Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked
Herod, having waited a proper time for the return of the wise men, and they not coming, concluded he was tricked by them; though, no doubt, when they promised to return, and bring him word how things were, they seriously meant and designed a performance; but having met with a divine oracle, which ordered them another way, they thought it most advisable to obey God rather than man. Upon this,
Herod was exceeding wroth;
partly at the usage he met with from the wise men, who according to his apprehension had put a trick upon him; and chiefly because his scheme was broke, which was by them to come at the knowledge and sight of the young child, and privately dispatch him: and now he might fear, which increased his wrath, that the child would escape his hands, and in time be set up for king, to the prejudice of him and his family; wherefore, to prevent this, if possible, he
his officers and soldiers, of his own will, without any show of law or justice, acting herein as an absolute and tyrannical prince,
and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the
coasts thereof, from two years old and under.
A most cruel and barbarous action, and agrees with the character given of him, that he was in the beginning of his reign, and it seems too in the latter end of it, (hmrmw Mymd vya) , "a bloody and deceitful man" F14: he slew, or ordered to be slain, "children", infants who had done him no injury, nor were capable of doing any, and whose parents also had not disobliged him; he slew the infants at Bethlehem, because this was the place of the Messiah's birth, the knowledge of which he had got from the chief priests and scribes; he slew all of them, that there might be no possibility of the young child's escaping: and lest it should by any means escape to a neighbouring town or village, he slew all the children
in all the coasts thereof,
in all the territories of Bethlehem, in all the towns and villages around it, as many as were
from two years old and under:
for of such an age he supposed the newborn king to be; he knew he must be near that age, but could not exceed it,
according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise
of the appearing of the star to them, and when they concluded this great and famous prince was born. This cruel murder of the infants seems to be hinted at by Josephus F15, where he says, that "many slaughters followed the prediction of a new king"; and is more manifestly referred to by Macrobins, a Heathen author, though the story is mixed and confounded with other things; who reports F16, that
``when Augustus heard, that among the children under two years of age, whom Herod king of the Jews ordered to be slain in Syria, that his son was also killed, said, it was better to be Herod's hog than his son.''Killing of infants as soon as born, or while in their cradles, is by the Jews ascribed to one Lilith, which, R. Elias F17 says, is the name of a devil, which kills children; and indeed such an action is truly a diabolical one.
F14 Ganz. Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 25. 1.
F15 Antiq. l. 17. c. 3.
F16 Saturnal. l. 2. c. 4.
F17 Methurgemau in voce (tylyl) . Vid. Buxtorf. Lexicon Rab. in cadem voce & Synagog. Jud. c. 4. p. 80.