The Flight to Egypt and Herod’s Rage (Matthew 2:13, 14, 16-18)

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2007-05-27 09:00.

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After the departure of the magi, an angel warned Joseph in a dream that Herod had determined to kill the child and directed that he, Mary, and the boy flee to Egypt. Without delay, Joseph obeyed. While it was still night, the family started on their journey. Under the cover of darkness, their departure would have gone unnoticed. (Matthew 2:13, 14)

Realizing that the magi had not complied with his request to return with a report about the child and that his objective had been foiled, Herod became enraged and ordered the slaying of all the boys in and in around Bethlehem who were under the age of two. Basing his order on the time he had ascertained from the magi, he determined the age bracket of those he wanted to be killed. (Matthew 2:16)

The population of Bethlehem and its environs would have been comparatively small, and the number of boys killed may have been around twenty. So, if it had not been mentioned in Matthew’s account, the event (considering the other atrocities committed during Herod’s reign) would not have been of such monumental significance as to have been preserved in history.

For the mothers who lost their sons in this brutal manner, the grief and pain would have been indescribable. Their bitter experience paralleled that of the people of the kingdom of Judah when the conquering Babylonians ripped them from their land and took them into exile. At that time, in Ramah, Rachel (the mother of Benjamin [whose descendants formed a significant part of the population], possibly representing the people as a whole) wept profusely. Situated in the territory of Benjamin, Ramah may have been the place where the Babylonians assembled captives to be slaughtered or exiled, giving rise to lamentation. Likewise, the bereaved mothers in and around Bethlehem must have wept bitterly, fulfilling the words recorded in the book of Jeremiah (31:15; 38:15, LXX), “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and much lamenting; Rachel weeping for her children, and she does not want to be comforted, for they are not.” (Matthew 2:17, 18)


The costly gifts of the magi would have provided the family with funds to sustain them in Egypt. Additionally, they would have been able to be among fellow Jews. The city of Alexandria, for example, had a large Jewish population.

It may be noted that, on account of rulers, the life of Moses and that of Jesus were threatened while they were helpless little ones. In both cases, parental action played a role in their preservation. (Exodus 2:1-9)

Though differing from the Greek text of Matthew 2:18, the extant Septuagint rendering of Jeremiah 31:15 (38:15) conveys the same thought. The Septuagint reads, “A voice was heard in Ramah, of mourning and of wailing and of lamenting. Rachel did not want to cease weeping for her sons, because they are not.”

The words of the Scriptures to which Matthew referred as having been fulfilled are found in a specific historical setting. In the case of Jesus, they precisely described developments associated with his life and so were fulfilled. They took on a fullness of meaning they did not have in all the centuries that had passed since they were first committed to writing.

Herod’s order to kill the boys aged two years and under reflects his response to any threat to his reign and the continuance of rulership in his line of descent. According to Josephus (Antiquities, XVII, II, 4), certain Pharisees predicted that “God had decreed that Herod’s government should cease, and his posterity should be deprived of it.” Upon learning about this, Herod “slew such of the Pharisees as were principally accused ... He slew also all those of his own family who had consented to what the Pharisees foretold.”