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Discussions and questions pertaining to Christmas: when and where was Jesus born? The Shepherds, the Wise men, the descent into Egypt, the star, the manger, and the Virgin Birth. Let's talk.

Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby Not my real name » Thu Sep 11, 2014 2:41 pm

Why would God choose to come to earth as a man and show signs that would be correctly interpreted by the Magi as the coming of the new king of the Jews, causing them to tell King Herod and get innocent children killed as a result?

God is all knowing; Job 37:16, Psalm 147:5 1, Samuel 2:3, Isaiah 55:9
God is all good; Psalm 100:5, Mark 10:18, Romans 2:4 John 3:16 Psalms 145:9

Slaughter of the innocents accomplished nothing but bloodshed and was the cause of God's perceived signs of his coming and God would surely have known this was going to happen. Why did He not warn the wise men before they came to Herod and with his nasty reputation? Why would they go to Herod at all? Why, when God warned Joseph, did He not also warn all of Bethlehem? That sounds kind of selfish. The magi may have been ignorant towards Herod’s deceit but, what of God? Heck, he could have just waited a couple of years until Herod died. He had one foot in the grave anyway, or he was already dead.
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Re: Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby jimwalton » Thu Sep 11, 2014 3:16 pm

Just one point of clarification: The magi didn't return to Jerusalem to tell King Herod about finding the child.

Now on to your question. God doesn't generally stop people from killing other people. History (and the Bible) are full of people killing people, and God doesn't stop it.

In Matthew 10.34 (same book as the magi story), Jesus states (granted, many years after the Herodian slaughter, but still true) that violence against him will surround his presence, his message, and his followers. One message of Matthew is that wherever the presence of God exists, those who rebel against God will rise up in violence against it. The point of this verse is that anyone who associates with Jesus better be prepared for violent opposition.

Did God know about the impending slaughter? Sure. Did he know about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and all the others? Sure. The Bible makes clear that God is not in the business of intervening to prevent all killing, but in raising the dead.

Why didn't God have the magi bypass Herod and just go straight to Jerusalem? There's no evidence that God sent them to Jerusalem. They saw the star and WENT to Jerusalem, but don't think there was an arrow pointing to Herod's palace. They followed political protocol and went to the province's capital region to inquire of its king. (When you enter another country, you follow the entrance rules. There had been some antagonism between Persia and Palestine, and the entrance of a caravan of political advisers and their military complement would be greeted with much suspicion. For their own safety, they check in with the government.) That doesn't mean God sent them there. God sent them westward, that's all.

Why didn't God warn all of Bethlehem? God is not generally in the business of interfering with the exercise of free will on earth. He lets people make their decisions and do what they're going to do. Jesus was born into a violent world. Herod was a man of anger, cruelty, and contempt. God saved his messiah. Had the whole village of Bethlehem fled into the territory, the soldiers would have hunted them down and killed them anyway.

Why didn't he just wait a few years until Herod was dead? The Bible speaks of God having a plan regarding to the timing of Jesus' birth and life. We can see many reasons for much of it, but some of it leaves us scratching our heads, for sure.
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Re: Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby Ditty » Sun Sep 14, 2014 1:48 pm

Now on to your question. God doesn't generally stop people from killing other people. History (and the Bible) are full of people killing people, and God doesn't stop it.

Stop here. Just what does God do?
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Re: Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby jimwalton » Sun Sep 14, 2014 1:56 pm

Great question. I was plagued by that question a while ago. Some people talk about answers to prayer, and other people suffer unspeakable tragedies, suffer chronic pain, and experience loss after loss. I myself have felt times of deep darkness and vast emptiness and rejection. So I read the entire New Testament looking for an honest answer to the question, "What does God do? What can I (or anyone) honestly expect of him?" Here's what I found: almost *everything* the Bible says about what God does for us has to do with salvation. Almost everything. What God is in the business of is saving people from sin, and bringing life where there is death. So I looked harder. Other than salvation (forgiveness, redemption, justification, etc.), how does God help me through life?

