Yesterday we wrote about the RobMag (Magi) who came from the East. Today let us continue on with the story.
Herod desires to learn the location of the new baby. For some reason he does not send anyone with the visiting magicians from the East. There is not even a spy trailing them. No explanation for this bone-headed move by Herod is given. Perhaps there is a narrative reason?
The Magi give their gifts and head on another way fooling Herod.... Herod is reduced to mass murder of any child under two to make sure he gets the baby. Historically, we can assume the number of baby boys killed to be between 10 and 20. This does not diminish the horror. In ancient times, sadly, such things took place more frequently than we can imagine. Whatever events Matthew refers to here are consistent with the character of Herod and the actual efforts to undermine Jesus. It is likely, however, that Matthew is also engaging in a form of Jewish theologizing which was very common to this time.
The story has many elements from the OT. It is more likely that that is the point of Matthew's account. The story of Moses, for example, where Pharaoh was having the Jewish babies killed. There is also the OT Joseph who was carried into Egypt. Egypt was certainly a place where Jews had run to hide over the centuries, but the echoes of the Exodus traditions in the OT are certainly the main point here. Matthew parallels Jesus with Moses in His Gospel. The birth stories are probably an interpretive key to understanding that.
Jesus by going to Egypt and then being called out is "recapitulating" the story of Israel. His life is seen as containing all that went before. Figuratively, we say "in Him" which means, that Jesus is the one who sums up all of our lives. Matthew the theologian wants us to know that Jesus is the True Son (whereas Israel failed in this vocation). He also wants us to know that God is active in the history of Jesus, even if He is not controlling every detail and every event. God works around the tragedies of evil men who abuse their power. God demands great sacrifices from those who seek to be faithful. God does not spare His own son any of the struggle. Are you tired of struggle and pain? Be brave and strong, there is no shame in being tired. But we can be inspired by this story to carry on. The heart of the Christmas story is the rejection and suffering of God's son.