Herod, finding that he had been deluded by the wise men from the east, was transported with rage and anxious fears. To execute his scheme of killing the Messiah, the desired of all nations, and the expectation of Israel, he formed the blood, resolution of murdering all the male children in Bethlehem and the neighboring territory which were not above two years of age. In this example we admire how blind and how furious the passion of ambition is. Soldiers are forthwith sent to execute these cruel orders, who, on a sudden, surrounded the town of Bethlehem, and massacred all the male children in that and the adjacent towns and villages, which had been born in the two last years. This more than brutish barbarity, which would almost have surpassed belief, had not Herod been the contriver, and ambition the incentive, was accompanied with such shrieks of mothers and children, that St. Matthew applies to it a prophecy of Jeremiah, which may be understood in part to relate more immediately to the Babylonish captivity, but which certainly received the most eminent completion at this time. A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. Rama is a village not far from this town, and the sepulcher of Rachel was in a field belonging to it. The slaughter also was probably extended into the neighboring tribe of Benjamin, which descended from Rachel. The Ethiopians in their liturgy, and the Greeks in their calendar, count fourteen thousand children massacred on this occasion; but that number exceeds all bounds, nor is it confirmed by any authority of weight. Innocent victims became the spotless Lamb of God. And how great a happiness was such a death to these glorious martyrs! They deserved to die for Christ, though they were not yet able to know or invoke his name. They were the flowers and the first fruits of his martyrs, and triumphed over the world, without having ever known it, or experienced its dangers. They just received the benefit of life, to make a sacrifice of it to God, and to purchase by it eternal life. Almost at the same time they began to live and to die; they received the fresh air of this mortal life forthwith to pass to immortality: and it was their peculiar glory not only to die for the sake of Christ, and for justice and virtue, but also in the place of Christ, or in his stead. How few perhaps of these children, if they had lived, would have escaped the dangers of the world, which, by its maxims and example, bear every thing down before it like an impetuous torrent! What snares, what sins, what miseries were they preserved from by this grace! With what songs of praise and love do they not to all eternity thank their Saviour, and this his infinite mercy to them! Their ignorant foolish mothers did not know this, and therefore they wept without comfort. So we often lament as misfortunes many accidents which in the designs of heaven are the greatest mercies.
In Herod we see how blind and how cruel ambition is, which is ready to sacrifice every thing, even Jesus Christ, to its views. The tyrant lived not many days longer to enjoy the kingdom which he feared so much to lose. About the time of our Lord”s nativity he fell sick and as his distemper sensibly increased, despair and remorse followed him, and made him insupportable both to himself and others. The innumerable crimes which he had committed were the tortures of his mind, while a slow imposthume, inch by inch, gnawed and consumed his bowels, feeding principally upon one of the great guts, though it extended itself over all the rest, and, corroding the flesh, made a breach in the lower belly, and became a sordid ulcer, out of which worms issued in swarms, and lice were also bred in his flesh. A fever violently burnt him within, though outwardly it was scarce perceptible; and he was tormented with a canine appetite, which no victuals could satisfy. Such an offensive smell exhaled from his body, as shocked his best friends, and uncommon twitchings and vellications upon the fibrous and membraneous parts of his body, like sharp razors, cut and wounded him within; and the pain thence arising overpowered him, at length, with cold sweats, tremblings, and convulsions. Antipater in his dungeon, hearing in what a lamentable condition Herod lay, strongly solicited his jailer to set him at liberty, hoping to obtain the crown; but the officer acquainted Herod with the whole affair. The tyrant groaning under the complication of his own distempers, upon this information, vented his spleen by raving and beating his own head, and calling one of his guards, commanded him to go that instant and cut off Antipater”s head. Not content with causing many to be put to barbarous deaths during the course of his malady, he commanded the Jews that were of the principal rank and quality to be shut up in a circus at Jericho, and gave orders to his sister Salome and her husband Alexas to have them all massacred as soon as he should have expired, saying, that as the Jews heartily hated him, they would rejoice at his departure; but he would make a general mourning of the whole nation at his death. This circumstance is at least related by the Jewish historian Josephus. Herod died five days after he had put his son Antipater to death. Macrobius, a heathen writer of the fifth century, relates that Augustus, when he heard that
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