1. Comfort in time of mourning (Matthew 5.4; 2 Corinthians 1.4; 7.6); rest (Matthew 10.28), and peace (John 16.33; 14.27; Romans 5.1; 15.13; Philippians 4.7, 9)
2. May answer some requests in prayer (Matthew 7.11; James 5.15-16)
3. Gives me words to say at martyrdom or oppression (Matthew 10.19)
4. Teaches me about Himself:
a. Gives knowledge of himself (Romans 1.19-20; 1 Corinthians 4.1; 2 Corinthians 4.6; Ephesians 1.17)
b. Gives knowledge of his kingdom (Matthew 13.11)
c. Makes his righteousness known (Romans 3.21)
d. Gives knowledge of his will (Colossians 1.15) and equips us to do it (Hebrews 13.21)
e. Gives knowledge of salvation (Hebrews 2.4)
5. Gives me the Holy Spirit
a. teach me about God (John 14.26) (see 4a above)
b. helps me in my weakness (Romans 8.26)
c. intercedes for me in prayer (Romans 8.26-27) (see #2 above)
d. gives me spiritual gifts to use in ministry for Him (Romans 12.6ff; 1 Corinthians 12.4ff; Ephesians 4.11)
e. seals me for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4.30)
6. God is always at work to mold us and make us into his image, which is possible through any circumstance. (Romans 8.28; 2 Corinthians 2.14; 3.18; Ephesians 1.4; Hebrews 13.21) He is renewing us day by day (2 Corinthians 4.16) and making us righteous (2 Corinthians 9.10)
7. Gives me faith in differing amounts (Romans 12.3)
8. Plays some role in installing and deposing governing authorities (Romans 13.1-5).
9. Gives me strength, endurance and encouragement (Romans 15.5; 1 Corinthians 1.8; 2 Corinthians 1.21; 4.7, 11, 16; 12.9; Colossians 1.11; 1 Peter 4.11; 5.10)
10. Gives a spirit of unity (Romans 15.5) among Christians
11. Gives us joy (Romans 15.13; 2 Corinthians 8.2)
12. Enriches me in every way: in speech and knowledge and good works (1 Corinthians 1.5; 2.13; 2 Corinthians 9.8, 10-11) (See #4 above)
13. Provides a way of escape from temptation (1 Corinthians 10.13)
14. Gives me grace (2 Corinthians 9.14; 12.9; Ephesians 4.7; James 4.6)
15. Blesses me in the heavenly realms with spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1.3)
16. Disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12.10)
17. Generously gives us wisdom (James 1.5)
18. He comes near to us when we come near to him (James 4.8)
19. Cooperates with doctors and medicinal treatments to bring healing to the sick (James 5.15)

To me it's fascinating that we see almost *nothing* here about God changing our circumstances. Almost everything in the NT (at least 98-99%) of what God does for us is internal, spiritual things. Almost none of it pertains to our external lives, our circumstances, our obey, our possessions, our health, our relationships, or anything else. To me it was a stunning revelation about what God does and doesn't do, as a matter of his normal way of treating us, and concerning the things we pray about and for. It seems to me that probably 98% of our prayers are about our circumstances of health, money, possessions, relationships, and jobs, when 98% of what God does has nothing to do with circumstances. Working inside us for our spiritual welfare is God’s normal pattern of working. No wonder people get so frustrated with their prayer lives and God not answering their requests for a change of circumstance. Generally speaking, God does not involve himself in our circumstances. His interest, by his own revelation, is in our souls.
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Re: Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby The King » Sun Sep 14, 2014 2:16 pm

"Why did the star lead the wise men to Jerusalem, the wrong town — and much worse — to Herod, who only became aware of His rival after the wise men inquired about the new born King of the Jews? It was then that Herod resolved to kill Jesus.

Herod told the wise men in effect, “Go to Bethlehem, find Jesus, and then return to me so I can go and worship him too.” This time the star took the wise men unerringly, not just to Bethlehem, but to the very house of Mary and Jesus! There, they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod.

