on Matthew 2 :16
Slew all the children - This cruelty of Herod seems alluded to in very decisive terms by Macrobius, who flourished toward the conclusion of the fourth Century. In his chapter De jocis Augusti in alios, et aliorum rursus in ipsum, he says, Cum audisset inter pueros, quos in Syria Herodes, rex Judeorum, intra bimatum jussit interfici, filium quoque ejus occisum, ait, Melius est Herodis Porcum esse, quam Filium. "When he heard that among those male infants about two years old, which Herod, the king of the Jews, ordered to be slain in Syria, one of his sons was also murdered, he said: 'It is better to be Herod's Hog than his Son.'" Saturn. lib. ii. c. 4. The point of this saying consists in this, that Herod, professing Judaism, his religion forbade his killing swine, or having any thing to do with their flesh; therefore his hog would have been safe, where his son lost his life.
on Matthew 2 :16
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men - When he saw that he had been deceived by them; that is, that they did not return as he had expected. It does not mean that they did it for the purpose of mocking or deriding him, but that he was disappointed in their not returning, or that he had been trifled with.
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.
on Matthew 2 :16
2:16 Then Herod, seeing that he was deluded by the wise men - So did his pride teach him to regard this action, as if it were intended to expose him to the derision of his subjects. Sending forth - a party of soldiers: In all the confines thereof - In all the neighbouring places, of which Rama was one.