Can You Hear the Mother’s Crying?
The Biblical Narrative
“And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt: 15 And was there until the death of Herod [4 BC]: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. 16 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. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. [Jer. 31:15] 19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. 21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus [b. 22 BC – AD 18] did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:13-23).
Soon after the departure of the wise men from the East who had come to worship the Messiah, Joseph received an angelic announcement. In a dream one night God spoke to Joseph and gave him specific instructions for life.
“Arise, [Joseph] and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.” (2:13).
There was urgency in the command. Herod was seeking the young child to destroy Him. Joseph had no way of knowing the ruler of the land was bent upon extensive acts of murder, but the ever present, and the all-knowing God was very much aware of the thoughts and intents of the heart of King Herod.
The sovereignty of God was wonderfully displayed that night, and a truth is remembered. No sinner shall not have dominion over His Son. The child would be protected.
Awakening from the dream, Joseph was obedient to the heavenly vision.
Putting together a few essentials, Joseph awakened Mary.
“We must move quickly,” he said.
“There is no time to waste. Do not ask questions. Come. Come now. Keep the baby quiet. It is night and we must move in secret.”
Mary obeyed Joseph, but a measure of fear began to pierce her heart like a sword.
Mary remembered the words of Simeon who had spoken to her on the day that Jesus had been circumcised and dedicated to God in the holy Temple. Simeon had predicted that,
“A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also [Mary].” [Luke 2:35]
In the darkness of the night Mary felt the forces of evil assaulting her heart as apprehension filled her soul.
“Where shall we go,” Mary asked.
“God tells us to go to Egypt,” replied Joseph and so they began to prepare their departure.
Egypt was not too far away. It was not as far as Babylon or Persia. Egypt was where many other Jews already lived due to persecution. Egypt was outside of King Herod’s legal domain. Egypt would be safe.
As Mary and Joseph traveled across the rocky, dusty roads, the voice of the ancient prophet Hosea could be heard saying across the centuries, “Out of Egypt have I called my son”. [Hos. 11:1]
The city of Alexandria on the coast of the Mediterranean was home to a sizable Jewish community.
There were other large Jewish communities as well.
Jesus would be safe in Egypt because where-ever the citizens of Israel went, God never stopped loving His people.
Israel was the object of His covenant promise.
Through the prophet Ezekiel God reminded the nation,
“I entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord Jehovah, and you became mine. When Israel was a child, then I loved Him, and called my Son out of Egypt” (Ezek.16:8).
The implication was that God would always show grace to His people. Initially driven into Egypt by hunger in the days of Jacob, and then dispersed there from time to time while being under the rod of divine discipline, God would protect His people.
The centuries passed, and Jesus was born. Now the Messiah would recapitulate the history of Israel. If the sins of a madman drove the Messiah into exile, God would one day call His Son back out of Egypt. God did it once, He did it twice, He can do it again.
While Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were heading for safety in Egypt, the soldiers of Herod were marching towards Bethlehem. Their swords were drawn, for they had orders to kill all the children that were in Bethlehem, two years of age and under. Herod believed he had been mocked by the wise men.
He had told them to report back to him when the Christ child was found. But the wise men never returned, and for good reason. Unholy orders are never to be obeyed. Being warned of God in a dream, the wise men found another route to return to their country. This was a miracle, from a human point of view, and for this reason.
Due to the system of surveillance that Herod had established on the mountaintops of his kingdom to know the movements of travelers, the return of the wise men to their own country without his notice was an illustration of divine Providence. It is unfortunate that Herod did not realize he had not been mocked. He had simply not been obeyed.
There is a difference.
Civil disobedience can be, and should be respectful. The wise men did not ridicule or laugh at Herod. Rather, his own pride was injured. It was Herod who had mocked the wise men with his request.
Thinking to fool the magi by pretending to be a worshipper, Herod did not consider the Creator, who overrules the orders of individuals when He so chooses, for God will not be mocked. Sill, Herod shall have his vengeance. Someone shall die. So, the soldiers marched on Bethlehem.
As the soldiers came into the houses, panic set in among the people. The word spread quickly. The soldiers were not there to arrest a criminal, but to kill little babies, and young children. The soldiers did not come to protect the innocent, but to put precious souls to death.
Fathers began to resist the advance of the soldiers.
Children ran to hide.
Mothers began to scream, and the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled,
“In Rama [Ramah] was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted, because they are not.” [Jer. 31:15]
When Jeremiah first uttered these words [c. 626 BC], Ramah was located on the border between two kingdoms, Israel, and Judah. The small city was situated five miles north of Jerusalem.
Here in Ramah foreign conquerors, such as Nebuchadnezzar, ordered the defeated people to be assembled for deportation. The city of Ramah represented both kingdoms, as did Rachel.
Rachael, Jacob’s most beloved wife, had given birth to Joseph, the father of Ephraim and Manasseh, which represented Israel, the northern kingdom. Rachael had also given birth to Benjamin, which symbolized Judah the southern kingdom. In pictorial language, Rachael, the mother of all the children of Israel, is represented by Jeremiah as being alive centuries before the Messiah, but with a broken heart. As the spiritual personification of national Israel, Rachel watches as the multitudes gather for deportation, and she begins to weep.
The years passed. Rachael is once more presented as being alive during the days of the Messiah.
And again, Rachael is weeping because her children are no more.
