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The slaughter of Bethlehem’s babies in Matthew chapter 2 makes us wonder why innocent people suffer. What would “suffering” and “being saved” mean in the context of divine purpose? Let’s take a closer look at Matthew chapter 2.

The Echoes Of Exodus

The first five chapters of Matthew’s Gospel parallel the first five books of the Old Testament. There are strong echoes of Exodus in this chapter, starting with an evil king who opposes God’s plan to save his people.

There is the death of baby boys, a flight in haste, and the role of Egypt. However, each of these stands in contrast with (rather than similarity to) its Exodus parallel.

Does God’s Plan Include Outsiders?

Once again, Gentiles play an important role in God’s plan. These wise men are into astrology, an activity derided as profitless by Isaiah and Daniel (Isa 47:13f.; Daniel 2:17f.). Still, they are earnest seekers after God and perceive more from their star-gazing than the chief priests and scribes do from their religious devotion.

The Wise Men’s Journey

Astrology can only take them so far; only the Scriptures will get them to the Messiah. Rightly they consult the religious leaders in Jerusalem to find out where he is to be born. Once the answer is found, in Micah 5:2, they continue their quest – to find him and to worship him.

The Response Of The Religious Leaders

One might reasonably expect the chief priests and scribes to respond similarly to this news. Instead, it seems they were among “all Jerusalem” who, with Herod, was troubled by it (vs.3). Not to the extent he was perhaps, but it is likely that they too regarded the announcement of a new king as a threat to their positions of privilege, status and power.

They are in no mood to leave Jerusalem to visit the humble hamlet of Bethlehem and worship a baby, and certainly not on the advice of Gentile astrologers. Herod is less passive.

Herod’s Fear Of A New King

Matthew reminds us that Herod is “king,” albeit an illegitimate one in Jewish eyes. Unlike Jesus, he could not claim descent from David. Worse still, he was king by appointment of Rome. No doubt these facts compounded his sense of insecurity, prompting him to seek out and destroy his perceived rival.

The Slaughter Of Bethlehem’s Innocents

Herod’s paranoia and cruelty are legendary; they drove him to kill even members of his own family. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of the slaughter of Bethlehem’s babies. As always, even amidst the worst excesses of human evil God’s purposes continue to be worked out.

From Bondage To Freedom

Jesus’ return to the land of Israel (vs.21) realigns the parallels in the same direction, reminding the reader that this ruler who will shepherd his people (vs.6) will lead a new exodus. He will deliver his people from the bondage of sin, the kingdom of darkness, and into the glorious freedom of his kingdom.


In summary, Matthew 2 makes us think about why innocent people suffer and how it fits into God’s plan. This part of the Bible, with its strong connections to the story of Exodus, shows us the complex relationship between suffering, being saved, and what God intends, encouraging us to find deeper meaning in hard times.

Michael Hewat is currently serving as the Senior Minister at West Hamilton Community Church, New Zealand