Herod, furious that he was not obeyed, then decreed that every boy in Bethlehem and its immediate vicinity, age two and under, be put to death.

Why didn’t the “miracle” of the star lead the wise men to baby Jesus in the first place so there would never have been a slaughter of the innocents?

Was it God’s intention that they be slaughtered? He surely knew they would be."
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Re: Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby jimwalton » Sun Sep 14, 2014 2:17 pm

Thanks for good questions. Glad to answer.

You misunderstand what is going on here due to inaccurate reading. (So also with the website link.) The star didn't lead the wise men to Jerusalem, the wrong town, or to Herod, the murderous thug. If you actually read Matt. 2.2, it says "We saw his star in the east..." It signified the birth of a king, but didn't lead them there. Whatever they saw, it told them a king had been born, and that king was most likely in Judah. What could that "star" have possibly been? It's not explained to us, but it could have been something such as this: Using "Starry Night" computer astronomy software (which I have), if you look at the sky from Babylon at 3:40 a.m. on September 14, 3 BC, there was a conjunction of Jupiter (the king planet) with Regulus (the king star) in the Leo constellation (Judah = lion). Behind Leo, Virgo (the Virgin) with Venus (the mother) rises with the sun, and a crescent moon is at her feet. Now, these guys were astronomers and astrologers, so a set-up such as this, and if they were Persians and had access to the writings of Daniel, they could easily conclude that a king had been born in Judah of a virgin mother, and they travelled to worship him. I'm not saying this is what they saw, but it could easily have been something like this, and that motivated them to travel to Jerusalem to find the child.

They asked of the advisors in Jerusalem where the child of prophecy was to be born, since they didn't know. They were told that it was Bethlehem. So they knew, now to go to Bethlehem.

To continue our imagined (but real-to-life) scenario, if, in December of 2 BC you would look to the south from Jerusalem, you would see Jupiter. Because of retrograde planetary motion, Jupiter (signifying the king) would actually stop in the sky, suspended over Bethlehem. Fascinating. Again, I'm not claiming this is what happened, but this kind of thing is easily possible in some form. It didn't lead them to the child, but a confirmation of Bethlehem as they had been told by the scholars in Jerusalem. They come to Bethlehem, ask around (it was a TINY town), find the child, and present their gifts. You'll notice that the text never claims that the star led them to the house, merely to the "place," which can have a broad meaning.

Herod, meanwhile, enacts a murderous plot. We have this misconception that God, if he were really God, would stop every evil, every murder, every suffering, all pain, and all evil. While we think that would be nice, God never promises to do such, and frankly, if he did (if you pursue that thought to its logical conclusions) we wouldn't be humans, but robots.

Just because God knew they would be slaughtered (he knows every sparrow that falls from a nest) doesn't mean it was his intention that they be slaughtered. Some of my friends are making bad decisions, and despite my advice, they continue to make bad decisions (and I knew they would), but that doesn't mean those bad decisions are my intention for them. That doesn't logically follow.
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Re: Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby Not my real name » Sun Sep 14, 2014 3:07 pm

"God is not in the business of intervening to prevent all killing"

His action caused children to die, needlessly from the looks of it.

"They saw the star and WENT to Jerusalem, but don't think there was an arrow pointing to Herod's palace. They followed political protocol and went to the province's capital region to inquire of its king. (When you enter another country, you follow the entrance rules."

The magi didn't know Herod's intentions, God did however.

"some of it leaves us scratching our heads, for sure."

I'm running out of hair due to all this scratching
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Re: Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby jimwalton » Sun Sep 14, 2014 3:07 pm

> His action caused children to die, needlessly from the looks of it.

It's not so. You desperately want to blame God. There was a sign in the stars that a king had been born in Judah. That's all. That was God's part. The magi travelled. The magi chose to stop in Jerusalem. They chose to inquire of Herod and his advisors. Herod chose to enact a murderous plot. Herod sent soldiers. Soldiers chose to obey with hacking small children. At what point is this God's fault?

