2:12-23 - Special Protection
I have been pondering the idea of “special protection.” Through these meditations I have been trying to place myself in the situation. I have been trying to understand the culture, smells, sounds, travel means, expectations, religious and political atmosphere and, of course, the constants found in the way hearts respond to God the Father and His revelations to us all - in Jesus and also through the dreams and angels.
One of the hardest things to understand so far is not the angels’ appearances, or the supernatural star, or the human elements of hearts open and closed to revelation. Justice is such a big thing for me. I have struggled with it. So here we have Jesus - one baby - being protected by supernatural revelation, while a whole town of toddlers and babies are murdered with no protection at all.
That’s a tough one.
God protects Jesus first by creating time and space for the escape through the angelic revelation to the wise men. Then He reveals the escape plan to Joseph through angels in a dream. Then He tells Joseph through an angel in a dream when it is safe to return, but even warns him in a dream which region to avoid. There is such direct and specific outpouring of Divine protection over Jesus’ life. God frustrates every plan of evil to take Jesus’ life. And I love that. I so enjoy seeing God intervene to frustrate evil and to advance His cause of freedom in the earth.
The problem is all the other children. Why is there absolutely NO protection over them? Why does God allow them to be slaughtered without any apparent regard for the incredible pain and suffering of the parents, without any regard for the lives of the children? It just doesn’t add up. Angels appearing everywhere for Jesus. And nothing for the other children. I know Jesus is a special case. He is a special target of the devil. By why not just take Herod out right away and save all the children?
There doesn’t appear to be an easy answer to that question.
I don’t like to jump ahead, but some window of understanding is found in Jesus on the cross. Apparently the limits of God’s protection only go so far. He was willing to watch and to allow His own Son to die a horrible death in the end. Death for all involved, was a matter of timing. The babies/toddlers died early. Jesus died later. They died swiftly by the sword. He died slowly in incredible agony nailed to a cross. They died to fulfill prophecy as did He. They were all found in the midst of God’s unfolding plan to save a world dead in the trespasses of sin.
This is no attempt to justify the slaughter of perhaps thousands (?) of babies. But I have read many commentators, most of whom sidestep the issue, or treat it in a matter-of-fact, commentating way. There are a few ideas they offer that help us understand God’s “hands off” response to the actions of Herod.
a. All people are sinners. And all deserve to die, as such. Because it is our natural inclination to protect children, who are weak and vulnerable, it is hard to look at a one year old and call them a “sinner.” Yet that, by nature, is what they are (Psalm 51:5). As such, they are children of wrath; under judgment. Yet at this point they are not fully accountable for their sins, which are not volitional. (Though if we are speaking of children up to 2 years, there are some who are becoming or have become volitional, albeit without the moral awareness of an adult who sins.)
So, since none are righteous, and all are subject to God’s wrath, as all are rebels against God who will, by nature, grow to become adult rebels against God (Romans 3:9b-20), there is no technical injustice in their death. Death, as we know, is the fitting and automatic consequence of sin (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23). So, in effect, from a Divine perspective, these children are already dead. Those who would come to life because they would later see the truth of their condition, opening their hearts and receiving Jesus as Messiah, would be justified through the blood of Jesus. His sacrifice has no time limit (Romans 3:25-26; 1 Peter 3:19). Therefore all infants, who have special grace anyway because they are not morally responsible yet, would at least have been brought into grace if they would have grown up to have any heart at all to receive Jesus. If not, and their hearts were to remain rebellious as adults, then they were subject to wrath and judgment anyway.
The offense, of course, is that they were children. We are supposed to protect them. Would not God protect them? But that is just it. There is no imperative on God’s part to grant them special protection since their parents, along with Herod, the Romans and their own religious leaders (with everyone else) are all rebels against God. Few understood Abraham’s faith and so, as rebels, all deserved to die.
After that judgment, the only further issue is the timing. We, in our humanness, believe children dying is a more grievous thing than an old person dying. We put a greater value of preservation of life on the young, because in our thinking, they haven’t had a chance to “live” yet. This is not a Divine value, for all life is equally precious to God - He is not willing that ANY should perish (Matthew 18:14). He is equally grieved by the loss of a 30 year old as He is by the loss of a 2 year old.
b. It is automatic, because it is not stated, for us to assume nobody else received revelation; or that no attempt was made to grant the same revelation to somebody else. This is an inference that cannot be made from the evidence. The fact that Scripture is silent about it, does not therefore imply that God made no attempt to communicate with the other parents.
It is a fact that most of Israel was hardened against anything God might have to say to them (Matthew 23:37). It is quite conceivable that:
i. God attempted to warn all but most or all would not listen. Israel and people in general (e.g. Noah’s time) show a great capacity to ignore warnings of calamity that God is speaking to them about.
ii. God warned some or all who were open to revelation, they received it and left and thus spared their children. There is no evidence for this, but it is just as easy to infer this as to say God made no attempt to speak to anybody else.
c. Jesus was not saved DIRECTLY by God. He was saved because He had parents who were both open to revelation and immediately responsive in their obedience. Again, it is easy for us to point the finger at God. Is it possible - yes it is - that Mary and Joseph were chosen to host the Son of God for this very reason. God knew there was one couple in Israel that wouldn’t question His revelation, but would just be humble and obey. Therefore He could speak to them any time and they wouldn’t question the revelation. They would just do what He told them.
So, in a sense, Jesus was as much under the “special protection” because of human factors as He was Divine. As I mentioned earlier: In the end, God will be justified. In the end, it is very conceivable that He, if He chose, would reveal to us that there was not one other couple in Ramah who would be open to His revelation and/or who would immediately obey it once given. It is quite possible that their children died because they simply weren’t living by faith and thus weren’t open to what God would gladly have shown them was coming.
d. Again (we don’t like this!, but...) here is the fact of human existence. We were created for God’s glory and He can and will do with us what He likes (Romans 9:21-24). We can shake our fist and protest. We can whine, or rage and cry “foul!” But what good will it do us? We are His. I live and write today. But tomorrow I may be gone. That is His choice. I am His. I am gladly His. So the babies/toddlers were His. He made a sovereign choice to allow injustice to come against them. It is His choice. And it is also His choice, if He wants, to bring them to Himself, to dance and laugh and play with them forever, while cursing Herod and tormenting him in hell forever. He is God.
Does that rationalize it all? Not really. We still weep with Rachel (Romans 12:15). The loss of children is awful. Why do we think God doesn’t see it that way too? He does. He created it another way. He longed for it to be different. He sent His own Son and allowed His own Son to die a horrible death to change it. For the children of Ramah He cried, as over His own Son hanging on a cross, to save generations to come. Such is the love of God and the complexity of our condition.