Coming across the account of the massive massacre of children ordered by Herod during the time of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:16-18) can cause a person to question the view of children in Israel at the time of the Savior’s birth was. If the people of Israel had prioritized children’s lives, then surely someone would have protested or even stopped the massacre.
The massacre of male infants is one of the many accounts that have caused theologians and archeologists to further research what was the view of children in Israel during Jesus’ birth as well as Israel’s cultural view of children throughout the Bible and history.
Massacre of the Male Infants
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod ordered a huge massacre of the male infants in Israel (Matthew 2:16-18). One could reason that since this massacre was carried out, it meant that the Israelites had a very poor view of children.
This might be the first reaction when somebody reads this passage of Scripture; however, simply because the massacre was carried out does not mean the massacre was endorsed by the Israelites. Herod had made the decree for all male infants below the age of two to be killed because of the Magi’s message (Matthew 2:1-18).
News of the Messiah’s birth threatened Herod’s rightful place on the throne. In order to ensure his seat on the throne, he ordered a massacre that would have surely killed the newborn Messiah in Israel. Herod reasoned that if he killed the male Messiah, he would never be challenged for his throne.
God divinely protected His Son by warning Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, in a dream to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13). Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled to Egypt and stayed there until Herod had died (Matthew 2:19-23). After Herod had died, they returned to Israel and lived in the town of Nazareth (Matthew 2:23).
The massacre was a great tragedy that befell upon Israel. Herod was the king, which meant he had all the rights of a king and could command anything he wanted. The event of the massacre in Israel did not attest to the idea that children were seen as less than people in Jesus’ day.
Rather, the Israelites were under the rule of Herod and since Herod was king, everyone had to obey his decrees — even the mass slaughter of the male infants. The massacre is not depicted as a good thing in the gospel accounts.
The mass slaughter of male infants fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15, “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.”
Mothers and fathers would have mourned deeply for their children who were killed during the massacre. The Bible tells these parents would have been weeping, mourning, and refusing to be comforted after this massacre of male infants. From this reaction of the parents, it can be rightly deduced that the people of Israel did have a high view of children during the time of Jesus’ birth.
The Biblical View of Children
In modern-day culture, there is an enormous, politically heated debate regarding the right to life, abortions, and a woman’s body. Twenty-first century America has radically divided itself between two camps — pro-life and pro-choice. The Bible paints a drastically different view of how Israel was to view children.
Children were seen as a great blessing in Old Testament times. Israel did not view children as a burden or a nuisance, but rather as a great blessing from the Lord. Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” This Psalm also tells us that blessed is the man who has many children (Psalm 127:4-5).
It was seen as a negative thing if a woman could not have children. Hannah was a woman in the Bible, who was a faithful follower of the Lord. She was barren, which meant she could not have children. Despite her want and desire for a child, she could not bear a child for her husband. Since Hannah could not bear a child, she was extremely depressed (1 Samuel 1:1-11).
Out of her anguish and tears, she prayed for God to open her wound and He answered her prayer (1 Samuel 1:9-20). Hannah experienced great joy when she discovered she was pregnant and when the boy was born, she dedicated him to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:21-28). The boy’s name was Samuel. Samuel became a great spiritual leader for Israel, and he was a faithful follower of God.
The Psalmist and Hannah were not the only Israelites who placed a high value on children, but all of Israel was commanded to take good care of their children. Israel was commanded by God to teach their children the right ways of living and to teach them about Him (Deuteronomy 6:7). God places an extremely high view on each child as He created each child in His Image (Genesis 1:27).
The Lord reflected His own view of children onto the Israelites. He commanded them to honor their children, take care of them, and teach them about Him. Sadly, due to sin, not everyone obeyed God’s commands and treated children as less than human. The Israelites drifted far away from the Lord and even would offer their children in sacrifice to false gods (Jeremiah 7:31).
Many Israelites would offer their children to demons (Psalm 106:37-38). The Lord never approved of these actions, and He rebukes Israel for these actions (Deuteronomy 12:31). Molek was a popular Canaanite false god that the Israelites would worship by sacrificing their sons and daughters in the fire.
Yahweh rebukes them for their actions and commands them, “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:21). God always has had a high view of children and He will always love each child dearly.
In God’s eyes, each individual is a unique, beautiful, and important person (Psalm 139:13-16). Even though God saw Israel and their children this way, some of the people of Israel did not. This is because of sin in the world. The same rings true for the people during Jesus’ day. Herod was not a man who loved God.
He was a man bent on being king and ruling over his land. In the same way, in the Old Testament, there were Israelites who would offer their children in worship to false gods. Just because these individuals had a low view of children does not mean all of the people had a negative view of children.
Rather, the majority of people throughout biblical times in Israel held a very high view of children, during the Old Testament times as well as the New Testament times. Paul himself reaffirms the importance of holding a high view of children in his Epistles to the churches.
He commands the children to obey their parents as well as he commands the parents to treat their children with respect (Ephesians 6:1-4). Jesus' earthly ministry also placed a high emphasis on children. He cautioned His followers that if any of them did not receive the Kingdom like a little child, they would never enter it (Mark 10:13-16).
Furthermore, the Lord told the people, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). There have been varying views of children throughout Israel’s history; however, God taught the people of Israel to love children, take care of them, and bring them up in the knowledge of the Lord.
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Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Christian Ministry and is currently working toward her Master’s Degree. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is probably embarking on an adventure.