“Can you hear mother Rachel crying?”
“Can you hear all the mothers of Judah crying?”
Herod would have heard the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, but He would not have cared.
In fact, the cries of the mothers would have been a sort of perverted music to his ears. Such is the nature of sin and its ability to hardened the heart.
History tells us that Herod himself died soon after the massacre of the innocent. Josephus the historian, relates in graphic detail the bloody and violent events that took place during the king’s final days. Physically and mentally, Herod had a body of vile diseases and disturbances.
Josephus speaks of ulcerated entrails, and of putrefied and maggoty worms crawling from Herod’s body. He writes of Herod’s foul breath and constant convulsions. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17). Doctors could not help. Warm baths could not help. He who inflicted pain on others was in pain himself until the moment of his death. And then, from his palace in Jericho, Herod stepped from time into an eternal place of divine justice.
During the final hours of his life, Herod knew he was dying. He also realized that when he died the Jewish world would rejoice. To avoid this, Herod issued an order that some of the leading citizens of the Jewish nation be arrested and imprisoned. Then, after his death the citizens were to be killed so there would be mourning, if not for, at least at his death. Fortunately, this final devilish scheme was not carried out, but it does reflect the sickness of Herod’s soul.
When Herod died, one of his sons, Archelaus saw to it that his father was given a royal funeral. Herod’s body was wrapped in purple. A crown of gold was placed upon his head. In his hand was a scepter.
The funeral bier on which the body lay was made of gold, lined with precious stones.
Five hundred slaves bore perfumes.
But what did it matter?
The king was dead.
Herod the Great, was great no more.
He who once ruled an empire, he who once merely nodded and had his subjects executed, became just one, among many lost souls. Into the abyss of lost souls Herod plunged, where he has been a trophy of Satan these past two thousand years. Our spiritual ears listen to hear the voice of the damned. Our spiritual eyes strain to see the destruction of the soul that dared to try and kill the Son of the living God.
When Herod was dead, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “Arise and take the young child and His mother and go into the land of Israel, for they are dead which sought the young child’s life” (Matt. 2:20).
Once again Joseph would be obedient to the heavenly vision. As Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus traveled towards Israel, news came to their attention.
Archelaus reigned in Judah in the place of Herod.
Joseph considered carefully this information and used some wisdom.
Archelaus was just like his father. He was “…a man of great barbarity toward all men equally, and a slave to his passions.” On one occasion Archelaus brutally quelled a Jewish rebellion killing about 3,000 people.
Joseph had good reason to fear living under the reign of Archelaus. With divine permission, Joseph turned aside into the parts of Galilee, and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth. The prophets of old had predicted this very thing. It had been said that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene.
“And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23).
With these words, Matthew may only have been alluding to several prophets in general who anticipated the coming of the Messiah.
Moses was a prophet, and spoke of the Messiah saying,
“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10).
David was a prophet, and said of the Messiah,
“I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. 8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalms 2:7-9).
Isaiah was a prophet, and declared,
“there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1).
The word for “branch” in Hebrew is netzer, a reference to greenness as a striking color, a shoot, a branch. The word Nazareth means “branch,” and prophesy is fulfilled in as far as the New Testament is allowed to interpret the Old Testament.
Nazareth was not a popular place in Palestine. In fact, the citizens were not even respected.
One-day people would argue among themselves saying, “Surely no Messiah would reside in such a contemptible or despised place.” Study John 1:46, and the comment of Nathaniel
Nevertheless, in matchless grace, the Messiah did come from Nazareth, for He was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. The Messiah associated Himself with the lowly of this earth, and with the poor in spirit.
With prophecy fulfilled, the biblical narrative closes the account of the early childhood of Jesus, according to Matthew’s gospel.
Thirty years shall pass before the One from Nazareth is heard from again.
In conclusion, observe several practical lessons from this section of sacred Scripture.
First, the God of all creation is actively at work in the affairs of men.
God asserts the fact that this is still His universe.
Satan and sin, and the evil of individuals remain subject to the Sovereign.
It is true that the expressions of evil remain a great mystery that cannot be fully comprehended.
Sin brings great pain and sorry. Only Christ can bring an end to the evil that men do, and He is working to make that happen.
Second, sin makes individuals mock themselves. Herod thought he was being ridiculed by the wise men, but it was his own foolishness being manifested. Herod thought he was being clever with the wise men, but he was not. There are those who hold the righteous in contempt, but truth and justice shall always prevail.
Wickedness may run rampant for a long time, but sooner or later sin reaches a saturation point, and either the wicked die, or good people are moved to action so that despots are destroyed, tyrants are overthrown, and righteous behavior returns to a nation.
It is unfortunate much sadness and sorrow must be experienced before individuals begin to see the beauty of holiness. In our own nation there is a daily diet of shocking news that numb the senses and leave heads shaking in wonder. Sin is saturating our country to the point that there is not a home where there is not heard a voice of lamentation, weeping, and great mourning. During all the sorrow, there is a measure of hope.
The Savior has come.
The territory of the enemy has been invaded.
The promised Messiah has come, and His name is Jesus.
We rush to Him and we ask, “Jesus, can you hear the mothers crying?”
And the Lord of glory says, “Yes, I can hear them. That is why I have come.”
Sin shall not go unchallenged.
Souls shall not suffer without hope.
The Savior shall come to preach the good news of redemption.