more reason to entrust ourselves, with all our hearts, to the Christ of God.
There will be for us certainly difficulties: we need to be more aware of that! Satan and his cohorts will try to create all sorts of obstacles, even at our individual level, so that God does not accomplish the work of salvation in us in which He makes us the object. We must resist this and persist, using the weapons of faith. To do this and to know therefore how to react with wisdom, we must seek guidance from God, the one who can and wants to give it to us. For this purpose, He wants us to read His Word regularly (at personal, family and community level.) He wants us to take the time to ponder it carefully in the context of prayer, willing to obey its commands and teachings.
The world is not our permanent home, but in the world we have to work, to witness what it means to live in harmony with the Word of God, in communion with His Christ. Someday we will arrive safely to our "promised land": of this we must not doubt.
In this world, as children of God, we will have adversaries. We will also be “held in contempt”. This has happened before to our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He persevered, however, and He was the eventual winner. If we do the same, we will also be winners through Him, and already we are, in part! Those who reject Christ will laugh and doubt that from people like us “something good” will even be possible. But we sow, sometimes in tears, in the knowledge that, by the grace of God, even in our own “little” life, we are and will be relevant, for the ongoing establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Joseph and Mary, elect instruments in the hands of God for the coming of Christ, are for us examples of faith, obedience and determination. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Paolo Castellina, December 27, 2013
-  http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strage_degli_innocenti
-  Romans 1:5.
-  4:22)."When Israel was a child, I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt "(Hosea 11:1).
-  Exodus 4:22.
-  "Thou shall say to Pharaoh," Thus says the LORD, Israel is my son, my firstborn "(Exodus
-  Matthew 2:15, 3:17, 4:3, 6, 8: 29, 11:27, 14:33, 16:16, 17:5, 26:63, 27:40, 43, 54.
-  Moreover, even the crucifixion of Jesus is documented by sources other than the New Testament.
-  Herod (as well as the religious leaders of Israel) will be described later as spiritually blind (2:3), disturbed and fearful (2:3), willing to conspire (2:7), deceiver and a liar (2:8), homicide (2:13,16), angry (2:16, cf, 21:15), and apprehensive for the future (2:16).
-  According to Macrobius, Augustus, received the news of the death of Herod's sons, Alexander and Aristobulus known very well by Augustus himself, had this to say: "It is better to be Herod's pig than to one of his sons", because Herod, being Judaized, not eating pork, though not hesitate to kill his own children.
-  Suetonius writes that a few months before the birth of Augustus, came to Rome a prodigy that was interpreted as an omen of impending birth of a king for the Roman people, the senators, frightened, ordered to expose all infants who were born in that year, however, the decree was not filed and the massacre was not done. You can understand then how little importance was the massacre of Bethlehem in the capital of the empire, considering the paucity of numbers and times quite cruel and violent.
-  4. C. - 39 AD
-  Archelaus is evidence, however, of a bad ruler, for Rome. Philip would have been the best of the sons of Herod the Great.
-  Matthew 13:53-58, Luke 1:26-27, 2:39.
-  It seems that at the beginning of the first century, the inhabitants of Nazareth were 480.
-  Psalm 22:6-8, 13, 69:8, 20-21; Isaiah 11:1, 42:1-4, 49:7; 53:2-3, 8; Daniel 9:26
-  Matthew 8:20, 11:16-19, 15:7-8.