OK, a news agency sends a report to the Middle East. He chooses to go. ISIS captures him and accuses him of treason against Allah. Some men from ISIS choose to chop his head off. Is the man's boss at the news agency the one to blame for his death? No, ISIS is to blame for his death. The boss sent him into a dangerous environment, but he is not to blame for the murderous behavior of seasoned killers who prey on the innocent. Is God to blame for the slaughter of the children? No, Herod is, and the soldiers are. Surely God sent his son into a dangerous environment, but he is not to blame for the murderous behavior or seasoned killers who prey on the innocent.

> The magi didn't know Herod's intentions, God did however.

Yes he did. Herod was married 10 times. God didn't approve of that, nor did he stop it. Herod had killed his wives and children. God didn't approve of that, nor did he stop it. Herod, by this point in his life, may have been mad (so say many who evaluate Herod from history). God didn't cause that, nor did he stop it. You have a misunderstanding and a unrealistic expectation that if God was really any kind of God, he would stop such murder and needless killing. The Bible never claims that God stops such things. And if you follow such logic to its legitimate conclusions, the conclusions are quite unreasonable. For God to act like that would steal us of our humanity and make us all into mindless robots.

> I'm running out of hair due to all this scratching

I still have a full head of hair. : ) You're welcome to borrow some of mine. Only those prejudiced to make God the villain can come to that conclusion through this story.
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Re: Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby Not my real name » Wed Sep 17, 2014 2:43 pm

> "Herod chose to enact a murderous plot. Herod sent soldiers. Soldiers chose to obey with hacking small children. At what point is this God's fault?"

Yes, Herod chose his actions but, God knew he would do this before Herod did, assuming God is all knowing this would be true would it not?

> "The boss sent him into a dangerous environment, but he is not to blame for the murderous behavior of seasoned killers who prey on the innocent. Is God to blame for the slaughter of the children?"

Let’s assume the Boss Knows full and well that he is sending someone to his death, is that ethical? No. Would that same boss be held accountable if he knew that he was sending someone to their doom? Yes.

> "You have a misunderstanding and a unrealistic expectation that if God was really any kind of God, he would stop such murder and needless killing."

If I had that kind of power I would stop needless killing, so yes God does not meet my expectations of a god or a decent human for that matter.

> "The Bible never claims that God stops such things. And if you follow such logic to its legitimate conclusions, the conclusions are quite unreasonable."

This isn't about God stopping killing it’s about God's actions directly causing it.
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Re: Matthew 2:16 and Herod's slaughter

Postby jimwalton » Wed Sep 17, 2014 2:59 pm

> Yes, Herod chose his actions but, God knew he would do this before Herod did, assuming God is all knowing this would be true would it not?

Great point. Let's pursue it. Assuming that God is omniscient, he knows every act of violence that will ever occur to anyone anytime on the whole planet through all of history. His supernatural knowledge isn't limited to the Herod Bethlehem slaughter. In your mind, should God have stopped all of them, or just this one? Or just some and not others? And what is the criteria by which he decides? Is it the good people who are always spared, and the wicked who always get the ax? And if God only interferes in large violence, but not "minor" violence, is he just as negligent? And if he only interferes in physical violence but not emotional or sexual abuse, is he just as negligent? Or does he, according to your thoughts, have to intervene continually in all of them everywhere? Does he also have to prevent accidents, knowing the disasters that will happen? What about the emotional pain of misunderstood words, or even of words unexpressed? The question for you is: What is it that you are expecting God to be like and to do? And if he does all of these things, because he knows about the pain it will cause, has he robbed us of some things that are very valuable in our lives and development, or perhaps even of our very humanity?

> Let’s assume the Boss Knows full and well that he is sending someone to his death, is that ethical? No. Would that same boss be held accountable if he knew that he was sending someone to their doom? Yes.

Who did God knowingly "send" to their death? Jesus, his "reporter"? No. The babies? He didn't send them to their death. Herod did. Did many of the babies escape? Possibly. Did God intervene on their behalf? We don't know, because we don't know ultimately how many were killed, how many were successfully hidden, and what part God played in helping them.

> If I had that kind of power I would stop needless killing, so yes God does not meet my expectations of a god or a decent human for that matter.

Back to my answer to the first question. If God is going to stop needless killing, should he also stop needless suffering? Does that mean he should allow needful killing and needful suffering? Should he then stop diseases that kill and accidents that kill? I'm not being smart aleck or facetious, I'm trying to understand what it is you expect of God and what you expect him to be like. God obviously doesn't meet your expectations of a God or a decent human being, but I'm not sure you've thought your position through to all its logical and necessary conclusions.

Why doesn’t God at least stop evil from happening? With that kind of power, shouldn't God stop all this junk? God should stop every random act that would cause harm, pain, or hurt, should stop every act of every person that would have a negative effect, should stop every thought that would result in a harmful action, should stop every disease, should stop every problem.

If he did that we would have no more too hot, never too cold, no illnesses, no mean thoughts, no harsh words, no anger, and no unpleasantries. Any hand raised to strike another would be frozen in place, or God would purge the thought so the hand wouldn’t be raised. It could never rain when anyone planned a picnic. It could never be too cold for our planned day at the zoo, because that would cause bad attitudes, disappointment, and suffering. What are we left with here? We would just walk around, doing our business, greeting each other with smiles. There wouldn’t be any love, because you have to CHOOSE love for it to be real and meaningful. There wouldn’t be any real relationships because we’d all be sappy to each other all the time. This is a pretty lousy world I’m thinking of, and not real. In ways may be preferable to a world of suffering, but in ways lacking in some of life’s most treasured realities. I’m not sold on a world without suffering. Maybe I’m thinking too shallow, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. That’s not a world. That’s not life. I just can’t get around it.

People seem to think that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of God. But let’s examine it. Is it really self-contradictory? Someone who believes in God believes God exists, he is all-powerful (omnipotent), he is all-knowing (omniscient), he is wholly good, and evil exists. First of all, none of these by themselves formally entail a contradiction.

Some people argue, “Well, a truly good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can.” But that’s not true either. A doctor who can eliminate the pain in your knee only by removing your leg doesn’t forfeit his claim to moral excellence by failing to do so. A doctor escapes moral culpability because he cannot eliminate the evil without also eliminating a greater good. So maybe then we’d want to say that it makes logical sense that a person is not morally culpable in producing evil if he justifiably believes he can produce a greater good that outweighs the evil on by producing said evil; nor is he immoral in FAILING to eliminate an evil if he justifiable believes that he can eliminate it only by eliminating a GREATER good. So it’s just not true that a person is only good if he tries to eliminate every state of affairs that he believes is evil.

What about another angle: an omniscient person is only wholly good if he tries to eliminate every evil state of affairs that he can eliminate without eliminating a greater good? Well, no one would claim that evil MUST exist, so we’re left with “God can then eliminate every case of evil whatever.” But that doesn’t follow. There are always pros and cons. We can’t assume that ever case of evil can be eliminated without possibly eliminating a great good. The argument fails.

This means that any evil outweighed by at least one good is necessary to have a good state of affairs that outweighs it. but this means that an omnipotent and omniscient being could permit as much evil as he pleased without forfeiting his claim to being all good as long as for every evil state of affairs he permits, there is the possibility of a greater good. That is to say, he can permit as much evil as he pleased provided that there was a balance of good over evil in the universe as a whole, which just may be the case!

So when it comes right down to it, the other side has to hold that if there is ANY evil, there is UNJUSTIFIED evil, and that ALL of it is unjustified. That’s just patently untrue, for good often comes from pain, evil, and suffering. but even if it’s remotely possible that all evil is justified, there’s still no contradiction with God in the existence of the evil.
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